I have a confession to make. Last week, here on my blog, I published a poem I had written called “Dreams and Hail.” I had written the poem several weeks ago, and intended to share it back then at the time of writing it. However, circumstances changed, and I instead wrote something else, and tucked the poem away.
As last Monday rolled around, life was in full session, even more so than normal. Work was busy, I was traveling, multiple family commitments, school projects with the kids, a broken laptop, and so on and so forth. You get it because you probably had a similar week. The time slipped by me, and I didn’t get an opportunity to write a new post. Not only did I not have an opportunity, but I honestly felt overwhelmed, and unclear in my thoughts. I couldn’t think of anything relevant or inspiring to say.
That’s when I remembered the now “old” poem, and so I posted that, and moved on. However, as the week went on, I started to feel very guilty, like I had done something wrong (hence my confession). I normally try to write new content every week–something current and fresh and tied in to what I had learned over the week. Using something that was several weeks old somehow felt like cheating, or like I was being disingenuous.
I know that many bloggers write posts in advance, and have them lined up for months ahead of time. But for me, there was something about pausing, digesting the week and my present circumstances and struggles, and transforming that into something to share with you, my readers. And in the process of violating my process, I realized that I had a rule that I didn’t previously know I had in my mind: that “real” writers would somehow find a way to write something new, not pull out something that was previously written when I couldn’t find anything else to say.
Now of course that rule is one that I made up entirely in my mind somewhere along the way, and didn’t exist anywhere else. But what other rules like that exist in our minds? What else do “real” writers do? Leave their day jobs, or have beautiful writing desks, or have a degree in literature or fine arts? What rules exist about “good” moms? That they work, that they don’t work, that they prioritize their kids needs and activities over their own, or that they don’t over schedule their children?
When we discover a strong feeling of guilt or failure, there is a good chance that we have encountered a rule of some sort that exists in our mind about how we should be, or how our lives should be. These are the sneaky ways in which perfectionism creeps into our psyche, or comparison to how we imagine other people live their lives. And unless we recognize the insidious and erosive nature of perfectionism and comparison, we will find ourselves continuing to strive towards unattainable, unreachable standards that only serve to make us feel badly about ourselves.
We are all living human, messy, imperfect lives, in human, messy, imperfect bodies. For the most part, we are doing the best we can with what we have. We have moments of encountering deep beauty and greatness, and we also have frequent stretches of feeling confused and lost about our choices and the path upon which we travel. And that is okay. It is okay to realize we have unwritten rules in our head and then shatter them with a sledgehammer because they make no sense at all. It is okay to write or parent or work or live according to a map that only you can see, or perhaps no map at all. It is okay to make mistakes and learn and grow and thrive in the process of living, even if we never reach our imagined, perfect goals and destinations.
Why else are we here?
As one of my patients recently told me: “I feel successful not because I have reached my destination. I feel successful because I have removed my destination.”
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in recognizing what rules you have in your head about how you should be. Can you recognize elements of perfectionism, comparison, or focusing on the endpoint, rather than the process, in those rules?
With gratitude, Monisha