We want to be good at everything. We don't want to be beginners. It's too vulnerable.
On their own new things are really hard. We’re beginners trying to master the new thing. When it’s just one thing it can be overwhelming. COVID-19 is like that grinning captain that calls, “Hey everybody! How about we change everything all at once? Like right now. Good luck!”
When I was in second grade I came home crying one day. My mom was puzzled. What had happened? I wasn’t being bullied. Nope. I hadn’t fallen down and gotten hurt. I wasn’t homesick.
Through tears, I told my mom, “We learned how to tell time today. We were using the face clocks. I’m upset because I didn’t already KNOW how to tell time by myself!”
My mom cocked her head and did one of those slow blinks. “So you expected to KNOW how to do something before your teacher taught it to you?”
I don’t know why this idea was a big deal. I like to know things. Certainty wants us to be the best at everything. What do you mean I need to be new at something before I can master it?
What a concept.
Maybe some of you are chuckling because you’re built like that, too. I have a friend who opted to turn down a job, because her daughter was starting preschool. She said, “We just can’t do two new things at once. We can adjust to one new thing at a time. Both of us trying hard things at the same time wouldn’t be good.”
We can see these parts of ourselves when we think about sharing our creative work or joining a gym. Something as small as showing up to a small group or going to a party where we know just one person.
Vulnerability is grueling. It offers a mixed-message right off the bat: Come try this new thing. It could be a disaster or it could be the best thing in your life. You have to try to know, though.
The mighty shield I like to use against vulnerability is perfectionism. If I can study and prepare really well then I’ll have outsmarted most disasters. This also makes way for tension, irritability, and black-and-white thinking. We love that quality in our friends, right? Ugh! It’s not our best look, but we use perfectionism to protect ourselves from vulnerability. It doesn’t work though. Why? Because control is an illusion. COVID-19 snapped its fingers at our hyper-busy over-controlled lives and made us beginners again.
We’re uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, uncomfortable, uncomfortable, and possibly freaking out. (You’re allowed to freak out).
I’m a therapist by day and also a coach. My therapy clients usually sit across from me in my office surrounded by soft blue walls, an essential oil diffuser that offers hints of peppermint + wild orange, and look out over the Arroyo Grande Creek to watch birds flit by as they talk. It’s lovely.
Now I’m also a homeschool mom. Overnight. Today my son had his first school-connected online google meeting for his class. Do you know what it’s like to teach a bunch of house-bound 4th graders? Let’s say a little prayer of gratitude for our children’s teachers and coaches. For the love. I wanted to mute the entire thing!
But now there’s all of these new things. New things for them to access. New ways for them to connect with their teachers. I was getting stressed out. Why? Because I wanted to know all of the things…like yesterday. I wanted it to be smooth. I wanted my kids to learn and to be happy. I’m setting the bar too high, I think.
Because I’m also working from home. Which means that sometimes I do telehealth in my car to keep confidentiality. We 100% cannot change or perfect that. It is what it is.
It’s new and it’s hard. It’s a new way of living. A new way of working. A new way of learning. All new. All right now.
I figure I have a few options:
I can do nothing (freeze).
I can make this $%&#@ thing work perfectly.
I can try easy.
Do nothing or do everything (options 1 & 2):
In her audiobook, Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brené Brown talks about underfunctioners and overfunctioners. In times of crisis underfunctioners freeze and disappear. They get overwhelmed and shut down. They stop showing up to things. They allow other people to step in and take over. They just can’t deal.
Overfunctioners go into hyper drive. They take on too much and control the to-do list themselves. They have a hard time delegating, because they think if they can do it themselves then it will be done right. No one knows that they are having a hard time. It’s like they have capes on, but they’re shut off from their feelings. If they stay busy fixing the problem then they won’t have to acknowledge how the crisis is making them feel.
Neither way is good or bad. However, both options are ways to avoid vulnerability. When we under or over function we’re trying to outmaneuver pain. We don’t want to feel it so with either hide from it or attempt to fix it. In both ways, our people can’t reach us. We’re too well defended. The layers of each keep people out.
Try easy (option 3):
When I say “try easy” most people think I want them to slack off. The perfectionists look at me like I have two heads. I can feel the resistance telling me, “I can’t try easy. I have to get it right! The only way to get through this is to try my very best which means I have to try hard!” Well, I know you well enough by now to know that you aren’t a slacker. You won’t give up. You won’t give 50% effort ever. For anything. I know that.
Don’t change your work ethic, just change your attitude.
We can take anything and adopt a “try easy” attitude. Let’s start simple: a new dance move, throwing a baseball, putting together a building kit. If we “try hard” we have tension and forced effort. We’re super focused and want a clear result. However, if we “try easy” we’re more likely to have fun. We’re looser. Curious. Easy. We’re focused on the moment rather than getting it right. Same activity; different attitude.
Right now you are living through vulnerability. Everything is new and it has been a major adjustment. We’ve tried so hard to get it right.
Maybe it’s time to try easy.
Let’s do what we can. Try to help with the learning. Try to do good work. Try to cope with the new and sudden lifestyle change. We’ll do it all, but we’ll try easy.
You are important. Your people are important.
Trying easy will create calm energy. It might even be fun. But for sure, it will be forgiving. That’s what we want in our families, right? Calm energy, plus fun, with generous doses of forgiveness.
How about you give that to yourself, too. Don’t try so hard. Try easy.
With Love and Backbone,
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Jen Padilla-Burger helps perfectionists heal. She supports overfunctioning perfectionists with developing self-care practices, meditation, hypnosis, and self-compassion. Jen is a lover of coffee, plants, and podcasts.