Perfectionism also used to dictate how I showed up in personal and work relationships. There was a time when I did things because I wanted to be perceived as the best fill-in-the-blank person. For example, I wanted to be the best co-worker, so I overextended myself, attended meetings that had little value, and was always the first to complete a task. I wanted whatever director or department chair over me to see me as “the best.” Oftentimes, I functioned similarly with family. I wanted to be seen as the person whom everyone could count on, the person who my cousins could call no matter what. So, I visited for holidays even though it wasn’t ideal; I showed up with my family in tow, no matter how it impacted my household. This was due in part to the perfectionist identity I’d unconsciously developed.
But functioning like that bred resentment. There were many times when I would be the “best co-worker” and when it went unnoticed, I took it personally and grew bitter, wondering why no one acknowledged my extra efforts. Or better yet, I’d be mad because someone who’d done less received accolades for minimal activity. When we drove our family out of state year after year, I grew angry. Few family members ever planned holiday visits to my home.
Around 2015, I stopped worrying about being the best co-worker, best family member, best friend, or best anything and started just being the best version of me for me. In action, this simply means that instead I focus on being present and doing the best I can in that moment. I avoid doing things that don’t physically or emotionally feel good or that cause my family or me distress. And the last thing I think about is how the other people to whom the answer is sometimes, “no” may feel.
Functioning this way takes practice and sometimes I lapse. For those times, I pause and become more conscious. For example, the chair of a committee I’m on sent an invite on a Sunday evening for a meeting that began at 5:00 PM on Monday. Not only was the meeting scheduled at the last minute, but it was also 20 minutes farther from where we typically meet, which would add on to my already hour and 45-minute commute. My first thought was to rearrange everything so that I could make the meeting. But then I stopped and asked myself why? Why am I doing this for someone who scheduled a meeting at the last minute? The only reason I would is to appear like the “best co-worker.” It had nothing to do with the value of the agenda. Instead of acquiescing, I simply told her I couldn’t make it. And you know what? The world did not end. I’m not fired. I’m still on the committee, and I saw them the following month.
I hope this isn’t confused with the idea of “doing your best.” No matter what I do, I give 100%. I’m fully present and invested. I’m just no longer concerned with being perceived as the best.
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.
I 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.
Another 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.
Yoga sparks my creativity. I’m sure there’s some scientific/spiritual rationale of which I’m unaware, but for me, the proof is production. With all my Unhappy Wifemarketing, it became challenging to write anything new, so I decided to engage in seven days of yoga. Consequently, I attained more than creativity.
Monday, October 31st(Yoga Den, Mandarin 7:45-9:00 P.M.) It slipped my mind that today was Halloween, so I almost didn’t make it. I wanted to pass out the four bags of peanut and peanut butter M&Ms that Dwight’s eyes had signaled was too much. But I’d promised myself attendance at Sun Flow Yin. I would have to rely on my nonsocial daughters to take the lead. One little boy showed up right before I left. Turns out he was the only trick-or-treater we got this year, so I didn’t miss anything and my daughters didn’t have to interact with people.
Today’s Lesson: Follow your instinct.
Tuesday, November 1st(LA Fitness, Kernan, 9:45-10:45 A.M.) I slept like a six-month old baby snuggled in between co-sleeping parents. I’m attributing a good night’s rest to the previous night’s yoga. However, practicing back-to-back made me nervous. My anxiety floated away once I noticed a guy doing downward facing dog in his drawers. I was slightly distracted, not because anything showed, but because I kept wondering if those were indeed his skivvies. They were. The bright blue band around the top gave it away. I didn’t think my yoga crew noticed because there were no side eyes or eyebrow raises. He and I walked out together and he engaged me in conversation. Underwear guy’s name is Joe. He’d lost his wife seven years ago in a drunk driving accident. She left him with a set of twin boys and a daughter to raise. Without yoga, he believed he would’ve died too.
Lesson: You never know what someone’s gone through, so treat them with kindness.
Wednesday, November 2nd(Yoga Den, Mandarin 6:30-7:30 P.M.) I loathe Wednesdays. On this day, I drive two hours to teach one class that lasts an hour and fifteen minutes. The angst of the drive begins Tuesday night and settles into my consciousness, making for a stressful morning and grumpy day. But today felt a little different. Maybe back-to-back yoga helped me maintain peace. After class, I usually drive to main campus and participate in a meeting, work in my office until 5:00, and then leave. The chair cancelled today’s meeting, so I graded papers until 3:45 and made it back home just in time for Mind-Body yoga. To be honest, I chose this yoga because the time was appropriate. But the lesson about mind-body connection was also what I needed to hear. Hopefully, I can put it into practice this coming Wednesday.
