Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Single Dad Laughing -- The Cure for "Perfection"

If you haven't had a chance to read Single Dad Laughing's posts on The Disease Called Perfection yet, please do it.  Just spending a few minutes reading the comments is enough to make me want to become a crusader for spreading the love of self and others that can ONLY come through "real."

And once you've finished, please check out his follow up post:  "The Cure for 'Perfection.'"  I know Dan was blown away by the overwhelming response to his first post and has truly agonized over the best way to follow up, and I think he's hit the nail on the head.  In a nutshell, he says the only way out is for all of us to help each other, finding the people who can be helped by us sharing our own mistakes, trials, and triumphs.  He even has a plan for how to do it.  Please stop by and join us in the movement!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dare to {not} Compare...

Okay, I realize this is a silly little illustration, but isn't this what we do to ourselves and each other?  We look at each other and we only see the outside appearances, or what little we think we know about each other.  We start belittling ourselves because we'll never measure up to their standard.  We start resenting the other person because they have everything we want.  Pretty soon we can't appreciate the good things about them OR ourselves because we get so wrapped up in our own little pity party.

There are so many people around me that I admire, people that I wish to emulate.  But I may never be as good a photographer as my brothers or as talented a writer as my husband, my Auntie P., or my best friend Julianne (man, I'm surrounded by amazing writers...).  I may never be as 100% every-moment devoted to my kids as my dear friend Liz, as in tune with the needs of my neighbors as Halaulani or as great an organizer as Evelin.  I will never be a homeschooler like Brianna or as good at healthy, natural living as Chelsea.  I may never be as good a singer as my sister Amy or as patient in trials as my mom or as persevering as my dad.  I have friends who are better crafters, better home decorators, better dressers, better moms, etc.  I could go on and on, really.  But that's okay.  Seeing their incredible qualities gives me something to strive for and work towards, and I know there are things I can do to lift the people around me, too.

You don't have to be the best at something for your qualities and gifts to "count."   It's not a contest or a race, and we don't need to compare ourselves with anyone but ourselves.

Marjorie Hinckley said, "We each do the best we can. My best may not be as good as your best, but it's my best. The fact is that we know when we are doing our best and when we are not. If we are not doing our best, it leaves us with a gnawing hunger and frustration. But when we do our level best, we experience a peace."

Peace.  Wouldn't that be a nice feeling?  But if our heads are stuffed full of comparisons to the people in our neighborhood or at work or on TV, there will be no room in our hearts to experience the peace that she describes.

The problem with comparing ourselves to others -- and make no mistake, we will always be able to find someone that makes us feel inadequate -- is that every comparison plants a little seed of bitterness in our hearts.  We start feeling a sense of injustice.  How many times have you heard yourself think something like "It's not fair" or "I never get to do anything like that" or "How come she can do whatever-it-is?"  You probably don't even realize you're thinking that way until the feeling is firmly rooted, like that darn morning glory weed that keeps trying to take over your garden no matter how many times you pull it up.  Even when you love someone, that little weed of resentment is getting in the way of your relationship.  You start feeling defensive about exactly why you're not measuring up to someone else's standard, which in reality is something you created yourself.  I do this all the time.  When I see my own shortcomings, I automatically start up this whole internal dialogue defending myself against an attack that never actually arrives.  When the house is a mess and my hubby is on his way home from work, my mind starts going: "Well, it was just a crazy day, okay?  The kids were constantly fighting and making me crazy.  I had a bunch of graphic design work that HAD to be done today.  And I'm TIRED, okay?"  Now, let me tell you something -- my husband has never once in our marriage gotten on my case about the state of our house.  (Which is a mercy, because housekeeping is not one of my sterling qualities.)  But because I know I could have done a better job of putting things in order and probably not spent quite so much time on Facebook (which, you'll notice, I didn't admit to in my imaginary defense strategy), I'm all defensive and I start getting mad at Dan because I think he's going to think as badly about me as I do about myself. 

Wow, when I actually type that out, it sounds a little crazy.  But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who does it.  Maybe you don't do it with quite so much actual talking to yourself, but it's easy to get into that sort of mindset when you start comparing yourself with another person or with what you think are their expectations of you.  It's the perfect example of that "gnawing frustration" described by Marjorie Hinckley in the quote above.

