The Unlikely Perfectionist

I have the privilege of contributing on Over The Big Moon each third Sunday.  I decided to publish a post of mine, each week preceding the third Sunday, that was originally featured on Over The Big Moon.  I was actually quite excited to re-read this post, as I had forgotten the little bits of wisdom I had gained from the book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. mentioned in this post.  I hope you get as much enlightenment as I did when I learned about the unlikely perfectionist.

During my senior year of high school, my BFF and I were both in the same ceramics class.  Every couple weeks, our teacher would give us a new assignment. I would produce a ceramic piece that fit the assigned criteria and call it a day.  My friend would carefully create a masterpiece.  She would perfect her artwork daily.  As a result, she would be behind on the projects we were assigned.  I recall our teacher walking by our table and commenting on how my friend did not need to keep up with the assignments since she was clearly still productive in class.  Looking back, I think about how inspired our teacher was to recognize that productivity is the goal, in whatever form that means to each of us, not quantity.  She and I each went about our work in polar opposite ways but we both got an A in the course.  Watching my BFF that semester was the year that I realized that I was not a perfectionist.  I held on to that truth, and felt grateful in it, for quite some time.  It seemed like tough work to be a perfectionist.  In my eyes, it seemed like the perfectionist was so hard on themselves.  Then, one day I realized that not only am I a perfectionist, I’m the worst kind there is.

That day of discovery was a few years ago in one of those eye-opening therapy sessions. The conversation started as an “I don’t have any passion or hobbies” topic and then it turned in to a discussion as to why that is.  I must have then given my therapist a laundry list of reasons why I don’t nurture the activities that I enjoy the most.  For example, while I very much enjoy writing, I was not actively engaging in that hobby or passion at the time.  I told her this was because I’m really not that good at it.  In case she had a rebuttal for that, I continued that I don’t write because there is nothing new that I have to share that the world hasn’t already heard.  And just in case that was not enough for her to be convinced that writing is a hopeless cause for me, I told her that even IF there is something I know that’s worth writing about, someone else has already said it better.  I was certain the case was closed and she would see it my way.  I have no hobbies and therefore I am a loser (and, yes, this is the thought process my primitive mind takes).  Her response, “You’re a perfectionist.”  My response, “Um.  No, I’m not.  Perfectionists do stuff over and over PERFECTING the art until it suits their expectations.”  I know, I saw my BFF do it in ceramics with her projects.  SHE is a perfectionist.  Not me.  However, as with most everything learned in therapy, my therapist was right.  I am a perfectionist.  She explained that I’m the perfectionist that is SO worried about it being perfect that I don’t even try.  If I can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?  This knowledge opened my eyes to so many opportunities lost because I simply felt that I had nothing to offer that would be good enough.  Even in times where I was assigned to do something, I wouldn’t try to excel at it, because there would always be my BFF who had a better project in front of me.  Of course it’s not the productive perfectionist’s fault that I don’t even attempt it, it’s a setback I’ve placed upon myself.

The best part of this story is that the BFF and I are still the best of friends AND we both have hung on to some of our ceramic pieces from that class.  I’ll let you figure out whose is whose.

I recently read this book called The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W..  The book speaks perfectly, pun intended, on the matter of perfectionism and all of it’s effects.  Perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, and, in my case, life-paralysis.  Life-paralysis, as noted by Brown, “refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.  It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others.  It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.”  And there it is, the answer to why I don’t want to try: If I fail, then I’ve deduced that I’m a failure.  My self-worth is shattered.

You know the saying, “It’s better to have tried and not succeeded, then never to try at all.”?  I never agreed with it.  I still struggle with it.  For me, it’s easier to just not try.  In my mind it saves me from pain.  If I don’t try it, then I’m “safe.”  I’m not a failure because I didn’t fail at anything.  If I try and it doesn’t work, then, in my eyes, I’ve become the failure.

It’s not a healthy way to be, but, sadly, it’s been my way for years.  It’s hard to refrain from quoting the entire section on perfectionism from Brown’s book, but I wanted to share one last thought of hers that I plan to use when I need little reminders, “Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve?  Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?”  This thought has left me wondering if my BFF is even a perfectionist at all.  She seems to always accomplish projects for her own edification.  As a result, she produces amazing things because she has never been afraid to try and practice.

