Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (I)

The word perfect used to permeate every aspect of my life. My former best friend believed my hair to be a weave because it was “always so perfect.” I’ve written before about how other friends shut down criticisms of my husband because they perceived him as “Mr. Rogers,” a human symbol of perfection. People believe our marriage to be perfect. While we believe we’re perfect for one another, a flawless union is impossible.

Accusations of my perceived perfection used to anger me, until I began looking closer at myself.

I used to put on lipstick just to take the trash out. I used to think long and hard before I opened my mouth for fear of sounding flawed. One reason I used to make a 360-mile, round-trip drive to a job was to prove I was good enough to be at what’s considered one of the top research universities in Florida. My perfectionist’s status was unconsciously crafted and maintained for decades.

But not anymore.

ae3e2302-12ce-4956-8558-b2d80c8cad6b-856-0000007d11cdc364I didn’t realize it at the time, but one way I ceased portraying perfectionism was when I went natural. Wearing my hair in its natural state helped with accepting myself as is. I had no idea how my hair would look or what I would need to do to maintain it. I literally had to learn to love how I looked every day, because with natural hair, your hair never looks the same two days in a row. I grew accustomed to strangers’ looks. I didn’t know if they were going to praise my hair or stare and remain silent. This helped me accept my whole self, no matter what, releasing an image of perfection.

Another thing that’s been helpful is arriving in public spaces in so-called socially unacceptable ways. I’ve done this at varied levels. Last year, Dwight and I were out of town and headed to have a drink in the hotel lobby. I didn’t feel like changing back into my clothes, so I joined him in my red Valentine’s Day leggings, Western Michigan University alumni sweatshirt, and old, tattered boots. I’m not sure how he felt about how I looked, and I didn’t care. Years ago, I would’ve feared who may see me in such a state, but not now. Now, I couldn’t care less. What does it matter how I show up to have a drink in a hotel lobby?

A third practice that limits perfectionism for me is focusing on myself in the here and now, without comparison. Yoga helps. With yoga, the concept is to do your best that day, which can change from just the day before. This idea allows me to accept myself as is in each moment. Just because I did the bomb pigeon pose last week doesn’t mean it will occur today. Also, I cannot be focused on standing on one leg, while worrying about how high yours is. It…is…impossible. I will surely fall over. I know because I’ve tried. In some ways, this has carried over to my life off the mat. Fall ’17 students may have thought I was the best, but Spring ’18 may not. That’s something I would’ve fretted over in the past. Today, I know it’s okay, as long as I did my best both semesters.

2a209f5d-90f7-4df8-af28-75ee0a59a925-1868-00000102153cd834Another thing that’s helped me accept my less than perfect self is to be intentional about what I’m doing and to focus on the process. Before, I was unconsciously stacking up achievements in an effort to be perfect in my own and everyone else’s eyes. As of 2015 and about 95% of the time, I consciously began choosing experiences aligned with my core being and that will benefit others in some way. While I would like for each outcome to be favorable, I’m no longer tied to the actual product. No matter what my mother tried to teach me, I now realize a perfect/imperfect product does not reflect me. Instead, I’m happy knowing that I began with a positive intention and had fun doing something I enjoyed, which, no matter what, will always turn out well for everyone’s best interest.

So, what say you? Do you have any suggestions for de-perfecting your life? I’d love to hear them.

Notes & Musings: Worry ‘Bout Yo Self

When I was in my 30s or so, I emailed my father because I’d had a revelation.

“You treat all of the women you’re connected to horribly,” I announced.

I’d cracked the code and I had proof. At the time, his mother was a recent double amputee, who’d just moved in with him and his wife. During a breakfast outing, she confided to Dwight and me that he was charging her rent.

I also recounted a rumor I’d heard about how he’d mistreated my own mother. It was something about helping another woman move to Moline, IL while my mother was hospitalized 165 miles away. The indiscretion occurred before I was born, but I’d heard about it so much, primarily when adults didn’t know I was listening, that I could re-tell it myself.

I left the secrets I’d accrued about his current relationship unsaid, and instead, concluded with his treatment of me, which included explicit and implicit abandonment and unfulfilled promises.

“You always did judge me harshly,” he wrote, “but you know what? You’d do better psychoanalyzing yourself.”

At the time, I was offended.

Wouldn’t knowing my parent offer insights into myself and our relationship? I mean, I guess I could’ve phrased it with a less judgmental tone, or used “I statements,” but I’m no therapist and at the time hadn’t sought therapy. All I suspected was that I may be better if I understood his patterns of behavior because parts of who he was had affected me in some way.

Or, was he right?

Would I do better to simply think deeply about my own negative behavior, which was quickly adding up and determine how to proceed with life in a healthier way? Would it be better to stare myself down in the mirror and focus on the image reflected back to me?

