Cramped and Insane

20 Mar

“Perfectionism,” writes Anne Lamott, “is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 7.26.50 AM

In this quote, Anne is talking specifically about writing.  But like most things she writes, it can easily be taken as an analogy to life.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.  The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

Cramped and insane. Not a fun description.  No one is going to read a Yelp or Travelocity review for a restaurant or a hotel and say “Cramped and insane? Sign me up!”

What if we chose to live differently?  To look at where our present reality and our expectations of our present reality diverge and acknowledge the truth “It’s not perfect” but also rejoice in the truth that “It’s pretty good.”

Yesterday while spinning, I was listening to a podcast.  One guy questioned why women are not content with flat abs, but become obsessed with a six-pack. He mentioned that maybe he’s in the minority but he’s never heard a guy tell a girl “You should really have a six-pack. A six-pack is attractive.”  The girl on the podcast got quiet and then responded “We don’t want six packs because of guys.  Or even because of our own goals. We do it for other women.  Because we want to appear perfect to other women – to be perfect in an area where so many other women will fail.”

Perfection leaves you cramped and insane.  You can’t enjoy your flat abs or your healthy cholesterol screening or the fact that your clothes fit well when you’re consumed by a goal of perfection.

“It’s pretty good” often becomes “It’s pretty good but not perfect. But I should do better. But not as great as someone else.”  Why can’t it be simply “It’s pretty good and I am going to rest and enjoy my hard work.  It’s pretty good and I’m proud that I worked hard to get here.”

Last weekend, eating out with friends, we noticed a group of guys sitting by a large picture window chatting (quite loudly) about everyone that passed by: their fashion-sense, their looks, their clothing.  It was rude and demeaning.  Not to mention, these guys weren’t in stellar shape wearing amazing outfits, it was only their teenage status that indicated why they thought they should be the Window Judges.

I would never sit by a window and judge people.

Out loud.

And yet…there was that woman in Target who was wearing clashing colors and I thought “Who let you leave your house this morning?” And there is my friend who is tall and gorgeous and my other friend who is tall and vibrant and it’s hard to not wish I had their gorgeousness and vibrancy.  It’s an awful place to find yourself in: judging others while doing the same things as them.  Or envying friends rather than delighting in them and their personalities.

At the gym the other day, I noticed a girl lifting. I liked her lean muscled legs. “I wish mine looked like that” I thought. A few minutes later, we were both lifting by the mirrors and I noticed something curious – we were exactly the same size.  The muscles that I admired on her legs making her look strong and shapely were identical to the muscles on my legs that I always think are bulky and fat. For once, the mirror was telling me a different story.

After that moment, I began to look at myself differently: at the cuts and dips of my shoulder muscles.  At the fact that I can do pull-ups.  Can I do as many sets and reps of pull-ups as I want to?  No. Are my goals reasonable? Maybe not. Do I need to perfect pull-ups in order to somehow better my life? No.  Will doing pull-ups make me live longer? Definitely not. In fact, I’m pretty sure my calluses might pull me under faster…

So why can’t I be proud of my “good enough?”  Admitting that something is “good” doesn’t mean you are giving up on making it better. It doesn’t always mean settling for less than what you want.  But admitting that something is “good enough” gives you permission to walk away from the cramped and insane perfectionism that requires you to push harder, try longer, do better…until you do get better…but then you must push harder, try longer, do better…and life passes you by as you, never content with where you’ve gotten, strive for something impossible.

Perfection is impossible.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.   It’s the impossibility that makes you insane.  And it’s the obsessiveness that cramps you.

The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

The truth is that I can rejoice in people who do things better than I do and learn from them. Or I can stamp my foot and go more insane as I sit in my cramped space trying to make perfect something that was always meant to be a progressive journey.  Or. I can have fun.  In fact, I can even have fun with the people who are doing life better than me.  And I can have a lot of fun with the people who are doing life – maybe better, maybe worse, maybe slower, maybe faster – than me but who are enjoying it. Even the missteps.  Even the less than great attempts.  Especially the good enoughs.

Today I worked hard, ran hard, played hard, laughed hard and loved hard.  It was good enough.



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