it will all make sense.
I’ll clear this fence
and sink down
into the blue, the green, the red.
Retrace my steps
find it slow as slow
fast as fast.
Work the ground with fingers curled
deep into sand, grass, and water.
free myself, and find
I was there the whole time.
Comb the soul
shake and roll
forget the toll – but not completely.
Inside, I’ll see me
for all that I became, for everywhere I’ve been.
Resisting the darkness and the light
seeking the gray, the filtered bright.
Sifting through – I think I grew?
Finding myself in yesterday, when
I thought tomorrow was the goal.
Will I recompense my spirit?
Find the soul I long,
dare more than dream it?
Or will I be,
rooted in my misery.
Or if not misery, the former me
the me I can no longer hope to be.
Time to reclaim, the me inside.
Why do I fight,
when the best is letting go?
I woke up this morning with an all- too familiar anvil of negativity welling in my stomach.
If only it were nausea or some other physical/biological maladity – then some strong tea, a shower, Advil or an otherwise straightforward approach might cure it. But alas, I must roll up my sleeves and do some internal emotional dirty-work.
Here’s the thing, I’m a perfectionist.
It started as a child.
Raised a Catholic, I was taught that heaven (the pinnacle of perfection) was the holy grail of achievements. Of course, to get in, one had to avoid sin and temptation (but if a sin occurred, then confess one’s sins) and be a good person. To my young, relatively black and white mind, “good person” was synonymous with “perfect person.” If I wanted passage into the land of milk and honey, I better not make any mistakes – afterall, I only get one life, I’ve got to get this “right” on my one, and only, try.
My parents held us (my brother and I) to high expectations. If I brought home a grade report from school with an A-, they would ask “what do you think you could do next time to ensure an A+?” And then there was the “we know you’re capable of high grades, you have lots of potential, so we should expect nothing less.” Of course there is great debate over parenting techniques, and it is healthy to set goals and some level of expectation for children. Plus, I know my parents weren’t intentionally trying to put undue pressure on me, and that I’m responsible for how I perceived and implemented their wishes. But therein again, my young feast or famine mind internalized their expectations as written in stone.
In particular, not only would I feel like a bad person if I did not achieve high grades, I felt like an incompetent failure – like I had let down my parents, and most importantly myself (because while I could tune out my parents’ commentary, leave the house or simply go to my room – I could never escape myself). Sometimes a poor grade could be further generalized to the idea that I was a worthless person who should have done better. Again, there was simply no margin for error.
At any rate, couple perfectionist tendencies with being goal driven (or maybe one begot the other), and you have the perfect alchemy for the textbook definition of a high achiever.
Achievement is not a negative, neither is perfectionism.
But like everything else in life, there must be balance.
The perfectionist (at least this one), doesn’t really understand the term balance. Well, understand might not be the right word. Because intellectually, balance makes sense – a scale requires an even amount of weight on both sides in order to sit level; the human body requires even inputs of food, exercise, care, sleep, etc. to function properly; in baking a cake, too much flour will alter the consistency (and taste). But on an emotional level, perfectionists are always hungry – for perfection.
And here’s the thing about perfection, it is the ultimate goal, the holy grail of life accomplishment.
Because it’s never achieved- it is in essence, the goal that keeps on giving.
I could always write a report with less grammatical errors, take a better-lit photograph, lose more weight, reach deeper into my subconscious and clear a few more emotional cobwebs…
Feeling exhausted? Sometimes I do.
The last time I checked, my closet doesn’t have a Superwoman outfit hanging between the dresses and pants.
But I feel like it should. Because remember, I’m a perfectionist – I’m not allowed to make mistakes.
Here’s the problem (well, one of many): I’m human.
I no longer base my self worth and self image entirely on religious teachings or my parents’ expectations, but as a product of both my past and many years of ingrained thoughts, behaviors and expectations, I feel the weight of my humanness. The weight of my personal imperfections.
To some this might be liberating – “I’m imperfect! This is great, I can make mistakes and it’ll be okay!”
But to me it’s frustrating and troubling – “I’m imperfect! This is not good, I’m supposed to be better than this. I’m supposed to be able to meet any challenge and conquer it!”
Of course one of the most interesting combinations is a pair of perfectionists – enter Dan.
