Sunday, January 26, 2014

Letting Go of Perfectionism

"I'll give you my perfectionism when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!"

This pastiche of the famous anti-gun control mantra came to mind when I looked at the title of this week's lesson for the Brene Brown "Gifts of Imperfection" e-course. It has been a few years since I figured out that perfectionism was a stumbling block for me. I wasn't a perfectionist in one or two areas of my life. It was a pervasive influence in nearly every thought and human interaction I experienced.

Don't be fooled by my use of the past tense in that last sentence: I'm not where I used to be with perfectionism, but I'm not where I'd like to be, either. The difference today is that I'm OK with saying that. Phew! There -- I admitted I'm not perfect can we just call it a day? No? This is going to require a little more work, isn't it?

To put this concept into practical terms this week, Dr. Brown is asking our class to strengthen self-compassion by talking to ourselves the same way we talk to the people we love. She points out that when her children mess up she is quick to say, "Hey, you're human. It's okay. I love you and we'll figure this out." But when she makes a mistake, she says to herself, "You idiot! What were you thinking? You really screwed this up."

A few months ago I posted an image called "Scumbag Brain" depicting what this behavior looks like when combined with an excellent memory. I found it so funny (and full of truth) because I'm guilty of talking this way. I also have an excellent memory, if I do say so myself!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Gifts of Imperfection

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book and learned a great deal from it, so the perfectionist in me has been procrastinating writing a review. How could it be good enough? Ha ha! Seriously, this book is one of the best non-fiction books I've read.

Shame is the intensely powerful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. (p. 39)

Are we flawed? Yes. Does that mean we are unworthy of the truly good things in life: love and belonging? No. (And don't believe anyone who tells you differently, even if that person is you.)

"The Gifts of Imperfection" is a concise guide (130 pp.) outlining the research of Brene Brown, writer and professor at the University of Houston. Dr. Brown avoids presenting a typical self-help list of "easy-to-follow" steps to solve the problems of perfectionism, anxiety, fear, and other things that "get in the way." In fact, she has a story about a disastrous speaking engagement where the organizer insisted that she keep it "light and breezy" for her audience:

The women in the audience just smiled, nodded, and ate their chicken. It was a train wreck.

Rather than completing a checklist, the goal is what she terms "Wholehearted" living: courage, compassion, and connection.

Dr. Brown offers 10 guideposts for the journey toward a more shame-resilient life, emphasizing that the process is meant to continue for the rest of our lives. For each guidepost, the reader is encouraged to cultivate a Wholehearted gift by letting go of something that gets in the way. For example, cultivate authenticity by letting go of what people think; cultivate creativity by letting go of comparison; cultivate laughter, song and dance by letting go of being cool and always in control. Ironically, the length of the journey, and its comprehensiveness didn't leave me with a dark and heavy feeling, (think "Gotta make the donuts..") but a more positive outlook on life. It also reminded me of what evangelist Joyce Meyer has said, "You will know the truth about yourself, and the truth will set you free."

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I originally read this book and wrote my review in August 2011. I'm re-reading it as a part of an e-course by Brene Brown.

From this week's reading, my favorite passage deals with belonging versus fitting in:

Most of us use the terms fitting in and belonging interchangeably, and like many of you, I'm really good at fitting in. We know exactly how to hustle for approval and acceptance. We know what to wear, what to talk about, how to make people happy, what not to mention--we know how to chameleon our way through the day.

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's TalesBeatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales by Marta McDowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ahh! To live vicariously through English gardening books! I devoured this: the photos and illustrations were good enough to eat. I will plan to read this book again and again.

Part One "Beatrix Potter, Her Life as a Gardener" provides a biography and numerous photos and sketches of the gardens the author knew and loved. Amazingly, even in London, she had access to living growing things. The story of her development as an artist is inspiring. She recognized at an early age that she was not cut out to be an ornament in the London social scene, to her parents' disappointment.

She was clumsy in company, once moaning, "I feel like a cow in a drawing room." While other girls her age, including her cousins, were charming in society, Beatrix was awkward...Her health problems were capped by a serious case of rheumatic fever. Her mother was difficult, her father distracted. She was, in short, discontented. She fought back with her paintbrush and her pen. "I cannot rest, I must draw, however poor the result..."

The result many years later was "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," a surprise success that had Beatrix from then on publishing one or two books with Warne publishers. She developed a friendship with the youngest member of the publishing team, Norman Warne. Their relationship developed into love. Beatrix believed she had her happy ending:

Beatrix compared herself to Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" when, on July 25, 1905, she received a letter from Norman asking for her hand. Her position changed from spinster daughter one day, to cherished fiancee the next. Alas, her parents objected. Norman was not in the right set. He was, after all, in the trades, and the Potters were in a generation removed from the sullying influence of cotton manufacturing. To keep the peace, Beatrix and Norman agreed to a quiet engagement.

Norman died very suddenly one month after they were engaged. In spite of, or because of her grief, Beatrix threw herself into improving her garden at Hill Top Farm and continued writing and illustrating books. At the age of 47, she married a local solicitor named William Heelis. They spent the rest of their lives together in the countryside they both loved. During this time, Beatrix was an influential advocate of the National Trust in conserving the Lake District.

This was, in a sense, landscaping on a regional scale. "I'm sure I am doing good in trying to save anything I can of our Lake country from being vulgarized," she wrote, "For, as true education advances, the beauty of unspoilt nature will be appreciated; and it would be a pity of the appreciation came too late."

Part Two "The Year in Beatrix Potter's Gardens" chronicles her gardens through the four seasons. Reading this book in late-December, this passage reassured me:

Winter wipes the gardener's slate clean. In Beatrix Potter's sometimes-messy garden everything herbaceous dies back, including the weeds. The beds that do not get dug will still be there next year."

Part Three "Visiting Beatrix Potter's Gardens" warns that "you won't come upon Beatrix Potter's gardens by accident. You will have to seek them out." It then charts a tour around England, Wales and Scotland that I hope to experience someday. Until then, I'll re-read this wonderful book and pull weeds in my oftentimes-messy garden.

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