Lesson: Everything begins in the mind.
Thursday, November 3rd(LA Fitness, Kernan, Jacksonville, Florida 9:45-10:45 A.M.) Welp, my yoga crew did notice that Joe and his undies. They were in a circle discussing it as I rolled out my mat. By the time I returned from the restroom, someone had approached Joe about it. I came back just in time to hear this:
Joe: Y’all shouldn’t be looking at me anyways. Yoga is supposed to be a meditation. Y’all should be meditating. Everybody in here should be able to do yoga naked ‘cause we should all be so focused on ourselves.
Mrs. Gail: That’s what I tried to tell ‘em Joe!
I politely stretched into child’s pose and minded my own business.
Lesson: Focus on yourself.
Friday, November 4th(Yoga Den, Mandarin, Jacksonville, Florida 9:15-10:45 A.M.) I almost didn’t make it today you guys. The bed was so warm and cozy. And I thought to myself, KG, you’ve already done four days. Isn’t that good enough? Then, that same nagging feeling I get when I make self-promises began to surface. It’s familiar. I cannot tell myself I’m going to do a thing and not follow through. Off to yoga I went. This isn’t any old type of yoga. The instructor begins by playing a banjo and we all chant Om Namah Shivaya. Then, we chant three OMs and begin our practice. It’s intense. Today, I almost threw up. I know that’s not a good yoga practice if you almost hurl. And it certainly goes against what you’re supposed to be practicing in the first place. I thought I was done overachieving, but this proved otherwise. Every now and then, I still unconsciously overextend myself; yoga is no different. I’m working on it. After Savasana, she plays the banjo again and we do three more OMs. This particular practice is my favorite one, but it usually doesn’t come behind four other yoga days.
Lesson: Be true to yourself by honoring your word. Be mindful.
Saturday, November 5th (LA Fitness, Lakewood, Jacksonville, Florida 11:00 A.M.-12:00 P.M.) On Saturdays, I wake up sans alarm clock. I lie in bed, blog a little, write a little, and then decide what I’m going to do. Not today. Friday afternoon, my goddaughter texted to inform me that the local bookstore had run out of copies of The Unhappy Wife.
“So I can come Monday?” I asked Jen, the owner.
“We’re open Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 A.M.” she replied.
I broke my usual routine and was at the bookstore by 9:00 A.M.
“Thank you so much,” she started, “Really appreciate you.”
“No. Thank you,” I smiled.
We were helping one another. Because of her, I didn’t have to sell books out of my trunk, and because of me, she was gaining more customers and revenue. This was the win-win I’d heard so much about.
Afterwards, I went to yoga.
Lesson: If you want something, you have to be willing to break self-made traditions.
Sunday, November 6th (Walk with Dwight) By this day, I was tired of yoga. My shoulders felt as if I’d been lifting weights all day. My core was a bit tighter, but hurt when I bent to the side. My legs felt as if I’d done 100 squats each day. So Dwight and I took our usual Sunday walk.
Lesson: Know when to listen to your body, as opposed to your mind.
My creativity is back, but quite honestly, three days worth of yoga is quite enough for me.
I could tell she was new as soon as she arrived. Late. It’s not that you can’t come to yoga late but we were fifteen minutes in. She had missed all the focus-your-mind, set-an-intention stuff.
Second tip was that she came fully dressed. I watched her through my downward facing dog. She unbuttoned her trench coat. She slipped her salmon colored infinity scarf carefully over her newly relaxed hair. Are those riding boots new girl? Sheesh. It’s 50 degrees today. Now those had to be removed, along with her socks. Finally, she could roll out her mat, which perfectly matched the scarf. She must’ve gotten it from Target cause it had the same lotus flower as mine.
Bend your knees. Jump or move to the front of your mat. Halfway lift. Forward fold.
New girl wasn’t done. She had to lotion her hands and feet. She’s gonna regret that. I thought. I learned the hard way one time how slippery that makes your practice. The lotion was a small brown bottle with ENERGY across the front. Bath and Body Works.