Naturally we relate on many levels: a constant desire for improvement and feedback, craving a challenge, working towards task mastery, etc. And we can commiserate on the woes of unmet expectations for ourselves and the general experience that is the journey towards that ever unattainable, but oh-so-alluring, state of perfection.
Intellectually, we both know it’s irrational to think we can do everything and anything we want to do perfectly. We know we’re imperfect and are likely never to reach a world-class level of performance in the things we do. But we must try to get as close to that standard as possible.
Emotionally though, perfectionism is rough. I’m just speaking for me here, but self-loathing is not too uncommon. Neither is a constant focus on critique and criticism. Someone can give me praise or a compliment and I’ll feel a momentary burst of elation, but it will soon be forgotten under the accumulated mountain of critique and feedback I’m trying to address. I focus on what needs improvement first, and dismiss what’s working well, or what I’m doing well.
And that brings us to how I felt this morning when I woke up.
I’d spent the night before stewing in the realm of “needs improvement.” Drumming up the ever-growing laundry list of things to work on, address, tend to, better, and this was not limited to my personal growth, but it expanded into what I want to better about my work situation, my relationships, my health… my life. The mass of unmet expectations, misunderstandings, lack of ______(fill in the blank), from all corners of my existence felt overwhelming. Because of course, I wanted to run to the closet, grab Superwoman garb and address all the “issues” within my personal sit-com, bringing everything to closure within 30 minutes complete with bettered self-awareness, some comedic remarks, and a sense of general contentment with the world.
This morning while out walking I realized just how much that big giant fiery orb of discontentment and negativity was costing me. It cost me the ability to have an enjoyable morning, it cost me the ability to be more supportive and understanding of Dan (who has been working long hours lately), it cost me some moments of sleep last night, and it cost me the energy to enjoy all the: met expectations, true understandings, strong emotional connections, accomplishments achieved.
I know I won’t change my perfectionist behaviors/thoughts overnight, and truthfully they may persist over my lifetime, but every now and then, I need to crack a hole in my bubble of self-improvement and goal achievement, and take a breath of air – a moment to soak in all that is good, and well, and positive.
It’s hard – I’m not wired to appreciate the tasks that have been checked off the list, the good things people do, and the changes made that worked – but I’m going to really try. I think I’ll start by writing down one positive/good thing each morning. Just one for now; perhaps I’ll allow myself to reflect on more than one item in the time to come.
How do you appreciate the “good” in your life?
Thanks for reading,
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As a kid, I didn’t belabor over this question.
When I was 5, I wanted to be a hairstylist because I loved climbing up onto the back of the couch to comb my maternal grandfather’s soft, wispy white hair.
In elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatrician because I personally hated hospitals (still do) and wanted to be the person who helped kids feel better. (To this day, I still think all of the whimsical elements that make children’s hospitals great should be applied to hospitals for the general population – why can’t adult hospital rooms be painted in bright colors, or have teddy bears to hug?)
In middle school, I wanted to be a writer, particularly a poet – and enjoyed a class project where I created an “exhibit” of personal poetry based on life events or sentimental items.
By the time high school rolled around, this question became a bit more serious and less obvious. I loved Astronomy and Cosmology, but found Calculus very challenging. I enjoyed Chemistry, but wanted to work with people instead of substances. History was intriguing (and I’ve always loved stories of how things came to be) but I was more interested in technology and things of the future. English remained a passion, but I wasn’t convinced I was the next Thoreau or Frost. The social sciences (Economics, Psychology, Sociology) made sense to me, and seemed very applicable to understanding both interpersonal and societal issues – but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a therapist, or an academic researcher.
In college, I found Industrial-Organizational Psychology, which seemed like a niche I could belong to. I liked the psychological underpinnings of the field and the ability for its theories/research to be readily applied to real-world scenarios (workplaces, organizations, etc.) and thus create real and tangible improvement for people in the area of their adult lives in which they would likely spend the most time (work!). I’ve now followed that trajectory through undergrad and a Masters program, and think a PhD is the next logical step.
But even if a PhD is the next move, what will my life be like beyond that? I know I am not the type to commit myself to 30 years in one type of profession/job, I’m going to need lots of variety, with new ideas to consider, new projects to tackle, and new people to meet/learn from. Granted a PhD offers lots of flexibility- there are teaching opportunities, research, consulting/industry projects- but will that be enough? I also need a creative outlet, and the ability to find meaning in what I do by directly impacting people.
