It’s got to be perfect

If you’re going on a journey, it helps to know where you’re starting from.

I purposefully didn’t blog last week because I deliberately wanted to fail to meet my self-imposed target of a weekly post.

Rob Waller, one of the authors of The Perfectionism Book, uses the analogy of a performer spinning plates to describe the life of a perfectionist. Over recent years, I have certainly felt like a plate-spinner, juggling roles and responsibilities, such as being a mum, a wife and friend, work, volunteering for a local charity, leading a small group at church and keeping the house clean and tidy.

I often felt I was failing and could never be satisfied with my ‘performance’ – there was always something, somewhere I could be doing better. fail-1714367_1280I now recognise this as perfectionism. The Perfectionism Book asks the reader if they can remove any plates or if this isn’t possible to ‘take some of the wobble out of the ones that remain’.

By failing to meet a target, I’m learning to keep my plates manageable – taking some of the wobble out.

The lack of affirmation was the hardest thing about not writing last week. Simon Sinek says: ‘Engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine. That’s why when you get a text, it feels good. That’s why we count the likes, because you know when you get it, you get a hit of dopamine which feels good.

‘Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, in other words it’s highly, highly addictive.

Facebook likes and the blog stats feed my need for praise but I don’t want to be addicted to social media dopamine hits.

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Graham Taylor, ex-football manager of Watford FC, my local club, passed away recently. I love this quote of his, included in an obituary:

In this job you get nice things said about you and bad things said about you. The trick is not to spend any longer thinking about one than the other. In the end they are both bollocks.

I don’t want my self-esteem to be based on others’ opinions, Facebook likes or even my own achievements and successes.

Seeing how ingrained my perfectionism is made me feel downhearted and despondent. Not only do I have high expectations of myself but I also think others – family members, friends, colleagues, strangers (what will people think if I…) – have similar expectations of me. My internal monologue says: ‘I need to be perfect in order to be loved‘. This is the key lie I have been believing. I must be perfect, not making any mistakes – not even a minuscule error, mustn’t say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing or reveal my weaknesses – because then there will be no appreciation, affirmation or love. Without perfection, I am worthless.

This monologue needs rewriting.

There’s a long way to go but I am taking steps forward.

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Money laundering

The Pilgrim household needs a new washing machine. The bearing has gone (so I’m told) which means our kitchen now frequently sounds like a runway at Heathrow.

We are in the privileged position of being able to choose and buy a brand-new machine. Mr Pilgrim has spent many hours (many!) looking for one with a timer, a hand-wash cycle and a five-year guarantee – at a good price. Our new appliance will cost about £500 and we have some savings we can use to purchase it.

I’ve been thinking about what we would do if we didn’t have the money to buy a washing machine outright.

Live without a washing machine

I could wash items by hand or take them to the nearest launderette. But with a baby and a  preschooler just out of nappies, the washing never stops.

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Realistically and sensibly, we need a washing machine.

As I write this, I can’t help but think of people around the world who don’t have that luxury. Adelia, a mother of two small children in Mozambique, has to walk 40km every day to collect water. Her priority isn’t water for washing clothes; she needs water for drinking and cooking.

I have discovered my grandparents didn’t own washing machines in the 1950s when my parents were young. My paternal grandparents had their washing collected once a week and taken to the laundry, and my maternal grandparents washed everything by hand or used something called a copper and laundry tongs.

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A 1950s copper washer

Reflecting on washing machines – a household item which I’ve previously never given much thought to – has led me to a new and deeper appreciation of them. Every time I use my new washing machine, I’m going to stop for a moment to be grateful, to remember my grandma and grandad for whom laundry was physically hard work, and to pray for those today, such as Adelia, who are experiencing water poverty.

The charity Water Aid focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene; I’ve joined their mailing list to receive information about campaigns and have signed their pledge to make sure everyone everywhere has access to safe water by 2030.

Credit unions

I wanted to blog last week about credit unions but struggled to find the right words. Instead, in Present Tense I wrote about how my perfectionism was getting the better of me.

For many a credit union is a fantastic way of borrowing money to pay for items such as essential kitchen appliances. I’ve been a member of my local credit union for about five years – saving a little in my account each month so that others in my community can take out loans with very low interest.

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Credit unions provide alternatives to rent-to-buy shops. I’ve discovered I could very quickly have this new washing machine from BrightHouse who have a shop on my local high street, but I’d pay £819 over three years for an appliance worth £258.79 –  although to be fair, their deal does include unlimited repairs. I can definitely see the attraction of paying £5.25 per week over three years for an essential household item but it makes me angry people are paying so much – too much. As former Labour leader, Ed Miliband said in his campaign against rent-to-buy shops last year: ‘This is a Great British rip-off. There are a lot of people out there that get into debt and it can cause people untold misery.

I regularly see adverts on TV for QuickQuid, a licensed lender. Arranging a loan for £500 would take about ten minutes online. If I took out the longest repayment package of three months, I’d pay back £120 in the first month, £120 in the second month and then £620 in the third month. Paying back a total of £860! (I was so shocked by this, I had to ring Mr Pilgrim at work to tell him.)

£860!!! I only borrowed £500. How am I going to pay that back? 

You can find your nearest credit union on the Find Your Credit Union website (!). There’s some great stuff (please take the time to have a look) on the Just Finance Foundation website about debt, credit unions and financial education.

