I’m Not Quite Old Enough For A Solid Doris Day Reference, But Here Is One Anyway

The other day I wrote about perfectionism. I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. I no longer strive to have things perfect, as if such a thing ever existed for me to strive for in the first place. I have learned to make do, to meet myself where I am, to try my best, and to accept whatever outcome arises from my efforts, be it impressive or meh or better-luck-next-time. I do, however, still suffer from another illness that is related to perfectionism. This illness is the setting of expectations.

Most of the time, I don’t even realize I am setting expectations at all. I’m like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; I think I am just making plans, but those plans have expectations tacked on that might not be met. Tonight, we hosted a party for our neighbors. We hand-delivered invitations about a month ago with an RSVP request. Out of the twelve couples we invited, one kindly RSVPd to say they could not attend. Five couples RSVPd yes. We did not hear from the others. I planned for 10 guests and felt a little disappointment when one couple could not attend at the last minute. This was when I realized I had set expectations based on the RSVPs. I had thought, “Okay, with five couples we should have enough people to make the white elephant gift exchange fun” and when one couple had to go out of town unexpectedly, I immediately imagined everything would go to hell. I imagined the remaining four couples would be bored. All I could picture was it ending up a lame party that would be over 8:30. I was borrowing trouble I needn’t have borrowed. Because, as it turned out, one couple who didn’t text me with an RSVP showed up and took the place of the other couple who had RSVPd but ultimately couldn’t make it. All my consternation about a failed party was wasted. In the end, we had five couples after all. We had the right amount of food and beverage, everyone socialized with everyone else, and the white elephant gift exchange went well too. It was a Clark Griswold holiday dream.

The best neighbors ever

It all got me to thinking about how much energy I waste putting expectations in place when I ought to practice having none. No one knows what any outcome will be because the future has yet to be written. So, we’re fooling ourselves with our perfectionism and our expectations because, in the end, we are in control of not a whole hell of a lot. I could have done everything “right”, thereby setting up expectations that everything would go swimmingly, and in the end there could have been any number of things to interfere with my desired outcome despite my best efforts. As it turned out, I imagined gloom and doom and none of that happened. In fact, everyone had a great time. Silly girl.

Now, to play devil’s advocate, it could have all worked out because we truly do have the best neighbors ever. It could have worked out because my careful planning set us up for success. Or it could have worked out because the stars aligned. In any case, my ability to control the situation was minimal. My ability to control my expectations, however, is something I can work on. I’ve heard it said that “expectation is the mother of disappointment,” and that is the only absolute truth of which I am aware (I mean, outside of the one that says that a piece of toast with jam that falls to the floor will land on the jam side every damn time).

You can work on curbing your perfectionism, but if you don’t work on bringing your expectations to heel you will still suffer. So, I guess I know what I need to meditate on and devote myself to next. It’s time to pull a Doris Day and sing Que Sera Sera.

“Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.” ~Doris Day

The Perfectionism Predicament

It’s me! On a ski slope in Utah.

The other day during a Peloton ride, the instructor said something that I have been turning over in my head since then. He was talking about how often we will do something, like say a Peloton workout, and be upset with ourselves if we don’t meet the challenge placed in front of us. He was encouraging riders to do their best for that day, but to know that some days you won’t achieve the goals and that is okay. Every day is different. Some days are harder. It’s okay to meet yourself where you are. Then he said, “Perfectionism is a disguise for insecurity.”

Whoa. I have struggled with the ugly beast of perfectionism most of my life. I’ve also battled insecurity. But it never occurred to me that the two might be linked, or at least I’ve never heard it expressed quite that way. It’s accurate, though. When you are feeling insecure about something, be it person or circumstance or item, you may feel a need to control it. Like my parents before me, I was raised to believe if you can’t do something well, you shouldn’t do it at all. I can’t attribute a number to the times I’ve walked away from opportunities because those opportunities meant I would have to be new to some place or some task or some one. Appearing “stupid” (a stand-in term for any number of different negative adjectives, like incompetent or pathetic) became my biggest fear.

