Perfect Got Me Nowhere

This summer has been a whirlwind for me, in more ways than one. We’re about to take our third vacation, my sister’s getting married in less than two weeks, and we paid off all of our student debt (cue the choir: HAAAAAlelujah!). In my personal life, I’ve launched this blog, started a YouTube channel, and finished the first draft of a 100K word novel.

You want to know how long I’ve been thinking about writing a book? At least since the time I first attempted to write my first children’s book, which was 8 years ago. Never fully finished the draft and it’s been sitting all that time, collecting dust. Want to know how long I’ve been thinking about doing a YouTube channel? 10 years. And writing a blog consistently? From the moment I knew sites like Xanga existed.

I’ve been thinking about doing all of these things for years, yet I never went forward with it or I started and didn’t follow through to the end. So why is it that I’m suddenly getting these things done that have only been dreams up until this point?

It’s because I said goodbye to perfect.

I’ve talked about being a perfectionist before, and how it’s held me back from some great things in the past. I know a lot of perfectionists, and having been one for the majority of my 30 years, I can say that it’s not always easy to spot. A lot of times I thought I was being responsible or a better student/employee by only doing things when I knew I could really hit it out of the park. As a kid, I remember spending hours upon hours in my room, trying to clean it. I’d get hung up on my piggy bank or jewelry box, emptying it out and organizing the insignificant objects inside, when all around me it looked like a tornado had torn through (just ask my mom). I was completely overwhelmed, because I thought, “What’s the point of completing this task if it’s not done perfectly?” and wanted to start from the bottom up. So there I would sit, polishing pennies until the anxiety built and I was crying and mom was trying to figure out why I was playing with my money when there were still 300 stuffed animals all over the floor.

(Just a moment. I need to take a second to recover from that recollection. Can you get PTSD from a messy room?)

Ugh. It’s not fun to think back on all of the things that I could have done if I wasn’t so afraid of failing. That’s what perfectionism is, really. Not being willing to fail. It either prevents you from starting something altogether, or it keeps you from completing something you’ve been working on for far too long because it’s just. not. perfect.

I think having two kids is what did me in. They’re 2 years and 3 months apart in age, and when I had my second – I had 30+ migraines within the first 10 months after he was born (and I’m talking migraines where I’m either puking or down for the night at 4 pm… I had more less-significant-but-still-awful headaches than I could keep track of). If you think having two babies is hard – trying taking a jackhammer to the skull while you try to take care of them and get everything else done around the house. It just can’t happen.

I will never claim to have had a perfect house when we were childless, but there was a sweet spot for a few months before my second child was born where the dishes were consistently done and I could walk across the living room without worrying about stepping on a toy and screaming profanities from the pain. Then Soren was born and I was lucky if the dishes in the sink were just from a few days ago rather than the one meal I managed to make the previous week.

My definition of a clean house HAD to change. There was no chance I’d get everything spotless everyday, and dinner every night was unrealistic. I made a new goal that I would cook one meal a week (the rest of the week was either leftovers or we’d order out or it was cereal/scrambled eggs). When I could accomplish that, I suddenly felt much better about myself and the state of our family. One meal a week. I can do that. And I did!

When I finally had the health and energy to clean, I’d take on something small, like one bathroom or just get the laundry started. If it took me all week to get the laundry done, but it was eventually done, then that was a success. The bar had to be lowered, I was too sick and my son was too demanding for me to take on anything like I had in my pre-mom life.

Eventually, I started feeling better (it took weaning Soren – sad, but true), and I expanded my goals. Raising kids is never easy, but there are seasons in which you can handle much more outside of child-rearing than others. So as the kids got “easier,” I took on other tasks that I couldn’t have before. Things like going to the grocery store instead of ordering groceries to be delivered, setting up play dates, and even cooking more than once a week.

When I first had the idea that I wanted to write a book, I briefly reflected on why I had never done it before. And the answer was simple, though disappointing. I never would have finished it. Truth be told, I cruised through writing this book – for a first-timer who was in charge of raising a baby and toddler at the same time, at least. But I know without a doubt that if I had tried to do this 5 or more years ago, I would have been stuck. I would have been too embarrassed at the idea of facing my failures in rereading the story that I had written that I would have labored over every word, every sentence, making sure it was exactly perfect. And honestly, there’s just no such thing as perfect in art. Sure, there’s well-crafted and polished and moving, but perfect isn’t attainable, and after realizing that in my personal life, I was ready to give it a go in my professional life.

About 9 years ago, I went along with my now-husband and some other friends to watch them all go sky-diving. I was the only person not doing it. Jump out of a plane? Are you kidding me? No thanks. I could barely handle the roller coasters we have at Valley Fair. But the night before, in the office building, the skydiving company was playing promotional videos and I just stood there watching. I studied the 80 year old woman who fell out of the plane with a huge smile on her face, and it suddenly hit me – if she can do it, why can’t I? I don’t know what came over me, but the next day I was parachuting down to earth with the adrenaline pumping through me – proving to myself that I can do it – cuz I’m doing it right now!

Writing a book isn’t exactly like jumping from a plane, but in some ways, it was for me. There was a major potential of failure if I started writing a book. That’s a big part of why I didn’t tell people I was doing it until the project was well underway. But when I reflected on how much I had managed to get accomplished in my house when I just decided to go for it without worrying about perfection, I decided to apply that to my writing process and just jump! I started writing and after a few chapters, I realized I could do it because I was doing it!

With YouTube and blogging, I had already been feeling good about my progress with writing. They became “why nots” to me, and instead of waiting until I had the PERFECT subject for a blog post and instead of waiting until I had the PERFECT viral video idea, I just started. I know each and every post and video I’ve done could be better. It’s just the truth. But instead of worrying about that and getting stuck behind the mental traffic of perfectionism, wishing I had chosen another route, I’ve just been putting stuff out there, hoping my “good enough” will still bring me to my destination. Because, let’s face it, perfectionism was getting me nowhere.

Ultimately, I think I just decided it was time to stop being a planner, and start being a doer, even if what I do isn’t exactly how I pictured it. Each and every one of us has heard that practice will make perfect, but I’m discovering that practice is what it’s all about. I have an end goal for each of my projects, sure, but if I never achieve those goals, I’ve had to ask myself – Is this still worth it? And as I read comments like, “This totally brightened my day!” or “Thank you for writing this, I needed to hear it,” I know – it’s all worth it, even with a typo lik thise.

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