Nah.

Fifteen years ago, it was much easier to point out everyone else’s flaws than to identify and focus on my own. It always is. Plus, I wasn’t ready for that type of introspection.

conquer_oneselfBut, after finally doing the work, I find it’s also important to research your family of origin as a method of recognizing patterns of behavior they may have passed on to you. Sometimes these models have inextricably bound you together in unhealthy ways.

However, I do recognize the rudeness of my communication. If I had the opportunity to re-send this email to my father, I wouldn’t. I’d just accept the observations of his life as observations (and judgments) and be grateful about how helpful they may be for me.

While I believe we will do best to worry about ourselves, ultimately, we were each shaped by our first communities, our families. And understanding who they are/were can be integral to understanding ourselves.

What do you think?

Notes & Musings: Putting People In Boxes 📦

274c37f1-2160-49fd-830b-7fbc98aa85e0Last weekend, my family and I celebrated my goddaughter’s birthday. Our hotel had board games and a pool table in the lobby. Thanks to Dwight, we had an impromptu game night that lasted to midnight.

As is common for the 21st century, I took some photos and posted them to social media. A few people were surprised that I posed with a cue. And I was surprised they were surprised. Sometimes I’m able to let comments like these roll off my back; but this time, I was bothered, not only by their surprised reactions, but also by their accusations that I couldn’t possibly know how to shoot pool.

***

My great uncle, Uncle Webber taught me how to play when I was around 12 or 13 years old. He and Aunty Belle had just bought a home in Maywood, a Chicago west suburb. They had one of those garages that dips under the house. When you exited the car, you opened the door into the basement.

In their basement was a pool table, and that’s where I learned to play. Uncle Webber taught me. He taught me how to hold the cue. He showed me how to chalk the cue, and he helped me understand the rules of the game. Because I visited Aunty Belle and Uncle Webber often, I frequently practiced basic rules, like hitting the ball on a specific side to execute a shot.

I’m not saying I walked around the west side with a cue in my back pocket, hustling people, but I learned enough to know how to play. Just like riding a bike, those lessons stayed with me. When Dwight suggested we play the other day, I reviewed them and proceeded as I remembered.

But you can’t say all this on social media. There isn’t enough room, and it’s social media inappropriate, I suppose. Instead, I posted a few one-liners and lol’d my way through.

This has happened before. People are shocked that I do something other than teach or write. Playing pool is just one example. People are amazed that I cook food, which seems absurd, considering how much I like to eat and that I have a family, who throughout the years, has required meals.

I get that we can’t know every single facet of everyone’s identity or life. But that’s exactly why I think we shouldn’t assume that the 2-3 parts people show us is all they have to offer. Most people are multidimensional. While I teach for a living and write to promote thought, I also cook, play Spades, volunteer, read tarot cards, workout regularly, dance, and practice yoga.

Let’s stop putting friends and family in boxes and actually try to get to know one another. It could be as easy as starting a conversation that begins with, “I didn’t know you did blah blah blah,” which could lead to a cool story and a deeper understanding of an individual.

***

A few hours after I wrote this, I saw this video on FB that shows exactly what I’m saying:

Friendship and the Expectation of Support (Part III)

If you haven’t read Part I and II, then here’s a re-cap. I was a little hurt that none of my close friends had asked me how the latest book reading went.* As a result, I’d thought about it and concluded the following:

  • I should be grateful for those who showed support in the moment and
  • I shouldn’t be concerned with affairs of the ego.
woman standing near body of water
Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

My third conclusion is simple: Everyone is not a friend to me.

While it’s an easy lesson, it’s been a lifelong challenge to discern. As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m a friend to everyone. I treat people similarly. I don’t have hierarchies of distinction. For example, the friend I’ve known for twenty years will receive the same friendship and loyalty as the friend of twenty days. I’m cool with that. However, what I’ve had to learn, even in my late 40s, is that everyone is not a friend to me.

This was brought to my attention by my goddaughter and husband, with whom I had dinner after the book reading. My goddaughter suggested that some see me as some sort of grand persona, and because of that, folks I call friend might not realize I have the same needs as a ‘regular’ person, thus never creating a friendship. My hubby asked me to think about a specific friend. Why are you friends? Has she ever asked about what you’re doing? The answer was no, not really.

During my fourteen days of silence, I thought about this further, but on a grander scale. I call it a friendventory. (Do you like that word?) With my friendventory, I thought about all the people who I consider close. I asked myself two questions: (1) why are we friends and (2) how is the relationship symbiotic? I’m not going to use this space, time, or energy to name anyone specific, but I did develop three categories.

man s hand in shallow focus and grayscale photography
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

#1: We are friends because they need/needed help. I’ve developed quite a few relationships this way. People tend to come to me for advice because they think I know something. It doesn’t matter how many times I say you know what to do to put the onus of their lives back on them, they still ask. Likewise, because I like to talk, some sort of relationship tends to blossom. However, these people rarely ask about the happenings of my life.

