View this post on Instagram
Perfectionism: old habits die hard.
Although I cringe admitting it, I identify as a recovering type-A. It’s a lifelong process of relearning how to lower expectations a notch, being okay with good enough versus perfect, and ditching the long-term plan for a more open-hearted, trusting-the-universe approach.
I’ve experienced first-hand the detrimental effects of this perfectionist, black-and-white thinking, which is why I want to encourage you to see those risks and turn things around by showing yourself grace.
High expectations equal hell.
Our own high expectations are driving us to unprecedented levels of stress, unhappiness, and anxiety like never before. For me, the pressure put on myself is internal. This mindset of pushing harder, striving more, and being relentless in the pursuit of…well, what is it that I was chasing? Perfection? Enough-ness? A real grown-up job?
I don’t know what it is you’re after, but it’s a good question to stop, ask ourselves, and reflect. This mindset feeds off low self-worth and left me burnt out, confidence in the gutter, and trapped in a constant cycle of disappointment with myself—not a fun place to be. It’s easy to see how perfectionism gets us nowhere fast, yet we stay stuck in its grips, believing that if we try a little harder, everything will be right and fixed.
Sucking at life.
Trust me, I’m familiar with how I (dis)function in this “be better” cycle. I’m in the process of consciously trying to unstick myself from its grasp and allow more grace in my life. During a recent transition, however, high expectations reared their ugly head as self-imposed timelines and ego desires ran in conflict with my current reality.
I had just packed my life into three bags and hauled it to Kampala, Uganda to start work with an international NGO. The first week was the honeymoon stage—everything was new and seen through rose-colored glasses: green landscapes, nifty business cards, #winning. Things took a sudden turn after week two when I expected to be making more meaningful contributions at work, scraping together some semblance of a social life, and having energy to devote to my nascent coaching practice.
Talk about being disappointed in yourself.
I was not hitting the target on any of those marks, which left me feeling more frustrated with myself and questioning everything. My internal dialogue sounded like this:
Why did I choose this job? Can I really do this for a whole year? I want to slam my head against the wall. I feel so underutilized. I’m not an effin’ intern. How is it that at 32 I don’t know how to make friends? There are people everywhere and fun events to go to, but I feel—What? Apathetic? Overwhelmed? Intimidated?—by the social scene, and not feeling the effort right now. Speaking of effort, who was I kidding? How did I think I’d put in a full-day at an office job and come home to focus on my side hustle and bang out successive posts for three hours? I’m lucky if I wash the dishes let alone do anything else productive…
Not too constructive as you can see.
Cultivating healthier mindsets.
With that attitude, it was quite likely I’d stay stuck in my pity party, but fortunately, a few universal interventions came to the rescue. A shared journal excerpt from a friend and a thoughtful card from my sister offered a metaphorical slap to my system—I should show myself grace.
It’s easy to offer others patience, understanding, compassion, empathy, and support. So why is it so hard to show those things to ourselves?
Don’t look at me, I still don’t have a clear answer, but:
I do know that this reminder was the prompt I needed to get back on track, give my expectations a reality check, and adjust course.
Instead of deciding to do things based on rigid timelines, I allowed for flexibility in my schedule. Instead of pushing myself to meet internal deadlines, I added buffer to my coaching calendar and realized it’s okay to not be “on” every day. Everyone needs space for reflection and do-nothing, down time. That space allows for creativity. And that raging social life? It’s a work in progress. But I’ve decided to let myself wander out when I feel like it, and take advantage of my comfy couch and Netflix when that’s what my soul needs.
Benefits of grace.
I’m in transition, and this way of thinking, of allowing and accepting, is a transition in itself. All changes take time, especially when they manifest as a mindset shift and require rewiring pathways in the brain.
Grace can literally mean help, or a favor from God, or whatever higher power you believe in. Grace means forgiving yourself. Grace offers benefits like renewed energy, spirit, and joy. It inspired me to align with goals instead of hustle after them. It lets me make mistakes and learn from failure instead of doing the usual: beating myself up about it. Focusing on grace, I’m less worried about adhering to all the shoulds and my spontaneity and fun level are on the upswing.
With grace, the hard things were easier for me. Everything got softer the more flexible I became. And with that flexibility, I started releasing the grip on resistance, fighting for my-way-only, and allowing things to just be. Without expectations, I find myself happily surprised at what I am capable of.
So what favor do you need to grant yourself today? How can you be a little gentler? A tad more forgiving? Show a smidge of compassion for someone extremely deserving (yourself!)?