And what if a PhD is not the next move? Would my Master’s enable me to do some work that I find intellectually stimulating (and let’s not forget, self-sustaining/financially supporting) on its own? What if I worked multiple part time jobs, or what if I changed fields entirely?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
My peers seem to have it easy. They are lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers…my path is a bit less straightforward, and less conventional in some ways.
What if we changed the question…
“What do you want out of life?”
Now this, I can answer.
- an intellectually stimulating life (lots of projects, travel, and learning opportunities)
- meaningful relationships
- the ability to create things/ express myself (writing, art, dance, etc.)
- my health (ability to be mobile and active)
- a sense of inner peace and self-contentment
The problem is…how do I match “what I want to be” (realizing that I will likely “be” many different things) with “what I want out of life”?
An industry friend of mine recently said “Sarah, you have goals, but now you need a mission statement – a strategy to achieve those goals.” He’s right.
Of course all three: goals, mission, and strategy/implementation, are interrelated in an integral way – but different in how they function. I need goals to know where I’m going, a mission to guide decisions on how to get there, and strategy to actually dictate action.
So how do I create this personal mission statement? What strategy will lead me to the end game I seek?
Let’s start with a personal mission statement (which, by the way, will take some time).
The well-known Stephen Covey, suggests the following when crafting a personal mission statement:
- Write down your roles as you now see them. Are you satisfied with the mirror image of your life?
- Start a collection of notes, quotes, and ideas you may want to use as resource material in writing your personal mission statement.
- Identify a project you will be facing in the near future and apply the principle of mental creation. Write down the results you desire and what steps will lead you to those results. (Credit: Link)
The Leadership Development Institute at Kent State University also offers these ideas: Personal Mission Statement
Or for those of us that prefer step-by-step action items: Quint Careers- Personal Mission Statement
For now, I’ll start with Covey’s role suggestion. Here are the major roles I currently play and some initial adjectives/thoughts that come to mind. I’ve put a + next to items that might be positive, and a – next to items that might be negative.
+ supportive, encouraging, playful, loving, affectionate, companion
– cranky, emotionally vulnerable, insecure, uncertain/anxious
+ supportive, encouraging, caring, friendly, affectionate
– geographically removed, moody
+ supportive, caring, affectionate, translator
– emotionally vulnerable, anxious, moody
+ supportive, playful
– geographically removed, indifferent
Niece/ Cousin (I noticed these had the same descriptors so I combined them)
+ thoughtful, caring
– geographically removed
+ insightful, hardworking, collaborative, detailed
– geographically removed, motivation varies
+ patient, hardworking, curious
– motivation varies, misunderstandings, frustrated
+ good listener, curious, thoughtful
– motivation varies, misunderstandings, frustrated
+ hardworking, collaborative, communicative
– geographically removed, misunderstandings, frustrated
+ collaborative, communicative, willingness to be vulnerable
– misunderstandings, annoyance, lack of privacy
Frequently used words from above: (+) supportive, curious, collaborative, caring; (-) geographically removed, motivation varies, emotionally vulnerable, misunderstanding
Other things that stood out: I noticed how closely the negatives related to my role as a girlfriend and daughter overlap (familial relationships definitely impact romantic partnerships; I’m sorry Dan), how geographical location impacts lots of my roles/relations, there are many references to communication (listening, misunderstanding, collaboration), and there are many references to motivation and vulnerability.
So to answer Covey’s question, “are you satisfied with the mirror image of your life?” I suppose if the answer were yes, I wouldn’t be crafting a personal mission to begin with, but that aside, no I’m not completely satisfied (and will I ever be completely satisfied is another question entirely).
In doing just the role exercise I notice lots of hints towards themes of traits I’ve always been praised for (caring, supportive) and traits I’ve been criticized for (geographic distance, misunderstanding, etc.). And what I notice is the imbalance – how I seem to be giving more than I’m taking (hence the frequent use of caring, and frequent use of misunderstanding), and how geography plays a larger role than I perhaps give it credit. And I’m somewhat disturbed by the fact that I consider emotional vulnerability to be a negative – I suppose I frame it that way because true emotional vulnerability makes me feel extremely uncomfortable (which doesn’t exactly feel good), but the irony of course is that I’m seeking deep intimate connections with people (Dan, my family, close friends), so I might need to change my categorization of emotional vulnerability.
