On Perfectionism and Discomfort



Perfectionism is an insidious thief who comes to your door, a familiar face, and you let her in.  She can be a real bitch.  The kind you might find at a southern country club.  The kind who smiles and draws you in with compliments and flattery.  You feel flushed with warmth in the beginning.  You feel comfortable because she makes it look so easy.  Before you know it, she’s got you by the throat.  All the while, smiling, with crazy eyes and perfect lipstick.  Everything she’s told you, this kind neighbor,everything that’s built you up,  you know it was a lie.  That she is a lie, an impossibility.  A figment of your childhood imagination.  Perfectionism wears you down.

So, this is really what I talk about when I talk about my experience as a casalinga (homemaker).  It’s not that I don’t enjoy my time “at home”. I love the flexibility I have.  I love not having to commute to and from work. I love having time to exercise and eat “slow” food.  I love not having to answer to or impress anyone.  I love being free of the kind of stress that comes with work in a professional setting.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate my time with my son.  I am proud, and know I’m lucky, that I am the one with whom he spends his afternoons.  I am the one who gives him a dependable evening routine and sets limits to give him the freedom he needs to grow.  I am the one who bathes, reads to, and sings to him almost every single night of the week. I know this makes a difference.  I know I am doing the right thing for him right now.  The age-appropriate challenges were absolutely expected, but my temper and irritability were not.  Another truth.

Do I think I could work full-time and be a good mom and partner? No. Knowing what I know about myself NOW, no.  Pretty sure, things would fall apart a little.  I’m not yearning for that situation in the least.  But I do yearn for that feeling of being really good at something.  I miss that feeling.

When I pleaded my case for an “A for effort”, I realized that the drive to get an A is the real problem.  It’s this itchy, whining sound in the back of my head telling me to get it right.  It is my desire to do it “right” , to be good, that burdens me, and so many of you. (If you don’t know the work of Mary Oliver…especially her poem Wild Geese…check her out:  “You don’t have to be good.  You don’t have to walk on your knees for 100 miles in the desert repenting…’)

When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who had very clear career goals.  He had to take high level math classes to reach these goals and, initially, he struggled in these courses.  At the end of his first quarter, he received a poor grade.  My response would have been to change career goals, but his response was altogether different and it dictated his entire future.  He re-registered for that course, took it again and got the grade he needed.  I remember pondering why on earth he would take a class in which he knew he wouldn’t be able to receive high grades.  It takes courage and strength of character to allow yourself to experience failure without allowing these experiences to strike your self-worth.   To view failure not as a closure, but as an opening, as the impetus that pushes us forward.

So, yesterday, while reading Sherman Fleming’s 50 Actions for Gradual Improvement [in intercultural communication],I had an ah-ha moment. I want to share it with you because it sums up both the problem and solution to my South Tyrolean casalinga angst, but can be applied to so many other situations.

Accept Discomfort.  She writes, “So amidst all our differences, this is something fundamental that we share universally:experiencing discomfort, explaining our discomfort and trying to “solve” our discomfort. Once you look at discomfort in this light, you realize that you will never “solve” discomfort…Accepting that discomfort is normal and that there is nothing to fix or hide, and no one to blame, can be a huge relief. Acceptance does not mean that you will ever like discomfort. I’m sure all human beings prefer to feel comfortable all the time but that is an unrealistic expectation.

However,if that is your current expectation, I recommend that you practice accepting discomfort, instead. This will take practice, since acceptance of discomfort does not come naturally to most of us. So if your goal has been to eliminate or avoid discomfort, I encourage you to set a new one: accept discomfort.”you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen

Wow. Yes!  Feeling incompetent in parenting, housekeeping, language acquisition, artistic endeavors, work, communication, relationships, whatever you’ve got going on, feeling incompetent is so uncomfortable.  Accepting this discomfort with imperfection allows us to keep evolving.  It’s nice to know, we’re all in this existential cloud together.

As a friend recently reminded some of us on Facebook, if you want your grass greener, water it!    So, maybe I’ll take that sewing class even though I don’t speak German.  And maybe it will be REALLY hard and frustrating, but maybe I will learn enough, so that when I take it again, I get better.  And maybe I just won’t be that good at “keeping house”,but I will be good at taking care of myself, so that when my sweet son comes home from school, I am present and happy, and can whip out a felt sword or tent curtain or superhero cape with ease and skill.

I am watering my language lawn, taking my fourth Italian language course. I am filling my spirit with music lessons and I’m singing with a band.  I am feeding my body well and walking in fresh air with the sun on my face.  I am parenting with the bigger picture in mind. So even on days when I feel so uncomfortable and like I’m losing ground or treading water, I remind myself to accept discomfort and keep going.

I am SURE I will look back on this time fondly.  It’s just Perfectionism squawking in my ear with that freakish smile on her face, “You’re not fluent in Italian yet??  What is WRONG with you?  Are you stupida?? Come on! It’s your duty to keep this house clean.  You’re the one with all the time.  How hard can it be???  YOU know why L. doesn’t want to eat???! It’s your cooking!  Give him a PB&J on white bread with potato chips, bet he’ll be hungry then!  Give the kid a break! Quinoa? Seriously??  Who feeds their kid quinoa?!!  And take a SHOWER, for God’s sake.  You think he’s going to want to come home after a long, stressful day at work, to see you lying on the couch in sweats watching X-Factor??  Get it together, Hon’.”   I told you she was a bitch.


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