Category Archives: Perfectionism

Day 29: Powering Through (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Can I tell you how many times I’ve wanted to quit this 31 days of writing challenge? Well, actually I couldn’t tell because I’ve lost count.

Some days I had something I really wanted to say, but other days involved a lot of staring at the blank screen before any words would form. Some days I was fine with writing for me whether anyone read it or not, but other days my brain was saying, “For the love, is anyone out there? Why am I doing this just for me? Don’t we have journals for that?”

31daysOfSimpleTruthsBut this was really important for me, largely because I’ve allowed all the writing I do at work to overshadow the writing I do for me. I haven’t been investing in my own words, and my creative soul pays dearly for that neglect. It even negatively impacts my work because I end up resentful of the time I need to focus there.

More importantly though, I am trying to unravel myself from the sticky trap of perfectionism. I always feel the need to have all my ducks in a row before really tackling any project. Which means I’ve been accomplishing a whole lot of nothing when it comes to many of my personal goals and ambitions, especially the creative ones.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for those unfamiliar); it’s an attempt at utter insanity, I mean, an attempt to write 50,000 words in a single month. There’s no time for overanalyzing yourself or making everything perfect. It’s about getting the words out. And I have a book idea (a few actually), but I’ve allowed everything else under the sun to block me from making it happen. But I need to get it out, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I can.

A feat like that requires consistently writing in big chunks, but it also requires consistently writing in smaller chunks—adding something every single day. I have no excuses now, because I have spent all of October stripping them away. No excuses, because now I know, tired or not, blank screen or not, burst of brilliant ideas or not, I can find the words, even if it’s only 200 of them at a time. I can write something, regardless of what else the day throws at me.

So if for no other reason, it was worth powering through October and reaching for the truth in each day. And now, I think I’ll try to write that book.

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Filed under 31 Days of Simple Truths, Creativity, Perfectionism, Writing

Day 2: Enough (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Within moments of waking up, I felt overwhelmed by the number of things I needed to do that were rushing through my mind. I wanted to pull the covers back over my head and hide because it was all too much.

But in the end, I am just one person. One woman. And granted, some days, the number of things I manage to pull off makes me feel like Wonder Woman. But still, I can only do what I can do, and that will have to be enough.

I let go of my expectations of myself and the expectations I feel from others, both real and imagined. I let myself ask, “What can I realistically accomplish today? What three things are most important?”

It is enough. I am enough.

And you—whatever you face, whatever you can bring to the table today—it is enough.

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Filed under Perfectionism

Permission to Disappoint

Winding Lane by Jennifer Upton

Winding Lane by Jennifer Upton

I don’t remember the first person I disappointed. Most likely it was my parents or a teacher. I don’t recall a distinct memory.

What I do recall is many other memories later in my life – agonizing over a decision for days, even months, because I couldn’t simply weigh the pros and cons and be done with it. I was also weighing who might be disappointed and how I might fix it. I recall crying on bathroom floors because someone unleashed their feelings of disappointment or because someone never said a word but I saw the shadow come into their eyes. I remember trying so hard to convince someone I had made the right decision, but still walking away with the sting of their disapproval.

However it happened, whenever it happened, a message entered my heart at a young age: do not disappoint anyone who matters to you.

This is intense pressure to live with.

Ironically I have sat with students and friends who sought my counsel, listened as they shared their list of people they feared would be disappointed. I have looked into their eyes and said, “You have to know what God is saying to you and what your heart is saying to you, and be content with that. You can’t please everyone all of the time.” I knew it. I wholeheartedly believe it. I just struggle to actually do it.

My husband and I recently had to make a decision in the best interest of our family, and it was a hard one, made harder by the people it would inevitably disappoint. Their disappointment was not pretty.  But finally I am learning.

I give myself permission to disappoint.

When people care deeply about us, they will often have strong opinions about what’s best for us. Sometimes, even if they don’t care all that deeply, they will still have strong opinions about what’s best for us. The significance of the place they have in our lives can add even more to the strength of these opinions. And while I believe there is wisdom in seeking out counsel and advice, in the end, decisions are made between us and God. This has to be enough.

