Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear Epiphany


Dear Epiphany,

You are invariably a rare yet welcomed insight.  While sometimes you are as simple as realizing for the first time that Snoopy is a beagle (a famous one belonging to my Better Half), other times you can be both powerful and life-changing. 

I had an epiphany last week; it was associated with how we oftentimes have different expectations for ourselves than for others, and my epiphany helped me realize how to remedy that difference.

Last week, I read a stunning blog post about imperfection from a child's point of view.  I couldn't stop thinking about it.  It made me realize how much I've always striven to be perfect in many things I do.  While that can be a good thing, the demand for perfection can also lead to fear, helplessness, and despair when perfection is not achieved.  The post also made me think hard about my children and their perception of imperfection and its negative connotations.  Most of all, I wondered what they were learning from me.

You see, I like pretty things.  I like to bake and meticulously decorate cakes and cookies, cook dishes that please both the mouth and the eyes, and make craft projects that are beautiful and as close to perfection as possible.  If there's any doubt that I cannot achieve perfection, I probably will just not even try it.  Because it would not be worth the effort.  Put nicely--I know my limits; not-so-nicely--I give up even before I try.

This is certainly not the way I'd like my children to tackle all the things the world has to offer them in the future.  In fact, as soon as I imagined that they are struggling with the need to be perfect, I had already begun a speech in my mind for them.  It would go something like these bullet points:
  • Perfection is not the goal; your personal best is more important.
  • Nothing is perfect; no one is perfect; perfection does not exist; it is all relative.
  • Perfection is subjective; what is perfect to one is not necessarily perfect for another.
  • Imperfections in life are valuable in hindsight; we should learn from them.
  • Perfection challenges commonality, but imperfection builds character.
  • It is okay to make a mistake (one that I already tell my kiddos often).

Then, I soon realized that I never tell myself any of these things.  I never give myself the logical reasoning why being a perfectionist may not always be in my best interest.  Although I am able to sensibly tell others these opinions, I've never once tried to tell myself the same.  I've never stepped outside of my own self and held myself to the same standards as I hold for the people I care about. 

It dawned on me that we often don't hold the same expectations for ourselves as we do for others, and this is why we are often so hard on ourselves.  So my epiphany made sense to me: in order to really listen to ourselves, we must heed the advice that we would give to the people we love, care deeply for, or really trust.  In order to tell myself the reasons why I should not shun imperfection, I should listen to the things that I would tell my own children; I should step outside of myself and see myself as someone I love, care deeply for, and really trust. 

In that blog post, another reader presented me with a challenge--to intentionally do something imperfect--just to have that experience of letting go and making that unwelcomed mistake.  I knew it was going to be a very hard thing to do.  But in order to be a good role model for my children in the future, I knew that I had to start letting go.

The next day, I made friendship bracelets with Dear Daughter.  I had to learn the different patterns first in order to teach DD how to make them.  Let's just say that it's a good thing that making friends does not necessarily involve friendship bracelets, because I wouldn't have any friends.  I've never made these before, and I let out more sighs than I could count in the process. 

I first learned the Simple Diagonal pattern and showed it to DD.  She went to work on her bracelet while I then learned a more difficult V pattern to make one for Dear Son.  While keeping that challenge in mind, I still had to start over X number of times because I had to learn the pattern first.  About half an hour later, I got the hang of it and started to really see a pattern, although I hadn't even made it past one inch yet.  But do you see those imperfections in the picture up there?  Are you proud that I didn't undo the entire thing to start over to make a perfect one?  (I so totally would have.)

In the meantime, DD took her time and worked really hard on her bracelet, with minimal frustration.  I was really proud of her.  When she showed it to me, I was even prouder.  Because she didn't let the imperfections bother her.  She could tell that her braiding tension was uneven, and the pattern was not perfect.  But it didn't matter.  She had fun, and then went off her merry way to go play with her little brother.  I, on the other hand, kept staring at the two odd stitches on my one inch of bracelet, and was too flustered to continue.

