From Type A to Type Ahh

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World – Ghandi


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Overwhelm, Guilt and the Perfectionist

to-do-list-390x259As I have mentioned recently, I have a lot going on in my life.  My best friend who does not have any immediate family is battling colon cancer, I am interviewing for and preparing for a new role at work, I care for my mother and elderly aunt with health issues, I volunteer and lead my regular life.  On Tuesday most of these things came to a head for me.

I was returning from my friends oncologist appointment with her, my mother was on the phone crying because her eye surgery was being pushed back two days and she has been waiting for over a month for her physician to send a referral.  For some reason my usually on top of it staff decided Tuesday was a great day to have a complete meltdown.  My 18-year-old cat spent the morning vomiting and hiding behind the bed.  None of these are good signs in an 18 year old cat.  My other cat Pablo had to go off his hyper thyroid meds on Monday to prepare for his I131 treatment in October.  To say I was feeling a little overwhelmed is an understatement.

For all those perfectionists or recovering perfectionists, you know overwhelm has a close companion, guilt.  As my mother cried and told me her surgeries would now be on the two next consecutive Fridays I had only one thought: we coach run club on Friday.  I would now have to bail on my husband and leave him to coach the kids alone.

Fortunately I have a great partner and as son as I got home he could see that I was at the end of my rope.  I immediately started apologizing that I would not be able to be at run club.  Only later when I got some much-needed perspective did I realize I don’t need to apologize.  The truth is on the life priority list mom’s eye surgery I obviously a priority.  My not so perfectionist husband realized this right away.  I also had a fleeting thought maybe that is also why he does not get as overwhelmed.

It is not that some people don’t ever face multiple competing priorities and stressors, I you don’t have the added pressure that you must rise to meet every obligation without fail, flaw or assistance you add a level of overwhelm that makes difficulties more difficult.  I have been trying to improve this.  So to combat my mounting overwhelm I looked at my schedule.  My mother’s appointment was Friday afternoon.  Normally I would have gone in to work at 6:30 AM worked until I needed to pick her up.  This time I put in for sick leave for the whole day.  I spent the morning ding my errands I had been neglecting, scheduling my doctor’s appointments for routine care, cleaning my filthy house that was a constant reminder that I was falling apart.  Picked up my cats meds and basically slowed down for a bit.  I can tell you that as we sat at the eye doctor waiting for an additional 2 hours I was content and able to assure my mother.  If I had not found some personal breathing room and acceptance of my less than perfect performance it would have been a far more painful day for both of us.


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The Good-Bye I Never Saw Coming

Perfection and I have been besties since as far back as I can remember.  I always had a strong inclination toward being perfect.  I wanted to be the perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect employee, the perfect wife.  Truth be told I only saw value in myself if everyone else thought I was perfect.  For a long time I thought that was what drove me to succeed.  I thought I am successful in my life, career, and marriage because I don’t settle for less.  Also I wasn’t happy, not really happy.  I mean that kind of peaceful contentment and acceptance.  Not a manic annoying bouncing off the ceiling happy!   That is crazy town.  I was willing to give up being happy, comfortable with who I am in pursuit of perfection.  Which if I am being honest, I never achieved, even when all outside signals may have indicated otherwise to people.

Over a year ago I started to meditate and do this blog.  I started to really let myself get uncomfortable, by questioning where I was and what I always believed.  I don’t really know why.  I can’t tell you this was the particular moment I decided to meditate and look at my life.  I guess like so many other things, I was just ready then.  I don’t think the me of even 2 years ago was ready.  When I started to meditate, I could really hear myself for the first time in the  silence. I could hear what I say to myself.  Learning to take a breath in the heat of conflict I learned to hear what I said to others. Truth was, I was not perfect.  I was not open to criticism, because it is hard to be criticized and perfect at the same time.  You should try it.  I could be so judgmental and sometimes mean.  I still struggle with the impulse to defend myself, to interrupt out of my discomfort.  It is an ongoing and imperfect struggle.  Out of which I might become a slightly better version of myself. perfectionquote

Perfection kept me from a lot of things.  It is hard to be vulnerable and fully present when part of your mind is always questioning if that is the perfect answer, or did I ask the perfect question?   What are those things any way?  Is what I declare to be perfect or what someone else points out as my “perfection” actually perfect or just someone’s iteration of perfection?  This has been a difficult realization and even more difficult letting go of it.  Frankly, without perfection I felt unsteady and unmoored for a while.