At any rate…more on this to come.
Do you have a personal mission statement? How did you determine what your life goals are?
Thanks for reading,
December has been a bit of a whirlwind.
The train took off from the station at 12:01am on November 25th and now we’re hurtling towards Hannukah, Christmas, and New Years with little more than the blur of sequined dresses, knit sweaters, hors d’oeuvres platters, wrapping paper, and twinkling lights in the rear view mirror.
Dan and I have had a rather jam-packed month so far. Thanksgiving weekend was busy, I was out in CA for business, he picked up a new project at work, and somewhere in between all that we had to maintain our normal activities (day to day work, submitting school applications, dance lessons, time with friends, chores, etc.) PLUS write holiday cards, set up the Christmas Tree, buy gifts, cook/bake, and reflect on the transition from ’11 to ’12.
We have both been caught up in the swirl of year-end madness, and as such we decided to spend half of last weekend (the weekend before Christmas weekend) in San Antonio.
Being that we live in Austin, San Antonio is a doable 1.5 hour drive away, and is distinctly different from Austin making it feel as though we are truly “getting away.”
We stayed at the Beckmann Inn and Carriage House on Guenther St., which was quaint and just what we needed for an overnight. The house itself is a historic landmark, and beautiful in a Victorian/turn-of-the-Century era way. The neighborhood was quiet and walkable which was a bonus.
We took in some of the major sites:
- We looked at historical artifacts at the Alamo (the grounds are quite beautiful with lots of natural greenery too, if you’re not a history buff)
- Snapped photos during a riverboat tour of the Riverwalk (recently a new Mexican art museum was built along the river- looked very classy)
- Ventured around the Market Square (Mi Tierra for the hungry night owl, okay food but the bakery is worth it)
- Ate some delicious Mexican food (check out Cascabel on St. Mary’s near the King William Park area- delicious, and where else could you find goat soup!)
On the way home, we stopped in the New Braunfels area to check out some of the vintage shops in the town of Gruene. We saw one of the oldest dance halls in Texas, and perused an antique shop, some clothing stores and a music store. Each of these were true out-of-town adventures, things we could not have done at home.
Though, perhaps not surprisingly, what I enjoyed the most was all the uninterrupted time Dan and I spent together.
Honestly, every moment I spend with Dan feels like a tiny sprinkle of holiday magic. Some readers might think “oh lovers in love always say such things” but I’ve loved before, and never felt anything like I do with Dan. He is simply incredible.
With those feelings though, the realities of the everyday do impact us. Which is why our time in San Antonio, where neither of us had emails to answer, work to finish, a dance class to get to, or chores to complete- allowed us to simply be present in the moment with each other and experience new and different things together. We could reconnect after having been pulled in 90 directions and rediscover why we care about each other and enjoy being together.
That, to me, is what the holidays are really about.
Along that vein, I think back to my two visits to the Post Office last week, and the harried ball of stress that was both the postal workers and the patrons in line balancing their boxes and asking “is this the right form for customs?” and “what’s the different between priority and first class?” Though these are typical pre-holiday observations, and I know there are many out there that shop and ship gifts early, love entertaining, and enjoy their families, there are also some (or at least me, if I can only speak for myself) who just want some time and space rediscovering their love for their partner and their feelings about life.
I mention this because, on our way to San Antonio, someone mentioned “you’re so lucky you can just drop everything and go away for a night right before the holidays.” And I had two thoughts on that:
1) yes, we’re extremely “lucky” – because we have each other and somewhat flexible lifestyles
2) anyone else could be just as “lucky” too; it’s about focusing on what matters most to you.
#2 is a tough one this time of year. I fully appreciate familial, work and friend obligations. This party here, these gifts for so and so, etc. And I admit that I am still learning how to set boundaries with friends and family and make sure that I put self-care as high on the list as the needs of others. But, I’m also making self-care a priority now, both because I need to for my own health (chronic injuries have a way of teaching that lesson very directly), but also because I can only give to others what I have cultivated within myself. If I have been working too hard on making everyone else in my life happy, while their happiness is great, it alone will not nourish and re-build my inner self.
So I’m taking steps towards better self-care: my friend Rochelle and I are going to yoga most every weekend, I’m preparing salad materials for easy snacks so that I don’t resort to lots of holiday-induced sugar, Dan and I went to San Antonio the weekend before Christmas, and although my folks are relatively nearby, Dan and I decided to spend Christmas Eve together – just us- to have our own time, and to then spend Christmas day with my family.