That night, I told Dear Husband about our bracelet project and was pleased to announce that our DD did not share my perfectionist behavior (at least in this crafty area).  But he very wisely pointed out that neither one of us were perfectionists at her age--and look at where we are now.  So somewhere along the line, we allowed the need for perfection to enter our thinking and behavior.

For me, my tendency for perfection is usually driven by the fear of 'not being good enough'.  I overcompensate by doing my darnedest to 'get it right'.  Yet by aiming higher, I fall deeper when I don't reach my goal.  But now, I need to help my children strive to do their best without an internal struggle for 'being perfect'.  It's a fine line to walk, and a difficult thing to balance.  And I know it's going to take a lot more than making a few friendship bracelets. 

So what are some areas about which you are hard on yourself?  Aspects of your personality?  Behavior?  Now just think about what sort of advice you would tell your own children, siblings, BFF, or someone you love about it.  Can you apply those same suggestions to yourself?  Does it seem more effective that way?  Do yourself proud: do what you would have someone you love do.  Love yourself first, and then heed your own advice.

So, Epiphany, you were indeed quite an eye opener.  I've spent most of my life as a good friend to others, being a good listener, and giving honest, from-the-heart words.  This time, you allowed me to see that I need to hear my own advice instead of having a different set of expectations for myself. For that, I am grateful that I found you with the interest of my own children in mind.

Sincerely,
Me

P.S.  This post was inspired by my friend, Kim@Amommaly and her post, Bag of Imperfections, as well as its comment threads.  Thank you, Kim, for your story, and Cindy, for your challenge.


27 comments:

  1. I don't think I could purposely make a mistake. I have those same perfectionist tendencies. It's really hard, and I do my best to not instill those in the wee ones, but ... well, I've already written about how they don't want to try things that they think will be too hard or that they'll fail at. Maybe *I* need to start with myself, too.

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    1. It *is* hard. I find it even harder to distinguish pushing my kids hard enough that they do their best work and pushing them too hard and end up with the opposite effect. Both my kiddos definitely have those perfectionist tendencies in certain areas, so I have my work cut out for me.

      Maybe you can just try to do one imperfect thing and see how it feels, Michelle. After a day, that bracelet didn't seem to be so important after all. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. I LOVE this post. I too am a perfectionist when it comes to everything I do, and not when it comes to everyone else. It is tiring, stressful and everything else you said. I try very hard to try and just let this go but it does not. I struggle with this on a daily basis. All I can do it keep trying to let it go and not sweat the small stuff lol.

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    1. Hi, Sunshine Mommy! Thank you for stopping by. Being a perfectionist *is* really a lot of extra work! But it's so ingrained in us. We'll keep working at it, and I'll remember your reminder about not sweating the small stuff!

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  3. Love this! It completely speaks to me. And about me. Thank you for the reminder and advice!

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    1. Becky! As the long-lost OCD sisters that we are, I'm not surprised that you can relate to this (unfortunately). But I hope this helps! And it's really *your* own advice that you should listen to !

      Thanks so much for stopping here and leaving your comment!

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  4. Epiphanies sure do leave you stunned, eh? Many of my wonderful thoughts come from meaningless words pouring out of my mouth (Or just floating around in my mind) and suddenly, a light switch goes off and I get a whole new perspective...perspective, I like that word. I think that's something that epiphanies do to you. Makes you realize something and with a start, you find out that it is different from what you may have thought before.

    OCD is something that often comes and visits. I tolerate it, but perfectionism does help *sometimes*.

    And well, mistakes is more of something that frustrates me. I guess we all know deep down that we can't be perfect, but there's always a part of you that always wants to strive for it, disregarding the pinches you get when you don't succeed.

    A wonderful post,
    LW

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    1. Yes, I think 'epiphany' and 'perspective' are words that go hand in hand! I agree that perfectionism does help sometimes. It helps me push and do something just that much better. But I have seen the frustration of failure in my children's eyes when they don't frost a cookie just right or play a violin piece just right. Those are so much harder to deal with since they are--and not I--the ones dealing with the effects of perfectionism. Maybe that's why I have a double standard when it comes to this? Hmmm. You're making me think here.

