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Fed Up With Perfectionism?

upside-down-proverb

 

“If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”  — G.K. Chesterton

Ever turn a proverb upside down?  In “Way of All Flesh” by Samuel Butler, Ernest was annoyed and surprised at his parents for wanting him to be more religious all his life, and when he did, they were still not satisfied. He said to himself that a prophet was not without honors save in his own country, but he had gotten into an odious habit of turning proverbs upside down, and it occurred to him that a country is sometimes not without honor save for its own prophet.

It helps sometimes, to see what happens.    Many of us are brought up to believe that we have to do, excel, finish first, get on the team, do a good job, see it through, get it done on time, say it right, get ahead, and on and on, better and better as we go.  Why?  Maybe that’s the way Dad did it; and Grandma did it and that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

And then, inevitably, we’d fail or fall. So we’d turn back on ourselves in shame, beat ourselves up, maybe turn to alcohol or drugs or some other addiction.  If we were failures in public, then many of us would make up our own private world where failure doesn’t exist.  In this little world fantasy ruled, and in fantasy there are only successes; everybody scores

But I have come to know that it doesn’t have to be so.  We can break the spell and stop beating ourselves, and get away from Father’s angry voice or that disappointed look on Mother’s face.  We can do things at our own speed, in our own unique way, on our own timeline, just for the joy of doing them.


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You Are In Integrity

“You are in integrity when the life you live is an authentic expression of who you are.” — Alan Cohen

 

That’s Who I Used to Be

“Every forward step we take we leave some phantom of ourselves behind.”  –John Spalding

There are some people who knew all too well the person I was – before I started to focus on becoming a more emotionally healthy person through personal growth.  I know that a person can’t do the kind of work I have on myself and remain unchanged.  However, for whatever reason, these people cling to the toxic images in their minds of my former self.  I know that each day brings more depth to my spirituality, and with that comes change.

A friend of mine once shared with me that he begins each day by saying out loud, “O.K. God, surprise me!”  Although each day brings new challenge, the one thing it won’t bring is perfection.  I know that each day I can expect a mixed bag of experiences and all kinds of emotions to match.

If I begin to feel discouraged because of someone’s inability or refusal to see how different I have become, or even negative about life in general, I cultivate an attitude of gratitude by looking back at how far I have come.  I remind myself, its progress I’m looking for in myself, not perfection.  There’s always something to be grateful for, including the ability to be grateful!

Your Authentic Self

 

“To thine own self be true…”

 

Most of us associate this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78-82:

Polonius:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Laertes:
Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.

“To thine own self be true” is Polonius’s last piece of advice to his son Laertes; Polonius has in mind something much more Elizabethan than the New Age self-knowledge that the phrase now suggests. To me, what I get from this quote is that unless we can be true to ourselves first, we cannot be true to others.

My path of personal growth has led me recently to wonder, what exactly is one’s “authentic self”? How do we get there? From this exploration, I have summarized what I have learned and am eager to share it with you.

Definitions:

Authentic: Genuine; literally self-authored or endorsed.

Self: Your physical and mental being with all its human and unique characteristics.

Authentic Self: The true you; aligned and congruent self-image, stature, values, beliefs, goals, behavior, word, and public image.

Your Authentic Self and Truth

How many of us have a hard time being true to ourselves?  Those of us that gave up so much of our Self just so that we could be in the life of another did so at the cost of losing who we are in the process. By allowing someone else to define who we are caused us to lose our ability to discover and grow inwardly.  We no longer are able to discern a truth from a lie.  For many of us, we have accepted lies for so long, that finding out what is truth takes time.

Truth is a word that brings out negative reactions to many of us. Accepting truth about ourselves is difficult, especially to those of us who have been abused.  But truth does set one free if we will allow it to; it is a crucial part of healing.  It gives us the freedom to be who we are.  We are able to come to terms with our weakness (without judgment or condemnation) and appreciate our strength.  Truth gives strength; it naturally builds healthy boundaries.