So please, stop comparing yourself to others and imagining up standards you'll never be able to meet.  You can be sure that they have their own list of things they're beating themselves up about.  It can be difficult to hold a mirror up to yourself and try to separate where you're really doing your best and where you're not -- independent of what you think others are doing -- but I think it would be worth it to feel that peace.

P.S.  If you feel others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff! (There are buttons below for Facebook, Twitter, etc.)  Thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Best Self/Worst Self Scenario

I have one belief about people:  Some people are very, very good; some people are very, very bad; but the rest of us (like, say, 99%) are somewhere in the middle, just trying to do the best we can with what we have and what we know.  This applies to the whole population of the world, and it applies to any group of people that you want to talk about.  Mormons, Muslims, teachers, policemen, moms, dads, you name the group and that description applies.  You want to know why?

Because we're people.  And the same truth applies to us individually -- sometimes we are very, very good; sometimes we are very, very bad; but 99% of the time we are somewhere in the middle.  Some days we're closer to that Best Self and some days we're a whole lot closer to our Worst Self.

On my Best Self days, I...
  • Play with my kids and patiently work with them while they do their "chores," thus helping them become responsible adults and citizens of the world.
  • Have the house respectably clean -- at least enough that I wouldn't die of mortification if someone dropped by.
  • Have a delicious, healthy home-cooked dinner on the table by the time my hubby gets home.
  • Read my scriptures and say my prayers.
  • Exercise.
  • Remember to help the kids call their grandparents and great-grandparents, just to say hello.
  • Fulfill my church callings with 100% diligence and a good attitude.
  • Take dinner to someone in the neighborhood who needs it.
  • Remember that other people are just imperfect human beings like me and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Spend wisely and save money where I can.
Sounds perfect, right?  Well, on my worst self days, I...
  • Completely ignore my kids while they watch 17 cartoons in a row because I'm totally engrossed in a project of my own.
  • Blow up at them in a major way when they haven't done their jobs after I've asked them 12,000 TIMES!  Or if they're making noises that annoy me.
  • Leave the house a total wreck because I'd rather dink around on Facebook or blog-hopping.
  • Have Dan pick up a pizza because I'm just not in the mood to cook.
  • Don't think about anyone but myself and the project I'm working on.
  • Spend WAY too much money on craft supplies and other things that aren't necessities.
  • Resent the time that I spend doing church callings and fulfilling other responsibilities.
  • Totally space commitments that I've made, even if I had good intentions.
  • Think negative thoughts about people, even those that I really love.  
  • I stew about stupid things I can't control.
  • Feel needy and underappreciated.
The truth is, there aren't very many days where I'm all one or the other.  It's like a Chinese takeout menu -- choose 2 options from List 1 and 3 from List 2.  I'm nearly always somewhere in the middle of that sliding scale, and I bet you are too.  If you don't believe me, make these lists for yourself and then for the next couple of days, just see how things stack up.

So why does this matter?  Because we take our "worst self" characteristics and put them up against other people's "best self" moments.  And nobody is their best self all the time, but we generally don't update our Facebook status with things like "I was horrible to my kids just now and I feel terrible about it."  We wait until we have something fun, like "Just hanging out with my kiddos at the park enjoying the sunshine!"  I think I actually have said that before.  Was it true?  Absolutely!  But it's also true that sometimes I am horrible to my kids and I do feel terrible about it.  I'm not a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have moments where I'm doing it right.  I know you do, too, in whatever role you fulfill in life.  We are all striving to be our best selves, but don't let that desire oppress and and make you feel inadequate. Give yourself credit for times when you are your best self, and take those worst self moments in stride, knowing that you can learn from them and that everyone else has those moments, too.

Now, one last comment about the best self/worst self scenario.  Don't ever let another person make you feel like your worst self is the REAL you.  Recently I was talking with someone I love about a guy she had just broken up with, a guy who did not deserve her one bit and made her feel like garbage.  As a result she spent a lot more time at that "worst self" end of the spectrum than she ever had before.  She said, "Well, what if that's the real me?"  Someone who makes you feel like the worst version of yourself is the only real version is WRONG, and you deserve to be with someone who believes the best of you and makes you feel like your best self, someone who knows your weaknesses but doesn't define you by them.  After all, that's how you should treat yourself.