      Yes, OCD, my frenemy. =) Thank you for your insightful comment, LW.

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  5. Oh boy, can I ever relate and I do find it hard to apply some of my wise sayings to myself. Why is that? It's not easy for me to do something if I can't do it "right"! This was a very nice read... because I can relate and because it gave me something to think about!! :)

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    1. Because we are our own worst critics? Because we think we can deal with the negative connotations better than we think our children can? I don't know, but I've been thinking about it, too. But we do know that for children, it is not fair when there is a double standard going on, so, we need to cut it out, right? (Easier said than done!) Thank you so much, Susi!

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  6. I am so proud of you! I know, believe me, how it is. All of It.

    I am realizing, slowly, that sometimes the things we GIVE raw, we GET raw right back to us. Raw emotion, Raw feelings, Raw relations. Raw can be frightening, but it can also be amazingly fulfilling and give people a sense of belonging, as it does here, with your post.

    Also, I am so honored to have inspired you, to have made you think about things, to have been a part of this "conversation", this analysis of ourselves...our Lives...the way we do things.

    Thank you for your kind references to my Bag of Imperfections. Never before has a black plastic garbage bag felt so proud. :)
    Always, xoxoxo

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    1. Bag of Imperfections made me think so hard that day that I knew all my thoughts were going to end up in a post at some point. You GAVE me the raw story and I GOT the raw revelations.

      This post was so hard for me write, and I had no real reasons, other than, maybe, that I was trying to make it perfect? I know. PREACH. I just really don't want to mess it up with the kiddos, you know. I'm guilty of encouraging them to do their best, and I don't want to OVER do it. So this was sort of a parenting reminder for myself, really.

      And the black garbage bag with the yellow string in your post? So real, I could almost twist it myself. Thanks, Kim, for everything.

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  7. This post is so much more than I expected when I challenged you to do one thing imperfectly. And, it has made me think so much and so deep and I know I'll continue to think on these words for a very long time.

    I get how truly difficult, seemingly impossible it is for you to let it go and go with it. The bracelet was a wonderful choice of material to do it with.

    I am not a perfectionist outwardly - the things I do, how I look, what I make, etc. but inwardly and of what I show of my emotional self to others. I have always expected so much of myself in emotional terms and I learned it from watching my family while I was growing up. I pretended, very convincingly, that everything was great. I held (hold) myself so tightly in control of my feelings, thoughts, reactions. I still do, but I am really trying to learn to let it go, to let people in and to LIVE, not pretend or exist. It is SO freaking hard to do.

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    1. Cindy, I used to be an obsessed knitter (for over a decade). Talk about perfection there. I have actually ripped out entire pieces. =) I stopped knitting cold turkey, and started writing, ha!

      And you've just brought up yet another great topic--being in control of feelings, emotions--inwardly. That's the way I was raised, too, but it felt so restricting. As soon as I was on my own, I abandoned that way of thinking. And it was so freeing. I know that as you keep letting go little by little, it will come easier down the line. It's a great start, Cindy--although freaking hard--it's a great start!

      Thank you again for the challenge and conversation! I really think you should start writing, too. It's quite therapeutic, if you ask me! =)

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  8. Thought I'd leave a comment rather than a 140 character tweet ;). I think it's great that you came about this epiphany because it's a great lesson for the kids. We have to learn to "fail" in order to really appreciate our successes, I think. I grew up in a perfectionists' home and I know that I'm afraid to do things, even nice things for ppl, because I'd be afraid that I'd mess up or they wouldn't like it. Anyways, these days, I try and it's ok if I fail. I want my son to learn that too, just like you said, the process is more valuable than the outcome.

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    1. Thank you for your comment on top of the tweet, Lisa! Yes, this really came out of the interest of my children. I still have a long way to go for myself, since perfectionism is so ingrained in me that imperfections are so hard for *me* to accept. But I know that children learn from what they see, so I do need to do better. =)

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  9. I'm like this in some things, but not in others. I see it in my kids, too, at times. It's good advice to remind them it's ok to make mistakes & that we're proud of their effort, not necessarily the end result.

