On a recent hike with Katherine, the trail started out more like a logging road, and it was flat and free of obstacles. Our thoughts of "this isn't what I was expecting!" were replaced by "this is easy and therefore fun." There were some gullies with streams in them to cross but they weren't difficult, and we meandered along, comfortable, peaceful. And then we hit the real trail a couple of miles in, and our "well this is a cakewalk" was replaced by me gasping for breath and demanding that my very fit teen daughter slow down to wait for me because she was getting too far ahead. Though it was a cool day, the back of my shirt where my pack sat became soaked with sweat, and the quick pace became a slow one. There were rocks, logs, roots, and stairs (thank you Washington Trails Association for building those log/stone steps). We found a new rhythm, slower, but so much more beautiful than the earlier part of the trail. And then, finally, the lake: snow melting in around the edges, the mountain tops hidden by fog, the weather cooler. My sweaty shirt now making me freezing cold, I was glad I had an extra in my pack, and I slipped on my down vest, too, grateful for layers, for views, for a rest, for packed lunches, for charming chipmunks, for quiet, for a perfect rock to sit on, with trees as our chair backs. And then, lunch complete, we headed down the hill - a bit of an obstacle course going down, footing less sure, a new rhythm required so as not to tumble down ravines. When we got to the flat part again we laughed about how we'd thought this would be an easy hike, and how the beginning was no indication at all about what had been ahead of us. The last couple of miles, so easy on the way in, were a relief, but also a little bit of a bore compared to what we'd seen; we started talking about future hikes, future lake swims, and the desire to spend more time by backpacking instead of day hiking. By the time we got back to the car, we'd planned our next destination. My legs were sore, I desperately needed a shower, and I was not the same as when I'd started the day.
I really wish I could remember that this is just how life goes, and that the way we start is not the way we stay, and that what we expect is not what we always get, and that the changes - good or bad - are impermanent.
Because this is not a post about hiking.
I have been struggling to know if I'm on the right path, struggling to know if I'm doing my best work, struggling with my vast imperfections.
Because, dear readers, nothing about me is perfect. Nothing, not one thing.
Now, if you are very evolved and actualized, a statement like that might make you smile, because you have accepted your imperfections, and you are at peace with them.
Well, not me. I fight my imperfections, sometimes by trying to outrun them, and sometimes by pretending that they don't exist, but there they are, with me all the time. Just when I think I have the path figured out and I think I know what to expect, I think that I have conquered one of them, the landscape changes, the rules don't apply, and I have to start from scratch. My imperfections follow me around, and it's only recently that I'm realizing how much energy I expend trying to outrun them or ignore them.
Here is what I am at my best:
Organized. Resilient. Happy. Motivated. Excited. Fit. Compassionate. Helpful. Articulate. A leader. An inspiration. Innovative. Community minded.
Here's what I strive for:
Ready to run a half marathon any time. Size 4. Volunteer for a few hours every week. Organized and on top of everything at work. Filing - personal and business - complete, all affairs in order. The house dust free, tidy, organized. The food filled with healthy food in the right quantities (no waste, and no mid-week trips to the grocery store). Home made meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with an emphasis on fruits and veggies and clean protein; desserts are special, home made, and delicious. All calls are returned promptly. I read at least one book per week. I manage my work schedule so well that if I work from 8-6 daily it's all done, and I can enjoy my evenings and weekends without guilt dropping the ball. Katherine and I work in synch, as a team, and she opens up to me about boys, friends, school, and her dreams. Once a week I go on a date with an interesting man, and I feel confident and secure in myself so that I present my finest version of myself to him, and happy that the universe is sending such high quality people my direction, and grateful that I know how to identify the keepers. Once week I go out with friends, and we laugh and talk and share deep parts of ourselves and do fun activities. Once a week Katherine and I do some fabulous mother daughter activity that we both enjoy; we take time to connect every day whether that's a walk along the water, a weekend hike, going to the movies, volunteering together, or playing a game of chess. I exercise daily at 4:30am, write in my journal daily, do a little yard work daily, send thank you notes and birthday cards and just-because notes daily. Once a week I sit down to work on big goals: planning a vacation, working on my financial goals, keeping in touch with my professional network. I take time to meditate. I entertain casually once a week, sometimes spontaneously. I have a budget, and I always keep to it, and I love watching my savings accounts grow. When friends or family call, I make time for them without dropping other obligations. I walk the dog every day, patiently allowing him to stop to sniff and pee and do other doggy things. I call my mother daily. I dress stylishly in a classic way. I complete one major house project per year, and there is a plan in place for when the roof, furnace, appliances, etc. will need replacing (and funds budgeted for them) so that there are no big emergencies. My home is filled with eclectic art, literature, fresh flowers and plants, and good food. I take time to relax, too, and have a monthly pedicure, facial, and massage. I go out of town at least once a month on a mini-vacation, and spend at least one weekend a month doing big chores around the house. I wake each day feeling rested, I go to sleep each night feeling fulfilled. My novel is in the works, and I make time for it every day. I submit short pieces of writing once a month, and some are published. I take classes at Hugo House and The Mountaineers.