This year Dan and I are trying to give ourselves the gift of being fully present for each other, and I think that is one of the greatest gifts of all.
May you all find true inner-peace and joy as the holidays approach, and always.
Thanks for reading,
As unbelievable as it may seem, it has been a full week since Thanksgiving weekend and while I felt very productive over the four day holiday period, it felt like a bolt of lightning dropped out of the sky and catapulted me on the treadmill that is the official ‘Holiday Season’.
I’m a big fan of this time of year. Even though my birthday is in August, I’ve never been one for hot weather or even summer, for that matter. Give me overcast skies, and a little bit of wind and I’m content. Fall and Winter are my favorite seasons. Fall especially – it has a way of taking the idea of transition and making it palpable; everything feels like it’s on the precipice of change.
When it comes to the winter holidays, ever since I was a little kid I’d play Christmas music in July (much to my family’s distaste) and once Halloween came around, I always felt an overall sense of joy and excitement every day, from November 1st to December 31st. Plus, as someone who has always enjoyed a fairy-tale ending, what could be better than a time of year when giving and loving and happiness were considered the primary emotions?
So it has come as a bit of a surprise to me that this year I am not feeling particularly excited and joyful, as in years past.
It’s not that I’m exactly unhappy, I just feel a bit lukewarm, I suppose.
I could attribute my bleh feelings to any number of things:
– stress of work projects and scheduling
– stress of my grad school applications
– stress of the still unresolved lawsuit
– physical discomfort
(note the recurrence of the word ‘stress’…)
But then again I have so many things that bring me great joy:
– a wonderful partner (Dan is amazing)
– excellent friends
– great colleagues
– caring family members with good intentions
– decent health and well-being
So why the bleh, exactly? What’s different this year compared to previous years?
Well, I’m trying to figure that out.
I’ve spent the last few days on a business trip in California which, between the seminars, shuffling between locations, trying to work on projects, and brief periods in the sunshine, has given me moments where I can simply allow myself to think (airplane rides are great for that, by the way).
I wish I could say I’ve had a West Coast-induced epiphany, but instead I’ve had something else.
Remember when I said I love the Fall for its ability to bring change to life?
Well, I think that’s just it – I can’t appreciate the anticipation of change, because the pace of change in my own life feels flat; stuck if you will. I am moving forward in time and space, but at a pace I can’t relate to, or understand.
I know change is on the horizon – I may not feel the wind in my hair and a touch of cold or snow in the air, but I know I am planting the seeds for things to come.
I just haven’t made it through the tunnel yet. I can’t see what is to come. The future is uncertain.
To some this might not be earth-shattering, and I think even to me, it’s not a new idea. I know there are many things that I don’t know, and I recognize that I can’t predict, nor fully create my future, or even, my destiny (if you believe in that sort of thing). Even if I dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, there is absolutely no guarantee as to what’s to come.
In some ways this is freeing – when you have less control over something, you can let go and just live. But for someone like me who is a planner by nature, letting go doesn’t come naturally. Neither does living in the present. I always come back to the ‘what’s the point’ argument, and if I can’t see the future, then how do I know what ‘the point’ is?
But maybe that’s the thing about ‘points’ – maybe they’re just not that important, or maybe, they are just something in and of themselves.
I think about this great line the Captain tells the Baroness in the Sound of Music – he says “activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” And I’ve got lots of activity right now, but I feel like it’s lacking purpose (in the professional/career realm, specifically). And I keep trying to find that purpose, but what I thought would fill that need (further graduate school), sometimes seems like the desires of a me from another lifetime. I’ve been effectively working towards this ‘next step’ in my professional life for the last few years and for some reason (or reasons) now I’m not sure I want to take it, or rather, take the path it presents. But if not, then what else? Because there has to be a purpose, right? Right?
Maybe life is trying to tell me that right now I don’t need to have ‘a plan’. That I can just ‘let it be’ (the Beatles said it best). And that maybe, just maybe, even without a plan, things will be okay. The Holidays will be the Holidays, and 2012 will bring another year, and I will continue on, and maybe (hopefully) I will regain some of that joy I used to feel, and that purpose I used to draw strength from.
Thanks for reading, S