What happened in the uncertainty and fear was finding a more true version of me.  I am impatient, sometimes, unfriendly, distracted, judgmental, self-involved, loyal, passionate, hard-working, compassionate, generous, and imperfect.  I am now a little kinder, a little more forgiving, starting with myself.  Once you realize you are not perfect it becomes easier to accept the imperfection in others.  We all have things that influence who we are and what we think.  I am definitely not the arbiter of what is right and perfect.  I am just another imperfect person trying to be a little more me and live a little more in tune with what I believe and value, regardless of whether or not that appears perfect.


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Guess what? Turns out I am Just Fine

a-confident-womanToday was the Village 10K Race and for me it was reminder that nearly a year ago I ran that race and realized my foot was too badly injured for me to keep running.  I was going to have to take some time off.  Not only that I was going to fail to fulfill a goal.  I was going to be unable to run the Jeff Galloway Half Marathon in December.  A lot of things about that day were terrifying.

I used running to relax and distress.  I used it as pretty much my sole form of exercise.  I would even say I used it to define who I am.   I may have mentioned this before, I had a relentless pursuit of perfection that often took the form of obsessive goal setting.  Setting goals was only step one.  The real pay off came from crossing them off.  Yet here I was.  Limping across the finish line, defeated, in pain and without telling my husband scared to death.  Who was I if I could not run and who was this girl who was just going to lay down and not complete her goal.  What was left?  I am not sure I have felt so out of control.  In case I have not mentioned it, control and I go way back.

I had to do something drastic.  For this Type A, goal pursuing, uber over-achieving perfectionist nothing seemed more out of the box than meditation.  I made a commitment.  It seemed simple enough meditate everyday.  How hard could sitting there doing nothing be, right?  All those who meditate are now laughing.  In fact there has been little in my life that came less naturally.  So I guess that was what made me realize I must really need this.  So I persevered.  I am not sure when it stopped being something I had to force myself to do to a part of my life.  It really did.  I have 3 days left before hitting one year.  It is now something I can’t imagine not doing.

What I was unprepared for was what happened this year from this one desperate decision.  I have this new-found and easily accessible gratitude for the good things in my life.  I have learned to let things go and realized that the cosmic joke, is believing we were ever in control.  All of those you might expect.  All the studies indicate that.

I think some of the external things that have changed were unexpected.  I started streamlining, minimizing possessions that just did not seem as important.  I simplified my wardrobe.  What made it easier was that I found I no longer made decisions by thinking, what will people think about me if I wear this.  All of a sudden if I felt appropriate then I just went with it.  I also embraced the fact that I don’t have to wear a lot of make up.  I used to hate putting on foundation and powder.  So guess what I stopped doing it.  Just a little blush, concealer, and mascara.  It takes about two minutes in the morning.  Know what I saw staring back in the mirror?  I saw a 48-year-old woman who has earned her position, who has a fulfilling marriage, takes care of her family, volunteers, and lives by her principles.  I never got that from make up.  I guess as I hit the one year mark, the biggest surprise is I am just fine being me.


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I am Back…Learning to Let Go

Balance Rocks

We all have ideals.  As you may remember my goal was to write one post once a week.  Well, I failed to achieve that goal.  September and the beginning of October was unbelievably busy at work and with personal obligations.  At first I thought, “I have to find a way to also get my posts done.”  At that moment my blog was no longer an opportunity to write, an activity I love.  It became a burden and a source of guilt.  “I am not getting this done, I am failing.”  This lasted until mid-September.

Then all of a sudden I thought, “why am I guilty? ” The blog was supposed to be for me. It was supposed a vehicle to explore one of my priorities writing.  Now it was full of pressure to perform, come up with original content, and meet arbitrary expectations (held by no one but me).  So I stopped feeling guilty.  I let go of that expectation.  Now I am still a struggling perfectionist, who loves nothing more than a fully checked off list of goals and objectives.  So do not think for a minute I just threw off all expectation and jumped into the ‘hippy dippy, go with the flow’ culture.  By let go, think of it more like fingers gripping and slowly slipping from a ledge.  At first it felt frightening.  “I see the rocks of mediocrity and defeat below.”  Then a strange thing happened I gave in to the free fall.  You know what?  Today I am writing a blog about it.  I am excited to do so.  I could not wait.

How did the metaphorical slipping into the canyon of failure below become a free fall before a soft well guided landing?  For me I asked myself some questions.  How much can I realistically accomplish during this crunch time?  What can I do well? I realized the answer was not everything.  After I stopped crying about that reality; I set about a rigorous evaluation of my big goals for the year and my life.  Right now and for a short period of time work demanded more of me.  It was going to cut into chunks of my free time.  So what other priorities do I have and which did I want to go forward.

