Perfectionism

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False humility and hashtags

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Over the last year or so, women (and some men) have been embracing the hashtag #iwokeuplikethis, posting pictures of themselves “first thing in the morning” in the name of being #real and #authentic. While I know that some of these posts are meant to be funny, and some come from a genuine place of embracing oneself au naturel, I’m struck by many of these images as being carefully staged and posed: steaming cup of coffee in hand, messy hair that conveniently resembles that of a sex kitten, wearing a chemise, nestled up in a white duvet. The only sign of morning face is calculatingly smudged eyeliner. The images are often run through a filter, which makes anyone’s skin look like that of a glowing angel. She probably recruited her boyfriend or roommate to take the shot, after being #awakelikethis long enough to get the lighting right.

(Fine. I never found a picture that was ALL of those things – but I found those elements in a bunch of different shots, and combined them for a super #iwokeuplikethis conglomeration. You can see it, right?)

But the picture isn’t really the issue for me. I can’t fully know the intent behind each of these posts – but sometimes, they have long captions that reek of what I can only call false humility.

I’ve run across images from women (and an increasing number of teenage girls) who wax poetic about the terror of exposing their physical imperfections, only to get comments about how stunning they are. They call out their flaws, in turn receiving adoration for their courage to share. They talk about humbling themselves, which results in their followers thinking they’re amazing for being so humble. It seems to work like reverse psychology: By talking about how imperfect I am, people will tell me that I’m perfect. Some of these women have tens of thousands of followers, and when they address the question that they claim “so many” people are asking them – How did you get so many followers? – they attribute it to being so #real and #authentic.

Rather than telling people that we are #real and #authentic, why don’t we just live real and authentic?

Any of us is capable of taking something good – humility, for example – and twisting it into something selfish. I know I am. In a world where we’re taught to be defensive and cynical, we’re not exactly invited to celebrate our confidence out loud – and so we shroud our proud moments or the things we like about ourselves in a humblebrag, all the while hoping for the validation we’ve been craving all along: acceptance, admiration, and love.

What if we just said what we meant?

When someone gets a piece published in a magazine, she shouldn’t have to express being “grateful” and “humbled” by it, all the while secretly wanting everyone she knows to read it and share the link. It should be okay to say, “I love this piece that I wrote, and I’m proud as punch that this publication loved it too!”

When someone loses 20 pounds, he shouldn’t have to brush off recognition of his hard work by saying “Oh, I’m nowhere near my goal,” while covertly savoring the positive response and being hungry for more. It should be okay to say, “I know, I’m killing it!”

When someone is told “You look really pretty today,” she shouldn’t have to clam up and deflect the compliment. It’s perfectly okay to just smile and say, “Thank you.”

And when someone feels the urge to pose for an #iwokeuplikethis shot, styled however they like, it should be okay for the caption to read, “Here’s me in the morning. #iwokeuplikethis” without listing all of the reasons she doesn’t deserve to post the picture, all the while knowing she looks pretty hot for an #iwokeuplikethis shot and hoping for compliments. Sure, it’s a little narcissistic – but it’s more honest than feigning a lack of vanity.

In our false humility, we are projecting the message of “I’m not that great,” while secretly hoping that we actually are. We are assuming that there isn’t enough wonderful to go around, leaving all of the worth to the girls with the thigh gaps and perfect skin, even though we are desperate for the world to find us beautiful. We are protecting ourselves against the potential accusation that someone will find us arrogant, even when we know we’ve done a pretty great job.

But in a way, false humility is the same thing as arrogance – because either way, we’re giving ourselves too much credit.

Confidence in our worth is not the same thing as arrogance. Confidence in our worth is claiming what is true: We are unique and irreplaceable. Our worth isn’t based on who we are or what we do. Our worth is intrinsic, built-in, and doesn’t in fact depend on us – which, ironically, is the genesis of true humility.

I want to live this way. Just don’t expect me to post an #iwokeuplikethis, because the world is not ready for my nightguard. #real #authentic

Weight weight… don’t tell me

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Several years ago, I threw out my scale. The contraption had come to rule my life, with every weigh-in feeling like spinning a wheel in a game show – What did she win, Bob? – except the needle never landed on the jackpot. Tossing my scale into the dumpster was equal parts terrifying and liberating, and for years, I had no idea what I weighed.

