The Q of Living Imperfectly: The Quagmire of Social Interaction #atozchallenge

Politeness and etiquette form a sort of supplement to the law, which enables society to protect itself against offences which the law cannot touch. For instance, the law cannot punish a man for habitually staring at people in an insolent and annoying manner, but etiquette can banish such an offender from the circles of good society, and fix upon him the brand of vulgarity Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

Q Challenge LetterSocial interactions have always been a quagmire for me. Lot of rules, very little logic and a whole lot of unnecessary offense. In fact I’m offended by the amount of unnecessary offense there is in this world.

Seriously, this is not what friendship should be about. True friendship is about accepting each other as is and forging ahead on some common ground. Instead we live in a society that makes reality TV shows about the quagmire of social interaction such as the various Housewives Of series. A show where “friends” spent most of their time gossiping about other “friends”, trying to change people and being offended. And there’s a lot of competition, which really has nothing to do with friendship except in the form of friendly rivalry to bring out the best in each other.

Groups and cliques also tend to have their own form of etiquette and rules which one can only work out from within. Only you can decide if you are willing to navigate these and try to adhere to them.

My parents grew up in a group of about twenty couples who hung our socially together. As a kid, it was wonderful to have a big group of “aunties” and “uncles” who were interested in your achievements and who could engage in a little play wrestle. They were great. By the time I was about 8 or 9 I became aware just how much energy my parents were expending in keeping everyone happy in this social circle and all the social balls in the air. It was a whole lot of energy that didn’t always produce peace and harmony.

To me friendship should be easy like a well-worn favourite piece of clothing or comfortable like the best chocolate dessert. That doesn’t mean it true friends is perfect. Good friends should debate and sometimes have a little conflict. That’s what growth is all about and realistically people do change.

I am a long way from achieving perfection in my social interactions. Instead at times, I feel like I’m sinking into quick sand and into the quagmire. And the more I thrash and try, the quicker I sink.

A true friendship does not require a book of etiquette or social laws. And perhaps just when the rule book gets tossed is the time when we realise that our social interaction has moved on from loose acquaintance to real friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The P of Living Imperfectly: Pride (A Guest Post) #atozchallenge

P Challenge Letter

Today I’m excited to have my friend and fellow blogger, Cricket Fox, provide a guest post for my imperfect series. Cricket who blogs at Cricket’s Corner of Australia, writes about a variety of topics from the perspective of an American who has now relocated to Australia, including some chicken soup for the soul. Cricket and I had a blast last year when I hosted Cricket for her 50th birthday and surprised her by taking her to see the performer of her dreams in my hometown.We met through writing and blogging.

Pride is an integral part of perfection and something most of us grapple with. Being perfect to many means not being be able to ask for help. I know I struggle with this. Here’s Cricket’s take on this meaty topic:

According to the dictionary the word pride means: an inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance or merit, the state of feeling or being proud.

We are all proud of different things in life, how well the kids do when they step outside their comfort zone. How well they do when they accomplish something unique. We are even proud of ourselves when we accomplish something that we never thought we would. Pride is listed as one of the 7 deadly sins but it is the one with which I have the most trouble.

This got me thinking about how prideful we are at times about things and when the road gets tough, why is it so difficult to become human and ask for help? Why is it that just admitting we need help makes us worry what people will think?

I am the first one to admit that I am guilty of this. There have been many times that I have needed help have either never asked or came helpaway with the feeling that I should have asked sooner. Why? When I know there were people there ready and waiting to lend a hand. Is it a sign of weakness when we become human and tell our friends that we need them?

I don’t understand why it is hard to just be human and ask for the help we need. Are we afraid of what people will say? That we are weak and can’t manage on our own? It is OK to be vulnerable but in the past I have been looked down on for showing that side. There have been times that I have waited until it was too late and the problem got out of hand and I thought I really could do this on my own. If I had only asked for help sooner, how the journey to the end might have turned out different or even ended sooner.

