Thursday, September 1, 2016

Present Over Perfect -- Sign me up!

I am a huge fan of Shauna Niequist.  I've read all her books and hope, since we are both Chicagoland moms, to meet her one day.  Her most recent, Present Over Perfect:  Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, really resonated with me and inspired the following thoughts (that I really needed to think at the start of a new school year).

I am a capable person, a helpful person, a mostly friendly and usually kind person.  I am a person you can count on.  Because I am capable, helpful, mostly friendly, usually kind, and able to be counted upon, I say yes to a variety of volunteer opportunities and mostly succeed in fulfilling my commitments.  I am also creative, organized, attentive to details, and able to troubleshoot and anticipate.  Volunteering allows me to contribute to my community, be a part of the life and happenings of my kids' school and our parish, and to get to know, plus work and laugh with people, mostly women, whom I admire and enjoy.

Great.  It's all great.

At this life moment, I'm a SAHM, a choice about which I'm not particularly tortured.  Me being at home works best for our family right now.  I'm not Christina Applegate in Bad Moms, not on a power trip, not directing frustrated or thwarted career aspirations into Cub Scouts or the Newcomers Committee.  But, I do like the feeling of satisfaction that comes with doing a volunteer project well, being appreciated for it, and being recognized as capable, count-on-able, helpful, creative.  I'm a good girl/teacher's pet at heart and will always love gold stars, extra credit, and atta girls.

Great.  It's all great, or at least good.

I am not great at delegating, especially any job that might be stressful or misery-inducing.  I'm not good at asking for help.  I would love to both be and be perceived as laid back, but I am wired for anxiety and worry.  That's improved with age and wisdom, but still, anxixety is one of my factory settings.  So, when I say yes to things and see them through, the yes is sometimes but not always accompanied by a lot of stress and some real low points.  On multiple occasions, my sons have been near tears before Cub Scout pack meetings.  They feel my stress, know I've been racing around all day getting stuff ready (because I've told them so as I'm losing it while loading the Odyssey) and feel guilty like it's their fault for wanting to be scouts.  My husband has fielded a variety of desperate phone calls from me, needing to be talked off a ledge, when I am frustrated by some technological or logistical obstacle (The cord to the projector won't fit my MacBook!  I need to print these signs and our imaging drum is empty and you can't just buy one at OfficeMax and blah, blah, blah, screech, screech, eeks, eeks, eeks).  Just recently, I spent the morning working on a Power Point (that no one specifically requested and that I insisted on creating) for a volunteer job on the school's Newcomers CommitteeI ignored my kids as I tried to finish up and then rushed to the park for a playdate with incoming first graders, including new school families.  I wanted to make sure all the new families felt welcome, met others, etc.  My daughter mentioned to me several times that she was hot and thirsty and I distractedly directed her to the drinking fountain.  Ninety minutes later, I finally took a good look at her and realized she was grey under her suntan and clammy/sweaty.  Once we exited the park, she revealed that she hadn't eaten breakfast, had eaten nothing all morning except a Twizzler a classmate gave her at the park.  Fast forward fifteen minutes and she is vomiting pieces of Twizzler into a Chick-Fil-A bag and unable to keep anything down until evening.  But, hey, the Power Point was a success and the other first graders enjoyed the playdate!

It's all good until it's not.

It's not good to be busy and stressed in service to others when it turns you into the least best version of yourself--worried, distracted, laser-focused on your to-do list--around the people who matter most to you.  This is commonsense, of course.  MOM 101.  There is plenty to rationally understand about balance and perspective, but, unfortunately, I gain my wisdom in fits and starts and through experience.  Present Over Perfect reviews these lessons in an accessible but powerful way.

Here's the other thing Present Over Perfect does.  This book speaks to those sad fears behind all the doing, hustling, pleasing, and juggling.  Those fears that maybe people only tolerate you because you are capable and helpful and organized and attentive to details.  Megan's not super fun, but she can Evite, Volunteer Spot, and email like a boss.  Not the first person I'd like to have a drink with but she's got Pioneer Day (or the coach gift or the Halloween Party or the Blue & Gold Dinner) under control.  You can see Megan's underwear line through her Costco yoga pants, but she gets stuff done and she'll say yes if you ask her to help.  Don't get me wrong -- these aren't my day-to-day, constant fears.  I have good friends who see me and love me and appreciate me.  But these are the fears and insecurities there under the surface.  The lurking fears look different for every woman--whether you're the dedicated physician or teacher, the reliable caregiver for an ailing parent, or the [insert your story/role here]--but there's that little voice whispering in your ear that without all the hustle and bustle, that without all that you do and take care of, that without all of that busy, you are not enough.  So you better keep going and keep doing in case other people have figured out just how not enough you are.

If you're rolling your eyes, fine, I get it.  I should be so lucky to have this struggle.  But it's mine.  I wish you well in yours, which may very well be nobler or grittier.  If you're nodding your head to any of the above though, read Present Over Perfect where Shauna Niequist says it all way better than I have.  Here are some highlights for me...

"I have left behind some ways of living that I once believed were necessary and right that I now know were toxic and damaging--among them pushing, proving, over-working, ignoring my body and spirit, trusting my ability to hustle more than God's ability to heal" (27).

"I couldn't imagine a world of unconditional love or grace, where people simply enter into rooms because the door is open to everyone.  The world that made sense to me was a world of earning and proving, and I was gutting it out just like everyone around me, frantically trying to prove my worth" (41).

"When you devote yourself to being known as the most responsible person anyone knows, more and more people call on you to be that highly responsible person.  That's how it works.  So the armload of things I was carrying became higher and higher, heavier and heavier, more and more precarious" (41)

"But you can' t have yes without no.  Another way to say it:  if you're not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it.  In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments" (49). 

What I'm taking away from Present Over Perfect is not that I need to opt out, nor that I need to further shame myself for all the times when I've failed to be present in my attempt to be "perfect."  My takeaway is that I need to slow down, to mix in some no with my yes, and to remind myself that as a child of God I am always already enough.


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