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Confessions of a Perfectionist

Photo by Oleg Ti
When there are no enemies within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you. ~African proverb

Treating myself kindly is not something that comes naturally to me.

From a young age, I believed I needed to be perfect to be any good. It was probably a combination of my natural type A tendencies and my family environment. My younger brother had a lot of problems when he was a kid, struggled in school, and often acted out. He was always in trouble.

My parents were probably happy to have one child who made things easy for them. I always did well in school, always behaved, and always followed the rules.

Everything seemed great up through high school. I got straight A’s without studying too hard, excelled on my school’s water polo team, and was a respected leader in my class. I was accepted to go to college at Harvard, and thought I was pretty special.

Being a perfectionist caught up with me, though. When I got to Harvard, I was immediately knocked off my high horse by people much smarter and more talented than I was.

3 Lessons on Overcoming Conflicts

Photo by Shannon
Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. ~Albert Einstein

Conflict has always been something that my physical body reacts to viscerally, gnawing at my stomach, growing up into my heart and eventually taking up residence in my brain, sitting heavy until the issue can be resolved and room can be made for other thoughts and lighter feelings.

I am a dweller, someone who will spend hours hashing out an issue, taking everything out from underneath the rug in order to inspect it, discuss it and let it dissipate — unless I feel that I am unshakably right and the other party is wrong.

When it comes to conflict, I am hopelessly preoccupied. It can be exhausting — especially when paired with the “right fighter” instinct.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Photo by Jonathan Jacobsen
Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. ~Harriet Braiker

My neighbor came to my door while I was baking my first loaf of gluten-free bread. She said she admired our diets and told me how she was doing more to eat less sugar.

“I’d heard from a lot of people that it makes a lot of sense for them,” I said, “but I just didn’t think I could cut another thing out. I mean, after getting rid of dairy, wheat, caffeine and sugar, what would be left?”

She laughed a little and said, “Well it’s all about just cutting yourself some slack. You don’t have to be perfect or anything.”

Here’s my confession: I have this compulsion to be perfect. Everything I do has to be just so, or I don’t want to do it at all. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

How to Let Go of the Past

Photo by JUCO
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. ~Henry Ellis

Despite my best intentions, I’ve spent the past week looking for a fight.

It started as a small seed of frustration over a few things work-related, and passively I stood back as it bloomed into something far greater and much uglier than I ever should have allowed.

My reaction to the situations I encountered was completely off balance.

I found myself seething with anger when a well-meaning coworker took over a task clearly delegated to me. I started sobbing when a meeting that ran longer than expected left me with a $50 parking ticket.

Forgiving Yourself (A Story)

Photo by Jon Jacobsen
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~Lewis B. Smedes

I sat in the middle of the large wood-cabin conference hall and scuffed the pine floor with my hiking shoe. The flames in the huge rock fireplace danced as I gazed at them, lost in thought.

I hadn’t wanted to come to this retreat.

“What’s it like?” I asked my friend, Bruce, one of the organizers of the retreat. “There’s no dancing around the fire in loincloths with mud on our faces, is there?”

Bruce gave me his wry smile. “No.”

Forgiveness

Photo by Asaf Einy

Forgiveness is a difficult topic. On one hand, we feel that we have learned to forgive. On the other hand, we find ourselves resisting when we actually try to forgive someone.  Implementing forgiveness into our lives is a process.

Sometimes, things work in mysterious ways. Almost a year ago, I took a workshop on forgiveness. Some days, I would feel that I had learned how to forgive, and other days I felt that I had failed. The following is a story of a casual encounter with a stranger that reminded me of all that I have learned about forgiveness.

The other day I was walking my dog and, as I always do, I gave him a little water from the hose in front of someone’s house. I don’t know the owner of the house well. I met him once and I never asked him if I could do this. I always turn the hose off tightly and roll it back up leaving it exactly the way it was when I found it.

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