It was the fall of 2000 and I’m sitting next to a psychotherapist at a business meeting. We were talking about women and aging, and I’ll never forget what she said to me: “Heather, in our culture, a woman’s power is in her youth & beauty.” At the time I was in my early thirties and thought how great it was to be young and in great shape! But as each birthday passed I wondered how much longer I could be considered “young.” I had two choices: fight it with every available product and technique, or accept the inevitable and do the best I could while I “had it.”
Eventually I discovered a third way. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties, but there it was. It’s so simple but it took time to see it. I’d even heard other women talk about it, but it didn’t resonate right away. Like any truth, it took time to seep into my psyche and be able to live it.
The reality is that you and I decide each moment how we perceive ourselves and our surroundings. If we soak in the anti-aging message that’s embedded in our society, we never get there. Whether in personal, career or family life, if our focus is on what we should do, how we fall short or how we compare to (fill in the blank with any number of options) then we experience anything from low grade dissatisfaction to self-hatred. Yet we keep trying.
This “third way” teaches me to relish life and live it fully – to own it. It teaches me to learn in every situation, and to appreciate myself and others in beauty and in brokenness.
On my 49th birthday last year I visualized what I wanted life to be like at 50. Nothing about fitness and finances (those are for another time). I was interested in feeling more connected with God, family and friends. I wanted un-cluttered surroundings, to be pain free, to set solid boundaries and be a strong leader. I had a sense of what those felt like and then I took my own advice. I set small goals, adding one upon another as the months went by.
Here’s the thing. I wasn’t perfect at it. I never have been. I work with so many clients for whom all-or-nothing is their biggest bugaboo that keeps them from experiencing the health, joy and satisfaction they crave. As I write, it dawns on me that the only way I could find my third way was to recover from my perfectionism. I’m not a perfect leader, my house isn’t in perfect order and I don’t feel constant, blissful connection with the Divine. But I’m a better leader, my surroundings are more peaceful and I experience greater calm.
Honestly, I don’t even know what perfect would look like. Maybe it doesn’t exist. And if it does, I don’t think it would be better than life at this very moment.
Do you struggle with perfectionism, with all-or-nothing? See what happens when you let it go and decide to live.