We hope that our parents are proud of us for the accomplishments as kids growing up and all. I can’t remember hearing my Dad say he was proud of me, I don’t know why it was so hard for him to say it. I always made sure that my girls heard it from me and their Dad. I always tell people the best thing I ever did was my daughters. I secretly hope that they are proud of me. I know I have not made the best decisions at time but looking back it could have been my pride in asking for help. Maybe things would be different now if I had not allowed my pride to get the better of me.

It has taken going through a lot to finally see that it really is OK, to put pride aside, and get the help you need to get through the rough time. All you might need is just some support to help deal with bad news, it could just be a crappy day and you need someone just to listen.
You just need to make the decision to let go of pride, realize it is acceptable to be human and make a simple statement: “I need some help”

I know this might not make a lot of sense but I just want you to think about when you use pride and how. Have a think about when someone you know is struggling and you know they need help but are afraid to ask. Don’t push them down but lend them a hand up.

It could be you next time putting your pride aside and needing the help.

 

The N of Living Imperfectly: Nothing More Perfect than a Fruitless Hot Cross Bun #atozchallenge

N Challenge LetterI have just finished my breakfast of chocolate chip infused hot cross buns. A little bit of Easter indulgence to start my Easter Saturday and I’m feeling good.

According to Wikipedia:

A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins and marked with a cross on the top, traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, but now available all year round

The emphasis on currants and raisins is mine.

I love hot cross buns and regularly indulge from about February to April.

But according to my morning newspaper:

When oven-warmed on Good Friday, they should fill homes with the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (not chocolate, quinoa and soy).

So my home should be filled with the smell of fruits and spices rather than warming chocolate and as should my stomach.

Apparently Sydney, like other parts of the world, is experiencing  a non-traditional hot cross bun revolution. A revolution involving inventive bakers putting their buns out there containing:

  • chili
  • earl grey tea
  • ingredients to tempt the gluten free eaters
  • ingredients to tempt the vegans
  • mocha and chocolate
  • Nutella
  • Vegemite and cheese
  • lemon
  • marshmallow
  • molasses

There are also many other variations. Here is a recipe from Gastronomy.com for green tea and azuki hot cross buns if you want to be really adventurous.

I’m not sure what your relationship has been like with raisins and currents, but we have never even been on a first name basis. Grapes yes, dehydrated grapes, no. Sultanas in pinch, but fruit cake, never!

However, this hasn’t stopped me from seeking out or enjoying great buns.

Good enough to eat!

Good enough to eat!

But now I’m meant to be guilted into feeling my buns are second rate by the traditional nutmeg naggers.

This quest to convert me to current is as fruitless as my hot cross buns though. For I have decided that I am going to enjoy my perfectly imperfect Easter with my masterfully sourced buns.

Do you have any preferred hot cross bun flavours? Do you have a current penchant for currents?

Happy Easter to all my readers.

 

The M of Living Imperfectly: Managing From The Rear #atozchallenge

Handling betrayal

M Challenge LetterWe are all a walking bunch of expectations. Some involve solely our own behaviour, but for most of us they involve the behaviour of others or the achievement of an outcome involving others. I have always thought that being able to manage the expectations of others is a key skill. It certainly is in the business world. It is why the business world is so hung up on finding “influencers” and why being able to “manage stakeholders” is just as important if not more so than possessing any technical skills for a particular role. Managing stakeholders and influencing involves an intricate dance across a tightrope walk, with sometimes unpredictable results.

Like any dance, it requires practice, repetition and energy. Expectations are generally like trip wire unless they are communicated. They invariably aren’t and you only know you’ve crossed the invisible line when the alarm sounds.

Which is why having to do the same dance in non-business life seems exhausting.

Isn’t the theory meant to be that you find a group of friends and a spouse where you can be you, a you who will sometimes inadvertently disappoint by not meeting unilateral expectations? And isn’t the consequence of not meeting this expectation meant to be a moment of annoyance (if that) a possible readjustment of activity and moving on and getting on the with the friendship/relationship?

