Perfectionism and constantly trying to be the BEST is a recipe for burnout. We know this. We KNOW it. Still, we dress it up. We change the words just a little bit. Instead of trying to BE the best we say we just want to do OUR best. Just do the BEST that you can. Be your own competition. Try to beat yourself. The only competition you have is YOU.
What does that even mean? What does it mean to do your very best at any given moment in our life?
What does it mean to do your best in the weeks after your father dies? In the weeks after you lose a job? In the weeks after you move out and file for divorce? In the weeks after you slip and break your arm? In the weeks after you move to a strange new place?
What does it mean to do your best in the weeks after being put under a “shelter in place” order in response to a pandemic? What does BEST even look like? Does it look different at 8 AM than it does at 3 PM? Does it look the same on Mondays as it does on Fridays?
What if it is true that any one of us really is doing our best at any given moment and that all of that language is just a crock of…?
I have spent a lot of time running very, very, very hard. Like many of you, I have juggled kids and work and trying to stay afloat financially while still looking to find some semblance of meaning to it all.
Some call this running hard “adulthood”.
Some call a rat race.
Some call it creating a life.
I learned somewhere along the way that perfectionism and doing my best at every little thing would never, ever work.
I learned to make decisions about my efforts.
I learned where and when I could gear up and when and where I could gear down in order to stay steady.
I learned how to conserve my energy for things that mattered to me. If I didn’t give 1000% to this one thing it was probably not just ok. It was probably wise.
I wanted to find my pace so I could keep running and not quit.
I started reminding myself of this very simple rule: I am in this for the long game.
This is a marathon…not a sprint.
I remember hearing this phrase “long game” for the first time from a mother I met in birthing class. We had our first babies the same night in the same hospital. I was all the things that new moms usually are: obsessive, stubborn and a little neurotic about the things put into our heads about what is “best." Natural birth. Breast milk. Absolutely no formula. Make your own baby food. The list goes on and on and on. My anxiety made me a sponge for mothering “rules," as well as an easy target for those who wanted to feel powerful giving out the rules. When visiting this young mom a few weeks after we had our babies, she mentioned switching to formula just days after giving birth. “It wasn’t working. We are in this for the long game. I’m pretty sure it won’t matter when she graduates at age 18.”
I blinked. The long game.
For just a moment, my head rose above the water of worries to peer out to see the shoreline of the journey’s end. I could see the whole picture. For just a moment.
Some days on the job are very stressful. I juggle a few different hats and come into contact with anxious employees, anxious children and anxious clients. I often become a sponge for “should’s,” “what if’s,” and a quest for “rules” to help things make sense. What about this? And, that? And, when will this happen? And, what should I do here? This needs attention. And, this and that and this.
Sometimes I collapse onto my bed at home and I feel the overwhelm spread over me from the top of my head all the way to my toes. I look around for something to change or to fix. I look around for something to DO. Surely if I do something different or better it wouldn’t feel this way. Surely if I did more or just got BUSY it would be a solution.
Then I realize. There is nothing to fix. This is exactly how everything is supposed to be. Every single one of these situations is normal…expected. They happen because I am doing my job well…not because anything needs to be fixed. Busy-ness…unnecessary activity…will feed the fury…not calm it.
I remember. I am in this for the long game. I take a deep breath and let it go.
I remind myself. Don’t obsess. Don’t run too hard. Find your pace. Perfection is a myth and the pursuit of “best” is a race towards burn out. I am in this for the long game. Marathon. Not a sprint.
None of expected to be working at home with children interrupting us every few minutes. None of us expected to go days without seeing loved ones or the insides of our favorite restaurants, bars, and churches.
One thing I have noticed is that when things start to get overwhelming, we tend to amp up when we really need to gear down. Our bodies coil like springs and start to pounce into action, often without any real purpose. The action…the buzzing ACTIVITY…IS the purpose. The goal is to move…to move AWAY…from whatever THIS is.
Oh, and let’s not forget the control. Surely if we are DOING something we are CONTROLLING it, too? Eek.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way. The unnecessary activity feeds the fury. It doesn’t calm it.
Sometimes, amping up isn’t a choice. It is a “have to”. I have worked harder since the quarantine orders were put into place than I have in a long, long time. My body has not been happy with me. It is tired, stressed and hurting. For some odd reason (to be read with dripping sarcasm), my body does not like having constant interruptions. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. It is a bit like what I have heard referred to as Chinese water torture. Drop. Drop. Drop. Drop. Drop. Until you go insane or cave or both.
(Although, now I am wanting to check on that factoid about it being CHINESE water torture because I sure don’t want to add anything else in terms of stigma to that incredible group of people having to deal with a lot of stupid sh** right now.)
So every time I am tempted to sign up my kids for a new language class during this time…ok I already DID sign up a kid for a new language class but he WANTED it! I promise! Anyway, every time I am tempted to create this GLORIOUS, MOST AMAZING, OH WOW SO MANY MEMORIES, LETS DO ALL THE THINGS, EXPERIENCE out of these strange times I take a deep breath and I remember.
I am in this for the long game.
Maybe longer than any of us know.
I take a deep breath and I let it go.
I remind myself. Don’t obsess. Don’t run too hard. Find your pace. Perfection is a myth and the pursuit of “best” is a race towards burn out.
Long game, friend. Long game.
Let’s not run out of steam. We have too many good things in life to enjoy to do any of them perfectly.