Happy Saturday! I’m sitting here, sipping a giant iced coffee, looking out at Lake Michigan—she’s really sparkling today. I’m about to head out there in just a bit.
Tonight, I’m going to Ravinia, an outdoor concert venue, for the first time. I’ve heard that it’s one of those not-to-be-missed Chicago summer activities so I am super excited. Some friends and I are going to see Rodrigo y Gabriela. One of the cool things about Ravinia is that you’re allowed to bring food and booze, so we’re packing a big picnic. I told my friends that I’d take care of dessert.
I planned to whip up some brownies from scratch this morning using my favorite recipe. But when I woke up to such a gorgeous day, I wanted to be outside—not in my kitchen. After a few minutes, I realized that I didn’t have to make those brownies. I have plenty of stuff in my fridge (a fresh bunch of grapes and strawberries) and I can pick up some sweets later. Immediately I felt the pressure lift. Of course, it’s totally silly that I’d feel any pressure at all—my friends won’t care whether I made the dessert or not (although these brownies are to die for…sorry guys, I’ll make them another time!)
I think the larger picture here is that it’s so easy to put pressure on ourselves—even when it’s something as insignificant as this. The drive toward perfection is always there, marching in the backs of our minds, pushing us to be better. I don’t see this as a bad thing, necessarily. Instead, I am working toward finding the time and the place when it’s appropriate to wear the perfectionism hat, and when it’s okay to let it go. And this is the perfect (ha!) example of when it’s completely unnecessary.
I think that perfectionism is okay, maybe even essential, when it comes to work—at least for me (as my dad says, I eat what I kill). But it’s exhausting. And if I fail to discern when I need it and when I don’t, then I’m pretty much applying myself 110 percent to every little thing that I do. The result? I’m setting myself up for burn out. As most of us can attest, that definitely happens from time to time.
Ironically (or maybe idiotically) I even find myself with this gung-ho attitude on my yoga mat. For instance, I sometimes mentally beat myself up for not nailing a pose or wondering why I still can’t do a handstand or a drop back. What’s wrong with me? I should be able to do that by now! Recently, though, I have gotten so much better at this. Instead, I apply that energy toward finding the pure joy in the practice, knowing that the handstands and drop backs—and even the handstands into the drop backs!—will come in time. And when they do, they’ll make for cool party tricks, but they won’t make me a better human being.
It’s funny, actually. I suppose I was really meant to learn this lesson—easing up on the gas pedal, if you will—because the brownie situation isn’t the first time this week where I had to put my perfectionism tendencies to rest.
On Tuesday, I heard from some wonderful friends from Vermont that they were going to be driving through Chicago and wanted to know if they could stay with me. Even though I had three big deadlines that day, I didn’t think twice—of course they could! I was so thrilled that I was going to see them. Around 7pm, when I finally hit send on the final assignment for the day, it hit me: I had so much to do! I had to make my place spotless, restock with groceries, cook them a big dinner, and maybe even buy an air mattress. I called my mom (the epitome of the hostess with the mostest) to see if she had any idea what I should serve three vegetarians for dinner.
“Don’t you have all of those vegetables in your fridge?” she asked. Well, yeah. If you remember from my previous post, I had gone a little veggie happy while grocery shopping a few days earlier. In fact, there was no way I was going to plow through that bounty on my own. At first I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of serving them a salad for dinner, but she reminded me that my guests were expecting no more than a) getting to see me and b) having a place to sleep. I filled in some gaps (a loaf of cranberry walnut bread, a bottle of wine, and some vanilla ice cream) with a quick sprint to Whole Foods and threw together a giant summertime salad (two kinds of lettuce, corn that I cooked and cut off the cob, carrots, cukes, peppers, and chickpeas with a homemade garlicky vinaigrette). I ran the vacuum through the apartment, and before I knew it they were here. And we had a fantastic evening! It was so much fun and such a fabulous surprise. The truth is, they would have been perfectly happy if I had ordered a pizza. That’s not what it was about. (John & Jane, thank you so much again for coming! You guys are the best!)
Ultimately, I realized this: Perfectionism can be a good thing and can really get you places. The key is learning when to let go so you can fully appreciate what’s right in front of you.