Only in the past year have I allowed myself to write and share my more vulnerable thoughts at the risk of people seeing my insecurities and imperfect writing.  It’s taken a lot of supportive friends and family to help remind me that my self-worth is not based on what I produce or achieve, it’s based on being me and allowing myself to be loved just as I am.  Without that support, I would have never started this blog.  The whole premise of my blog is to simply begin achieving whatever it is you long for, whether it be a passion, a goal, or a healthier way of life.  For the unlikely perfectionist, beginning is often the hardest part.

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Facing Our Fears

Last October, I had written a post on Over the Big Moon regarding fears and how to cope with them.  In case you did not have a chance to read the post at the time, I wanted to take a minute and share it here on First You Must Begin.  It’s a post to address fears of all shapes and sizes; from the deep dark ones that we specifically try not to think about for fear of a self-fulfilling prophesy to the less typical fears such as hornet stings, scurrying mice, and ants in our pantry.  The latter being a fear that has plagued me since growing up in my childhood home where it seemed we lived on an ant hill.

A few years ago, I brought my fear of ant infestation up during one of my therapy sessions.  The therapist sweetly reminded me of my size versus the ants.  A good point, for sure.  But what actually has helped me cope was a question she asked me that day: What’s the worst that can happen?  I told her all the things that I dreaded about an ant infestation in my home – the vulnerability of knowing they’ve invaded my space, the food that has to be thrown out, the clean-up process, the potential laundry that has to be washed, and the possibility of them crawling on me.  All of these things still give me the heebie-jeebies.  My therapist listened and then calmly suggested that most of those issues were merely inconveniences and that an exterminator visit could put most of my concerns to rest.  She’s right.  Ants in my home will not result in World War III.  So, why allow myself to escalate to the point of paralyzing fear?

I am fully aware that my therapist’s question is not a cure all for every fear.  But for the fun of it, let’s put the same question to the test for my daughter’s fear of bees and hornets.  An honest fear for her to have based on the fact that she received three hornet stings and two bee stings in the course of one month last summer.  All of the stings came when she was doing nothing to provoke them.  She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, fives times.  So, what’s the worst that can happen?  My daughter would say that the worst that can happen is that she gets stung again.  But that is not the worst that can happen.  The worst that can happen was what she started to do.  She started to fear going outside and avoided opportunities for trips to the park.  That’s the worst.  She let the bees and hornets take away her freedom to play outdoors.

These examples of fear are on a smaller scale, but I often wonder how much fear could be laid to rest if we merely asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  Again, I’m not trying to put this question to the test with true tragedy and trauma, though it does work when I reflect back on even the hardest trials I have faced.  But how many fears could we overcome in a day if we tried to bring things in to perspective?

Perhaps we have a fear of speaking in public?  Or being seen without make-up?  Or someone coming over to our home only to find that we don’t keep it perfectly clean and tidy?  We have these fears that we’ve created for ourselves that just aren’t rationale or fair.  We worry about imagined judgments being made on us.  And in cases where the judgments may come, they likely would have come no matter how clean our home was, how perfect our make-up looked, or how refined we were in our speech.  We could all benefit from seeing the bigger picture rather than just that single situation.

Broadening my perspective has made a significant impact in re-evaluating even my darkest trials.  When I realized my Mom would die of Ovarian Cancer, I began to mourn her loss before she was even gone.  I would sit and sob over how I would not be able to function without her.  I was certain I would not get out of bed for days when the time came.  There was a point when I was spending more time hypothesizing about my level of devastation with her passing rather than enjoying the time I still had with her.  Thankfully, my husband pointed this out to me and I redirected my thoughts and started to more fully embrace my remaining time with her.  Then the time came and my Mom passed away.  My heart ached (and continues to ache) in ways that I had not experienced prior.  I’ve yet to find the right words to properly express the magnitude of my sorrow or the deep impact her absence has had in my daily life.  However, I kept (and keep) moving forward in faith.  After her passing, I never once failed to get out of bed.  Although, I admit, those first few months are still a blur.  What was the worst that could happen?  It happened.  My Mom died.  But, thanks to my faith, the worst that really happened is that I have to wait a little while and then I can be with my Mom again in heaven.

I survived through the passing of my Mom, my best friend.  It didn’t ruin me.  If anything, it made me stronger.  As is the case with every trial I have endured, they have all made me stronger.

