Category Archives: Perfectionism

Why Achieving Success Doesn’t Equal Living Well

Standard

It’s natural for all of us to focus on finding our place and role in this world. We each have a part to play. Our society, our mentors, our families all seem to have expectations for what we can and should contribute. So we make up a definition of success and striving to attain it becomes our focus. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing great things or earning accolades, but I’m realizing that living for these things doesn’t add up to living well. We might hit the target we’ve set for ourselves, or that others set for us, but are we truly fulfilled by it? The target seems to be ever shifting and elusive. Haven’t we all set out to accomplish a goal, finally succeeded, felt an exhilarating high for a couple of days, and then said, “Huh, now what?”

The high doesn’t last. The praise of others doesn’t last either. They applaud for a moment, then get on with their lives. We then assume we didn’t have our target set quite right, and we need to aim a little higher to truly be “successful” and fulfilled. We rarely stop to ask ourselves why we think we have the authority to define success in the first place. We just assume that we need to, or in some cases the definition of success seems set by our culture and we feel powerless to change it.

A few years ago when I was in the deepest, darkest days of battling my chronic illness, I felt called to write a book about the beauty God had brought out of the ashes of my suffering. So naturally, I took that calling and proceeded to define what success of that calling should look like. I also promptly jumped into trying to figure out the “how-to” for writing a book and getting it published. You want to talk about being overwhelmed, try looking into publishing, book proposals, agents, editors, marketing, etc.! I got so intimidated and bogged down by it all! I couldn’t figure out how to structure my experiences into chapters in a way that would capture the interest of publishers and readers alike. In short, my inspiration didn’t fit well into the parameters I was trying to force it into, and it paralyzed my ability to move forward.

Now, a few years out, the passion and intensity of that calling has faded as I’ve enjoyed reprieve from suffering. I’ve gladly put distance between myself and the reality of what living every single day in a severely broken body was like. Yet I’ve wrestled with a lingering guilt that I never wrote that book. I feel as though I can’t move forward with other writing until I go back and check that box, but all of the same overwhelming roadblocks to that target have not changed. So on New Year’s Day I sat down with my journal and asked God if this is still something He wants me to do, or if I’m released from the calling. I told him how I feel stuck and shackled by the “shoulds”. Those “shoulds” encompass not just writing the book, but also finding “success” as a writer in general. It’s a common sentiment among writers to feel that getting published is necessary in order to really be able to call yourself a writer. We don’t really have any other credentialing that validates what we do in our culture. And we all want to be validated, don’t we? If we’re not, then we haven’t achieved success as we’ve defined it.

Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to figure this successful writer thing out. I’ve attended webinars by New York Times bestselling authors. I joined an online writing community. I listened to the advice of top gurus who all have achieved what I felt I needed to achieve to really meet my calling and have the impact God wanted me to have in this world.

As a writer, this is what you’re told…if you want to maximize your impact, you need to build your platform. A large platform will help you capture the interest of publishers. To build your platform you need to know and serve your audience. Write the content they want to read. Engage your audience through several social media outlets. Master the art of writing a book proposal. And the list goes on and on as we try to map out the pathway to “success”. None of these suggestions are bad in and of themselves, and in fact, some may very likely be necessary in order to be published. The problem is, none of this has ever really resonated with the calling that is deep in my heart, which is simply to share hope and encouragement through my story. Naturally, I do desire to have impact and to serve my readers well, but shifting my focus to how to achieve those goals leads to striving toward a target of my own making. I take that calling from God, and promptly get bogged down in doing it “right”.

 

In that early morning quiet on New Year’s Day, God answered my question about writing a book by showing me that success is not mine to define, it’s His. The following is an excerpt from that journal entry.

This is your journey and your history. You need to remember all I’ve done in your life. You need to remember where you came from, and how you struggled and grew. This battle was yours – for your benefit – your perseverance, character, and hope. You need to remember for you. Write about it for you. Write from that framework. That you’re doing this to commune with Me, to grow, to remember. Then it has value no matter who else it reaches. You write it for yourself, for our relationship, to bring glory to Me in your own heart. Then what you have created just for us, you can share with the world. When you remove the burdens and expectations of trying to meet some made up need in the world and plaguing yourself with questions of what “they” need, and what “they” want, and what “they” will buy, and what will help “them” grow, then you’re free to write the way I intended. Just between us. That’s where the power is.

