Earlier this year, my daughter had a day off from school, so I took the day off from work and we had a “Mommy/Avery Day.” One of our many activities that day was going to a pottery-painting studio where we picked out matching cups to glaze. In my total Type-A way, I was meticulous in my approach to choosing and applying the colored glaze. Avery on the other hand, chose colors that she liked, applied them in a fun pattern and enjoyed herself rather than agonizing over each stroke of glaze she applied.
A week later, when we picked up our works of art from the studio, Avery declared that she had made her cup for me and she wanted my cup instead. I love the cup that she made (I only wish it was a little bit bigger and could hold more coffee); not because it’s perfect, but because she made it. It’s now the first cup I reach for every morning, which has gotten me to thinking about the connection between striving for perfection and anxiety.
Perfection and Anxiety
We live in a society where we are encouraged both overtly and subconsciously to strive for perfection as women. Feminist and gender equality movements have encouraged us to believe that we can be anything we want to be and accomplish anything we set our minds to. Which is a great thing!
But there is still another message that continues to permeate our culture: we are to look good, keep a beautiful home, cook wonderful (gluten-free, organic, all-natural, Whole 30) meals for our families and raise high-achieving children. Advertisers want us to believe that the airbrushed women we see in magazines posing in their staged homes are happier, better versions of ourselves. All we need to do to be that happy is to lose weight, use anti-aging products, purchase some new shoes, go to the salon every day (because seriously, who can actually make their hair look like that on their own!?!), marry a Calvin Klein model, have 2.3 children and a home that is remodeled in the latest fashion every year in the best school district. I love flipping through my Southern Living magazine, but I realized this weekend as I was catching up on several months of old issues, that I need to flip through those pages in small doses! By the time I’d gotten through the third magazine, I was regretting the state of my house, my wardrobe and my skin.
So what happens when women receive both of these messages in large does as we grow up? I think working moms know the answer: serious anxiety!
I have battled anxiety (I have sought counseling and take medication) for most of my life, and I’m not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S. Most of my anxiety issues are born out of a fear of not being “enough.” When I was in school, it was a fear of not doing well enough on an assignment, project or exam; of not being cool enough or pretty enough to be accepted by my peers. As I have gotten older, the anxiety hasn’t gone away, it has only morphed into new anxieties: that a project won’t be completed on time, that my program might fail, that my colleagues don’t like or respect me. And of course my biggest fear of all: that I’m not a good enough mom.
Sheryl Crow famously sang, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got” in her hit Soak Up The Sun. We could probably do with a little more of wanting what we’ve got rather than striving for perfection. For me that looks like:
- Embracing the imperfection. Let’s go back to my new favorite coffee cup for a minute: I love that my daughter made it for me, I love that she wanted to give something to me and I love the joy that went into creating it. I would never criticize her for painting outside the lines – it would crush her spirit! So why am I so hard on myself and my own imperfections? The mistakes I make at work help me to learn (aren’t we always telling our children that??), and my contributions far outweigh the mistakes I’ve made. And as my boss tries to remind me, “it’s not like we’re curing cancer, it’s not the end of the world!” My house that will never grace the pages of Southern Living is our home where our kids can run around and play and spill things without having to worry about consequences. The wrinkles and grey hairs that I see when I look in the mirror represent 35 years of life, love and blessings. OK, I’m still not ready to embrace the wrinkles and grey hairs just yet…
- Not judging others. None of us were created perfect. If I am going to embrace my own imperfections and shortcomings, I have to love others’ as well. God created us all in different shapes and sizes with different talents and abilities.
- Constantly giving thanks. When trying to keep up with the Joneses, it’s far too easy to overlook all of the blessings in my own life: my health, a job I love, my family, food on our table (eyes, even the macaroni and cheese out of a box with a side of purple grapes because it’s one of the few things I can slap together for dinner that makes both kids happy), blue skies, etc. Taking a few minutes each day to to do a “gratefulness inventory” is a great way for me to curb my anxiety. It’s hard to be anxious when you’re counting your blessings!