Perfectionism as the ultimate fake out

If you feel in need of a good, healthy slap in the face, I recommend Andrew Solomon’s brilliant Far from the Tree, a page turner of a book about those among us who are born different — the deaf, dwarves, homosexuals, children of rape.  It’s required reading for the 21st century, especially for people like me who whine when we fall short of (fill in the blank).

Stop worrying and start making yourself and the world around you better.
Stop worrying about being perfect. Start improving.

Solomon’s Tree gives those us blessed to be born in the middle of the bell curve a benchmark with which to measure our own silly self-preoccupations, among which I must say, perfectionism stands out as a colossal waste of energy.

Fortunately, thanks to Brene Brown, population explosion, social media and the first amendment,  perfectionism has fallen out of favor.  Witness the snarky comments about the talented, drop-dead gorgeous Anne Hathaway.  We don’t like to be shown up.

So, quick, while perfection is not trending, let’s try to figure out how to put all the energy we spend worrying about future outcomes into actually trying to make both ourselves and the future better.  Case in point: public speaking has never been easy for me. I can suffer insomnia, panic attacks and temporary amnesia prior to giving a talk.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to put that effort into preparing?  Wouldn’t it be logical to just talk about what I care about rather than trying to sound like I have it all together?

Ever listen to “From the Top,” the radio show about young musicians?  These kids spend four and five hours a day practicing their art and seem to thrive on the process. They’re focused, fun and innovative.  They don’t whine. I hope they’re the future.  Out with suffering artists and tortured, overly competitive achievers!

On a community level, here in Austin, which has always been a high-volunteer/low donation city, “I Live Here, I Give Here” program sponsored Amplify Austin, a day-long donation marathon, sort of like “1,000 Points of Light” meets Kickstarter.  The result?  $3 million for non-profits.  What an improvement over whining!

The point is that making things (and oneself) better takes a lot of work, but not necessarily self-torture.  Even moving forward is hard.  But consider the alternative.

The other thought is — and this is a separate post — there’s a trick to weaving a story — about oneself, a client or colleague — that makes the process a lot easier — and more fun.  It worked for Jane Austen (who doesn’t want to be Elizabeth Bennet?) and Scheherazade.  Why not us?

So, let it go.  Take a minute and do a little jig.  Recite “The Owl and the Pussycat.”  Go make something better.


Values and downsizing

I’m downsizing from a 2200 square foot house to a 640 square foot apartment. I always thought I’d be a little old lady in a rambling house with tomatoes and cats, but that may not be the case.  I have to admit:  it’s painful. I pack a box, then unpack it and add stuff to my Craigslist and Recycled Reads piles.

Do I need this clock?
Do I need this clock?

My mom’s books and Bibles; my dad’s medals and fishing gear.  My piano and couches the dog (not me) sits on.  Reckoning time:  how much can I afford to store?  Will I ever again (honestly)  have the space to have these things with me?

My eureka moment came when I was staring at  an anniversary clock my dad bought when he was stationed in Germany in the 1950’s.  There’s no doubt my dad considered the clock valuable. He built a wooden packing box and encased it in straw like a nativity set. He bought extra globes in case of breakage.  He shipped it back to the States, then to Turkey and back.

But the clock doesn’t fit anymore.  It’s too delicate, and I’m not going to have space to display it.  It’s going on Craigslist.

What I want to keep are the character traits the clock represents, the ones my dad drilled in — responsibility, tenacity, honesty, loyalty, hard work, a sense of fairness and punctuality (alas, that one is touch and go).

Luckily (some solace) It’s not just me.  We live in a world with more people and fewer resources.  Organizations have to be more agile, more collaborative and less tied to the shards of their pasts.  A box full of memorabilia from my days at IBM: a hardbound commemorative issue of that grand benchmark of corporate publications, Think, resource binders doled out through continuing education programs and lots of award plaques.  I only vaguely remember the projects.  But the values I keep:  respect for the individual, friendship, collaborative teamwork and innovation.  

I’m hoping someone will see the clock on Craigslist and value it for something it represents to them. The past is precious, but there’s a lot more to think about, and I need to move faster to get where I want to go.   

Reinvention and upside down tomatoes

I stopped into my favorite charity shop and watched a volunteer pull one of those grow-tomatoes-upside-down kits out of a bag.  A botanical reinvention built on the premise that plants — like people, corporations and planets — can be reinvented  to instantly adapt in ways that are painless, prompt, productive and  profitable.

Reinventing the tomato plant -- upside down.
Reinventing the tomato plant — upside down.

Yes and no.  Reinvention is systemic. It’s metric is survival. That tomato, for example, knows it’s supposed to grow up, so you’ll find it straining to turn itself upside upside down to be rightside up.  This can be distressing to watch if you have rigid ideas of how things should be, but that’s the trade off.     

I’m a boomer, raised on pap spun out by that evil genius of happy endings, Walt Disney.  Did he know he was shaping an entire generation’s psychology?  All those fairy godmothers, princes and ball gowns?   I would have loved to have seen him locked into a joint script-writing project with the Brothers Grimm.  The result would be very 21st century.  

When Plan A and indeed B and C don’t work, I try to give myself a break.  I realize I’m tapping my foot in anticipation of a fast, inside-out extreme makeover — fewer wrinkles, better real estate and clients who hang on my every word.  Fascinating opportunities are out there.  We just have to trash the old script — and pen a new one.

So, heave ho.  We know what to do. Read the pundits.  Keep moving forward.  Cheerfully.  It’ll soon be tomato season.