We live in a generation of over-programming, efficiency and accomplishment. Type A women in particular are not able to truly provide self-care due to their innately driven personality. How does one be present when the never-ending to-do list drives perfection, which ultimately drives internal satisfaction?
The pressure to be perfect is generally not something that comes from outside factors rather it is something within us that drives towards this constant state of doing. Yes, our environment can perpetuate the drive towards perfection. If we take a moment and self-reflect (I know who has time for that) most of us will find, we impose perfection upon ourselves, which ends up leaving us tired and empty.
Let me explain…
My mantra was “Be Brief, Be Bright and Be Gone!” Time is the only thing we have control over and by God I was good at using my time. I didn’t have time for anything or anyone to get in the way of my to-do list. I had a lot to get done and short amount of time; after all, I am a wife, mom (2 kids under 6), business owner (working 80 hours a week), friend, daughter, and fitness instructor. (Read: my excuse for going through life as a robot)
My daily goal included, how much can I get done in the shortest amount of time (classic Type A personality). I prided myself on my efficiency and still do today but for different reasons.
My to-do list completion drove my engine; I was given a proverbial gold star daily when I crossed things off my list. The inside chatter included, hurry up, get it done, don’t waste time, you got this and people are depending upon you. Everyday I was able to show my worth through outside factors.
My self-imposed schedule was tight, there was no room for feelings, emotions, sickness, set backs, elongated conversations, sit down lunches, long walks, it was go go go! Until it was not, go go go. You see, I hit a point in my life where I could not do it all anymore. I was physically and mentally exhausted to the point where I figured there had to be something medically wrong with me. Changes had to be made.
I could no longer live a programmed robotic life and run on the never-ending hamster wheel of accomplishment, busyness and perfection. So I did what a classic type A person would do and added more to the to-do list, but these items included things such as time for other and time for myself. As I soon found out, adding more on top of the existing to-do list was not going to be the answer; real changes had to be made.
I tried many different methods to figure these things out and what it came down to was soul-searching to find the driving factors behind my “why”. Yep, I get it, not a fun thing to do and not the answer I wanted either.
Why did I need to do all these things on my list? Why did I need to get so much done? Why was busyness and perfection my go-to? Who really cared if I did things well and was “perfect”? What was my ultimate goal?
The answer finally came to the surface: I was feeding the perfection monster so I didn’t have to truly be present- because truth be told, living as an efficient robot is predicable, controllable and often supported with verbal praise. I knew how to operate in the middle not being too high or too low. I knew that if I did “X” I would get my “fix” of praise. Just being and allowing life to happen is scary and unpredictable.
My end game wasn’t to be the most efficient/accomplished person in the world rather it was to create a fulfilling life for my family, my friends and myself. In the midst of the “try,” I lost sight on what was really important, relationships. My twisted thinking made me believe that once I got everything done, then life would be full, rich, enjoyable, happy, calm and stress-free. Unfortunately, the list never ended there was always something else that had to be done.
Therefore I had to learn to live now, not in the future. I know we have all heard the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote reminding us that the journey is more important than the destination. This is something I remind myself often.
I had to find a way to still have a to-do list but not be run by the list. I started with going back to my ultimate goal of relationships and evaluating how I could make a shift in my life to protect the very thing I was missing. I thought about how I was prior to the race towards perfection, and I was a happy, fun, entertaining, energetic woman. I needed to get her back.
There were small things I started doing.
I limited my work travel. I added more personal travel. I invited friends over even if the house wasn’t perfect. I went on long walks with friends and family with no agenda other then to be with them. I carved out time for unstructured playtime with my kids where we did absolutely nothing but looks at the clouds. I called the people in my life that I knew would talk my ear off and was ok with listening to their stories (come on, you know who I am talking about- the ones that if you call for a quick question, it will be 30 minutes later without your question being answered). I gave myself 10 minutes a day to focus just on me by turning off all technology and just breathing. I allowed myself to just be and adjusted to my thinking to the journey not the destination.
I wish I could tell you I have it all figured out but that would be far from the truth. It is an evolving process; I have gotten better at it but still fall short. Your journey will be different from mine but I can give you hope and encouragement that once you alleviate yourself from perfection and outside pressure, life gets incrementally more enjoyable.
The old me would give you a list of to-do’s to help you break free of perfectionism and busyness. Unfortunately, I found that tactic seems to reinforce the very thing you are trying to change. What I can offer you are some of the truths that have been shown to me through this process:
You are not defined by your accomplishments or your to-do list
Busy does not equal important
You do NOT have to do it all
You don’t have to be everything to everyone
Relationships are the one thing you can keep high on your to-do list
Perfectionism keeps us isolated and exhausted reaching for ideals that will never come
It’s ok to do absolutely nothing and not have an agenda; often times, that is when life really happens
Your worth does not change based upon opinions, you were made perfect by your creator and nothing you do will change your worth
In closing, I think this excerpt from The Sweet Spot: How to Find your Groove at Home and Work, might resonate with you:
1. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist – This book really spoke to me and provides great insight into how to not have to do it all.
2. Headspace.com— a 10-minute breathing exercise that helps slow things down and focus on yourself, download the app on your phone.
- Shared anonymously -