Category: success

I see you, perfectionists.

Perfectionists, I have a heart for you. I get it. You don’t think of yourself as a perfectionist, you just think I don’t like to make mistakes. You know intellectually that your spouse/friend/employer would probably not dump you if you made a mistake… but why risk it? After all, making a mistake feels beyond terrible to perfectionists, like our lives and relationships and careers are on the line and the whole world could implode or explode at any moment.

So no wonder you live with a constant tension, a constant pressure, a constant anxiety, checking and double-checking to make sure nobody can find fault with you (except for you of course). And then of course if you’re critical of yourself—if you let Self Doubt or The Inner Critic be in charge—then maybe it won’t hurt as much if someone finds a flaw in you.

It’s not easy to live as a perfectionist. You might look like you have everything together on the outside—you might be organized, you might show up everywhere on time, your clothes are rarely wrinkled—but the inner reality can be so, so different and so, so difficult. It’s hard to live in fear of mistakes, to believe that mistakes will define us and make us less lovable (if lovable at all). It’s hard living with the belief that we’re one mistake away from unworthiness or that our worth in general stems from our ability to be flawless rather than our humanness. It’s hard to constantly compare ourselves to a version of ourselves we can’t live up to. And of course it’s hard as a perfectionist to open up to others, to admit what’s true: life is hard. Things aren’t easy. (Blog post continues after photo.)

Perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Usually when perfectionists come to counseling, they’re coming to therapy for issues that they see as distinctly separate from perfectionism. But feeling out of control, experiencing anxiety about personal and the political, and feeling alienated and isolated, can all link back to difficulty allowing ourselves to be human and make mistakes.

There’s sometimes a mistaken belief that perfectionists have that anxiety and perfectionism is helpful, that without that pressure and tension and Inner Critic they may not be as effective. If I don’t beat myself up, how will I do my best?

But research shows that we learn and perform much better when we’re open and curious and allow our humanness to shine (including the messy parts). Shame and self-judgment, it turns out, bite us in the ass more than we think. It is possible to create a different relationship with ourselves, the Inner Critic, Self Doubt, and our lives.

Here’s a perfectionism test if you’re curious to learn more… and you’re always welcome to talk through concerns in our Kirkwood therapy office.

A New Location!

I had no intention of moving to a new office. I wasn’t even looking. I liked my own space too much, the great colleagues, the funny signs in the bathroom (“Clients with OCD must not wash their hands”), and even my commute by bike down the Beltline. When friends asked if I wanted to work closer to home, I’d say, “I’m receptive if the right space appears, but I’m not out looking.”

A year or two passed. Then in February my colleague and friend Liz Wilder Young called: “Want to come see a possible office space with me?”

“Sure,” I said. “But you know I’m not really interested.”  

Soon I was in front of a building I had passed many times before: grey stone, two stories, nestled between the church where I vote and my neighborhood’s police station. I had been inside a handful of times when it held a small grocery there, mostly buying ice cream on quiet Friday evenings. It was in the heart of the intown neighborhood of Kirkwood, a 15-minute walk from home.

Upstairs, Liz and I entered an office suite. Meandering through, I came to an office with windows on two sides: one overlooking the public library across the street, the other with a view of the church next door. And as crazy as it sounds, I felt a thrill inside me, my heart cracking open, the rightness of this space thrumming in me. The space just felt right. How could I resist? And a stone building for Stone Cottage Counseling!

In June, we moved into the office suite—what we’ve named the Neighborhood Counseling Center — with fellow therapists Maggie Akstin (who is joining Stone Cottage Counseling—yay!) and Ginny Thompson. We’re all aiming to provide the best possible experiences for clients (through high-quality counseling, classes, and workshops) in this sweet space, and hope to also be a big asset to the neighborhood.

As I ready myself for this change, I’ve been reflecting on the uniqueness of this process for me. I usually work so hard to make things happen, and yet this new office appeared without effort. I have been taught, like we all are, that we can only succeed and be happy if we’re doing, working, striving. And it’s true that often times these skills and related qualities are so valuable.

But not always. Sometimes hard work is no guarantee of success, despite our best efforts or well-connected networks, and I am beginning to know viscerally that there are times when receptivity, or simple openness, can be rewarded. I am practicing staying open to things unfolding on their own timeframe. I am practicing resisting a false sense of urgency that things must happen. I am allowing myself the opportunity to be surprised by what emerges.

So far my experience with this new office is showing me that sometimes things really do unfold in terrific ways without lots of energy or effort. So here is my query for this season: Can we be open to the possibility that sometimes things emerge and change in good ways without our hard work, that things can simply be right without having to strive to make them so?