She’s dylexa, he’s illiterate, and I’m a perfectionist.

Yesterday I had some packages to mail out, so I went to the post office.  There was quite a long line.  Two people, a young man with a neatly and geometrically trimmed beard and a middle-aged woman in a large black t-shirt with gold embellishments on the front, were standing at a counter close to the end of the line with some papers spread out in front of them.  A very slender early teenager in a fuschia hoodie was looking uncomfortable while standing in line as her eyes darted all over, but most frequently at the people at the counter.  I took my place at the end of the line.  The black-shirted woman got my attention, looked at me, and shook her head slightly- as though I wasn’t who she thought I was.  But then she surprised me by boldly requesting that I help her and the young man fill out the papers on the counter.  With a nod to the fuschia hoodie, “She’ll hold your place in line for you.”

I agreed to help; it would certainly be more exciting than standing in line.  As I stepped up to the counter, the woman declared, “I’m dylexa and he’s illiterate.”  I mentally grimaced, since I appreciate reading and writing on a daily basis.  Looking over the papers, which were related to sending money to an apartment complex in Virginia Beach, I filled them out quickly and easily with the information they gave me.

The whole episode made me consider the wisdom of clearly stating reality and asking for help when it’s needed.  It’s not that people should focus on the difficult parts of their relaities and wrap themselves up in them, but it seems wise to be aware of one’s limitations.  If it’s something possible to improve and one is motivated to do so, one can work on it.  If not, a person must cope with the limitations.  Sometimes, an important part of coping is asking for support.

How foolish would it have been for those people to stand there for hours, agonizing over the papers in order to avoid stating their truth and their need?

How foolish is it for me to think that it’s possible to be perfect, agonizing over tasks in order to avoid doing them imperfectly?  It feels like twisting my soul inside out.  It means missing opportunities to learn.  It means stress.

I am a perfectionist.  I allow perfectionism to interfere with many areas of my life, which means that I tend to limit myself and I am not living quite the way I want to.  I need to make mistakes and messes, breathe through the anxiety that accompanies them, and see that the world doesn’t end.  This needs to happen over and over until I don’t feel so anxious in the face of mistakes and messes.

In the past, I actually attached some pride to my perfectionism.  Now, in my mind, perfectionism equals procrastination, which equals cowardice and doing nothing.  Therefore, I am no longer inclined to stroke my desire to do things perfectly or not at all.

Here’s to the mistakes and messes that come from action, and here’s to people in the post office who remind us to be bold.


Counting weeds

NO!  It’s not like the opposite of counting one’s blessings and miring oneself in the things that suck about life.  It’s about the value of breaking down overwhelming tasks in to manageable chunks.

How powerful we feel to take on tasks often depends on the bigger picture of how we’re doing in general.  But big projects have to be broken down, and sometimes small ones do, too.  Basic, YES, but not an early lesson for me.  I have a much longer history of looking at goals of all sizes and running as fast as I can (which doesn’t happen to be very fast) the opposite way because I could not see a path to the goal.  Not to mention the fact that I was terrified of not knowing what to do and making mistakes.  Understanding that my life will end has been a key motivator for me in learning to create paths for myself.

Once I started looking toward goals that were actually possible instead of constantly looking backwards and regretting all that I have not done (like become an olympic gymnast, get discovered by a Hollywood agent and be on T.V., become the youngest person to blah blah blah…), I did a kind thing for myself.

Faced with the weedy vegetable garden, I thought, “There are so many weeds in there.  I do NOT want to spend the next three hours out here, weeding.  That’s what always happens when I work in the yard.  I say I’m going to spend an hour out here and it turns in to an all-day thing.  Just forget weeding!  I’ll do it this weekend.  Buuuuuuuut, I have time now.  And I’m tired of looking at those weeds.  I hate dancing around the lettuce and trying not to fall over on to the artichoke plant.  But the weeds have to go.  Shoot!”

So, I made a deal with myself.  100 weeds.  I would pull 100 weeds.  It was a big enough number to make a difference in the garden, but it was small enough that I could already see the end of the weed-pulling.  Strategically placed between rows of edibles, I started counting as I dug and pulled.  “One, two, three, four…” and then at about fifteen, my mind started wandering.  I was still pulling though, but didn’t know how many I had gotten.  Okay, then.  “Sixteen, seventeen…” and the same thing happened repeatedly on the way to 100.  I simply picked up at the last number I recalled saying to myself and continued the count until I got distracted again.

In the end, I probably pulled 200 weeds.  It was not a job done, but it helped.  Getting those weeds pulled brought a feeling of satisfaction and lessened burden.  Instead of allowing myself to be defeated by the fact that the need to weed is perpetual (if one cares about one’s garden), and running [slowly, ahem] toward inaction, I changed my mentality about the job and accomplished something.  Funny how limiting my goal actually gave me morepower.  The next time I create an unreasonable expectation of myself, I am going to remember to make a way to count the weeds- the helpful way

The artichoke plant, next to munched-on cauliflower leaves and, of course, weeds nearby. But there are fewer than there were before my efforts!