Before journaling you read my words in Matthew 6:33 when I say, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  This is how it applies to your writing – seek Me with no agenda. Seek whatever I have. Seek your own growth in Me. When you write that way, and simply share it with the world, then all those other needs and wants of the world that paralyze your writing will automatically be taken care of as well. It’s not for them, but it will serve them all the same, and truly with even more power. It’s not fabricated to try to hit a target. It’s just authentic from the soul, and that’s what truly hits the target. So I want you to stop worrying about getting published, building a platform, or serving your audience. I want to be your only audience as you are writing. But then, as I direct, I want you to share these things written in private. Just put them out there as an act of obedience and praise, but return then to the secret place with Me. Don’t chase the end of the path where those words might land in the world. They are released. You release and then return (to Me). And so I will unleash my power through you. The impact you have ceased striving for will be given to you naturally. It will be a blessing, but it will no longer be your focus. If you seek a specific end result – impact, platform reach, publishing, etc., then your eyes have shifted to be wholly focused on a goal that will shift and move and never fully satisfy. When your focus is on remaining in Me, obedience, sharing hope, and praising Me publically in writing, then the fulfillment and impact you crave will be truly fulfilled. Me at the center is where fulfillment comes. Not chasing an accomplishment. So now you’re free. Vulnerable, yes, very much, but free of set expectations and the confines of serving others. You serve Me and through that they will be served. As you write your colitis journey, do it to remember, to praise, to commune with Me. Don’t do it to catch the eye of a publisher. Share your story with yourself. The part of you that has forgotten and will continue to forget.

So living well this year means drawing yourself into Me. Reviving your morning journaling times, but also taking the next step to share with the world what transpires between us, what I’m teaching you, how I’m growing you, what I’m laying on your heart. Just share with no expectations. You’re not striving for a reaction and response. When you dwell and remain in Me, My light will fill you and spill out. This is how you shine brighter than the dawn. This is how you live well. Be intentional. Days quickly pass. Don’t miss what I have for you by neglecting time with Me. Your fulfillment lies in this time. You cannot find it without it.

What definition of success have you been striving toward? Who defined success for you? Are the hoops you’re jumping through on your way to that target God ordained? Has He called you to them? I truly believe He is the ONLY one who has the authority to define success for each of us. It often won’t look the way we expect, or even the way our ego hopes it will. All of our definitions will look a little differently because all of our giftings and callings are a little bit different. But at the core, I believe our definition of true success is the same. To commune closely with God. To be grafted into Him. To remain in Him. And out of that closeness to be obedient as He calls us. Pastor Craig Groeschel said, “Obedience is ours, outcome is God’s.” For me, trying to figure out the outcome, stalled my obedience. We don’t need to define the outcome. We need to release the outcome to Him and focus on being obedient to what He calls us to do.

When we are faithful to living fully submitted to Him, using our gifts as He intended, then He is faithful to provide for us and to complete the good work He began in us when we were created. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to figure out our calling that we lose sight of the One who is calling us. He calls us to love Him and to follow Him. And so, loving well and following well are the foundations for living well.

I pray for each and every one of us, myself included, that in this new year, we would return to loving and following God with renewed passion. That we would shift our focus from our own definitions of success and restore our focus back to the One who already has a perfect plan for our lives. And as we embrace His plan and release our own, I pray we’d experience the joy, fulfillment, and freedom of truly living well.