  1. Meditation
  2. Healthy Exercise
  3. Healthy Eating
  4. Volunteering
  5. Reading
  6. Helping my family
  7. Writing

I was not going to fit all of those in and not all of them at the idealized level.  Meditation is the practice that allowed me to get through this time and made me more focused and productive so it stayed.  Also it helps that it and exercise are linked in my pre-dawn 4 AM rituals.  Those were easy to keep and as of today I have 327 consecutive days of mediation.  I also have my regular running and my morning Savasana  yoga practice. I was not successful yet at adding regular strength training and biking took a back seat.  Healthy eating was up and down.  On the days I was in the office or teaching I brought my lunch but I had to travel and work late; so I did not always get to cook at home.  Overall I did not abandon that completely.

Volunteering is very important to me.  I will be doing a post about that later.  Suffice to say I found a way to continue that: my work with the no-kill cat shelter, coaching a youth run club with my husband, and volunteering for my profession through the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.  I get far more out of volunteering than I give.  Helping my family.  That has remained a challenge but I did find time to work on a project to get my mother and aunt access to some discounted transportation and I checked in at least twice a week.

So reading and writing really suffered.  I realized that I was not going to have the time or provide very valuable content on the blog since I was so wrapped up in the other things going on in my life.  I just said, “you know what, you will write when things settle down.” As hard as it is for me.  I let myself off the hook. A hook of my own making that is.  Being much more tired at night I spent less time reading.  I still did read in the morning, on flights, and a little at night. I definitely did not get as much read as usual.  I did find a way to incorporate more “reading” through audio books.  It was a good way to learn and use my time in the car between work and other obligations.

So there it is the long involved process of letting go for a recovering perfectionist and Type A personality.  How do you let go?


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The Vacation Paradox

 

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Sunset over the Jekyll Island Salt Marsh

Sorry I have been MIA for a few weeks.  I was out of town all last week and playing catch up this week.  Last week we started the week in Savannah, where I had a conference.  On Wednesday we headed to my favorite place in Georgia, Jekyll Island. The Island is owned by the state and preserved as a state park so development is limited and natural beauty abounds.  We also stayed at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which was built in the 1800’s as the millionaire’s club and became the first location of the Federal Reserve.  Staying there is kind of bucket list experience.  We got a deal and as someone who is focusing more on experiences than material things; we decided to go for it.  We were not disappointed.

I was puzzled by something and mentioned it to my husband when we got home and felt every bit of “vacation fun” in our run and energy level.  Why is it so hard to “fit in” or rather “stick with” the healthy habits that seem to be so effortless at home where we also have all the stress and pressure of jobs, family obligations, house obligations, etc.  In theory vacation is full of time.  Shouldn’t that mean I can meditate longer, exercise, more, seek out the best and healthiest food options?

Well I can clearly answer this for me with a resounding, maybe.  What I mean is yes the time is there, but the motivation that seems to come so naturally at home in my “real” life is lacking in my vacation self.  We ate poorly.  I had not been drinking alcohol except very infrequently but I definitely enjoyed some wine and craft beer, in moderation.  I am proud to say I did meditate everyday, but if I am being perfectly honest  I would say, meditation light.  I did shorter sessions and I often was not as fully there as I would like to be.  As for exercise, this one hubby and I usually get right.  This time a busy conference at the start ate up my time and a hubby’s foot injury at Jekyll put an end to long runs along the beach and bike rides.  Oh, and in an effort to cut meditation time down even my daily yoga practice bit the dust.

So, what did all of this tell me?  A few things actually.  First thing, habits and routine are clearly an important part of my healthy lifestyle.  It is okay to fall off the wagon as long as you don’t lose sight of it completely.  Beware, catching it again after a lazy week of poor habits is going to hurt.  Meditation and the practice of being present and letting go did let me move past the things we hoped to do that became impossible when hubby got injured and appreciate where we were and the opportunity to be lazy together.  In the past I would have focused on the lost plans and failed to appreciate and honor the present with gratitude and an open heart.

 


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I am Just a Girl Learning to Say No!

wonder woman

Growth is hard.  In fact lots of things are hard.  Especially giving up an image that you have worked so hard to portray, once you realize it is exactly that, an image.  Oh and also that it is too much work to haul that image around and put it on and take it off. Confession time, I like accomplishing things.  There was a time in my life when a neat to-do list with perfectly lined up check marks brought a tear to my eye. (Sob) Sorry I need a minute.  I am now trying to focus on being present and accepting the imperfect and sadly the sometimes incomplete aspects of life.