Truth is open; it is honest even at the risk of being vulnerable again.  Truth fears no reaction. Truth is light and brings forth life.  When we walk in truth, we walk in light and when we walk in light we live a healthy life.

Truth is also love.  The greatest act of love towards another is living a life that is truthful.  For those of us who find it difficult to love ourselves, we will find it will come more easily when we are truthful about who we are.  If we walk in truth, we walk in perfect love, and if we walk in perfect love, then we do not walk in fear because perfect love cast out fear.  Because we have been honest with ourselves, we are able to love ourselves with all of our imperfections, knowing that we are a work in “progress” and therefore need not have others approval.

“And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”

The second part of this verse is a natural occurrence if we hold true to the first part of the verse.  So, when in doubt about our motives of not being truthful with someone….look inside, are we being less than truthful to ourselves?

Just what makes up an “authentic person”?  It is someone who:

Has great listening skills: everyone, regardless of who they are, wants to be acknowledged, appreciated and loved. When you are engaged in a conversation with someone, are you truly focusing 100% of your attention on what that person is saying? Or is your brain formulating something to say at the next available opportunity?  Are your eyes constantly roaming the room, wondering who else just walked in? An authentic person’s attention is razor-sharp, making the other person feel like the most important person in the world.

Treats others fairly: When carrying out your role, whether it be a mother, business executive, pilot, waitress, teacher or coach, to name a few, you are always dealing with other people. The biggest secret is how you treat them. Do you treat others with respect or are you condescending, especially if they screwed up?

Has integrity: Everyone wants something. But authentic people are conscious of the operative watchword: integrity. They will do the ethical thing even if it means a loss of personal benefits for themselves.

Has the ability to communicate: Business leaders who conscientiously communicate in the open, especially when there is a lot of uncertainty hovering over the future of their employees, end up earning tremendous amount of trust. Rather than hiding behind the cloak of their boardrooms, they step up to the plate and keep people informed as much as possible. Authentic people make themselves valuable because they care enough to keep others in the loop by communicating.

Has the willingness to show transparency: I’ve done a lot of public speaking in my life. Public speakers who aren’t afraid to stand up on stage and speak from the heart, showing their childlike enthusiasm and not presenting themselves as flawless packages, often win the hearts of their audiences.

Why? Because it makes them real. Authentic speakers go into a speaking engagement with the attitude of “I am grateful all these people are spending time with me and I will give them a reason to laugh, cry and otherwise enjoy themselves without worrying how I look.”

Inauthentic speakers will say, “Well, there’s a bunch of jerks out there, I’ll just get in there, get it over and fool them senselessly with my appearance of great success.” People who are willing to be transparent win the love and respect of others.

Food for thought: Authentic people make more friends in two weeks by becoming interested in other people than in 2 months by trying to get other people interested in them!

Some experts on authenticity assert that if an individual is not living authentically in their lives, then they lose meaning and can fall into chronic anxiety, boredom and despair. People might pursue “quick fixes” to avoid the responsibility of living authentically with quick fixes such as anesthetizing themselves with alcohol or drugs or living in fantasies.

Becoming your Authentic Self

To become your authentic self, begin by knowing yourself. Understand human nature, what you can change and what you cannot, your own personality traits, learned behaviors, your values, beliefs, needs, goals, and motives. Consider the choices, events and people who may have “molded” you. Begin to know what guides you throughout life. Know your true strengths. Apply your true strengths to authentic goals. Gain the confidence to be humble. Begin to integrate and align your values, beliefs and actions.

We must face the fears that block our inner truths from coming out, especially the fear of rejection. Even when we feel strong enough to communicate the truth, we don’t always have clarity about what is true for us.  But being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect.  It just means doing our best to be real.  Sometimes that means exposing our warts and imperfections, but there lays the beauty of authenticity.