Around the time my husband and I were first married, we went skiing with some friends for the day at a mountain known for more difficult terrain. Of the people in our group, I knew I was the least experienced skier. I was nervous about it. After our first run, I knew my fears were valid. If skiing expertise ranked from 1 (never tried) to 10 (world’s best), my husband and our friends were solid 8 skiers and I was maybe a 4. I struggled to keep up. At one point, we were at the top of an expert run and there was a tow rope to the top of the ridge. The group decided we would take it and ski a nearby bowl. I had never ridden a tow rope. I was terrified of them. I’d seen countless videos of people being dragged up the slope by one of those contraptions. I was not about to take one now for the first time in front of 7 other people I knew. No way. No how. I told them I’d meet them down in the lodge. The rest of the story got ugly for me. My friends tried to convince me. I rejected their arguments. Back and forth, we went. Until finally, completely exasperated, I had a meltdown on the slope. Raised voice, flailing arms, animated speech. The whole nine yards. The only thing I didn’t do was throw myself down and bang my clenched fists in the snow. It was a toddler tantrum. I basically told them, “You can’t boss me,” and took off down the slope in a big old drama queen flourish. You know what? That was when I realized that my fear of appearing stupid might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I traded the potential to appear foolish if I didn’t navigate the tow rope correctly to the reality of appearing foolish by having a hissy fit on a mountain about a tow rope. Oy.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen times when my insecurity about something drove me to embarrassing extremes and, sadly, some of them weren’t that long ago. So, I’m still working on this. I’m working not to worry so much about what other people think of me. I’m working to accept that good enough actually is good enough most of the time. I’m working to remember that even Michael Jordan probably missed his first shot. We’re human, and we do all have to start somewhere. And because there is no objectively perfect anything, no final destination, we really are pretty stupid for wasting our time trying to get there.

When The Words Don’t Come But Growth Does

What I have managed to accomplish while my brain has been on hiatus

The past week has been a blur. It seems my head hasn’t had the bandwidth for writing blogs or even thinking, really. I’m overwhelmed. Somewhere between the continuing pandemic, the transitions happening in our family, the addition of a furry ball of love with four short legs and sharpy teeth, and the annual stresses of the holiday season, I find myself a little out of sorts. I think I need a long winter’s nap or a two-week, solo, all-expenses-paid vacation to Bora Bora so I have time for my brain to snap back into place.

If there is good news about any of this, it’s that despite all the craziness I am finally at a place in my life where I know it’s okay to be off. I know I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be cranking out insightful, meaningful pieces daily. I’m allowed to struggle on occasion, to not know what I am thinking, to take a mental break to deal with the business of life and put up a Christmas tree and drive my son to the airport. The last time I wrote my blog every day, I did not acknowledge these things. I made apologies for what I felt was sloppy work. I’m not about that anymore. I’m not here now saying mea culpa to you. I’m here letting you know where my head is right now. I’m telling you that I care about writing, but I also care about honoring my mental and personal space. So this means I am making personal progress and achieving growth. Yay, me.

I even took time to dress my puppy for a photo

Sometimes we have to make compromises in life. Lately, the compromise I’ve been making is less time to write so I can take care of my family and myself. I’m hoping to have some space in my life and my head soon so I can go back to writing about things that make me passionate. For now, though, enjoy the photo of my cute puppers in a holiday bandana because sometimes a post with a photo of a corgi puppy in front of a Christmas tree is the only good we need in the world.

A Perfect 97/100

A few weeks ago I watched an internet video made by a young man who spent 10 years traveling around the world on a shoestring budget. In the video, Benny Lewis discusses 10 lessons he’s learned while circumnavigating the globe. While all of the lessons he discussed were relevant to my life, one especially called out to me. In lesson #2, Benny invited me to “be an imperfectionist” because the possibility of failure too often keeps us from trying new things. But, dang it, life is too short to forgo new experiences. The older I get the more I realize how many precious opportunities I’ve squandered by playing it safe and the more I recognize that I’m too old to play it safe any longer.

At 5:55 a.m. Fresh and ready to go
Fresh and ready to go at 6 a.m.