(The Just Finance Foundation is the charity developing and implementing Archbishop Justin Welby’s vision for a more just financial system.)

I am passionate about addressing the root causes of a problem not just dealing with the symptoms so I’ll end with this quote taken from the Just Finance Foundation:

‘Many churches across the country are already engaged in providing debt advice to people in desperate circumstances, and this is a ministry that should be celebrated.  But if the church only ever engages in this way, and then sends people back out into a world full of exploitative lenders, unethical banking practices and consumerism hoping for the best then we wouldn’t be living up to the full picture of the Gospel.’

Could you – or your church – promote credit unions as an alternative to exploitative lenders?

 

 

Present tense

I had intended this week to focus on a social justice issue: the importance of credit unions. But the words weren’t flowing. And after writing about my hope to become less of a perfectionist, I’ve been struggling with perfectionism this week. I realised it would be more authentic (though requiring vulnerability) to focus on how I feel at present. The process of writing this reflection has actually been helpful in clarifying my thinking.

The Perfectionism Book says the opposite of perfectionism is not imperfection but flexibility. Flexibility isn’t a word which resonates with me. Words such as control, routine, predictability, plan, task, structure and organise suit me better.

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My self-esteem is rooted in my achievements. I wish it wasn’t but there’s no point in pretending otherwise. My accomplishments don’t have to be spectacular or noteworthy; I love setting myself tasks and then completing them. At the beginning of this week, I was on edge, downhearted and short-tempered as it seemed that the goals I had set would not be achieved. Remember the definition of perfectionism from The Perfectionism Book?

  1. Setting impossibly tough goals or high standards that can never practically be achieved.
  2. Continuing to pursue these goals despite evidence of harm, usually to our own emotional health.
  3. Basing our self-esteem partly or completely on whether we have met these goals.

This has been me over the last few days. To make it worse, I also set goals for family members and then feel frustrated when they don’t do what I want them to do when I want them to do it! Thankfully Mr Pilgrim is an exceptionally patient and kind man.

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Writing about the present is harder than writing about the past. It’s easier to tell my stories of mistakes, triumphs and growth from the vantage point of the conclusion, when the problem or difficult situation is over. In the midst of a storm (when I’m feeling anxious, fearful or panicky, my thinking is negative, my self-esteem is low or there’s a dark cloud over me), I hide away and isolate myself. I’m too raw, messy and embarrassed to tell people what’s really going on. I don’t want to be defined or stereotyped by my struggles and I don’t want to hurt or burden people.

Yet, I am beginning to see there is such power in being honest about my present circumstances. The process of being authentic and vulnerable helps me to find healing and hope.

So this year hasn’t started as I would have wanted but hopefully I have made a little bit of progress in being less of a perfectionist.

Past Perfect

As we begin a new calendar year, diaries and journals have pristine pages. Potential awaits. I used to love the excitement of a new exercise book at school with its blank leaves. I’d endeavour to keep it ‘perfect’ but I’d make mistakes and soon – in my eyes – the book would be ruined. Yet, the mistakes were part of my learning. I still feel the thrill of a new notebook with its empty pages and potential. A friend has been given this beautiful daily journal for Christmas.

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It’s so stunning I’d be afraid to use it for fear of spoiling it but its purpose is to be written in, with words spelt incorrectly, sentences crossed out and tear-stained pages. It’s a tool to help us grow and it doesn’t have to look perfect. 

As a young girl, I read and re-read many of the boarding school classics: Malory Towers, St Clare’s and the Chalet Girls. These schools had prefects – an unfamiliar word which I misread for a while as ‘perfects’. I wanted to be ‘a perfect’. I still want to be ‘perfect’.

I’ve been reading The Perfectionism Book by Will van der Hart and Rob Waller. They describe perfectionism as:

  1. Setting impossibly tough goals or high standards that can never practically be achieved.
  2. Continuing to pursue these goals despite evidence of harm, usually to our own emotional health.
  3. Basing our self-esteem partly or completely on whether we have met these goals.

This sounds a lot like me. I often feel under pressure to be a perfect parent with perfect children, to not make any mistakes at work, and to have a flawless house. But nothing and nobody is ever perfect – and I’m slowly learning that’s okay!! I experienced a small moment of liberation recently when I read in the New Baby Survival Guide: ‘We’re all just sinners raising sinners’ or to put it another way ‘I’m not perfect and I’m raising children who aren’t perfect either‘. 

My friend who blogs here writes: ‘People now think that if we verbally share our intentions to change – this makes us more likely to succeed and if we change with someone else this makes success even more likely‘.

So here are my intentions to change – guidelines (not rules!) I’m going to try and follow this year:

  • Pray I will understand God’s grace more deeply – his love for me doesn’t depend on my performance or achievements
  • Try new things I won’t be very good at (I’m planning to do Go Ape and go canoeing when on holiday)
  • Give myself permission to make mistakes
  • Aim to receive criticism without being defensive, maybe even ask for feedback
  • Continue to bat back the negative thoughts saying ‘I am a rubbish parent’ when I do make a mistake or am having a bad day
  • Be vulnerable – I love this quote from Brene Brown which I read in The Perfectionism Book:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.’

I’m hoping these reflections will be a tool to help me become less perfectionistic and more free to be the person God created me to be.

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