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    1. Yes, I have my certain areas, as do my kiddos. DD went through a long bout of it early violin-playing. Was not pleasant. It took lots and lots patience and explanations to get it in to her head. Thanks for your thoughts, Asianmommy!

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  10. I tend to be perfectionist on some things as well. (This doesn't apply to the clutter in the house, though :)) I think it would've been hard to just leave the bracelet alone and not "fix" the "mistakes." (I put those words in quotes because the bracelet is an artistic venture, and there aren't really mistakes in art. In fact, imperfections can draw our attention to something we wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

    Great post, and I do commend you for not re-doing the bracelet. I also agree that it's good for the kids to see us make mistakes, but it's also good modeling for them when they see how we handle making those mistakes.

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    1. Just like you, Janna, I'm not always on top of the house mess! (Or else how would I ever have time to write?) I like what you said about imperfections drawing attention to things we wouldn't notice otherwise--that should be another bullet point on my list.

      When we decorate cookies and make imperfect ones, the kiddos love it, since they get to eat them right away, so they don't fret at all there. I did manage to turn that into something positive, at least? =)

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  11. This post is "perfect". Imperfections DO build character, but like you said, it's hard to swallow. I know I hold myself to a high standard and when I don't accomplish something "perfectly", I feel as though I failed miserably. It does sometimes make me feel like I shouldn't have tried at all, but I don't want my children to be that way. I am going to keep this post saved to my favorites and reference it often. It certainly makes you think.
    Thanks for sharing your wise epiphany, my Dear Friend :)

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    1. Thank you, Cassie! That is precisely what I'm talking about: you relate to exactly how I feel, but we don't want our kids to think that way. Well, I think *I* need to reference this post myself often, since I still catch myself thinking my old ways a lot. Some things are hard to change, but I'll try! Thank you for sharing this post!

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  12. Psh. Love this. My imperfection epiphany came from something maybe a bit more odd. I was pondering hair styles one day, and the common joke that so many spend so much time on a hair style intended to look like they just rolled out of bed.

    Well, it's a joke, of course. It's not true. Carefully mussed hair looks quite different from the usual bedhead. But the untruth is more of a hyperbole than a blatant lie.

    So in mulling over what makes perfectly imperfect hair, it occurred to me that it has *just enough* order to it.

    I apply that to almost everything, now. Food presentation requires just enough order. Clothes folding (still a demon I fight) requires just enough as well.

    I could never allow a friendship bracelet to bear imperfections, though. But with that said, I didn't notice them in the photo until you pointed them out. That's gotta mean something. :)

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    1. Terry, that is an awesome analogy! DH and I used to always marvel at how Hugh Grant has just the perfect tousled hair (in About a Boy), yet it's far from perfect, and really, is just messy all over. But I totally see what you mean by 'just enough'. I really like that! I think that's the rule I go by when it comes to picking up clutter--the kids' toys have 'just enough' order to it--in a pile out of the way. =)

      I used to knit and get a high from rows and rows of perfect stitches, so I can pick out a bum stitch from a mile away. But thank you for the compliment on the bracelet. I just wonder how long it will take me to finish it, as it seems to be not my kind of thing.

      I love your imperfection epiphany! I think it will help me and my quest to be a little more imperfect in life. Thanks!

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  13. I like to think of myself as a perfectionist but I know I'm really not. I let the imperfections through because life is too short to obsess over something that doesn't really impact the final result - eg. my cupcakes may not be all evenly sized, but heck they taste good :)

    Great perspective, Sandra.

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    1. You've got your head in the right place, Alison! I wish I could say the same and just see that life is too short. Well, that's why I've got some work to do in this department. After all, cupcakes are for eating, right? Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  14. Well, your cakes and cupcakes are delicious both to my eyes and taste buds! Your need for perfection is the perfect reason to start a bakery of your own and make $ being perfect!

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