But this past year, my mind started to play tricks on me. The mirror has never been dependable for me, as the image I see rarely matches reality. The old paranoia started to creep in; I was convinced I was gaining weight, even though my clothes still fit and my diet hadn’t changed. And while I kept a good poker face about it and didn’t mention this insecurity to almost anyone, inside, I was falling apart.

So in January, I decided to once again embrace the scale. In the midst of the mind-games that were yanking me around, I needed an objective number to ground me in reality. And no one is more surprised than me, but these days, I have to admit that knowing my weight is almost a comfort – an unbiased, unemotional truth in a manic world.

On Saturday morning at the gym, I stepped on the scale – the mechanical kind they have at the doctor’s office where the little weights are moved to the right or left until everything is balanced. I automatically set everything to the number I had been last week, but then was horrified to have to keep moving it up, up, up – over 10 pounds higher than it had been a week before.

Panic started to rise in my throat, threatening to strangle me. THIS CANNOT BE, I despaired. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?? NOOOOOOOO!

And then I heard a snicker behind me.

I whipped around to find a man much too old for pranks standing behind me with his foot on the corner of the scale, pressing down, laughing at his own trick. “I got you!” he crowed.

Fine, it’s kind of funny to retell it now – but in the moment? I was not amused. I was not a good sport. After calling him a dipshit in my mind and a terrorist to his face, I said, “That’s one of the meanest things you could do to a woman.” A sudden fury was rising, as were my eyebrows. He must have sensed my intensity, because he took a step back. I turned to face him square on. “Are you going to leave and let me weigh myself? I’LL WAIT.”

He slunk away, I stepped back on the scale and got the number I was expecting, and then spent the rest of the day thinking about body image, weight, beauty, and how they’ve all become so inextricably fused.

I recently saw an interview with Mindy Kaling. When asked, “What’s the biggest compliment someone could pay you?” without skipping a beat she replied, “That I’m beautiful.” No apology. No pretending that her answer was “wise” or “generous” or “compassionate” in the name of respectability. She wanted to be known as beautiful.

And it was so refreshing.

Because ladies, isn’t that it? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ll go ahead and own it: I want beauty to be the truest thing about me. Granted, the definition of beauty has been twisted by our culture to the point where it’s difficult to even be able to define it – but we know the real thing when we see it. We want to be associated with it. We were designed to want to be noticed, seen, and enjoyed.

Beauty is beyond the physical, of course – if you say differently, I’ll fight you. But because we live in this very physical world, it includes our bodies, our features, our faces. This is why we make attempts to foster our beauty – not to manufacture it, not to attain it, but to release what is already there. We want our outsides to match our insides, respecting and cherishing the bodies we’ve been given.

Of course, that’s the ideal world. Reality is much more warped.

I manage the Instagram account for my work, and a recent hashtag search accidentally led me to the accounts of young girls struggling with eating disorders. One of them had posted a picture of our product, a 200-calorie snack bar made of nothing but dates, peanuts and sea salt, with the caption, “I feel so guilty about eating this. I don’t deserve food.”

It broke my heart. And while I’ve never struggled with a full-blown eating disorder, I know guilt. I know deprivation. I know workouts as punishment, ubiquitous insecurity, and self-hatred – yes, hatred.

If I were a “tie a bow on it” type of Christian, this would be the time to say that God thinks we’re beautiful (even if the world doesn’t), that our hearts are all that matter (so stop being so vain), and just wait until that glorious day when there will be no more insecurity (the struggles of this life don’t mean a thing). But I’m not that kind of Christian.

I believe that “Thy kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” means that the physical here-and-now matters. I believe that our desires are important, because they point us toward something True. I believe that we come into this world packed to the core with beauty, and that part of the work of this life is to let some of that loveliness out, restoring us to what we were originally imagined to be. I believe that we get to play a part in making this sad place beautiful again.

And that’s something worth putting my weight on.

Soul-stomping

Friday, February 15th, 2013

I recently took my car in for a major repair – one that required taking the engine apart, and then putting it all back together. I knew that it was going to cost a painful amount of money, so when the mechanic called to tell me that the clutch was shot, too, I lowered my forehead to the table. “Uh huh,” I said. “You can fix that, too.” TAKE EVERY DOLLAR, man. It’s all yours.

