By Jennifer Battisti
I have a confession: perfectionism feels good. I feel powerful when I can feverishly descend a to-do list, multitask the marathon of achievement, fill my day with items rather than moments, swap meals for coffee with a shot of espresso. It feels good—until it doesn’t. I am not tending my own garden, my own fierce heart. Nurturing, self-care, Me Time; these overused and undervalued words don’t quite capture the sort of self-abandonment women are prone to.
If it was as simple as a bubble bath, we would’ve figured it out by now. But this is precisely the problem—the figuring. When we place productivity at the center of our attention, we miss the opportunity for the renewable energy of curiosity and play. You cannot schedule delight on your calendar. You must chase it with an inquisitive spirit even when it feels counter intuitive to “getting things done,” even when guilt tugs at your pant leg claiming it is a waste of time, or worse, you are not worth the expedition.
Be open. Stillness is a precursor. Introspection is a necessary step in learning emotional intelligence. However, perfectionism is a well-trained muscle you must let atrophy. Control is sneaky, it can be disguised as responsibility and even thoughtfulness.
Your family and friends might not understand the new boundaries you are setting. This is the best part: You don’t need anyone’s permission to take care of yourself. Everything I’ve just written I forget and then I return to it, only because I recognize the debilitating symptoms of perfectionism (irritability, restlessness, the inability to engage in compassion for myself or others and a general intolerance for anything not going my way). This boot-straps kind of approach to life leaves me disconnected from my daughter, family and friends. It buries my sense of humor beneath the heavy weight of over-responsibility. I basically become a wet blanket, not exactly the aspiration I created on my vision board. I am hesitant to list any “tips” below. The more messy and organic you can approach quieting the voice of perfectionism, the better. However, I’ve left some signposts below to help you to initiate your own curiosity.
In my family, we are big on dance parties.
YOU WERE BORN AN ARTIST: Shame and creativity shouldn’t appear in the same sentence, but sadly, many of us hold the belief that if we aren’t exceptional artists/writers/dancers, we shouldn’t bother trying. Please tell that belief to pack its bags! Remove the outcome from creative endeavors entirely. The act of participating and engaging with creativity is the whole point. Check out the book, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Through exercises such as free-writing, walking and taking yourself out on an artist date (imagine an entire hour immersed in a fabric store, or picking apricots from Gilcrease Orchard, or an art gallery) you will become reacquainted with your creative energy. Think of these things as imperative and protect your artistic explorations with clear intentions and well-stated boundaries.
DON’T FORGET YOUR MUSTACHE: I often don’t have the words to navigate my five-year-old’s ever-changing moods (or my own). Play is a powerful way to stimulate stress-relieving endorphins, change your perspective and connect with your kids. In my family, we are big on dance parties. We use props and costumes, the more ridiculous the better. Make a music video with your smartphone to preserve the performance.
ANTICIPATE MISTAKES: We are attempting to undo decades of perfectionistic ideas. Expect this to be an ongoing, vulnerable process. Let yourself (and everyone else) off the hook. Celebrate mistakes, it means you’re braving unfamiliar territory! If you stay curious and dedicated to the journey of discovering, joy will more than meet you half way (hey, less work for you!)