I speak from personal experience that even the darkest of nights has a dawn. During a severe bout with depression, I spent a long while clinging to my couch thinking that somehow I could be safe from pain if I just staid there and slept. My anxiety increases just reflecting on this time in my life and my heart sinks thinking of all the lost moments of life fully lived.   I was doing, then, what my daughter was doing with her fear of bees and hornets. I was hiding.  What was the worst thing that could have happened in that situation?  It wasn’t hiding, though that was bad, it would have been giving up.  Had I given in to my fears of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair, I would not be able to enjoy this incredible chapter of my life that I never dreamed possible.

I think fear is really the apprehension that comes from the unknown outcome of a personal struggle of any size.  I get discouraged, downtrodden, and fearful just like anybody else still.  But I have a friend that is sweet to remind me that, “[I] can do hard things.”  And she’s right.  I CAN do hard things.  And sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is not give in to fear nor give up on myself.

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$100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway


As you may already know, I have the privilege of contributing on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) every third Sunday of the month.  It’s been such a wonderful opportunity to work with OTBM Co-founders, Pam and Lisa.  I am joining with them and their other lovely contributors to offer this $100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway!  This is my first giveaway here on First You Must Begin and I’m excited to report that I already have another special giveaway planned in the near future!  But before I get ahead of myself, take a look at the amazing contributors that have made this week’s giveaway possible!
OTBMVal Adrienne Lauren April LaTisha Sara Lyndi Amie

Now onto the giveaway!  Again, it’s for $100 Visa Gift Card and it’s open for everybody – US Residents and International Residents!  The giveaway will run from April 15th through April 20th at 11:59 pm!  Winner will be chosen Monday, April 21, 2014!   You have 20 ways to enter using the Rafflecopter below!  

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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You Do What You Value

As mentioned in my previous post, I am working on improving myself as a blogger.  Part of that involves building my content on my own blog.  This is why I plan to sprinkle in some of my posts here that were originally shared on Over the Big Moon.  This particular post was from September of last year.  Here it is, in case you missed it!

Sometimes we begin and then begin again.  A couple years back, I received advice from my therapist when I was feeling particularly down.  She asked me what the top three things were that I valued most.  I told her my Faith, my family, and my friends.  She followed up that question with, “Do your daily actions support the things you value most?”  I knew instantly that my actions did

not match my values.  It’s not that I don’t give those three aspects of my life attention, but certainly not in a manner that would reflect it as my top three core values.

I’ll be the first to admit, I get sucked in to my smartphone, social media, and pure laziness.  I walked out of my therapist’s office that day with a goal to have my values and actions line up more appropriately.  Sadly, I quickly fell back in to old habits.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago.  A friend and I were discussing the pitfalls of social media and the smartphone.  We confessed to each other that we wasted far too much time on our devices and didn’t tend to our home and family like we ought to be.  We both decided to create goals that we could easily track.  We used an app (ironic, right?) called Habit Goal Monitor.  You can get it for free.  We plugged in our goals and revitalized our efforts to have our actions and values align.

Then this past weekend, as my goals were looking bleak, I saw this piece of paper hanging on a wall in my church building that read: VALUES – You do what you value.  You value what you do.  If you don’t do it, you don’t value it.

Hello, Not-So-Subtle Reminder, thank you for joining me.  I could easily have felt defeated at this point.  It felt like a reprimand.  I decided to look at it as a little nudge to begin again.  Pick up where I am and keep going.

In my effort to honor the things that I value, I am trying to have personal and family scripture study daily, I am looking up at my children more even when they are doing the mundane, and I am putting the phone down when there is an opportunity for personal communication with loved ones.
I had a moment this past Thursday where my values and actions were in sync.  I decided to act out the scriptures that I was reading to my kids before school.  They found it hysterical that their Mom was up on a chair trying to be as a Prophet speaking from a tower.  The result was a positive experience with my girls that they brought up throughout the day and even shared with friends. 

I don’t plan to act out the scriptures every morning, but seeing the impact that had on my children motivates me to create more opportunities like that in their lives.  I’ll stumble, of course.  But I imagine what kind of woman I could be if my values and actions were perfect reflections of one another.  If it feels as uplifting as it did that Thursday morning, then I will begin and begin again.

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Just Begin.

Its only been the customary week between my posts, but somehow it feels like it has been longer.  I went and had a birthday this past week, which is always a treat thanks to the amazing people in my life who shower me with love and well wishes.  I certainly feel blessed.  Even more amazing is that the love and support I receive is given to me year round.

