Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Priorities and Perfectionism

If you've read my blog or other articles for any length of time, you know that I learn a tremendous amount from working in my garden. I'm constantly amazed at the life lessons that nature presents me with each and every time I step out to do this work.

I've written about my exploding popper weeds before. These weeds are truly a pain in the backside! They produce little seed pods that explode once they 'ripen.' Their explosion then causes dozens of seeds to shoot in all directions, thus guaranteeing a new crop of the lovely plants to perpetuate themselves... and my battle with them!

Even the 'poppers' are teachers for me - as much as I hate to admit it! I just completed what I call a 'popper pass' in the garden. I went through my entire yard and did nothing but pull poppers. Now is the time to get them out. They aren't 'ripe' yet, and so will not explode when I try to remove them. This is the best time to get them out. I can move faster because they are not 'vulnerable' to exploding when I touch them. Yet, it is very hard for me to leave other weeds in the ground as I extract the poppers! It challenges my perfectionism and my love of order. Nothing feels better to me than to weed a section of the garden and leave it looking weed free and orderly! Leaving weeds of any kind is painful! If I insist on cleaning each area entirely, however, I cannot get all of the poppers out before it's 'seed spewing' time! My choice is to prioritize and remove them before they spread their seeds OR weed each area completely and leave entire sections exposed to popper reinfestation!

One option appeals to my sense of 'completeness' and 'thoroughness' but creates more work for me in the long run. The other option causes me to challenge my perfectionism and 'need' to do things completely, as it teaches me about priorities. That option also makes my life easier in the long run!

Obviously, I choose the second option, because it has so many benefits... an easier life AND it interrupts life long patterns that aren't necessarily healthy!

I'm reminded of something my teacher, Dr. Bruni, used to tell me as I worked to let go of my compulsive perfectionism. He said, "Not everything in your life is worthy of 100% of your effort."

I'll never forget the day he said that to me. I had always given 110% to everything I did. The thought that I could just 'do' something without sinking my soul into it was foreign to me. This powerful idea has been incredibly liberating to me! No longer do I only engage in things that I can do perfectly or completely. I 'dabble' in things now. I can also do things without knowing how successful I'll be! Of course, I can also prioritize... and put more effort into high priority activities and much less energy into lower priority tasks. Sometimes it's enough to just barely do something or to do something part way when I can't do it 'all the way.'

I once worked with a counseling client who was a recovering alcoholic. He told me about a project he did to build some flower boxes. He became frustrated with himself when the boxes weren't exactly straight and he proceeded to destroy them in a fit of rage. He couldn't see anything worthy in them because they weren't perfect. One of the things I asked him to do, as we talked about this, was to tell me 3 good things about those flower boxes. I remember the wonder in his eyes when he said, "Well, I guess they would have held the flowers anyway." Indeed. They didn't need to be perfect in order to hold the flowers.

When we can't except less than perfection, in our self or in others, we harm ourselves and those around us. Learning what to give 100% of our effort to, and which things we can just 'let slide' is one of the most important lessons we learn inn this life! Doing things for different reasons, and allowing different levels of 'quality' depending on those reasons is part of the art of living life well.

I wish you a life of balance, priorities and freedom from the tyranny of perfectionism!

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