Those who know me will not be surprised to hear me say that I am a perfectionist. This is extremely unfortunate. Mostly because almost every single thing I do is (surprise!) not perfect. So, when things do not go perfectly I fuss, and I fret, and I sigh, and I cry (and sometimes I even stamp my feet a little). And later on, I regret how I handled the whole she-bang and vow to change. (By being even more perfect!!!)
But recently I was introduced to one little question that is changing around my notion of perfectionism, and helping me to adjust my response when things aren’t going well:
How is this problem perfect?
This question, offered by Brene Brown (thanks for turning me on to her work, wakeupandwrite!), gives me a chance to reframe whatever is happening in the moment. It’s an opportunity to reconsider the “problem” as exactly as things should be—what the universe is offering me now—and to think about how this offering is exactly what I need.
I’m not sure why this question has stuck with me so hard, but it has…
In the subway station, rushing through the turnstile, thinking, “Oh god, I’m going to be late to work again. Ugh. I can’t believe it.” Unbidden, I hear my calm, inner voice pipe up—And how is this problem perfect? Instantly I know: this problem is perfect because it allows me to practice being here, in the moment, even while moving quickly from one place to another. This problem is perfect because it allows me to practice having compassion for myself when I really want to beat myself up.
In bed, when I’m running through several defensive responses to a work email. How is this problem perfect? It’s perfect because it’s an opportunity to acknowledge my defensiveness and to let go of it.
I was feeding my seven month-old son today, and he preferred flinging the spoon–getting sweet potatoes everywhere–to actually eating. I could feel my blood pressure rising. As ridiculous as it sounds now, I wanted the feed to go “perfectly.” Why is this problem perfect? Uh, because I need to remember that a baby isn’t perfect, and that this is supposed to be fun! And, when I stopped, took a breath, and looked at his grinning, sweet-potato-covered face, I started giggling, realizing that it was fun.
Trying this out over the last few days, I realize that the problem is that I put a lot (maybe too much) thought into everything I do. And when I’ve really thought about how something should go—the way I feed my son, my morning routine, my job—and the results aren’t perfect, I too often turn on myself: This isn’t perfect. Therefore I’m not perfect. And that is not okay.
And how is that problem perfect? It gives me a chance to reframe the story: This isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. And that is perfectly okay.