Tracey Haider-Sprague, a homeschooling mother of two, is also the Training Director for Small Beginnings, a Lay Ministry Training Organization in Seattle, Washington where she researches, writes, teaches and counsels. She, along with her entire family, began their low-carb lifestyle in April 2003.
Tracey posts as ‘Mamasita’ on the Talking Low Carb Forums, where she proves an inspiration for us all!
"Doing the best at this moment
puts you in the best place for the next moment."
— Oprah Winfrey
I grew up with a mom who "did up" every single holiday. There were snowflake
stickers on the windows for Christmas, to streamers twisted and draped for
birthdays. There were homemade clothes and curtains and she was scrap-booking
before it was ever an organized hobby and commercial venture. She kept the house
clean and dusted and always looked just right with makeup and her kitchen apron.
My school lunch was always made and I can't ever remember being late for anything.
I can't remember exactly when my perfectionist streak began, but I'm sure that it
had its origins fairly early in my life. I remember rearranging my room each week,
dragging my pink canopy bed over to one wall and then thinking how cute it would
be over in the other corner. While other girls were riding bikes and playing Barbies
with their friends, I was finding new and exciting ways of organizing my rows of
toys. Once finished with my project, I would search out my mother and drag her by
the hand to show her my work of art. I was always thrilled when she commented on
how much initiative I had.
As I got older, and... well... fatter, I began to climb even more inward. Due to years of
my peers constantly teasing and bullying me for my chubbiness, I spent less and
less time outside of the safety of my house. My world became very small and I spent
a lot of time trying to make sure that everything in that world was just right.
As time wore on, and I was oblivious to what was really happening, I continued
with my way of thinking. I brought it with me to school. I took it with me into
relationships. It was my safeguard. If I could just think one or two steps ahead,
I could be prepared at all times. If I was prepared, then I wouldn't make a mistake.
If I don't make a mistake, then no one can make fun of me. If no one can make fun of
me, then I won't feel embarrassed. If I don't get embarrassed, then it will be a good
day… or at least I won't die a little inside this day.
I became very good at planning, organizing and multi-tasking way before "multi-tasking"
was a word on everyone's lips. I looked "responsible" and "mature" for my age as I
worked feverishly to keep ahead of the dreaded, stupid, mistake. If and when I did
make a mistake, I punished myself mentally far more than any snarly-faced skinny kid
It had turned into a self-confirming cycle. When a day had gone by and there was no
"mistake", I had done it perfectly and I had avoided shame, grief, embarrassment and
what I call those "little deaths" of self. When I had made a mistake, it showed me
once again how much harder I needed to work to keep my guard up at all times.
Nice little cycle, isn't it?
This became such a part of me that I even used it proudly in job interviews. For anyone
who has ever had to answer those treacherous questions, "What strengths do you think you
possess?" and the equally insidious, "What weaknesses do you feel you have?" I took the
advice of some magazine columnist and decided to answer the latter question with a
Once, I sat in front of a business suit with a woman in it, (yes you read that part
of the sentence correctly) and stated with an innocent shrug of my shoulders, "I'm
really a perfectionist. If I need to work on anything, I think that would be it. You
see, I really believe in doing the best job possible." Can we all collectively gag
But, I got the job. So once again, it served me well.
As the years passed, and I finally began to get some insight into my thought processes
and behaviors, it became apparent that I had fallen into a snare of my own making. What
once had helped me survive mentally and emotionally in a continually hostile environment
(anywhere outside my home) was now becoming a liability. There were no more bullies
waiting outside my door at school ready to follow me home tearing at my dress or yelling
obscenities till I crossed my threshold. There were no more pretty little girls ganging
up on me and slapping me in the face with impunity. I was now an adult and people I knew
were, for the most part, too busy with their own lives to worry about mine.
Now the perfectionism had to find a way to thrive. It became my raison d'etre.
I could clean my house beautifully. I could organize and file all household documents.
I could plan my errands so that I didn't have to drive more than absolutely necessary.
If I planned it just right, everything could flow in a graceful dance. Now married, I
had to be the perfect wife, whatever that meant, and even though I never heard it from
my husband, I was the first to feel guilt and shame if I hadn't done during the day what
I had determined to do that morning. What had begun as a way to survive the onslaught of
other's words and actions had now found a place to live within me without their
This thing lived and breathed within me independent of anyone or anything else.
Now back to my mom. I gave birth to a son and my perfectionism was in full swing. I was
going to be just as perfect as my mom was. I was sure that I was going to do everything
right and not make a mistake.
Well, we all know how that was going to go.
As the years went by, I began to notice little things in his behavior and then one day,
I saw myself in him. He was trying to do a puzzle; one of those simple ones with large
pieces. As I sat watching him, he tried for all of two minutes and then in frustration threw
it down in anger. I asked him what was wrong and he said, "I just can't do it!"
I responded, "Well, you haven't even spent much time on it, honey. It takes time."
He looked up at me and said, "I can't. I guess I just won't know how to do puzzles."
Shocked, I said something to him what turned out to be one of my turning points, "No
one knows how to do these things at first. You just have to learn how to do it."
Then he said something that made my skin crawl, "But mom, you're perfect. You never
make a mistake. I'm just stupid!"
Time came to a screeching halt. Here was the light of my life calling himself, "stupid".
My son, who I thought would escape shame and self-hate, was learning it in spite of all
my careful planning and multi-tasking. Needless to say, we had a very long heart to heart
talk and I had to work to come to terms with my perfectionism.
I came to learn that perfectionism is really just making arbitrarily high goals for
oneself that no one on this earth could truly attain. So I was setting myself up for
failure most of the time. Guilt and shame had been my constant companions.
Instead, I have embraced excellence. Excellence means that I will do my darndest each
and every day to do my best at whatever is in front of me. I can still plan, organize,
multi-task and run errands in a loop to save gas, but if things fall apart for some
reason, I'm not beating myself up about it. It's called letting myself be human and we
mere humans make mistakes.
As I go into the holiday season, I am reminded of how my mother made all that work look
so effortless. I wish now that I could have heard her say she was tired or feeling cranky.
I wish I would have known then that it was hard being a mom and maybe there were days when
she wanted to just throw in the towel and escape to a hot bath. She certainly deserved a
Maybe it's the era we live in now of more openness than ever before, but I am thankful
that I can be honest with my boys. I have no problem telling them that I'm tired and I
need a half hour to myself, or that I went all the way to the store and came home
forgetting the very thing I went to get. I hope they strive for excellence in all
areas of their lives, but I also hope they always remember that if they fall short
or make a mistake that it has nothing to do with their value as a human being.
Perfectionism versus Excellence. One dooms us to fail, while the other brings
Which one do you want to embrace?
Copyright © November 2003 Tracey Haider-Sprague and Low Carb Luxury
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