DIY-Christmas-Gift-Wrapping-Ideas-Button-Gift-Wrap-Creative-Gift-Wrapping-IdeasWith Christmas rapidly approaching, this will probably be my last post before the holiday. I write and wonder how you all are doing. Is your tree up, with lights and ornaments? Are all your presents purchased? Are any wrapped? Have you baked those cookies you plan to deliver to friends and neighbors?

My own answer to those questions would be no, no, not yet and most certainly no, which is pretty typical for the Kirkpatrick family. Between owning a retail business and working in education (me and the kids), the season doesn’t really feel festive until the shop is closed, school’s out and grades are in. We try to get in the spirit early, but meh – the 20th is when we start gearing up for fun.

Tim and the kids are always great about asking me what I want for Christmas and I always have ideas: boots, clothes, perfume, massages, a vacuum. This year though the Universe sent me a little holiday gift and I didn’t ask for it and it wasn’t what I wanted. It came wrapped up in a book with a sky-blue cover and a little red heart on it by Brene Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection

Sweet title, sweet book, I thought. I was wrong. It is heavy-duty stuff about shame and worthiness, fear, faith and authenticity. I was getting through it though, until I got to page 55 and a chapter called, “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism.”  I almost skipped that one, because I am not a perfectionist. I have plenty of compassion for myself. I eat dessert every night. I draw myself hot bubble baths of a regular basis. When I’m just not feeling up to the challenge, I have no problem leaving the house looking like a wreck. However, I read on to see if there were any bits of self-love I was leaving on the table.

I wish I hadn’t. I started to read the chapter and within a page or two, my face started to flush, my heart beat faster. I pressed on, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t. Instead, I added nausea to my list of symptoms, as highlighter and pencil lead flew across the page, marking up sentence after sentence. As she described one perfectionist tendency after another, I became more and more mortified. The worst part was that I was totally unprepared! Like any good perfectionist, I hate to be caught off-guard, unaware, or uninformed about anything, especially my own personal business!

There were two things she clarified that struck me especially.

Perfectionism is not the same as striving to be your best. It is not self-improvement.

“Um, yes it is,” I thought, until she explained: Rather, perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. Self-improvement is about moving in the right direction and I work hard at that, but apparently, people with my problem think that if we do everything right, improve enough, we will never feel those things. Those experiences (blame, judgment, shame) are for other people, so instead of taking the risk of doing big things imperfectly, we tend to do less than we are capable of.

Brown calls this life paralysis;

it’s all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self worth is on the line.

I read these ideas and thought of all the book ideas I have stashed in my files, the thousands of pages of written, and unedited work on my computer, the hundreds of speaking leads sitting in a database on my desk, and the teaching job that pays me less than I could make at Starbucks. I live out a perfectionist’s paradox: I might be capable of more, but I’m too afraid to find out I’m not. Instead, I stay where I am, tucked away in my tiny little corner of the world, blogging from my cheetah-print armchair, looking out of my bedroom window at the blue sky and waiting for my family to come home.

Brown names the gifts of imperfection as courage, compassion and connection. I want to experience more of those, but first, I need to accept the gift of imperfection, the simple ability to forgive myself and move on when I make mistakes, instead of feeling like a failure. I need to not just dream big, but actually work on making those dreams come true, despite my fear of ridicule. 

My friend Leslie recently asked me to name a word for 2014. Fearlessness, I said, without hesitation, but the only way I can work on that is to first unwrap the gift of imperfection. Imperfections are not inadequacies, Brown writes, and to believe that would set me free. 

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If you recall from my post “The Big 4-0,” I decided to give up worrying for 40 days and believe it or not, it has gone well, really well. Almost, I was tempted to think, too well. But never fear, that nirvana came to an end, thank goodness. There’s no humor in “too well,” and no growth either.

A couple of times over the last few weeks, I found myself thinking, “Why aren’t you worrying about that?” The “that” in question could be anything from a big presentation, to a deadline at work, the Lad’s lost basketball game, or an encounter with a cranky teen. Normally, these are things I would worry about: “How am I doing? How did I do? How did they do? Why are they doing that? What should I do about it?”  Honestly, these are the thoughts that can dominate my mind on a stressful day. But I had been enjoying my worry-free state.

However, the other morning I woke at 4:30 am, with a familiar ringing in my ear. No, it wasn’t a phone call. It wasn’t my alarm clock, or the smoke detector. It was simply a voice I had been avoiding. It was the siren call of worry and no matter how deeply I buried my head in my pillow, no matter how many times I tossed and turned, no matter how many deep breaths I took, worry had a hold of me. The details are inconsequential, but thankfully, I had a new perspective to manage it.

The first thing I did differently was not worry about how I was failing in my quest to not worry. I forgave myself for having these emotions and for not being able to talk myself out of them. That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge first step for a struggling perfectionist like myself. The second thing I did was resign myself to being awake at 4:30 am. I knew that staying in bed was a recipe for more worry. Instead, I decided that distraction was an appropriate alternative, so I caught up on the latest Project Runway episode. (So long, Jerrell!) And when the dawn finally brightened the night sky around 5:30 am, I went on a walk.

Over the last few weeks, any time worry looms on the horizon my technique has been to visualize myself in the river of Love. Worrying, I stand on the shore, fighting with the Universe to make things go my way.  When I am in the river of Love, I am surrounded by a rush of water, of current, of the inevitability of things. I become aware of my stance, my posture. I lean into Love and watch it sweep away the barnacles of worry that cling to me.

So on this early morning walk, I thought about Love and what a powerful antidote it can be to worry and how I wished that I could remember to love and to be in love more. I started singing a line from one of my favorite U2 songs that “Perfect love drives out all fear.”  (I know that Bono is quoting scripture, but it sounds so much cooler when he says it.) While I walked, I saw a yellow leaf on the ground and I had to take a second look. It was a heart, sort of, from a certain angle and I found myself thinking, “Wow, you almost had me there, Universe. Almost, but not quite. Nice try.” I kept walking, wishing I had seen a sign of Love as concrete as the sidewalks I was treading.

And then it happened. Looking down at my feet, I saw it. A real sign. A real heart. The Universe was going to get me after all.

If I disdained the first message of Love I was given, as not being perfect enough (Ugh! That is so not my favorite part of myself), Love would try again. I still had to be paying attention, but there it was, Love at my feet, written in stone.

I stopped. I sat. I laughed and then I cried. I must have looked like a lunatic, but I got the message loud and clear.

Love is here. Love wants me. Love is as present to me as my worry is, if I will but open my eyes and see.

And now that I’ve seen it once, I’ve begun to see it everywhere. I see it in leaves and trees and rocks and sand. I see it in shells and dirt and even in places I hate, like the dimples on my thighs. Apparently, it was here all along.

What is worry, but fear with lots of scary details?

And if I trust Bono, and I usually do, then I will keep seeking my entry point into that river of perfect Love that casts out all fear.