Coming into your Authentic Self

Don Miguel Ruiz shares centuries of Toltec wisdom in his book The Four Agreements. To apply this wisdom, choose to create these profound agreements with yourself:

Be impeccable with your word. Carefully look at what you tell yourself, what you tell others, and when you decide to speak. Use your word consistently to express and strengthen your values. Don’t use or overlook factual errors, fallacies or distortions during communications. Express yourself authentically. Earn trust.

Do what you say.

Don’t take anything personally. It’s not all about you. Reject the fallacy of personalization.

Rely confidently on your own well-founded self-concept; it is the only evaluation of your worth that matters.

Challenge and balance your first-person point-of-view.

Don’t make assumptions. Suspend judgment. Readily acknowledge what you don’t know and have the courage to ask questions. Carefully look at the evidence. Don’t attribute intent to others. Retain a healthy skepticism as you avoid cynicism. Develop, refine, and constantly apply your own well-founded theory of knowledge.

Always do your best. Do all you can while you recognize you can’t do it all. All you can do is all you can do. You are good enough. Apply your time and effort toward your well-chosen and enduring goals.

These agreements are essential elements of authentic expression and earning trust.

References

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin Seligman

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, by Edward L. Deci, Richard Flaste

I Am a Strange Loop, by Douglas Hofstadter

Authentic Happiness Website, by Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center.http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

Self Matters, by Phillip C. McGraw

Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden

The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz

Peaceful Warrior — Dan Millman learns to enjoy the journey in this docudrama.

Everybody Needs a Rock, by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

Knowing Yourself, an Amazon.com Listmania List

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Opinions, Feedback, Comments and Judgments

 

“Treat a work of art like a prince; let it speak to you first.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

There have been many times when I felt that I always had to have and offer an opinion about everything right away. After a movie or a concert, such as, I often wanted to step right in with my comments and judgments. I would just “shoot from the hip”, without thinking or being attentive to my feelings, or the feelings of others.

This can be a way of warding off the experience, enclosing it within certain words. I’m quite certain that all of us have feared that we might be caught off guard and compelled to change or expand our own ideas. We feared being too vulnerable!

Images, sounds, poems, and plays can cause us to open ourselves to the unfamiliar and the new, and if we are quiet and attentive, we can come to fresh insights and understandings. And so it is too, with people. If we are patient and willing to listen, we will always be learning and growing through contact with others.

The beauty and joy of life dwell within differences. I am learning to be open and attentive to what has not been part of my existence up to now, so that it may come to color and enhance my life.

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A Rose Smells Better than a Cabbage

Cabbage

I know that I like many, am justly proud of my ideals as I attempt to live by them in my daily life. Ideals give us hope and help us dream of better worlds. But ideals can easily turn into doctrines and become rigid. They can cause us to shun diversity so that we make false assumptions. The humble cabbage may not fill our idea of beauty, but it can be transformed into say, an excellent soup! 

Many of us along our paths of personal growth are perfectionists who have been brought up to believe in nothing other than the ideal. When we fall away from perfection, we plunge from the heights of idealism to the depths of misery and self-abuse.

We can do better by being less “perfectionistic”. When we can show and accept our real strengths and defects we get a whole new perspective on ourselves and a true sense of balance. We learn to be flexible and to appreciate the diversity of life (even the humble cabbage).

Even if I don’t especially like cabbage soup, I can recognize that all things may be good to those who love life and keep their eyes wide open.

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I Am a Vessel Containing Life

vessel-of-life

“What is the deepest loss you have suffered?  If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine… And if the earthly no longer knows your name, whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.  To the flashing water say: I am.”  — Rilke

It’s not that I want the Universe to change everything about me or remake me to perfection. (OK, maybe I do). It’s not that I wish I was other than who I am, some days I even like who I am.  It’s more that I want to have faith in myself, a deep-down, constant faith that steadies me.  I want to have roots deep in the earth, not fragile roots of glass.

Strong and deep roots are made of self-esteem, hope, love, willingness, humility and faith.  My longing to be grounded in life may take the form of wishing I was not afflicted by defects of character, but that’s a cover-up for the deeper things I truly want.

