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    November 7, 2003    PAGE TWO      
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 You Mean I Can't Be Perfect?
 When Frustration Sets In
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 Going For Broke
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       You Mean I Can't Be Perfect? by Tracey Haider-Sprague

Tracey Haider-Sprague 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 could.

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 "positive".

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 on that?

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 encouragement.

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 huge break.

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 life.

Which one do you want to embrace?

Copyright © November 2003  Tracey Haider-Sprague and Low Carb Luxury

                                                          




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