I’ve been a member of a club for almost a decade now. There have been some drawbacks to membership, but all things considered, I’ve really enjoyed being part of it; there have been a lot of really good times. In fact, some of the best times of my life so far have been spent as a member.
In a couple of days, however, I will be permanently removed from the club’s membership list. Deleted. Forever. This has been difficult for me to accept. I’ve protested and pleaded. I’ve ugly-cried. But there was no reasoning with the club’s administration. My time as a member? Over.
Even more concerning? Without any consent from me, I will be automatically enrolled in a new club:
(Sidebar: When you google images for ‘forty-something’, what you get is really quite disturbing. I don’t recommend it.)
I’m actually not fussed at all about turning 40 – I’m just gobsmacked that I’m here already. Like, who hit the freakin’ fast-forward button??? It really doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was turning 20, wearing glitter on my face and making bad choices. (Worse than wearing glitter on my face, yes.)
And now here I am, on 40’s doorstep. Married with a toddler and a newborn. Buying large appliances and life insurance. Mind. Blown.
It’s funny how these so-called milestone birthdays work as catalysts, prompting people to take stock of their lives. What have I achieved? What goals have gone unmet? What do I want to change/improve about myself? What relationships need attention? Which ones are kind of sucking? I did plenty of life-reflecting during my time in The 30-Somethings. But when those multiple-of-ten birthdays roll around, the soul-searching gets serious, y’all.
I have always been a goal-setter and a list-maker – a get-shit-done’r, if you will. Up until now, achieving my goals produced very tangible results. A degree, a job contract, stamps in my passport. A mortgage, a husband, a couple of ginger babies.
And now, as I prepare to begin (involuntary) membership in this new club, I find myself without my usual kind of goals. For the first time in my life, I feel settled. I’m not craving change the way I used to. My life story includes its fair share of adventures and travels and drama. For this next decade, my singular goal is less obvious from the outside, unless you know me really well: Practice good-enoughism.
Hello, my name is Kelly and I am a recovering perfectionist.
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to see that my incessant need to have everything in its place, everything done a certain way, is actually perfectionism at work. And it’s only been in the last year or so that I came to understand that perfectionism is highly undesirable – it turns people into control freaks who have trouble relaxing into the flow of everyday life.
Recently I was talking with a good friend who has known me for 20 years (she used to wear glitter on her face too), and I mentioned that Brene Brown’s books had helped me to realize that I was a bit of a perfectionist. She practically spat out her coffee and then said “You’re JUST realizing this about yourself?”
So…yeah. My new goal.
According to Brene Brown (who still has an open invitation to dinner any time…and there will be birthday cake on Saturday…just sayin’), perfectionism is all about earning the approval and acceptance of others. Rather than be self-focused and strive for healthy ways in which we can improve ourselves, perfectionism places all the emphasis on what other people think.
If I take a really honest look at the things I do and why I do them, I can’t deny that the opinions of others are often part of the equation. If I’m having a friend over and my home is messy, will they think I’m a slob? If I take my son to the doctor with jam on his face (and shirt and pants), will the doctor think I’m a careless mom? If I leave the house with crazy hair and no make-up concealing the giant half-moons under my eyes, will people think I don’t have my shit together?
But that’s all real life, isn’t it? A messy house, a messy kid, a messy self. Life isn’t always neat and tidy.
Sometimes spaghetti sauce gets splashed on the white cupboard doors and you forget to clean it up because the bath and bedtime routine of a toddler can be a one-way ticket to CrazyTown. Sometimes you forget to clean your baseboards for two or ten months. Sometimes the dust bunnies are the size of real bunnies. Do people really notice those things in other people’s homes? I don’t. So why do I spend so much time worrying that people will notice the things that haven’t been done well, or haven’t been done at all, in my home? My home may not always be immaculate. But it’s usually good enough.
And in the motherhood department, why would I ever rely on anyone but myself (and sometimes my husband) to know I am doing a good job? I am kicking ass! I know this in my bones. By no means am I a perfect mom, but my kids are loved…HARD. A bit of jam on the face, an overdue haircut, pants that are a bit too short – none of that matters in the grand scheme of my children’s lives and their connection with me. Taking them out in public only when they look like walking Baby Gap ads is just not realistic – it’s perfectionistic. They are mostly clean, mostly clothed, and usually happy. Sooo…good enough.
My physical appearance used to matter to me quite a bit. I loved being a girly-girl – make-up and hair products and pants that weren’t made of 100% lycra. I was
always usually put together when I left the house. And then…kids. Serums, foundation, and eye shadow just don’t make the cut when I have a grand total of eight minutes to spend on self-care some mornings. Mascara, leggings, and a baseball hat? Good enough.
My buddy Brene says that staying real is one of the most courageous battles we will ever fight.
You want real?
I am socially awkward. I have a tendency to ruminate for weeks on why I don’t seem to fit in, or why some people don’t like me. I make grand proclamations about things I’m going to do (write a book, open a bakery, learn how to use my cricut machine) and then find every reason to not follow through. These are just some of my quirks – there are many more. (I know you are nodding, Husband.)
But…they are part of what makes me…Me.
I don’t want to be so hard on myself anymore. I want to punch my inner critic in the throat and dump her on the side of the road.
I suspect it will take time, patience, and practice to reach the point where I can look at myself and not notice every little flaw, or to notice them but embrace them, or to just notice all the good stuff. But by this time a decade from now – if not sooner – I will be there. I will be a practicing good-enoughist.
Not only for my sake, but for my children.
They deserve a mom who isn’t trying to micro-manage and control every aspect of their childhood. They deserve a mom who can laugh at her mistakes – thus teaching them the critical life lesson that mistakes are ok and normal and part of being human and not a reason to give up. They deserve a mom who doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Most importantly, they deserve a mom who loves and accepts herself, flawed and imperfect as she may be.
Ah, these milestone birthdays and the pesky self-reflecting that comes along with them.
My thirtieth birthday was celebrated in grand style with wonderful friends at a glitzy night club in Seoul, Korea. We
gulped back sipped cocktails and danced hard into the wee hours of the morning, like it was our only job in life.
I’ll still be up in the wee hours of the morning for my 40th birthday. I’ll just be spending those hours with a newborn. And it really will be my only job in life. For now.
So, yeah. Practice good-enoughism.
Oh, and successfully do a yoga headstand on a stand-up paddleboard. That would be boss.
Bravo Kelly, bon texte! Yes, we keep learning on ourselves as we go along , good for you .
Your ’30+10…ish ‘will be wonderful , enjoy them!
I really enjoyed the candor, Kelly. It has crossed my mind that motherhood will suit you but also change you. I was right! Keep writing…
Hahaha – the part about almost spitting out your coffee. I too come to “big realizations” about myself and my 18-year-old daughter sighs in disbelief that I’m only just figuring these things out when it seemed apparent to her all along.
the happily anchored nomad
And I thought self-awareness was ine of my strengths!
I remember your grandfather nearly exploding when I replied to him that it (whatever it was) was good enough. Now we know where it comes from.