When you are trying to change the universal law is that you will be given plenty of opportunities.  Right now my opportunity cup runneth over.  I am in the middle of managing a drought, which means increased workload and my best employee has taken another job. Normally, I would assume Wonder Woman posture lasso of truth at my side and personal life, goals and relationships fading behind me.  Also as you can well imagine, I  would be delightful to be around.

Something is different this time, after much research I figured it out…drumroll please, me.  Turns out if you react differently and make saner choices and stop trying to navigate in an imaginary invisible jet things are different.  I just finished reading this book on the 7 essential coaching questions so I can be a better manager.  Ironically, I found a question that I not only shared with my remaining staff, but I am using it to coach myself.  “What do I have to say no to if I say yes to this?”  What a concept.  It sounds like nirvana, right?  Except that I am not great at saying no.  In fact you might say I suck at it.  I am really attached to that whole Wonder Woman thing.  You know when you walk out of a meeting and hear them say “I don’t know how she does all of those things and still runs this project.”  I am not going to sugar coat it.  Letting that go is hard.  Using the idea of what I have to say no to in order to say yes to something is helping me stick to my priorities.  Meditation has helped to, because now I find when I am asked to do something, I can consciously find a little space by taking a breath before responding “yes” as quickly as your leg jumps when the Dr. hits your knee with rubber hammer.  It helps.

All of these little things add up.  The other thing I am trying to do is be present and conscious of the benefits I notice after I have said “no.”  For example a week ago I had all of these things scheduled and someone asked me to meet for dinner with a colleague from out-of-town.  I said no after many breaths.  The night of the dinner as I enjoyed a quiet evening of healthy food and conversation with my husband at home, I took time in that moment to experience it and fully realize the gain of saying no was so much greater than if I had said yes and less stressful.  Regret can really take it out of you.

I am by no means the girl who says “no.”  I am working on it and I am all the calmer as I wade into the temporarily choppy waters of chaos.  And me without my to do list!


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Now is When you Put it into Practice

zen-humor

You know that theory about trying to change something, that the universe will give you ample opportunity to master that which you seek to practice.  Well thanks universe!  I received a call Friday from a key staff person letting me know that she is taking a job somewhere else.  I am truly happy for her.  This is a great opportunity and the proximity to her home will allow her so much more time to pursue things she loves.  It is the next step on her journey and I was pleased to assist her and even wrote a letter to my colleagues who were “stealing her away.”

Funny how the next step in her journey will be an opportunity for me to take several steps in mine.  She is leaving in the middle of a work crisis.  We are in the middle of a drought and our workload for our small staff of three is already nearly unmanageable. I have noticed that this time I don’t feel the same level of chaos and panic as I normally would.  I have known for a few weeks this was a possibility, and I have been making conscious decisions about what we can and can’t commit to.  That may seem like a no brainer, but not for someone, who in the past, has prided herself on seeming like I could handle the impossible it is not.  In fact you could say I was addicted to pole vaulting over the bar of any reasonable expectations.

As you may know from reading this blog I have been really working on change. I have been meditating on accepting the uncomfortable and just sitting with it.  For most of my life I have been a jump in there and plan out every possibility,  work until it is nearly physically impossible to do more, put aside everything else.  Now when I look back at those times, though I made an enormous personal sacrifice and so did my loved ones, I don’t think there was an appreciable difference in outcome other than the weird pay off I got from “doing the impossible.”  That is personally hard to admit but even a little harder to live with the fact that I made that choice over and over.

So here I am again, the opportunity and siren call of exceeding all reasonable expectations beckons. Like Odysseus strapped to the ship I am going to resist.  In fact that has already begun.  Mentally I have already said to myself about several potential events and activities, “that is impossible.”  I was supposed to go to an event Tuesday night, but I know that will add even more work and I can’t commit to that right now.  Do I fear that I will miss out on something? If I am being perfectly honest…a little bit. None of this will be easy for me.  I am pretty sure I will know I failed in someway when I lock into the present moment in some meeting or presentation and think, “why am I here?  I could be home. They don’t need me for this.”

The difference is now I know what I would actually miss by giving into that fear and addiction to succeed and surpass is what really matters. I no longer want to give up time with my husband, assistance to my mom, exercise, cooking healthy meals, contented purrs of happy cats, opportunities to volunteer, blogging and meditation.  Let someone else work on that new opportunity.  Right now my hands are full; it’s impossible.