And interestingly, even when He has brought correction or discipline to my heart, the words “I am disappointed with you” have not once been whispered from His Spirit to mine.

People will not understand every step of our journey. It is simply not their place to understand it all or give approval to it all. And this is ok.

I take a deep breath and surrender this fear, give myself permission to move forward without the weight of the world’s disappointments.

(Today I am linking up with Marvia at The Human Impulse for Real Talk Tuesday. The theme is “I Give Myself Permission.”)


Filed under Healing, Perfectionism

Knowing Myself

Image by Jennifer Upton

Image by Jennifer Upton

It began last July. I could feel the change in my bones long before the visible signs appeared. I even said it out loud to someone I trusted:

I feel a shift coming. A transition. But it doesn’t make sense.

It didn’t make even a little bit of sense. The restless was intense, but I was trying to tame it because any significant change seemed unlikely. Every aspect of our life seemed rooted – the good and the bad. There were commitments, relationships, plans.

But here we are, not even one year later, and the entire landscape of our lives is completely altered. I wish I could tell you it was all pleasant and lovely, but it’s not. Because when things are deeply rooted, it can be intensely difficult and painful to get them uprooted.

And it still hasn’t made sense. Until I read these words from Brené Brown this morning:

I did believe that I could opt out of feeling vulnerable, so when it happened – when the phone rang with unimaginable news; or when I was scared; or when I loved so fiercely that rather than feeling gratitude and joy I could only prepare for loss – I controlled things. I managed situations and micromanaged the people around me. I performed until there was no energy left to feel. I made what was uncertain certain, no matter what the cost. I stayed so busy that the truth of my hurting and my fear could never catch up. I looked brave on the outside and felt scared on the inside.

Slowly I learned that this shield was too heavy to lug around, and that the only thing it really did was keep me from knowing myself and letting myself be known. The shield required that I stay small and quiet behind it so as not to draw attention to my imperfections and vulnerabilities. It was exhausting.

– from Daring Greatly (*emphasis added)

I have read these words over and over today. Someone else wrote them, but oh, do they feel like they came right off the pages of my heart. There it was. Epiphany. (My one word for the year – so far I haven’t had any of the epiphanies I thought or hoped I would have, but never mind.)

Everything that has been stripped away is something that kept me from knowing myself and, by default, kept me from letting myself be known. And it had to go because it was also a year ago that I really started praying about and taking steps towards living creatively, towards “Wholeheartedness”, as Brené Brown calls it, even though I didn’t have the words for it at the time. But it is basically impossible to live creatively and wholeheartedly if you have buried the knowledge of yourself under layers of busy and performance and smallness.

So in spite of the oh-so-painful process this has been and will likely continue to be for a little longer, I embrace it fully because I want to know myself and not be afraid to let myself be known. I want a whole heart that results in a safe place for others to know themselves and let themselves be known. I don’t want to live exhausted and emotionally numb anymore. I want to live fully.

And now back to you – what things have you come to realize get in the way of you knowing yourself and letting yourself be known?



Filed under Change, Creativity, Perfectionism

A New Approach to January

Image Source:

Image Source:

As the final days of December wafted away and January inched ever closer, I felt a small panic beginning to rise in me.  I need to make plans.  I need to think through goals.  I need to.  I need to.

I am not one of those people who belittles resolution-making.  Making things happen in life generally requires having a plan and working the plan while staying wide open to miracles that could gloriously set all your dreams in motion.  There is tremendous value to assessing where you are and where you want to be, honestly identifying what is working and what is not.

What I found myself resisting was the need to have the introspection done, all these goals identified, new habits and patterns and disciplines ready to commence on January 1.  I’ve always pushed myself for this, but I have been battling weariness and I knew.  I just couldn’t make it happen like that.