I wonder how that guy keeps his glasses on? He was about 6’2”. Dreadlocks graced his back. Think he comes to the Tuesday morning class too. I sweat so much I’m pretty sure my glasses would fall right on the ground. And then I wouldn’t be able to see a thing. What do I need to see anyway, though?
All the way up. Little back bend. Chair pose. A little lower. Palms together. Now turn to the right.
Noooo dreadlock guy! Your other right. This is awkward. We’re facing each other. Yeah, he does come on Tuesdays, too. Guess I’ll look up at the ceiling until this part is over.
Focus. Focus. Focus.
Back to center. Now turn left. You can open your arms or leave them where they are. Remember, it’s your practice.
Least new girl is facing the right way. That guy next to her looks familiar. Think I recognize that brown spot on his toe. Sean? Stan? Sam? What is his name? He plays tennis and needs to stretch his back. Oh maybe that’s not him. S-name guy is a little older than he is.
Hands plant. Jump or step back. Lower chaturanga. Breathe in. Upward. Breathe out. Downward facing dog. Lift your right leg up. Bring your knee to your chest. Right knee in front of your right hand. Right foot in front of your left thigh. Lower if it’s comfortable.
Finally. A pose that will allow me to focus, free from all these people distracting me.
Hate to gross you out but you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to share a lesson learned. What you’re looking at is my burned hand. It’s in process of healing. On December 30th, I held a convo with my oldest daughter, Kesi, while simultaneously pouring boiling, hot water into a mug. Because I was listening to her and not paying attention to how the scalding water got into the cup, I totally missed the destination and emptied it over my left hand.
Here’s why I’m sharing.
A lot of my writing is about being mindful and paying attention in grandiose ways: yoga, eating, working, relationships. Really, we should be mindful in each moment. Either I should have poured water, or I should have finished my conversation. As simple as it seems, I shouldn’t have attempted both. But I’m a product of my environment. Our culture values multi-tasking. However, it didn’t serve me well here. Once my hand was on fire, whatever we discussed turned insignificant. Cold water. Neosporin. Gauze. Holding back a teardrop. That’s where my attention shifted. And trust me, that’s all I was focused on at the time.
It’s really hard to be mindful in each moment. Today, I’ll just start with paying attention to how I pour hot water.
For 21 days, I had no sugars and carbs. I deactivated my Facebook account. I exercised. And I meditated. Why? Why would you do this to yourself, friends and family have asked. The simple answer is it’s a form of discipline. More in depth answers are below.
No sugars and carbs is a great way to stop craving sugars and carbs. The thing about me is that I’m a real food eater. Meaning, if I had to choose between a full-course meal and a slice of cake, then I unequivocally will choose the full-course meal. But after vacation eating in June and then stress eating in July, I began requesting and making multiple visits to Sweets by Holly for mini red velvet cupcakes. Detoxing from this stuff started my re-set button.
Deactivating Facebook for at least 21 days is mandatory for me. Each social media site has its own perks and drawbacks, but I find Facebook to be the most time consuming because of personal connections. Having multiple inbox conversations, liking and questioning friends’ and family members’ posts is fun. But sometimes it’s a huge distraction. Detoxing from this site forced me to pick up the phone and actually check on people when they floated across my mind. And most of the time, direct communication felt better.
Exercising for 21 consecutive days helps me to practice listening to my body. Some days I practiced yoga. Other days I ran. Functional exercises occurred somewhere in between. And on those lazy weekend days when my body wasn’t used to working out? I took a 3-mile walk outside. The point is I used intuition to determine what would be an appropriate way to move. No app. No trainer. Just me. And it worked. I felt good about what I was doing and there was no burnout.
A 21-day Meditation quiets my mind so that I can focus on one particular aspect of self-improvement. For example, last year I chose to concentrate on relationships. During that one, I learned to love my core self more; consequently, other relationships began to flourish. This year, I meditated on the energy of attraction. I’ll keep you posted on those benefits as they occur.
Focus is important. Whether it’s ditching sugar or unplugging from social media, adding exercise and meditation, or something else altogether, doing (or not doing) an activity for 21 days helps to jumpstart mindfulness. Being aware can also spark a bit of consciousness as you deliberately think about your SELF and how you’re living. Depending on your activity, those small changes may not only positively impact you, but also those around you.