Later that day when I picked up the car, I asked the mechanic if there was any way I could have known that the clutch was on its way out. He said, “You should have felt it in the pedal.” I shrugged, saying, “It felt normal to me – just the way it always feels.” I settled the bill and headed to the car.

As I drove away from the shop, I was surprised at how different the new clutch felt. It was so easy to press down; my left leg barely had to work. All of a sudden, shifting was no longer a full-body effort – it was a breeze. Everything seemed quieter, easier – and I realized that this wasn’t some fancy luxury, this was just the way that it was supposed to feel.

It’s funny how dysfunction can sneak up on us. We go about our busy lives, from one distraction to the next – and just as long as we keep moving, we don’t have time to notice what might be falling apart right beneath our feet. The growing noise becomes normal. The increasing struggle feels standard. And before we know it, something inside is burned out, worn down, used up.

These days, I’m becoming more and more aware of the beliefs and thought patterns that have made my life feel hard for a really long time. Years? Always? It’s hard to tell. All I know is that the mantras I’ve repeated for so long, framing the way I think about this life and my place in it, have advanced to a point that has made everything feel like a fight.

Just like my stubborn clutch, life has gradually become a soul-stomp. And I just thought that was normal.

Famously hard on myself, I have a habit of self-pressuring to be better, be more, do more. I have pushed myself hard and fast, aspiring toward a place where there is nothing left requiring relief, all the while ignoring the ever-growing trouble inside.

And sometimes, it isn’t until we experience something the way it should be that we realize just how bad off we’ve been.

I’m going through somewhat of a personal renaissance these days, feeling revived and encouraged and all-around refreshed, and through this, I’ve had a taste of what feels right. It makes me sad that I have spent so much of my life fighting against things that were broken to begin with – things that could have been easier, should have been easier. I want to live differently.

So today as I drive my car to work, with each easy push of the clutch I will remind myself that it’s okay to go easy. It’s okay to quit training for the half marathon for the sake of my back. It’s okay to fall a little short of my monthly savings account goal. It’s okay to order the bridesmaid dress in the size that I am, not the size that I want to be. It’s okay to be a beginner at something. It’s okay to not know what’s going to happen – because whatever happens, it’s not worth the soul-stomp.

All of the things I have to say

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

All of you over-achieving, perfectionistic control freaks out there, raise your hand.

I mean, I can’t be the only one, right?

I have a really hard time when I can’t do something perfectly, which is unfortunate because I can do basically nothing perfectly.  And lately, I’ve been doing a lot of things, which means that I’ve been confronted with imperfection all over the place.

My spiritual life is not perfect.  My diet is not perfect.  My money management is not perfect.  My exercise routine is not perfect.  My sleep habits are not perfect.  My relationships are not perfect.  My abilities are not perfect.  My heart – oh, my heart – is far, far, far from perfect.

Not a single one of my efforts is perfect.  And I really hate it.

I have so much that I want to say about this, but I can’t even write about my imperfections perfectly.  Gah.  Gahhhhhhhhhh.

– – – – – – – –

This was my bed last night.

I stared at it, and wished that it would just fix itself, but it didn’t, so I just moved my computer and slid underneath it all and went to sleep.

– – – – – – – –

Now it’s the morning.  All of the stuff is still here on top of me.

– – – – – – – –

On Sunday, I was on a walk, and I walked past a realtor hosting an open house.  I wound up going in, just because I’m nosy and take any opportunity to snoop where I wouldn’t otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with this house, but I did.  Like, deep, soulful love.  Like, I was mentally arranging my furniture.  Like, I was imagining backyard parties and the perfect hutch for the dining room.  Like, the combination of the hardwood floors and the interior brick walls and the incredible range in the kitchen was lethal to my Dave Ramsey-loving self, and all of a sudden, I was trying to figure out how to pull together $389,000 before nightfall.

Then I just walked back to the Hooker House.

– – – – – – – –

Starting tomorrow, I get to do something really cool.  I get to fly to Sundance Film Festival and call it “my job.”

You know I’ll report back on any celeb-encounters.

Heroes and imperfections

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I promise to not make this blog into one never-ending series called “What I’m Reading – and So Should You!”  But – sue me, people – I’m reading a lot right now.  And unless you want to hear about my dream last night (I killed a wild hog), then thank your lucky stars that it’s a post about a book.

