As we celebrate our national birthday, I’m also thinking about personal independence days.
I’ve experienced three major independence days–my “Do-Over!” moments. First, when I went off to college. Second, when I got divorced. And third, when I quit my university teaching job.
But there are more subtle forms of freedom, too. For women, I think, freedom from perfectionism is as significant a milestone as any other.
The last time I visited with my mother, a few weeks before she suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack, we got down on the floor in her guest bedroom to pull out a box of linens stored under the bed. She was passing her mom’s Irish linens down to me. We had such a good time together admiring each tablecloth and napkin and bedspread, some of them edged with my grandmother’s embroidery.
Mom urged me to take them and use them. “Oh,” I said, “they’re too beautiful to actually use.”
My mother’s reply shocked me. She had been a clean freak for as long as I could remember. She had the entire house fully vacuumed and cleaned every day before 11am. Without fail. And she bought two of most everything, “One to show and one to blow,” she used to say. The good stuff stayed safely tucked away.
But time and maybe even intimations of mortality mellowed her perfectionism, at least on my behalf. “Oh, don’t save them,” she said. “They’re meant to be used. Use them.”
When I started my coaching and speaking practice, I had to give up perfectionism pretty quickly. At first, it felt alarming. But I soon discovered liberation. A lot more possibilities opened up for me. If you can believe it, I’ve just recorded an audiobook! (Do-Over! How Women Are Reinventing Their Lives.)
Is the final recording a perfectly pitched voice at a perfect pace with perfect intonations? No. It’s very good, but by no means perfect. But you know what? The rehearsal and recording process was a blast. I’m gonna do it again. Because my current mantra is: “Live and learn.”
PS–If you’re ready to give up perfectionism, come to my next “Return to Clarity” mini-retreat for women.
Photo by zoonaba