I’m not talking here about major life decision expectations, but rather day-to-day behavioural expectations.

It’s the age old social dance.

Lately, I have been constantly feeling like I’m being managed from the rear. True leaders lead from the front and are not afraid to articulate their expectations and to motivate their team to each those expectations. This is managing from the front. By contrast, managing from the rear is never putting your expectations self out there, and manipulating others to fall in line with your expectations. The manipulation can come in several forms, including guilt, leverage or anger.

On one level, it is partly my fault by letting my people pleasing tendencies respond. On the other level though, people really need to learn to lead from the front and manage their own expectations.

Perhaps this is really what happens when two perfectionists with slightly different tendencies come together.

So I have come full circle on the need to manage others’ expectations. I think we all need to take hold of our own first and not require others to necessarily fall in line with our thinking unless this outcome has been expressly discussed.

Dealing with someone’s constant disappointment is exhausting and is as wrong as being constantly disappointed.

Lead me from the front and there is a chance I will follow. Because constantly looking in rear vision mirrors can distort the real image.

The K of Living Impefectly: Keeping It Real #atozchallenge

 

Being yourself battle

K Challenge LetterAs most of you know this is my third A to Z Challenge and every year this sneaky letter K causes me grief. This year is no different and I’ve really grappled with this K post. I’ve never thought about K as being a problem letter, but clearly this is a lesson in imperfection teaching me to park my expectations at the door.

Keeping it real has always been a big one for me. I have always firmly believed that building meaningful relationships is all about trust, of which one of the central pillars is meaning what you say and saying what you mean. Clearly this is not always the easiest path to take and at times can be quite a solitary journey. There are other times when I meet a kindred spirit on that road and that’s when I can really feel the friendship flow and that sense of connection. There are yet others when people at first blush appear to be the real deal, but scratch a little below the surface and you know you are dealing with a pretender.

Keeping it real to me also means:

  • not having to appear busy to increase my worthiness
  • keeping commitments that I have made, but being discerning about making them
  • not being afraid to express myself respectfully
  • trying new things and laughing at failure
  • backing myself and knowing I am the real deal
  • understanding my value proposition
  • rolling up my sleeves to get the job done
  • helping people when and where I can
  • owning my part in an outcome and not blaming others for my own failures
  • eliminating passive aggression from my life.

That last one in particular is a big one for me right now. I deserve crave authentic communication. Real discourse that gets to the heart of an issue/problem so we can get on with the business of fixing it or going our separate ways if that is an option.

What makes keeping it real also hard is that we don’t want people to perceive we are selfish when we practice it. However, the reality is that although we like to think we can control perception, we can’t because by its very nature it is derived from another’s thoughts.

duck authenticity

In the end, I believe it costs us more to be what others want us to be than it is to keep it real. It takes real energy to constantly mould and play into others’ expectations. I’d rather channel that energy in becoming acquainted with myself and to manage my own expectations.

The J of Living Imperfectly: Why There Are No Jewels in Judgement #atozchallenge

want-to-be-around-people-that-things-amy-poehler

J Challenge LetterThe quote for today goes to the heart of what living imperfectly currently means to me. I’ve been writing about authenticity for the last nine days and I’m about to take a huge step in that direction by admitting that the weight of duty is currently weighing heavily. This is not an easy admission to make, because my sense of perfection is all wrapped up in duty, or more specifically the discharge of it.

I have never been the type of person who can ‘play” knowing there are things that have to be done. By things, I don’t mean housework things, I can happily let ironing, washing and cooking slide, except when they directly relate to family occasions. By things I mean work things, social obligation things, parental obligation things, wife obligation things and daughter obligations things. Seems like a lot of things to juggle before I can get anywhere near me time.

Except now I have started to become a lot more discerning in relation to those duties that really are to be given priority. This is largely because these duties involve being around people who don’t bring anything to my table. They judge, they gossip, they certainly don’t support and they don’t do things. It is extremely small-minded to comment on other people doing things from the safety of your comfort zone.  The way I see it, judging others is a past time for those who seek distraction from the mundane or who don’t have the courage to face up to the issues in their own life.  The gratification that comes from believing you are superior or from grading someone else’s life or performance against your exacting standards is short-lived and misconceived. It might kill time and serve as a bonding tool, but what kind of healthy relationship can you have built on negativity? Just look at female cliques as a typical example.