At the suggestion of my cutie friend Carrie Cohen (SHOUT OUT), I’m currently reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein.  The narrator (who happens to be a dog – stay with me) gives an account of the family that he lives with, all the while waxing poetic about life, philosophy, and race car driving – which he has learned a great deal about from his master.  Maybe it’s a silly idea, allowing a dog to narrate, but so far, it’s a fun shift of perspective.

Here’s one of my favorite passages – and yes, this is the dog thinking:

“The true hero is flawed.  The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.  A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe, which, after all, is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object.  Which is also why Michael Schumacher, clearly one of the most gifted Formula One drivers of all time, winner of more races, winner of more championships, holder of more pole positions than any other driver in Formula One history, is often left off of the race fan’s list of favorite champions.  He is unlike Ayrton Senna, who often employed the same devious and daring tactics as Schumacher, but did so with a wink and therefore was called charismatic and emotional rather than what they call Schumacher: remote and unapproachable.  Schumacher has no flaws.  He has the best car, the best-financed team, the best tires, the most skill.  Who can rejoice in his wins?  The sun rises every day.  What is to love?  Lock the sun in a box.  Force the sun to overcome adversity in order to rise.  Then we will cheer!”

Hilarious that Stein attributes thoughts like these to a mere mongrel of a dog – but also, a little bit poignant.  Because if we’re honest, even – and maybe especially – in our simplest moments, don’t we feel the exact same way?

Perfection is boring – and so it’s interesting to me that we often expect the people around us to be perfect.  Why do we insist on something other than just real life with others?  If we’re honest, wouldn’t we rather experience someone’s flaws – with the hope and expectation that they just might triumph over their shortcomings?  Wouldn’t we love to be a part of that?

Wouldn’t we love for others to give us that chance?

Wouldn’t we love to give ourselves that chance?

Permission

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I might always run a little late in the mornings. I might always love Whitney Houston key changes. I might always color-code my closet. I might always get annoyed when people open a new box of crackers / gallon of milk / bottle of mustard before they’ve finished the old one. I might always hate my legs. I might always be self-critical. I might always fall behind on returning phone calls. I might always be a little bit particular. I might always withdraw when I feel overwhelmed. I might always smudge my nail polish. I might always feel a tiny bit sad. I might always crave peanut M&M’s. I might always be afraid of swimming. I might always feel like people who drive stick shifts are superior. I might always hate the summertime. I might always be tempted to roll my eyes at girls who I am actually envious of. I might always be tempted to roll my eyes at guys who actually have hurt me. I might always wonder a little bit. I might always worry a little bit.

These things may never change.

And it’s okay.

And those things about you that have been there from the beginning – the things that you are continually calling into question – the things that you feel like you should change and you’re wondering why you can’t? They might never change either.

And that’s okay, too.

Freedom and balance

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

I was in the dairy section of the grocery store last night when a crisis hit me like a rake to the face. Reaching for my usual quart of Dannon Light & Fit vanilla yogurt, I noticed three terrible words: “Great New Taste!”

What.

Why do they need to go changing my favorite yogurt? I don’t need it to have a “great new taste” – I loved the old taste. And! AND! What’s worse: it has increased from 80 calories per serving to 110 calories per serving. I DO NOT LIKE THIS. This is almost as bad as the day that they started packaging Tampax in bright orange wrappers – an absolute betrayal. How is one expected to be inconspicuous with something orange – the color of panic devices, like flares and Coast Guard buoys and the terrorist attack level “High”?

It’s not quite as bad as the day I found out that they no longer produce Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer in “Coffee”. But still. Completely unjust.

I come from a long line of calorie counters – it’s in my genes. At various points in my life, I have been absolutely ruled by the regimented balancing act of caloric consumption/expulsion. Last summer, I achieved what should have been a dieter’s nirvana, reaching the lowest weight of my life and fitting into the tiniest pants I’ve ever owned; however, I still felt a panic and a desperate need for control. I still saw my pipe-cleaner arms to be flabby, my thighs to be trunk-like, and my flat stomach to be completely unworthy of a bathing suit.

I couldn’t relish the accomplishment of it all. I was too busy worrying about gaining an ounce.

Since then, I have considerably loosened my tight rein on calorie counting. While my mind feels a little bit freer, my body is also a little bit heavier. What’s a girl to do?