For instance, I have a friend that stumbled upon a poster that read, “Don’t make change too complicated.  Just begin.”  Knowing of my website and, lets be honest, one of my main supporters, she thought to send it along to me.  That’s what this website has been all about from day one: beginning.

In less than a year, I have watched as my small action to begin writing has enriched my life.  I have learned greater discipline; gained a greater understanding of my worth; become more aware of the blogging world, including the opportunity to be a contributor on Over the Big Moon; took a chance and submitted a quote to Via magazine, which was published; didn’t quit even though there were plenty of times that I wanted to; and have been given the wonderful opportunity to share lessons learned in my own life in hopes of brightening another’s outlook.

These gifts and blessings were not what a foresaw when I began.  Certainly, I had a desire to hopefully ease another’s burden by sharing the ups and downs of real life, but I didn’t think that I would gain so much personally.  I wish I could convey to those reading how much my life has been blessed merely by beginning (and continuing).  I had previously spent so many years talking myself out of doing anything in the writing field, as there were certainly others that could do it better.  And there still are.  That has not changed.  I do not fancy myself an amazing writer.  What I do know is that the practice of nourishing this passion has blessed my life in ways that I had not anticipated.  In some ways, it makes me frustrated with all the prior years wasted.  At the same time though, it makes me appreciate the beauty that has come from finally beginning.

I used to see starting points differently.  I liken it to when I once enjoyed running.  I say “once enjoyed” only because I am so out of shape now that I can’t pretend that I enjoy something that I no longer do.  When I ran, I never did well at long distance.  I enjoyed a quick sprint.  I chalked it up to the way my body was built to work, but as I type this I’m thinking maybe my view on life was the culprit in convincing myself I was not cut out for long distance.  You see, I want immediate gratification.  It’s all a matter of impatience, I suppose.  If I don’t hit the finish line almost as soon as I’ve started, then I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’ll never hit the finish line.  So, why even race?  Or perhaps, I’ll hit the finish line last and somehow be deemed a failure?  The funny thing is that I don’t see myself as competitive, more as the Unlikely Perfectionist.  I think what I’ve learned in beginning to actively practice my writing is that each mile marker I hit is a victory.  Now, I don’t know that I even want to hit the finish line because the run itself feels so good.

This “run” I am on right now has been made possible by the many cheerleaders on the sidelines sending me words of encouragement and reminding me that I can do this.  And, you know what?  They’re right.  But if I can do this, then I know those reading can do it too.  I would like to be your cheerleader.  Please share with me what passion you are beginning, or virtue you are working on, or wound you are trying to heal?  Because I want to be there to hear how your life will be blessed in unexpected ways too.

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Over The Big Moon Contributor

I forgot to share something very exciting that happened to me a few months ago.  I was chosen to be a monthly contributor on another blog, Over the Big Moon.  No biggie, right?  A million people have blogs and even more are professional writers themselves.  But those people aren’t me.  I am just Sara.  The Sara who, previously, would not have given anything a try that might result in rejection.

But I did try this time.  My Step-Mom asked me how I was able to go out of my comfort zone in regards to applying for the spot.  As crazy as it sounds, I practiced what I was sharing here on First You Must Begin.  I have all this knowledge of what I should be doing, but, like many others, I struggle to implement those things at times.  However, I felt like I’d be a hypocrite if I wrote all these suggestions and did none of it myself.  So, I did it!  I applied.  Much to my surprise, I was chosen!

I wrote a post here on First You Must Begin back in September titled Is Timing Everything?, which was inspired by the chain of events that led me to this opportunity to be a blog contributor.  The experiences, both good and bad, that have afforded me multiple writing opportunities has humbled me.  Every step that I took in the right direction has brought me to this time in my life where I’m learning to believe in myself more fully.  It’s such a rewarding feeling.

I’m only sorry that I’ve waited so long to share this news with our followers here.  It’s a little tricky to find specific past posts on Over The Big Moon, so I thought I would share the links for the previous posts here.  September was my first month contributing and I focused on the value we place on Values.  October’s post was about Facing Fears.  November, I shared the changes I made in my own life once I realized I was The Unlikely Perfectionist.  And in December, I felt the need to reflect on Having A Merciful Heart.

My posts go live on Over The Big Moon every third Sunday.  I’m excited to share that this month’s contribution is about the importance of Journaling Your Journey.  

I hope you’ll enjoy reading these additional posts and perusing Over The Big Moon to see all their fun ideas!

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