And that equally goes for judging ourselves and the relationship we have with ourselves. How can you have a healthy relationship with yourself comfort-zone-3built on negativity?

There are therefore no jewels in judgement.

If someone wants to be held hostage to their own fears that is entirely a matter for them. However, it does not mean that I have to be held  hostage to them as well. I have a choice and for the moment my choice is no.

Which means there is some unavoidable jettisoning of relationships and the judgements and negativity that go with them. Which also goes against the grain of my strive for perfection. The perfection paradox is multi-layered indeed.

The I of Living Imperfectly: The Irony of the Perfectionist #atozchallenge

I Challenge LetterThe fundamental irony of perfection is that we are taught to strive for it only to discover that it is that ever present striving that prevents us from living a happy life. On the surface perfectionism is an admirable trait as it usually produce excellence, but it comes at a cost. And that cost is the feeling that what we are doing is never enough, we are never enough.

I work in profession dominated by A type personalities. To play the game and succeed, we were all striving to bring not only our A game, but to perpetually push and push so that one day we would be able to bring and sustain our A+ game. Writing this now it reminds me of the old party game of blowing at an air filled balloon to ensure that it never reaches the floor. Having kept the balloon in the air, at the end of the game you are left breathless and dizzy, but with a fleetingly temporary sense of achievement.

I have been researching the ways that perfectionism is ironic and have come up with the following list:

  • if ever anyone could achieve the state of perfection, it is doubtful anyone could tolerate that perfectionist for long. Fun is an integral part of life.
  • true perfection is about enjoying the moment, enjoying life. Perfectionism tends to rob us of this enjoyment and of our sense of awe and wonder.
  • believing as a perfectionist that you must never make mistakes means that you will probably look out for any mistakes or signs of failure so you can correct these immediately.

  • the demand for perfection can actually impede performance. For example, you may turn you into a chronic procrastinator because of the fear of making mistakes. This also extends to being less innovative and creative or less open to new ideas.

  • far from being liberating, perfectionism is a psychological dictatorship. As one site puts it:

These personal restrictive ‘prisons’ are built on a solid foundation of rigid rules and assumptions of right and wrong, with walls of ‘should’s’ and ‘ought’s’ and ‘mustn’t’s’, strong bars of perfectionism, unbreakable locks of defeatism, and guards of arrogance on a constant duty to ‘be right’.

This description is so apt. I was trying to describe this very thing in my F post a couple of days ago and was struggling to put it Charlie Browninto words. I have discovered over the past couple of years that letting go of the black and white thinking plays a huge part in jettisoning perfectionist tendencies. That, and humour. However it is so very easy to slip back into old comfortable habits, so one must be ever vigilant and practice conscious awareness.

One thing that has struck me already about this Challenge is that in writing about perfectionism, I am taking a rather hard line. I don’t mean too, but it generally reflects the hard line I am taking with myself for having not realised all of this sooner (more perfectionism???). On the surface, perfectionism seems to have served me well, but I am only just getting a true picture of what I have missed in being the perfect perfectionism practitioner.

It is only now, by letting my grey matter think in grey terms that I am seeing colour. And that seems to be the most ironic truth of all.

Irony quote

 

 

The H of Living Imperfectly: Hair and Hoary #atozchallenge

Indeed, simplicity is the grand secret of a lady’s toilet. When she burdens herself with a profusion of bijouterie she rather detracts from than adds to her personal appearance, while all outré fashions and ultra-style of dress, though they excite attention, neither win respect nor enhance the attraction of the wearer Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

H Challenge LetterWe all long for perfect hair no matter where we are on the ageing spectrum. Women obsess about it, men fantasize over it, our babies lovingly pull or stroke it.