I want to live in freedom from the oppression of low self-esteem, terrible body image, calorie counting, exercise obsession, and general control freakage. I’m not there yet. But I want to be. And for me, I think that “freedom” is going to have to mean weighing a few pounds more than I know that I could weigh. It’s going to mean not beating myself up over my caloric failures of the day when I crawl into bed at night. It’s going to mean recognizing and living out a healthy balance of enjoying food, and being active, and getting enough sleep, and having a glass of wine if I want one, but not having too many.

It’s going to mean eating the extra 30 calories of yogurt. And it’s going to mean not flipping out about it.

Warring voices

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Imagine that I weigh 300 lbs. Got it? Okay. Now imagine that I have a sprained ankle. And asthma. And flip flops on my feet. And it’s 113 degrees outside.

Now, put me in the middle of a pack of marathon runners with fabulously long legs and handy water bottle packs strapped around their waists. They’re all stretching and high-5ing each other, shaking out their limbs, ready to kick some serious road race booty. Then the shot sounds, and they’re off… and I am aiming to keep up with them for 26.2 miles.

That’s a little bit how I feel when it comes to songwriting in Nashville.

Nashville is where really good songwriters live. This is where people come to make a career out of writing songs. They are gifted, and skilled, and practiced. They are amazing. They are transcendent. And while I know that songwriting is anything but effortless, they make it look effortless – like someone who is born to run, gracefully bounding like a gazelle. And I’m heavily slogging far behind, huffing and puffing, barely able to put one foot in front of the other – let alone master the bar chords.

Sometimes I wonder why I thought it was a good idea for me to move here – HERE, of all places! – when I really had no idea what I was doing. I am an amateur, a novice – at the shallow end of the talent pool, splashing around because I love the water, but never able to venture beyond the 3 foot depth mark.

True, in theory, I moved here to Nashville to learn. But the learning comes slowly. It takes time, and it takes work. To be honest, I’ve never really had to work for anything in my life. As a child, school came easily. Friends came easily. Music came easily – that is, up until now. If anything did not come naturally, like, oh, ANY PHYSICAL EXERTION WHATSOEVER, then I simply did not do it. I hate the feeling of doing something poorly, and so I have avoided situations in which I might fail.

Logical Annie says, “It’s not a competition. You do not have to be perfect. You have something unique to offer. You just need to keep working at it. Good ideas will come. Good songs will come. You’re growing and improving, even when you don’t feel like it. This is all an adventure, a grand experiment, and it’s a good thing you’re here.”

Gloomy Annie says, “Maybe I should just move to Nebraska.”

“You’re the…”

Friday, July 11th, 2008

The deed is done – I made it through my first writer’s round without a) train-wrecking, or b) crying. I had about 10 friends who made it out, which meant so much, especially since I still call myself “new to Nashville” – thanks to those of you who came. I was lucky enough to share the stage with Matt Dorrien and Chris Moynihan, who are both great writers and actually know how to play the guitar. True to my word, I was not perfect – but it was fun, I played my 3 songs, and when I smiled, I meant it.

And I NEVER HAVE TO PLAY MY FIRST SHOW IN NASHVILLE AGAIN!

A potentially-embarrassing-yet-ultimately-hysterical moment:

My parents sent me flowers. Yes, to the bar. Like, “Oh, you’re Annie Parsons? We have a special delivery for you! Let me bring it over to your table! In front of all of these people!”

At first, I felt my face burning up – but then I ripped open the card:


From the reverend and his lovely wife. Are they hilarious or what? (Note: for full context, read this.) Thanks to Erin, Casey, and my mother for unwittingly collaborating to coin the new “Go get ‘em.” The best part of this story is the thought of my mom on the phone with some Nashville florist, saying, “Yes, I’d like the card to read… ‘You’re the shit.’ Yes. Yes, ‘the shit.’ S-H-I-T.”

Deep breath

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Tonight is the night. My first time playing out in Nashville.

Good thing that I will only have to say that once in my entire life.

Eleanor Roosevelt said to “do something everyday that scares you.” Apparently I haven’t done anything scary for about 9 years, and it is all converging in this one little 3-song event. Then again, for as terrifying as it all seems, it’s also exciting to finally, FINALLY be doing something.

The past 6 months or so have held the consistent theme of letting go of perfectionism. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but also… freeing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be perfect. The important thing is to try. And to wear something cute while doing it.