#2: We are friends because we have common interests or like to be around each other. That’s it, right? That’s what friends are essentially. Whether we met at school or a job, there are several people I can pick back up with as if no time has passed. We have lengthy conversations about mutually agreed upon topics. Neither of us must explain what the other means; we nod in agreement at most things, and when there’s a disagreement, it’s not an issue. The relationship is comfortable and unforced. These people are my friends.

#3: We were only associates, not friends. Although it may feel like it in the moment, I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that for some people, the relationship never left the associate category. We may have met via some joint venture (e.g., work, school, writing), and we might even have pleasantries, which result in being friendly, but we are not friends. Ego and judgment aside, people in this category have shown me that they are not interested in being a part of my life or in developing a relationship. I would provide examples, but somehow, I think you all get the point.

If you’ve read one, two, or all three of these, then thank you! I appreciate your engagement and comments.

Part I and Part II

*Since writing this but before publishing it, someone I consider a friend did text me and ask about the reading 🙂

Friendship and the Expectation of Support (Part I)

tarra_kgOn June 13th, I hung out with my friend, Tarra. We ate fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, and lobster brie omelets. We discussed our deceased mothers and newly found biological families.

Tarra is a singer and actress. She’d just finished a show and needed rest. I was preparing for the Atlanta reading and needed to calm myself prior to attending. So, we also spent time at the beach, running through opened doors and moving with the ocean’s waves.

Somewhere during the day, she confided that she was thinking about who wasn’t at her shows, who didn’t support, who didn’t reach out. She knew she should focus on who was there, who did support, and who made time for her. She admitted this was something she should work on.

I agreed. But I also added, “It’s hard.”

Two days later, we had the Atlanta book reading. Even though it was an awesome event, not one close friend reached out to ask how it was, not even Tarra. Please do not misunderstand what I’m saying. Friends did contact me. They texted to tell me about the terrible and wonderful happenings in their life’s bubble. They just didn’t ask about this very important gathering I’d been talking about for months.

Like Tarra, I began to think about all the close friends I have and why they wouldn’t simply text and say, how was the reading?* I started to text each one and ask him or her personally, but quickly tossed that idea. I really don’t like to ask people to be who I want them to be. I’d much rather simply be aligned in thought, action, and behavior. Plus, I knew it was something I needed to work on, not them.

After processing my emotions for several days, I came to a few conclusions. The first is, like my friend, I needed to focus on who was supportive and who showed care that day.

The first is my husband, Dwight. He is always there in some way. Even when he can’t physically be present, he calls, jokes with me to lighten my mood, and wishes me well. He texts or calls after every event and asks me how it went and how I felt about the outcome. I appreciate that.

img_0801The second is the group of women who made the event possible. Bree spent her time, money, and energy planning a successful reading. The other three women traveled from other cities and states to share themselves with strangers. In my point of view, this is miraculous, and it’s definitely not something they had to do.

The third are people who attended. I didn’t do a head count, but at least 40 people came. Included in the audience was my stepmother, stepsister, a former Georgia College student and her mother, and a blogger I’d met for the first time (shout out to Yecheilyah).

Though my feelings were initially hurt, reminding myself that I did have support that day has shifted my energy about the situation.

That’s my first conclusion: focus on who shows up in ways you value.

I’ll share my second conclusion tomorrow.

*Since writing this but before publishing it, someone I consider a friend did text me and ask about the reading 🙂

Monday Notes: “Mr. F*ckin’ Rogers”

About fifteen years ago, two women had befriended me. One of them had a child the same age as my oldest daughter. At the time, she’d given birth to another, by a man, whom she was no longer with. During our friendship, she’d started dating and married another person altogether. The other had five children by one man, to whom she was divorced. Having remarried, she and the last one of her children lived with her new husband, who she’d eventually divorce.

We would usually convene over one of their houses, sip alcoholic drinks, and discuss women things: sex, periods, men.

On one occasion, we sat around a dining room table, red cups in hand. They both complained about their relationships. I don’t recall the details, but I do remember chiming in with whatever was bothering me about my husband.

“You don’t get to say nothing,” friend two interjected, “not when you’re married to Mr. f*ckin’ Rogers.”

They both howled with laughter. I gulped what was left of my drink and sat speechless for the remainder of the night.

Long before I’d met these women, my grandmother had taught me to sit in silence, to ignore how I felt about my experiences. Nothing I said was important enough to add to any grown-folks’ conversation. And because I was always surrounded by adults, I’d discovered that nothing I had to say about living life was ever of value, even if it was my own.