Working on one’s self by undertaking an effort toward personal growth reorganizes one’s personalities, indeed one’s very soul, around new, spiritual principles.  We stay, to some degree, dysfunctional or defective and always will be, yet that doesn’t prevent us from possessing faith in ourselves and the courage to keep growing.

We are all vessels containing life.  We are vessels that have been shattered and mended, and will endure.

Imperfection Seen Through a Filter of Love

“The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.”  — Arthur Koestler

Many of us like me believed that we should strive for perfection, and often this means imitating someone whose life seems exemplary to us. We take enormously high standards from outside and we soon begin applying them to ourselves. I find that in my mind I obsessively check all the things people in my life may need or expect from me. Many of these thoughts and self-assessments reveal failure(s) on my part. I realize that I then begin to pre-plan the reaction. My pattern is I then start to beat myself up for my failures.

When we fall short, we berate ourselves. We become convinced that because we aren’t saints, we must have fallen from grace; imperfect, we come to despise ourselves. Surely, no one is as worthless as we are! We’ve failed again. Relapsed maybe, or acted out perhaps. Who could love us if they knew who we really were? When we take part in healthy relationships, we are not seen as we see ourselves – the shortfalls, the failures, missed opportunities, or any of the other negative ways we see us. Good and healthy people filter the way they see us and the filter is love.

So why then, do we insist on being judged by impossible standards? Why, oh why would we want to be like someone else? Why should we not search for what makes us original, precious, and worthy of care and love? Then we don’t have to go around with our eyes on the ground; we can look the world in the face because we know who we are. Who? Ourselves!

Finish!

megamonalisa_unfinishedGod alone can finish.”  — John Ruskin

We may have been brought up with the idea that we always had to finish something we started – a meal, a painting, a piece of work, a letter.  In many cases this went along with our distorted notions of perfectionism: if something is going to be done, it must be done perfectly – the way Dad does it, or your teacher, or perhaps God.  And so, especially if we liked to experiment a bit, push the envelope or dream, we ended up feeling as if we didn’t measure up. 

But wait!  Many of the great artists- Leonardo, Cezanne, Picasso – left work unfinished, as if to show the margin between impossible perfection and their own striving.  What mattered was the effort and the process and the struggle.  Each viewer of an unfinished picture could, by responding to the work’s creative urging with his or her own imagination, fulfill the process. 

Our lives are never finished – at least until we can no longer add any final touches.  We are always in a process of change and becoming.  That’s why we keep taking our little baby steps over and over again- to remind us that our lives are journeys, always in the act of unfolding. 

There is Enough Time to Live One Day at a Time

“Now, let the weeping cease; let no one mourn again.  For the love of God will bring you peace.  There is no end.”   — Sophocles

When I look back on my life, I sometimes feel again the pain of how things used to be; the pain of a life once led.  But I know that my life doesn’t ever have to be as difficult and “dramastic” (my word for “fantastically dramatic”) as it once was.  My life never has to be as out of control, as unmanageable or as terrifying.  It simply isn’t necessary for my addictions to haunt me at every turn.  Time has in fact moved on, as it must.  The past is over, I accept my relationships as they are and I’ve begun to know real safety.

Maybe I’d have to completely bale altogether from my recovery plan and path toward personal growth for quite some time before I’d go back completely to the way I acted and lived before.  I may slip today, or some future date; I make no promises of perfection.  I can never let myself forget however, that as an addict; I am one decision – one bad choice, away from using or acting out.  But that is very different from going back to the beginning, before my new life.  Each day I choose not to stray from the path I am now on, my heart is strengthened so that I no longer want to go back.

Through this blog, I wish to share with my readers to live life “one day at a time” whether you’re in a 12 step program of recovery or not.  If you read my earlier blogs, you’ll come to know that I’m not, though I am part of a recovery group (SMART Recovery).  Finally, trust, as I do, that you have all the time you need.