One of my aunts – so wise – commented somewhere that while she knows the value of well thought resolutions, she finds she’s generally too tired after the holiday season to try and work it all out in time for the New Year.  She has a February birthday, and so she gives herself until then to make her assessments and adjust her course.

For me, waiting until my birthday would be pretty impractical (July baby here, so half the year would be gone!).  But I decided to take the entire month of January to rest and to calmly formulate some plans and goals, to allow myself to wallow in some dreams and find out if they are still really what I want.

An awareness has dawned.  I think so often our resolutions happen like an impulse buy – it seems like a good idea at the time, but we haven’t fully thought it through, only to discover later maybe we didn’t want it that much after all.  And there goes another failed resolution.

Add to that goals that are exactly what we want, but they’re never practically broken down into a workable plan, almost guaranteeing their failure as soon as they are formulated.

And the biggest flaw in the mix (at least for me personally) – while the holiday season is undoubtedly wearying and busy, there is still a certain slowing that comes with it.  Regular routines and schedules are temporarily suspended.  Lots of time is made for people and eating and fun.  There’s a certain grasp on reality that gets lost.  And then you sit down to make resolutions and anything seems possible, as if January 1 brings with it a magic re-start switch where you can go back to real life and implement all these new changes to your life at the same time.

Maybe this isn’t everyone, but it has certainly been me.  (And I have a feeling I’m not totally alone.)  The value of allowing myself an entire month to think through these things is that in the midst of my return to routine, I am able to assess what is practically going to work as I take steps for change.  I’ve already been able to return to the drawing board a few times and say, “Ok, this goal is still good, but I need to think of a different approach for making it happen.”

So this post is a little more practical, but I feel there are people out there who get frustrated with this whole resolution process, not because they don’t see the value, but because the pressure has been too high.  Here it is January 13 and maybe you feel like you’re failing already.  And for you, I want to say, it’s ok to slow down.  Give yourself some extra time.  Who cares where anyone else is at with their resolutions and goal-implementing?  The important thing is for you to be able to look back on your year and feel satisfied with the steps you were able to take.

Perhaps take a deep breath, find a quiet moment and begin the process again, allowing yourself some days and weeks to choose direction.  The dreams pulsing in your heart are worth the grace and extra time.


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Filed under Perfectionism, Rest, Waiting

Struggling with Rest

My body decided it had had enough today.

I felt it coming on throughout the evening last night.  The ache slowly seeping into my limbs.  The swelling beginning in my throat.  The last bits of energy oozing out of me.

And today I have been barely able to move.  I mostly laid on the sofa, alternately attempting to work and taking short naps.  And confession: I let my children watch at least a week’s worth of television in one day (um, thanks, PBSKids).

I felt so guilty.

Never mind that I have been going like a whirlwind non-stop since at least June.  Never mind that we just went through some pretty significant life transitions coupled with one of the most spiritually intense seasons I’ve ever experienced.  Never mind that I chase a 4 year old and a 2 year old from sun up to sun down every day.  Never mind that my husband’s job has him working insane hours that leave me feeling like a single mom at least 90% of the time.

How dare my body give out on me!  How dare it decide to rest.  And the question nailed me all over again: why do I feel guilty when I need rest?  Why does it seem wrong to take care of myself?  What lie have I believed that causes me to only pay attention to the needs of my body and heart once they’ve been pushed to the brink?

I mean, even in writing this post, my initial primary motivation was to at least be able to say I’d accomplished something useful today.  As if rest isn’t useful.

But I also felt compelled to push forward with these thoughts because I know I am not the only person who struggles with this.  And no matter the significant strides I have made in this area, it continues to be a struggle.  I have to fight tooth and nail for Sabbath, for rest.

But I do fight and will continue to do so.  And I would urge you to do the same.  Because it’s necessary and life-giving.  And if it became a habit, a pattern, we could most likely avoid being knocked out of the picture for big chunks of time.  Besides, your heart is most beautiful, most inspiring, most strength-giving when it is at rest.  And your physical body certainly functions better.

