I’m giving myself a good shake today, my friends. A get over yourself, ditch those silly unattainable expectations, and get real kind of dressing down. That’s because lately I’ve been experiencing a kind of nebulous dissatisfaction with life and with myself. I’ve been bogged down with trying to achieve the unachievable. As a teenager I imagined that my tendency towards uber self-criticism fueled by perfectionistic tendencies would have disappeared by age thirty, at the latest. Let alone age sixty-three. But you know, it seems to be my continued lot in life to be plagued by the perils of perfectionism.
Let me explain. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling a bit blue.
Despite the fact that Hubby and I focus on healthy eating and I work hard at my fitness, despite the fact that I’ve ramped up my exercise program with respect to both cardio and weight workouts, I’ve gained weight. Parts of my anatomy are expanding, and I feel unable to do anything about that. I don’t feel good in my clothes. Well, at least some of them. I know that aging brings lots of surprises, among them how our changing body changes how clothes fit us. I know I could cut out my glass of wine with dinner. Or maybe look at the situation as an excuse to expand my wardrobe. Arg… poor choice of words there. But neither of those prospects fills me with anticipation.
My chronic neck and upper back issues have been bothering me lately, and physio does not seem to be working as well as it should. I’m battling back and neck pain, posture problems, yadda yadda, as I always am, and have been for years. Trying, with the help of Hubby and my physio, to find a way to be able to continue to do what I love (reading, blogging, cycling, sleeping, even) and not hurt myself. This is nothing new, and not life threatening in any way. Some new stretching and strengthening routines will no doubt help eventually. But still, I find myself struggling to stay positive.
Which is silly, I know. Because any way you look at it (and believe me I’ve been looking at it every which way) I have it pretty good. Damned good, in fact. I really have no reason to be in a funk. On the contrary, I think I might just really, really need a shake to remind me how good my life is.
I’ve always needed a good shake every now and then. To remind myself that I am placing unattainable expectations upon myself. That my life, my body, my hair, my job performance, my whatever does not have to be perfect. That perfectionism gets me nowhere. And what really matters has nothing to do with whether my life is “perfect.” And that shake, and the resulting epiphany has to come from within. Wise, well-meaning counsel from family, friends, husband, or whomever does not usually work. I have to get there by myself. And I always do. Get there, I mean. Eventually.
See this shot below? It was taken in July of 1983. My hairdresser at the time was being interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen for an article about summer hair styles. He asked me to hang around, after he finished my cut, to be in the photo which would accompany the article. I’d rarely, if ever, had a good photo taken, but I remember loving this shot. So much so that I saved the article. I was young, single, not bad looking, I had a good education, a nice new apartment, a good job, and I was unhappier than I’d ever been before. Or since. All those things that looked perfect on the outside were simply hiding the fact that my life was not perfect at all.
The shake that I gave myself that time was a major life-changing one. And involved quitting my job and moving back to New Brunswick for a year of self-analysis, and rejigging my priorities.
Let’s just say that every now and then I still have to give myself a priority-realigning shake.
Like this past week. I don’t think I even realized that I was in a bit of a funk. I was cranky. My hair never seemed to do what it was told. I felt bored, restless, a bit depressed if I’m honest. I tried to find a comfortable position to read or to write which did not involve neck pain. And I felt fat. Then I wrote that post about those yellow pants.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the problematic pair of yellow pants that I tried to style for my blog post, I think this bout of perfectionism would have passed me by without my realizing what it was that was bothering me. I am serious. Those yellow pants were my epiphany.
You see after I published that post the other day bemoaning those pants and what to do about them, I received a text from my buddy Liz. She was there when I bought the pants, saw me grab them off the rack enthusing that they were just what I needed. She saw me pull them on and sigh. So when she read that post, and all my moaning about those yellow pants, she fired off a text saying, “Susan, what do you want from those pants? They look great.”
I laughed out loud when I read that. Because in my head I saw those yellow pants as a cartoon character, throwing up her arms and yelling in exasperation: “What do you want from me, lady?”
What did I want from those yellow pants? To look perfect, of course. Which of course they could not do.
And just like that the penny dropped. I’d been side-swiped by a bout of pernicious perfectionism.
Woe is me. I’m getting older, and wider. I still have frizzy hair. My back and neck ache most of the time. My feet swell in the heat. French fries are not my friend anymore. Sob. And I don’t look the same in my jeans as I did when I was twenty-three. Let alone a pair of yellow linen pants. Despite all my striving, I’m not perfect, my body is not perfect, my life is not perfect. But, and this is the important bit, when has perfectionism ever, ever got me anywhere? When has worrying about being perfect ever brought me anything but trouble?
And just like that I felt better. Not thinner, or less frizzy. My neck still hurts. But I’m doing good. I just needed to get that little whine off my chest. And it felt great, actually.
You know, I realize that this post is mostly navel gazing on my part. I’m not looking for advice on how to avoid being a perfectionist. That ship has sailed, people. With me firmly on board. Ha. I am who I am, to quote Popeye. I know I have a good life. That my “problems” are first-world problems, if indeed they can even be considered problems. But I also know that every once in a while I need to step back and take a good hard look at myself, and all my sometimes selfish, often obsessive, frequently perfectionistic tendencies. I need to examine myself and my life and what I’m doing with it.
When I was about halfway through writing this post I almost deleted the whole thing. I thought, “Where am I going with this? What is the point of putting all this drivel out there?” Then I read a post on another blog, by a woman much younger than me. She has just turned thirty, is also experiencing self-doubt, and is examining her life through her writing. And I felt a certain kinship with her. I wanted to say to her that we never stop trying to be better. That being perfect is not the point. It’s all about knowing ourselves and learning how to be better in the world.
Besides a little naval gazing never hurt anyone. Did it?
Now, how about you my friends? Are you ever plagued by perfectionism?
P.S. Hubby and I are off to the semi-wilderness tomorrow. We’re finally getting out of here for a few days. The truck is loaded, the canoe strapped on, and I am looking forward to a week of no make-up, bad hair, and no worries except trying to decide whether to ride our bikes or go for a paddle, and which book to read next. I’ve scheduled a reprise post for later in the week. Pray the rain holds off and the bugs are not horrendous. Ha.