Much has been written and opined about what makes hair perfect, both in terms of colour and length. Just this past weekend, my Sunday paper ran a feature on hair length. It pointed out the connection between hair length and femininity and suggested that the ideal woman in the eyes of a gentleman is a feminine woman and that the appearance of a woman brushing her long hair is very feminine, sensual and appealing.

There is clearly politics in female hair for it is expected that a woman’s hair must at all times be age appropriate.

Apparently, the rule of thumb is that whilst single, young women should maintain long hair as this is correlated to sexual desire. Once married though they are expected to cut their locks to ready themselves for the practical duties of housing-minding and child-rearing. Ladies, apparently marriage and short hair also means that we can “give up” as we have snagged ourselves a husband. Moreover, it is expected that once a woman hits 50, she must part with her tresses as a sign that her job of rearing the children is over.

H is also for Hmmmm.

I have a 50 year old friend who wears her hair long and grey. She is a very natural, nurturing person who has never coloured her hair. Her hairgrey hair length is about at her shoulder blades with bangs at the front and a feathering of length down the sides of her face. Simply by virtue of her choices, my friend has received many unsolicited not so positive remarks about not only her hair colour, but also its length.  These remarks are made not only by acquaintances, but also by complete strangers. The fact is she looks terrific and she is comfortable in her locks. She is also a married  mother of two and simply likes long hair.

Why should her hairstyle make anyone else uncomfortable is beyond me. I can only ascribe it to perfection gone made and expectations we have on what a middle aged woman should look like.

By contrast, I am hard pressed to raise any real interest in my hair from anyone and more particularly the males in my family. I have worn my hair short until a couple of years ago when I decided to grow it out as a testament to the heavy physical duties of my child rearing days being over. I let it grow to shoulder blade length and only recently decided to go a little shorter. The humid summer just past may have played a little in that decision. Two days ago I changed my hair colour considerably. One person in my family noticed, namely my younger son oh, and possibly the cat.

Maybe this is because my hair was not swinging in slow motion. Have you ever noticed that every shampoo commercial ever made depicts a young girl swinging her hair from side to side in slow motion? This might be an explanation of why washed hair in real life never looks as good as on the ads – shampoo was never meant to be used for full speed hair.

Living imperfectly means ignoring settled convention and wearing the hair that makes you comfortable. Long, short or a bit of both with a dash of grey, the choice is an individual one.

We should not become entangled in convention perfection.

The F of Living Imperfectly: Flexibility and Forgiveness #atozchallenge

Keep your engagements. Nothing is ruder than to make an engagements, be it of business or pleasure, and break it. If you memory is not sufficiently retentive to keep all the engagements you make stored within it, carry a little memorandum book and enter them there. Especially keep any appointment made with a lady, for, depend on it, the fair sex forgive any other fault in good breeding, sooner than a broken engagement – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

F Challenge LetterWe all have a film reel in our head. The reel entitled Great Expectations” seems to be the standard by which we judge success and failure, ourselves and others. Whether your reel is a comedic, tragic, dramatic or fantasy filled, it is a constantly turning and projecting. How we react when real life does not play out according to our film reel determines our resilience and adaptability.

How do you react when life’s actors fluff their lines or go off script? Are you flexible enough to change direction or do you lament the need to ad lib?  And do you blame others when they do go off script?

Inflexibility or rigidity is one of the traits of perfectionism. What can easily be glossed over as a high standard, is really a low tolerance for deviation. Both in ourselves and others. This often leads to over thinking and planning things so that deviations can be minimized.

I used to be a planner. Researching, preparing and making sure each duck was in its right place in the row well ahead of time so that it could allpretty-woman-unscripted-scene be fine tuned if necessary. Now, not so much for I have discovered that my energy is better utilised in enjoying the activity or the company and in any event, you just can’t plan for every contingency, especially if human behaviour is involved.

As Brene Brown said: “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving”. “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.'”

Forgiveness therefore plays a big part in moving away from perfectionism. We need to forgive others for their deviation, but most importantly we need to forgive ourselves for our own.

