Hannah Montana was Right: Learning to Challenge My Perfectionist Thoughts

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” – Brené Brown

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

Hello my digital angels,

I came across the above quote while working on my book. (Mark my words, it will be done before my next birthday!) I decided to add a preface, and I was reading through the first pages of books I admire for inspiration. On page 2 of Daring Greatly, that line jumped out at me. Like something I needed to hear. And that surprised me.

You see, I think of myself as a recovered perfectionist; I wrote about it for Gurl.com (see below!). My sophomore year of high school was the peak of my perfectionism. I took AP classes for the first time and was diligent with my homework. (I remember reading my World History textbook on Friday evenings.) I was active outside of classes, participating in cheerleading, theatre, Key Club, and concert band.

Gurl.com no longer exists on the web, but it does in my heart (and this screenshot). ❤️

And I monitored every bite of food I ate, in search of the “perfect” body.

By junior year, I learned to be more realistic about my schoolwork. On the first day of AP U.S. History, when the syllabus was passed out, I realized I couldn’t complete the work to my satisfaction and stay sane. So I switched to the regular version of the class. By the end of the year, I acknowledged that being a cheerleader was more about what I wanted to be (popular) than what made me happy, and I quit. As for eating, it took me a number of years of ups and downs to unlearn the desire to control my body, but I did it. One night recently, I was standing at the kitchen counter at 10 PM eating cold Chinese food. I stopped and marveled at the fact that I can do that. Silly as it sounds, back then I never would have dreamed it. I listen to my body and enjoy food without constraints, and that’s a miracle to me.

I worked my way out of all those modes of perfectionism. I know, and not just because Hannah Montana told me, that nobody’s perfect. So why did that quote hit me?

Then I realized, even though consciously I know I am not expected to be perfect, I sometimes react in a way that suggests the opposite.

One of my greatest fears—and anxiety triggers—is hurting others. This year, my mind has been a little harder to manage than usual, for understandable reasons. Lately, when I feel I’ve made a mistake (or remember one from months past), I go into a downward spiral. I think, over and over again, about what I did wrong and how it could have negatively impacted someone else. Anxiety takes over my body, and I can’t slow down my thoughts or heart rate until I talk to someone else or “fix” the perceived problem.

Of course, it’s normal to feel a sting when you think about how you could have done something better. I care so much about doing things well, and I don’t expect that to change. But when I go into full-on meltdown mode over things that do not warrant that, what I’m telling myself is that it’s not okay to ever make a less-than-100%-perfect decision. And that’s not okay.

Recognizing this problematic pattern of thinking has already been liberating. Not that I’ve “fixed” it—you can’t be perfect at not being perfect—but I realize the path I’ve been walking, perhaps longer than I realized, is not one I want to continue down. I want to be kinder to myself. I want to give myself the love and grace I think everyone deserves in moments of struggle. I want to live a life of self-compassion.

I have so many more thoughts, and a few resources, to share with you, but this seems like a good place to stop for now. What I ask of you is this: if you find yourself being your own worst critic, stop and examine the standards to which you’re holding yourself. And if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Your compassion belongs to you, too.

xoxo

Marie

It’s Forking Hard, Man: Creativity in the Time of COVID-19

Hello my Internet friends, and long time no see,

I had a real good cry the other day. I’ve been carrying some self-loaded burden this year—I’m sure I’m not the only one—and I think I’m finally ready to set it down. But to tell the story, we need to wind the clock back to December 31st, 2019.

New Year’s Eve morning, I was on an airplane with my boyfriend. We were heading back from spending Christmas with his family. I don’t think of plane cabins as being particularly aesthetic locales, but sitting next to him, with the white morning light flowing in, I knew I was in a moment I’d never forget. I just knew that this was the year. The year that all the pieces were finally coming together. Not only was I starting the new decade with my lovely, supportive boyfriend, but I was moving into a new role at work, which was going to give me much better work-life balance, and therefore more time + mental energy to write. I was thisclose to having a first draft of my book done. This year, I was going to finish it, edit it, and figure out how to publish it! Was that a lot to expect? Maybe! But at the time, it really seemed possible.

I’ve watched a lot of TV this year. “Good Place” is my new favorite show. “Forking” is the main character’s adverb of choice (kind of). (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

And through January and February, it still did. I was so happy, and for the first time in a long time, the writing was just flowing. I was not only getting the pages down, but I was having fun with it. I’d regained my playfulness with words that had been hard to access for a while. Finally, I thought. All the work I’d done, to get my mind and life in a conducive state for writing, was paying off.  I’d made it. Back to my voice, and forward to the writing life I’d been trying to create.

Then March came around. Like many people, I imagine, the first weeks of our community responding to COVID-19—gatherings being cancelled, schools and workplaces going remote—felt surreal to me. I felt shock more than anything. But once the jolt wore off, it all started to wear on me. Not getting to do the little things I’d taken for granted—the mornings I went to Starbucks to write, trivia nights with my brother and sister-in-law. I began to internalize the (very understandable) stress and fear in the air, to the point where I was often anxious about things totally unrelated to the pandemic, like challenges at work or random past mistakes.

Unsurprisingly, my writing started to suffer. Sometimes, I would sit down at my desk and struggle to focus. Other times, I couldn’t get myself to sit down at all. I kept telling myself, next week will be different. Or, tomorrow’s the day I get back on track. Suddenly, those days and weeks had flown by, spring became summer became (almost) fall, and nothing really got easier.

Until, admittedly, I had a bit of a meltdown moment a couple weeks ago. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed by my feelings but not yet ready to accept them, I start aggressively cleaning. (Lovely, I know.) I was going in on the kitchen when, thankfully, my aforementioned lovely boyfriend intervened. As soon as we sat down on the couch, I started sobbing. This year has not been what it was supposed to be. I haven’t been who I was supposed to be.

I let out all the disappointment, sadness, and anger—with myself and the situation—that had been building up for quite some time. Throughout the past six months, I’ve often been reminding myself (and saying out loud) how fortunate I’ve been. I’ve stayed healthy, and so has my family. I’ve kept my job and my house. So many people have experienced so much loss and suffering this year. Who am I to complain, about anything? But in my efforts to not appear selfish or ungrateful—even to myself—I failed to acknowledge how I was struggling. Being creative in 2020 is forking hard, man.

If I were to write creativity out as a formula (for myself, anyway), I would say creativity = purpose + time + mental energy. I’ve had a sense of inspiration and purpose for my book for years. On the other hand, the time and mental energy I have at any given point varies. This year, I made the mistake of thinking that since I have plenty of free time on my hands—can’t be distracted by going to movies or hanging out with friends!—I should be plenty productive. But I failed to acknowledge the brain drain this year has been. I’m grateful for my own health and safety, but I’m still sad for our communities. I’m still anxious. I’m still waiting for the day I can hug everyone I miss.

I stuffed down my feelings of frustration about my writing progress this year, because I thought they were selfish or unwarranted. The funny thing is, now that I’ve let them out, I’ve found mental room to reevaluate what I want the rest of this year to be. How I want to spend the creativity I do have. Because I do have it, even it’s a little more strained during this incredibly difficult time.

I’m not going to say I’m feeling the New Year’s Eve buzzy excitement again (who can even imagine?), but I feel a little more clear-headed and confident in my ability to create than I have in months. I’ll take it.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. I am sending you love and light through whatever challenges you’re going through this year.