That one moment exemplified why I was rarely vulnerable with specific people. When I was twelve, there was one best friend with whom I stifled feelings about my parents. Her mother had moved thousands of miles away from her ghetto Chicago neighborhood to be a hairstylist for celebrities in California. My friend was left to be raised by her grandmother. To her, the image of my life was perfect. What could I have to complain about with two loving parents, adopted or not?

Years later, after we’d both had children of our own, that same friend confessed, “We’ve known each other for a long time, but I don’t feel like I really know you at all.”

mask2It’s no wonder. I’d become a master at masking my true emotions about a thing, while hurt festered in the fiber of my being and manifested as inappropriate adult behavior.

This is what can happen when we devalue the voices of those around us. This is what can occur when we lack the ability to empathize. Those we claim to care about and to love may learn to either shrink their existence to make way for the largest voice in the room, or they may seek to be seen and heard in unhealthy ways.

I’d learned to do both, depending on the situation.

Today, however, I function in healthier ways with people whom I choose to interact.

With my children, I give them the space to give words to their emotions. If you talk to either one of them, you’ll notice they begin with the phrase “I feel like…” quite a bit. I believe it’s because I’ve always encouraged them to reflect and feel, whether I want to hear it or not.

With my friends and family, I listen to what people have to say. I never compare pain. If you’re upset by something I don’t understand or that isn’t of value to me, then okay. I’m not the emotion police. All feelings are important and have the right to be heard, no matter their size or subject.

With myself, I refuse to be silenced simply because my life is different than those around me. I know that different doesn’t mean less important. I don’t allow friends or family to guilt me for having things they do not. For example, just because you cannot find a happy healthy relationship, doesn’t mean I cannot discuss how being married has affected me.

Finally, I’m more discerning about the people with whom I’m aligned. This act alone has helped to create relationships that are more satisfying and symbiotic. In this way, I know that I’m participating in partnerships that are both valuable and valued, and by extension, so am I and what I have to say.

siSTARS with Tikeetha Thomas (Part 2)

In this interview, Tikeetha discusses her understanding of forgiveness with regards to her relationship with her father. Also, Michelle asks her about her process for healing. With Father’s Day just around the corner in the States, I feel this is a timely discussion. Please feel free to add your thoughts about forgiveness and healing and how it manifests in your life.

Monday Notes: 5 Suggestions Before Asking Someone to Follow Your Business on Social Media

A few months ago, a friend asked me to follow her on social media because she’s re-branding and doing new things. Of course, I obliged because she’s my friend, and you know that’s what some friends do in the 21st century…support to increase the person’s social media platform in the beginning stages.

Following her, however, has prompted a few pieces of advice about maintaining a social media presence as a business or nonprofit:

Know your social media handle. As soon as she asked, I clicked on my Twitter icon and proceeded to look for her.

Me: Is it this one? @friend19_74?

Her: Oh, let me see…nope, nope, not that one. Try @friend1974.

Me: Is this you?

Her: Oh, naw, naw. Try @1974friend.

Me: So, this looks like you because your picture is here.

Her: Yes. Yes. That’s the one.

twitter_marchKeep your social media current. Once we found the correct account, I scrolled through, as is customary for me to do with strangers. I want to see what the person has posted recently. I want to get a feel for what they typically share. You know. Do they troll people? Do they engage in Twitter arguments just for the sake of being seen? Do they say mean and inaccurate stuff about celebrities or news? When I scrolled through my friend’s page, her last retweet was from seven months prior. Even at the time of my writing this, her last tweet was two months ago. Why would I follow a business that tweets infrequently?

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my baker cousin’s cupcakes

Make your social media relevant. My friend’s business is very niche. Let’s say for the sake of example that she sells cupcakes. When her IG photos pop up in my feed, there is information about cupcakes in the Bay area. If I don’t live there, or even on the West coast, then seeing cupcake info doesn’t interest me. But maybe if you post about those yummy cupcakes you just made, or link to a vegan cupcake recipe that I just have to try, or post a video of yourself making the cupcakes, then at the least, I’ll want to double-tap, and at the most, I’ll look for the website, friend or not.

Choose one site you really enjoy. Nowadays, people will have you to believe that business owners should be actively engaged on every social media site available. If you’re Nike or something, maybe. But, if you’re a small startup, I don’t think this is true, and I believe it’s caused people to burn both ends of the candle, so to speak. For example, a friend suggested I use Periscope when it first launched. I never did because I knew I didn’t have time to learn the inner workings of yet another site. But also, I was comfortable participating in what I was already doing.

Consider this, if you’re not really a photo/video person, then maybe you shouldn’t have an IG account. If you have more to say than will fit into 280 characters, then forgo Twitter. And if you despise FB so much, then let it go. Your social media presence will thrive when you engage in ways that you value, not because someone told you it’s a business requirement.

Do you all have any other advice for business owners who use social media?