P.S.  If you know others who might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to use the buttons below to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you share stuff. :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Being perfectly honest... there's no such thing as perfect.

Hi.  My name is Tomi Ann, and I am starting this blog in an attempt to crystallize my feelings about the issue of "being perfect," so that hopefully I can clearly articulate them next time, instead of spending an hour therapy session with two people that I love bawling uncontrollably while trying to explain.  Although given how incoherent that sentence was, I'm not sure if I hold out much hope...

I think I need to start by telling a little bit about myself and my family.  I am a 31-year-old woman, wife, and mom of 3.  I am a graphic designer a few hours a week and I like doing crafty things whenever I can squeeze that in.    I am a devoted Christian and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon).  People would probably describe me as happy, kind, and scatter-brained.  Perhaps most importantly to this post, I am the oldest of 10 kids, all of whom are now adults.  Our family is complicated, but I've always thought of us as being close and having a lot of love. 

A few days ago (moments before the aforementioned incoherent bawling incident), I was literally mouth-hanging-open shocked to hear my brother (the uber-talented Dan of Single Dad Laughing) say, "Our family just needs to quit pretending everyone is so perfect."  I could only look at him and then ask, "Have you MET our family?"  In our family, we have dealt with (and in many cases are smack in the middle of dealing with) drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, family members in jail, eating disorders, divorce, stealing, lying, mental illness, teen pregnancy, and sometimes just plain being rotten to each other.  And that is just in our immediate family -- if you branch out to our extended family, the list gets longer.  Most of that hasn't been any kind of secret, either.  I thought imperfection was a given.

But my sister was nodding and agreeing with him.  They both described feeling so much pressure to be perfect, pressure that has made them feel terrible about themselves.  Pressure from our culture, our religion, and our own family.  I was shattered.  I wanted to scream at them "There is NO SUCH THING!"  There is no such thing as being perfect.  There are only people, all of us muddling through life as best we can, all of us with strengths and weaknesses and good and bad and ups and downs.  I'm not quite sure why I wanted to scream it.  Maybe because seeing them in so much pain made me want to do something, anything to stop it.  Maybe because I have seen this impossible idea of "perfection" hurting other people that I care about, but I didn't think they would feel that in our own completely imperfect but loving family.  I didn't scream it -- I just blubbered away incoherently.  But I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since then.

Dan hasn't been able to stop thinking about it either, and he wrote a very honest and intense post about what he calls "The Disease Called Perfection," which I think is a must-read for anyone struggling with comparing themselves to others.  Scratch that -- I think everyone should read it whether they think they are struggling or not.  I agree with what he says, and I think the most tragic thing about this disease is that it's something we give ourselves.  The people we compare ourselves to and find ourselves lacking are themselves flawed.  99.999% of the time they have no intention of creating that kind of pressure.  I don't think many people say to themselves "I'm going to make myself look as good as possible with the intent of making other people feel like garbage."  I'm sure those people are out there, but I think most people are so involved with their own struggles that they'd hardly believe they are the object of "perfect" envy. Reading the comments on Dan's post, it's indisputable that every person has their own demons to face.

And yet we feel that pressure.

Where does it come from?  Why do we put our weaknesses up against other people's strengths and then (of course) find ourselves wanting?  How does it feel to be the person who is supposed to be perfect?  Why do we have such a hard time believing the best in ourselves? Where does wanting to be your best cross the line into trying to be perfect?

These are just a few of the questions that I want to work through.  I am very much figuring all this out as I go along, so I'm not pretending to have all the answers.  I'm just trying to create an uplifting place where I can work out and share my own perspective, and hopefully help others in the same predicament.  Because I believe that despite our own imperfections and those of the people around us, the world is a beautiful place and we have so much to share and to give.  We can be "real" and still be positive and happy -- in fact, I believe that being real is the key to true happiness.

Okay, so I promise that my subsequent posts won't be as rambling and confused as this one.  I don't promise that I'll post on any kind of schedule, because I am a busy mom who already tends to over-promise to everyone around me.  But this is really important to me, so I'll be here as much as I can.

Thank you if you made it this far and I hope to see you again soon,
Tomi Ann

P.S.  I am really waffling as to whether I want to go through with this and actually press "PUBLISH POST."  If you're reading this, I've overcome my own fears about this whole endeavor.  For right now, I think I'll just save it as a draft...