I’ve been very quiet recently. Partly due to the fact I just didn’t know what to write next. So many ideas have been spinning around my head, so many books I want to read, so many things I want to try. As a consequence I have achieved very little except an increasing feeling of being out of control – that my life was hurtling into the future and I had no control over its destination. This past week a number of things have happened to reassure me that this is not a problem.
I’ve recently completed reading ‘My Hands Free Life’ by Rachel Macy Stafford. In a previous blog I mentioned that I had found her website ‘Hands Free Mama…Letting Go‘ and how it seemed fate like that I was to find it. I’ve loved reading the book and intend to go back through it again, but one aspect that really stood out for me was the constant need to strive for perfection. This is me, to a tee. Everything must be perfect. My house must be perfect, my marriage must be perfect, my hair must be perfect – the only problem with all of this is I don’t naturally do perfect – I naturally do shambolic. Despite my best efforts nothing will ever be perfect and I’m starting to realise that’s ok. My best is more than good enough and will get me to where ever I need to be.
I never used to be like this. I was the child that did just enough to get by. I scraped through ‘O’ Levels and found myself at 6th Form. I fared slightly better at ‘A’ Levels, but there were still a million things to do that were more interesting than studying, yet I found myself at university. At this point, and much to the disgust of some of my peers, I discovered a natural ability to leave my work to the last minute and still get a really good mark! I left university with a credible degree – not perfect – but it was good enough for me.
So what changed. Where did the child for whom ‘that’ll do’ could be applied to every aspect of life become so obsessed with perfection. I’m afraid to say, I think it was education and the impact it had on my life. I was a good teacher, in my own way. Not for a second did I fit into the ideal image of an outstanding teacher, but in my own way I was very successful. I found my niche and was promoted very quickly to Head of Faculty. However, this came at a price. In order to do well at school, the remainder of my life collapsed into a heap. Literally. I had the biggest pile of ironing you have ever seen. I shut doors on rooms to hide the mess – I couldn’t manage a full time teaching role and keep on top of my domestic affairs. In the end I traded ironing and cleaning in return for paying for my mum to go to a nice salon to have her hair done.
I’ve also recently started reading ‘The Four Tendencies‘ by Gretchen Rubin. I am an obliger. I will always strive to meet external expectations at the cost of internal desires. I am an obliger with aspects of a rebel, which means I don’t necessarily like or want to meet the external expectations, but I will do them to the point of explosion – what Rubin would call an ‘Obliger Rebellion’. As the years in education went by, the pressure to conform became greater. Lessons had to be taught in a certain way, lesson plans had to be written in a specific way, children became the colours of traffic lights instead of individuals, and my perception of what made a good teacher became more and more out of touch with my every day reality. This constant pressure to be the perfect teacher spilled over into every aspect of my life. Lessons had to be perfect, resources had to be perfect, marking had to be perfect, my house had to be perfect, yet I continually failed in every aspect. My desire to meet external expectations drove me to achieve that perfection on a daily basis – whilst inside I was screaming, increasingly aware of my natural inclination or natural ability to fit into the very square boxes I was expected to inhabit. I can say without any shadow of a doubt that I can’t remember any of the moments in my career where I achieved perfect, but I can tell you a whole range of amusing stories about my experiences in the classroom, about friendships I built with amazing colleagues. Eventually, something had to give if I was to achieve the role of ‘perfect teacher’, and sadly, it was my health and my relationship with my husband.
Since leaving education, I have continued to try and find my place in the world – but the pressure for perfection has continued. My home has to be perfect, perfectly clean, perfectly tidy, perfectly decorated – but as ever – to my mind I have failed. My home is at best ‘shambolic chic’. Nothing particularly matches and we have a lot of ‘clutter’ – this is particularly apparent as we have recently downsized from a home with far too much storage space to one with barely any. I, in particular, have a range of completely random ‘things’ that I have chosen to keep – but each one has a story attached to it. I can tell you who bought it, where it came from and why it is special to me. This small shelf of ‘stuff’ epitomises me – a little bit odd, a little bit quirky and certainly not perfect. Slowly I am growing to realise that it is this which matters. Home isn’t meant to be perfect, home is meant to be the place where you share smiles, and build memories.
So rather than striving for perfection I am going to reconnect with my younger self for whom doing ‘just enough to get by’ suited me just fine. I plan to enjoy myself, my time with husband and embrace my imperfect life.