So while it may be hard for you and I to believe sometimes, let’s keep telling ourselves until we’re convinced: we are worth it.  We are worth the time and effort it takes to refresh our hearts and bodies.

And now I shall go back to laying on the sofa doing nothing.

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Filed under Healing, Perfectionism, Rest

Obstacle Course

As I dive into a writing workshop this summer, I find my brain slipping into student mode.  Not normal, healthy student mode.  No – I don’t even really know what that would be like.

It’s more like psychotic, driven, perfectionist student mode.  The one that earned me straight A’s for my entire academic career, with the exception of 2 B’s, years apart from each other, but both causing my heart to quiver inside me, my sense of value shaken.  The one that drove a 6 year old to decide she would be valedictorian, resulting in horrible sleeplessness and anxiety during high school finals weeks, shaking hands during tests, countless tears over difficult assignments and challenging projects.

In this area and so many others, well-meaning people in my life identified my gifts and pushed me to not settle for anything less than my best.  The problem is, to this day, I am not entirely sure what “my” best is.  I’ve just run in frantic circles trying to meet all the opinions of what my best might be, not wanting to disappoint anyone who ever invested anything in me. (But more on my processing of this issue another time.)

I find myself wanting to make sure I have every school supply.  I want to take the whole dang syllabus right here and now, map it out on a calendar of the weeks, break every bit of it into daily chunks, not miss a single bit. (Just typing this much of the post, I feel my head beginning to throb.)

And while this flies in the face of everything that has been my life’s practice, everything that seems logical, I know my objective for the next 10 weeks is not to set a whole list of goals and relentlessly chip away at them.  Not this time.

I hear the Holy Spirit giving me my assignment: Soak.  Absorb.  Listen.

The biggest obstacle I face is myself, my own drive.  But I am teaching my heart to slow down, to savor the life of every inhale and exhale.  And I am hoping and praying, by relinquishing control and perfectionism in just this one small area, I will be able to turn a new corner, step into a chapter of life that will be less about achieving and more about seeing and savoring.


Filed under Perfectionism, Writing

Perspective on Failure

For weeks and weeks now, I have lived in a constant state of dealing with failure.

That moment when the neighbor unexpectedly drops by on the day the children pulled out all their toys, the dog peed on the carpet, the laundry was started but not finished, the dinner dishes still aren’t clean (only to pick the top four areas of disarray).

That moment you decide to eat the bowl of queso because it’s only a small one and it’s your favorite guilty pleasure and how many pounds can one smallish bowl of queso add when you normally eat so clean and healthy? (3 – in case you were contemplating the same thing.  And they don’t come off as easy as they went on.)

That moment when your child publicly decides to air his grievances and all the other parents are staring at you as if none of their children ever pitched a fit in all their born days.  And all the people without children have that smug “This is why I’ll never have children and if I do, I’ll be so much better of a parent than you” look on their faces.

That moment when you look at the to do list and even though you’ve been working frantically all day, there are more items still unchecked than checked.

That moment when your patience runs out and the sleeplessness takes over and you snap at that precious child, walk away from the exchange knowing that even though she needed to be disciplined, you’ve handled it all wrong.

That moment you make a snarky comment to your husband and you know you shouldn’t have said it as soon as it leaves your mouth.  You feel the wall go up, but the apology won’t come because you’re too overwhelmed and exhausted and sad.

Big sigh.

As a recovering perfectionist, I daily wrestle with the acceptance of my humanity.  And the more willing I am to become vulnerable and admit this, I discover I am not alone.

And here is the truth, tired mama, exhausted student, discouraged employee (or un-employee), weary dreamer:

You will fail.  But you are not a failure.

Even if it is through a veil of tears, even if it is only one plodding step at a time, even if it is with literally only a mustard seed of faith left in your clenched, trembling hands – as long as you keep living, you are not a failure.

I whisper this to my own heart as much as to yours: He’s got you.  And when He’s got you, He won’t let go.  So don’t you let go now.


Filed under Parenting, Perfectionism