So in keeping Benny’s words in my head this weekend, my hubby and I set out to do something I openly admit I was not entirely sure I could do. Last month I registered us (in a moment of supreme overconfidence) for the COCO Century ride.  (For you non-cyclists, that term implies exactly what it suggests: you complete a 100-mile bicycle ride in one day.) I’d been optimistic originally about our chances to complete this particular ride because it was touted as a “flat” century without the climbs you might expect from a ride in a state with over 50 mountain peaks towering above 14k feet. At least there wouldn’t be any mountain passes on the course. This should be easy peasy. Or at least not brutal, right? After I registered, someone reminded me that no hills means constant pedaling and no opportunities for coasting. Funny how that little detail had slipped my mind.

On the drive down to the hotel we were staying at the night before the ride, hubby and I discussed our lack of preparedness and our intentions for the event. We opened ourselves up to imperfection. We were going to do whatever we could. If we couldn’t finish it, no big deal. At least we would get in a nice ride somewhere new. We were going to embrace the day for whatever it would bring. And we determined to forgive ourselves if we could not complete the full 100 miles. Our best was going to be good enough because our best was all we could offer.

When the starting gun went off at 6, we were off. We were in small-town country filled with friendly, helpful people and a relaxed attitude. We weren’t four miles into the ride before I first suspected we’d missed a sign and made a wrong turn. We were following a few local riders, though, and they seemed to know where they were going so we pedaled on. Sure enough, we eventually crossed paths with the rest of the riders who’d taken the correct route. Oops. We shook it off, fell in line, and joined the herd. Around mile 22, we realized we’d missed the first of eight rest stops with our little detour. At mile 45, we were feeling good and completely skipped the fourth rest stop in favor of keeping up our good pace. Around mile 50, I pointed out to Steve that we hadn’t seen any other riders recently, and at about mile 55 I at last decided to consult the ride map on my iPhone. Lo and behold, we were on the right course. We were, however, going in the wrong direction. We’d missed another turn and where the others had headed east, we’d continued south and consequently missed the fifth rest stop. Oops yet again. We discussed it briefly and decided that backtracking 10 miles was not a reasonable option. We’d just ride the course in reverse. A ride official found us a few minutes later, verified our error, gave us her cell phone number, and supplied us with water for our continued against-the-grain trek.

Our two person century ride
Our two person century ride

We made the best of our two person century ride, cruising another 20 miles through Rocky Ford and Swink before finally landing in La Junta where we decided we would turn around and head down the course the right way back to Ordway with the other riders. At mile 86, though, we noticed we’d missed the final rest stop of the ride. We were 4 for 8 on the sponsor-provided rest stops. Still doggedly determined we stopped at a local farmers market, bought some fresh fruit and some bottled water, and continued on. At about 10 miles before the finish line, we calculated we had 13 miles to go. Oops times three. Our course snafu had wreaked havoc. It was nearing 3 p.m. and the last section of the course was a long and steady, albeit not Colorado difficult, uphill climb. It was about 95 degrees. We’d pedaled for over 7 hours. Although I’d been eating every 10-15 miles, I hadn’t consumed nearly enough calories to cover the 4000-plus calories I had burned, and I was fading fast. At mile 96, I resigned and told Steve I simply could not finish the full 100, as ridiculous as it sounded. I was weak, nauseous, and about to hit full on heat exhaustion. I was disappointed, but I am smart enough to know when to stop pushing myself. And so I rolled across the century finish line with my bike computer at just over 97 miles, 15,840 feet short of the goal.

Rolling in a wee bit short
Rolling in a wee bit short

As a recovering perfectionist, it’s taken me a couple days to process this shortfall. Three miles short is not technically a full century, and there are plenty of people (including an earlier version of myself) who would tell me it doesn’t count. But we did what we set out to do, which was our best. We overcame obstacles and kept on rolling despite setbacks. If we had stayed on course and been able to take advantage of more of the ride-sponsored rest stops for nutrition, we would have completed the last three miles without struggle. It simply did not work out that way. With some time behind me now, I understand that this is exactly the lesson in imperfection that I needed. Do you know how difficult it is to have spent most of your life as a perfectionist and then come within 3% of completion of a goal only to walk away? But I did it and, miraculously, I feel great about my accomplishment. We enjoyed our ride and would do it again, but I don’t even feel the need to repeat it simply to prove I’ve finished. If I do this century again, it will be for fun and not accomplishment. And trust me. That’s progress toward a future filled with more rewarding episodes of imperfection.