Are you exhausted with all that?
I am not even close to living that life.
This week, I have made progress on some work projects, but I should be tackling a big one right now and instead I'm blogging. My house is tidy and organized, but it needs a major scrubbing to get rid of fingerprints and dust and the dog hair that is woven into my whole existence (best dog ever sheds more than I knew possible). Last night I did not grill salmon and make a salad as planned, I ate bread and cheese and no veggies for dinner. I haven't written a word in ages. I did go for a run this morning, but it was under 3 miles and it was HARD because I'm out of shape, and though a year ago I was a size 4 right now I am a size 8 and every part of me is squishy. (I'm not fat, but I'm not fit either.) My desk at work is piled with papers and there are emails waiting to be answered and I feel like I'm three steps behind. I haven't dated in months because, well, I haven't. I often feel like going to bed at 7pm because I'm so tired, and when that happens I fall into TV and forget to read and I don't sleep as well. I call myself PollyAnna but so often I feel like a fraud and wonder why I can't get it together and why it is all SO HARD. Two weekends ago I went on a great hike with my daughter, but last weekend she was with friends and I decided to get work done and I did some chores but work didn't happen because there were too many chores and I'm still not caught up on work or chores....and I didn't get to hike the way I hoped.
Does this make you hate me? Do you read this and think, "PollyAnna, I'm wasting my time with you. I thought you had it all figured out and you don't, and I can't believe I wasted my time on you. You are a waste of space on this planet, and I wish I'd never bothered to click on this blog. Get it together!!"
I hope not. If so, then just move along, because we're not good for each other.
But I think that when you read that first list of my ideal self, you thought "hmm, sounds good....no, wait.....it sounds impossible and ARGH I AM TIRED JUST READING ALL THAT! Nobody does that. NOBODY! Let it go!"
I hope that when you read the list of what life is really like, I hope that when I said I went on a run you thought "great!" and when I said that I wasn't fit right now and that run was hard, you thought "yes, lots of us struggle with that." I hope that when I tell you that I have my dream job but sometimes I struggle with it, you nod to yourself and think "yes, that's sometimes how it goes." Maybe you read that my house was tidy and thought "oh I wish mine was, I just can't escape the clutter!" and when you read that it had fingerprints and dust you thought "hey just an hour could change that, why don't you just do that? I couldn't deal with the dirt." Perhaps you noticed that if I wasn't blogging right now I would be getting ahead on the work projects.
It's not black and white. I want to put myself into a box that says "Good!" or "Bad!" but that just isn't how life goes. Am I good because I went on a run today, or bad because I used to run ten miles no problem and now I can barely struggle to do three miles? Am I good because I'm doing innovative things at work and lead to the best event we have ever had, and we're way ahead with our finances? Or am I bad because I'm behind on the August event? Am I good because I've managed my own finances since my divorce and have more money than before I was divorced despite reduced income, or am I bad because I don't have much of a savings and I don't always keep my budget properly (hello, REI, I'm talking to you!)? Am I good because I am making progress, or bad because I'm not fast enough with it, or consistent?
I want to be perfect. I want to be Good with a capital G. And I want to be seen as an amazing person, the best of my best attributes. And I want all of my "bad" attributes - disorganization, inconsistency, fear, squishy belly, dusty house, crappy bookkeeping skills, biting off more than I can chew - to disappear. I want to conquer them. I want them to GO AWAY.
And they're not going anywhere.
