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Forget Perfection

I’m starting to feel like someone is spying on me, noticing how hard I can be on myself for falling short in one area or another because targeted messages on the dangers of perfectionism seem to be coming at me from every angle. 

It’s like when I send emails, search a particular topic on the internet or buy something online, and then suddenly I get Google and Facebook ads related to those exact topics. I hate being watched and monitored so closely.

In Church, we talked about perfection and how expecting to become perfect “at once” leads to disappointment. “Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today,” we were taught.

Then I got an email from a writer’s group with the headline, “You Have to Be Okay With Less Than Perfect.”

It included this poem:

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in”

–from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”

Then, another email arrived from Oprah about Brene Brown’s “Four Totally Surprising Lessons We All Need to Learn.” http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Life-Lessons-We-All-Need-to-Learn-Brene-Brown.

Brene-Brown-On-Being-Graphic-Recording
Brene-Brown-On-Being-Graphic-Recording (Photo credit: On Being)

It quoted the same poem about perfection I’d read in the writing group email.

Brown’s lesson number three was “Perfectionism Is Not About Striving for Excellence.”

She said, “For some of us (including me), what I’m about to say is horrifying: Perfectionism is not about achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”

She said, “Somewhere along the way, we adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. A ticker tape began to stream through our heads: Please. Perform. Perfect.”

According to Brown, research shows that perfectionism hampers success and often leads to depression, anxiety, addiction and missed opportunities, due to fears of putting anything out in the world that could be imperfect or disappoint others.

“It’s a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight,” she said.

So I’ve wondered, “what 20-ton shield am I lugging around that I think is protecting me?”

I don’t believe I’m a perfectionist. I’ve never cared about being perfect. I’m fine with my cracks.

Or so I thought.

But, then I thought more about those three words: please, perform, perfect.

I realized that while I don’t expect to be perfect, I do expect to improve and get better.

I’m learning there’s a fine line between obsessing over being perfect and feeling driven to be better.

If we’re not careful, they end up being the same thing and putting us into the same destructive cycles that create feelings of never being good enough.

Because of my health history, it is vital for me to diligently take care of myself.

So, I do my best to move more and eat less. I expect to see results from those efforts. Yet, week after week, the scale doesn’t budge and my clothes fit the same as the week and months before. Then I wonder, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? Other people succeed at this. Why can’t I?”

Those questions never lead me to a happy place. They only lead to frustration, disappointment, and insecurity.

So, I try to concentrate on improving my behaviors. I tell myself to forget about being perfect in this area because it’s impossible. I want to be happy doing what is best for my health even if nothing changes. 

This is not easy.

It requires me accepting that I am a cracked pot — you know, the flawed pot that couldn’t hold any water and the water leaked out through the cracks while being carried by its owner from the creek?

The poor little pot hated its cracks and wanted to be perfect like the other pots around it…until it notices the flowers that sprung up on its path. Everywhere the pot was carried there was a trail of beautiful flowers.

Public Flower Garden in downtown Seattle
Public Flower Garden in downtown Seattle (Photo credit: FallenPegasus)

This has to be one of life’s toughest lessons because it means we can’t stop trying to improve even though we don’t see progress being made.

A little self acceptance may sooth my feelings about all my cracks.

I’m hoping that if I give myself some slack, I’ll notice the flowers I’m watering along my path without even realizing it.

It’s worth a try.

Health

Flu Season? I’ve got what you need

Paregoric Elixir
Paregoric Elixir (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Flu season reminds me of my mom’s medical advice and remedies.

Ever heard of paregoric? Paregoric was the go-to medicine of my childhood.

When I called my Mom when Sara was a baby to tell her that Sara had colic and cried nonstop for several hours at a time, she said, “Oh that baby needs paregoric!”

Paregoric is a combination of some form of opium mixed with a compound from a camphor tree that is used in insect repellant.  Great stuff for a baby.

Camphor tree
Camphor tree (Photo credit: wallygrom)

It was a popular cure-all in the 1950s. You could rub it on a teething baby’s gums to relieve the pain, give babies a little dab of it to calm their nerves or control a cough.  I think it was a controlled substance by the time I had babies.

Congested or have a cold? You definitely need a “mustard plaster.”

Keen's Dry Mustard 1992 113g tin front
Keen’s Dry Mustard 1992 113g tin front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just the words “mustard plaster” make my eyes water and my chest skin burn. I will never forget the scalding hot red chest I had after one of those treatments.

Mustard plasters were so legendary in my family that my aunt included the concoction in my Grandma’s book of favorite recipes.

“1 tsp dry mustard and 3 tsp of flour. Directions: add enough water to make paste. Spread on half an oblong cloth. Fold it over and lay on chest. Place a dry cloth over to keep your clothes dry. Keep on just until skin is red. Leave it on too long, it will blister.”

This remedy irritates mucus membranes and breaks up a cold, but beware because it also can make you sneeze, burn your skin and cause boils, and make your eyes sting like crazy.

Have a canker in your mouth? Dab a little salt right on that baby, and it’ll disappear in no time.

Warning: salt on a canker is like salt on any other wound, and there’s a reason “adding salt to the wound” is a popular adage for making something worse.

My Grandma once complained about a corn on her toe. My mom said, “Tie an elastic band around it.”

“Why would I do that?” Grandma asked. “I don’t want it to fall off!”

“Well, it will take your mind off of the corn!” she said.

She had a knack for diagnosing how we got certain maladies too.

Ever have pink eye or a sty in your eye? Clearly you had peed in the road. Yes, you read that right. You must have peed in the road. Everybody knows peeing in the road causes eye problems. And, everybody pees in the road, don’t they?

Sore throat? A drop of sticky, orange methylate (mercurochrome) down the old gullet will cure you. A little drop rubbed on a scrape would heal you up in no time too. And, a little mercury never hurt anybody…

And if the chest cold is still lingering, generously slather Vick’s vapor rub on your throat, chest, and inside those nostrils. You’ll be better in no time.

Vick
Vick (Photo credit: Lord Biro)

If all this fails, call the doctor.

Actually, maybe you’d be wise to call the doctor first.