There are some great movies in which actors ad libbed only to enhance the story. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart’s most famous line in Casablanca “Here’s looking at you kid”? or the scene between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when he shows her a diamond necklace in an open and when she reaches out to touch it he snaps the box closed on her hand? The snap and Julia’s giggle in response are all unscripted.

The world is just waiting to be discovered through unscripted moments. We just need to be flexible enough so they will find us.

 

The C of Living Imperfectly: Choice and Career #atozchallenge

Talk as little of yourself as possible or of any science or business in which you have acquired fame Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

C Challenge LetterA couple of years ago, I went to see John Farnham in concert. For those who are unfamiliar with Mr Farnham’s work, he is an Australian legend singer whose biggest hit was a song called You’re the Voice from an album by the name of Whispering Jack. This particular concert tour was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of the 1986 album. He sang the whole album track by track in order. As John (who has a wonderful sense of humour which comes through in the concert banter between songs) explained he had the idea of undertaking this concert tour in his kitchen one night and that unfortunately, he didn’t really think it through. For you see, his biggest song was track number 2 on the album which meant it was sung early on in the show.

I feel the same way about the letter C and the concept of perfection as applied to career. This is a real big one for me. And it has come earlier in the Challenge than I would have liked. So much for building to a crescendo.

For this post, I have no real wisdom to share other than my own experience.

Career has always been a big issue in our family. Being the child of immigrant parents it was drummed into me form an early age that education was a priority and that I should pursue a profession. My parents had sacrificed a lot in delivering to me a world of opportunity in this land called Australia. I just had to do my bit.

And I did. And it was good for about the first 20 years. My identity and much of my energy were firmly tied to my career. The one other thing I really wanted to be outside of career woman was a parent and thankfully, the Universe blessed me to have that experience twice.

But one day, I woke and it was good no more. Every job has its ups and downs, stresses and strains, wins and losses. Mine was no different. Every other time though the feeling of malaise lasted a matter of days or weeks. This time was different. This was a lingering, confusing doubt that had me thinking “what if” and what really was on the other side of that office divide. I remember leaving every office at lunch time and breathing some real air and watching people having a life and feeling very disconnected.

For the next seven months I tried everything to push through the feelings as I had always done in the past. And with every passing day, I sank perfect careerdeeper and deeper into despair and confusion. Tasks that had been easy and second nature seemed insurmountable and I had lost my will to learn. My thoughts swirled round and round in my head in ever-increasing circles, the answer was there somewhere but it was just beyond reach.

It was dumb I suppose, but the thought of changing careers was impossible. Based on the remuneration and status I had achieved, by earning and being anything less I felt I was letting both myself and my family down. How could I possibly justify such a radical change given the sacrifices my parents had made, given how much I had invested in my career? How could I justify having to spend money on being retrained and reskilled whilst not bringing in an income and how could I justify being so selfish? How could I do any of it at my age?

The perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect daughter and the perfect income earner all were at stake.

So I quit. I quit so I could think and strategize and I firmly believed that when I walked out the door, I never wanted to work again. Everything that I held certain was  up for grabs. It literally felt like I had walked off a cliff and had no idea whether the landing would be painful. I had never, ever just walked away from anything before.

During my time away from work, I explored that non-office life and provided for my family in a non-monetary way. I walked and thought and thought and walked and came to the realisation that priorities can and do change in life and that it was quite acceptable to change track to give effect to this new world order. That was my light bulb moment, career perfection blown away by the wind that was enveloping me on the cliff tops which formed my favourite walking path.

I had been stuck in a prison of my own making and at last I found the key.

What then transpired was that I went back into the workforce in a similar, but not the same area. What I lost in income, I gained tenfold in motivation, focus and learning.

Career perfection or career satisfaction, the choice was always mine to make and I didn’t even know it.

In the words of John Farnham, from You’re the Voice”

We have the chance to turn the pages over
We can write what we want to write
We gotta make ends meet, before we get much older