Perhaps I can conquer some of them some of the time. I did indeed get a better job with better pay, making my financial issues lessen immensely. I know that I can run a half marathon if I work at it, because I've done that, and because I've done it lots of times as training runs. But I know that job loss (a few years ago but I haven't forgotten how painful it was!) could derail my finances, and I know that an injury derailed my running and then I didn't pick myself back up when I was well and so now I'm back at the beginning again. One step forward, two steps back; a burst of energy propels me ahead, but thinking that it's okay to rest, I fall behind again. I might be able to keep a clean house, a tidy yard, a great relationship with my daughter, hobbies like hiking that fulfill me, balanced finances, great vacations, success at work, work life balance, fitness, healthy eating, publishing writing, taking classes, connecting with friends and family, volunteering, staying in close touch with friends and family, reading daily, and a fabulous relationship with a great man, all the while walking the dog, delivering soup to a sick friend, baking treats, hosting a Syrian refugee, supporting foster children, giving the teachers thoughtful gifts, growing my organization to something spectacular, taking time to whale watch, with a balanced budget that accurately reflects my priorities, while remembering to meditate every day in a practice of gratitude that leads to a good attitude all the time......................
But I can't do it all at once.
When I write all of this, it feels utterly OBVIOUS. A major case of "well, of course not!" And yet there is a big part of me that thinks that I should be able to do all of this, and be happy about it, and not just tired.
Wonder Woman is my alter-ego, after all.
I went back to therapy. I told my therapist that I was willing to face some of the old issues that follow me around, starting with growing up with a family who name called and said some very nasty things to me. I don't want to blame my family for my problems - I believe in personal accountability and transcending our problems with hard work - but I do want to face that maybe I'm going to have to face it head on if I want to move past it. I told the therapist that when I was a girl, when I was good I was told that I was smart and capable and could do anything I set my mind to. When I did not meet my parents' approval (sometimes because I dropped the ball, sometimes because they were in a bad mood) I was told that I was a moron, a cretin, an idiot, and I heard "What the hell's the matter with you?!" more times than I could count; it was the refrain, not unusual. It was only confusing because they didn't say it all the time, mixing up the "you're wonderful" messages with the "you're terrible" messages. I believed both sides: that I could do what I set out to do, that I was capable; but also that I am a shameful mess.
I don't believe in shame as a motivating factor; I parent Katherine VERY differently, and I go out of my way when I'm mad to say "I AM VERY ANGRY WITH YOUR BEHAVIOR RIGHT NOW EVEN THOUGH I KNOW YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON AND I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH." I never want her to feel that her flaws make her unlovable, or that my love for her is conditional on her grades, housework, or her love for me. My love for her is constant, unshakable; my belief in her as a human being is solid, strong. When I'm mad at her, it means that I am mad at her, not that she is worthless. When I want her to do something differently, it means I want her action to change, not that her whole being needs to change to become acceptable.
My parents didn't have access to work like that of Brene' Brown, and if they did, they might not have chosen to read it.
So what has to change is that I have to give myself the same messages that I'm giving Katherine.
I can be fat, and messy, and disorganized, but I am still lovable.
I do not need to be a perfect size four, dressed in heels and something sexy-but-not-too-sexy, with a good hair day, a perfect resume', a ton of money in the bank, a clean house, and all of my issues figured out, in order to deserve romantic love.
I can be truly imperfect and still perfectly wonderful.
Because we're all imperfect, and we're all wonderful. News flash: I'm no different than anyone else! My flaws and attributes may be different than yours, but in the end, we're all flawed, and we're all amazing, and we all deserve love and happiness.
I can keep working on having my best life, and feel excitement when I move towards that best life, but my imperfections make me human, not less than.
I will never reach my goal of having a perfect life.
I will never be perfect, no matter how hard I try.
I can keep doing my best, and I should, but with the goal of happiness, and the journey as its own reward, not perfection.
And you can, too.
I'm ready to face life with this new view, so obvious, but so hard for me to accept about myself.
And I hope that with this new understanding of how my imperfections make me human, not less than, I hope I can find another imperfect human who is also striving to be his best without striving to be perfect, and the two of us can have a beautiful, flawed, beloved life together.
Am I alone in this strange way of seeing things, alone in discovering it so late? Or does this speak to you, too? Is it time to let your view of a perfect life fall away and reveal, instead, something flawed but incredibly beautiful despite those flaws?
Two Mary Oliver poems sum up what I'm feeling today. The first, The Lilies, because it reminds me that the imperfections are nothing, that the light is everything, and I can choose to be amazed even when I am lopsided. The second, Wild Geese, because I do have a place in the world of things, because I do not have to be good, and because maybe that really is exciting.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.