Giving Way

Standard

Giving way is resting in the provision of the Lord. The time He has given me. The circumstances, challenges, and tasks He has placed in my life. Everything about this season of life works together to make it this particular season in my particular life. My story. My experience. My family. My home.

sunrise-in-sleepy-hollow

Sunrise in Sleep Hollow by James Jordan

I often find it hard to rest and relax when things are undone, I didn’t accomplish the to-do list, or we didn’t keep up with the chore/project schedule I created. But God commands me to be still. To rest. To trust Him. To find my peace and refuge in Him. To trust that His provision will always be enough, and that all I have and what I’m capable of doing are sufficient. I search for peace in the complete and the orderly, but that’s not where peace is found. My peace is found when I am submitted to an almighty and loving Father, when I rest in the shadow of His wings, and know that I am enough because He is more than enough to fill in all of my gaps and shortcomings. I can rest in His sovereignty, in His goodness, in His provision. Life isn’t orderly and the world will always be full of chaos. The inbox will never be empty and there will always be another item on the list, another project, another dream yet to be fulfilled, another load of laundry, some new trial to navigate, but this is the raw beauty of life.

Giving way is accepting the reality of what life truly consists of. Giving way is submitting to God and letting go of an illusion of control. It is recognizing that things aren’t perfect and things aren’t done, but that’s ok. It’s standing in the sea of mess, releasing the frustration, and realizing it’s small stuff, this mess. It’s in everyone’s life. Like a little annoying distraction. But I can’t allow the distraction to hold my attention. There is much that is great and beautiful and “big stuff” to look at. Refusing to stay focused on the small stuff and the negative is giving way.

 

Expectations: Thieves of Joy – Becoming a ‘No Regrets Mommy’

Standard

The movie credits start rolling. It’s 30 minutes past their bedtime, so I tell the kids to get ready for bed quickly. I give them 10 minutes to get in bed, and then I’ll sing them each a song. I even simplify what “getting ready” entails by requiring only going potty and brushing teeth. They can sleep in their clothes if they want, and let the cavities grow between their teeth where only floss can reach. I finally feel a “good mommy” high, and I don’t want anything to spoil it. We just sat cuddled on the couch with pizza and popcorn, and watched the latest animated flick. I want these precious memories to be the only thing running through our minds as we drift off to sleep.

Now any of you out there who are parents of young children, or ever have been and haven’t yet blocked that reality out of your memory, probably know what happens next. Child #1 decides it takes 40 minutes to go to the bathroom, you know because she “had to poop,” and “No, she’s not finished yet.” This process by the way looks a lot like day dreaming and playing as much as one physically can play while sitting on the toilet. While I’m trying to remain patient with the marathon bathroomer, Child #2 is upstairs “getting ready.”  I decide to check on Child #2’s progress. Should be done and waiting angelically in bed to be tucked in and sung to by now. Of course, I actually find him sitting on the bathroom floor playing with one of the bath toys. As I get closer to the doorway, I can see that the counter is flooded with water and the mirror (that I just cleaned today) is covered in wet, swirled, hand prints.

“What. Are. You. Dooooing?!” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Have you gone potty?”

“No.”

“Have you brushed your teeth?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I’ll do it right now.”

“Where is your toothbrush?”

To this he points. My gaze follows the direction of his pointing finger. Then I see it. Ah, yes, of course, in the Q-Tip jar. Why wouldn’t someone put their toothbrush…loaded with toothpaste…in the Q-Tip jar?! My fingers massage my temples. Needless to say, neither of them earned their song, and both went to bed in tears.

I retreated to the couch and sunk down completely deflated. The evening felt totally spoiled. The bedtime fiasco somehow felt like it had canceled out all of the positives from the evening. Surely they would only remember the negative feelings from the very end of the night. As I sat there angry, sad, and demoralized I started to realize how crazy it was for me to believe that everything would always go perfectly, and that good experiences are pointless if they are punctuated with challenges. The more I reflected on the evening, and on motherhood in general, the more I realized that my expectations were keeping me from fully experiencing joy and contentment as a mom.

Toothpaste on Qtips

It’s everywhere, bombarding us everyday; the message that we’re not enjoying our children enough, that we’re not cherishing them enough. It may be a well-meaning empty nester at the grocery store reminding us to enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast. How about all of the catchy little signs and poems on Pinterest about how babies don’t keep, and how we should play more and clean less. I don’t know about you, but often instead of feeling inspired by these statements, I feel panicky and frantic. “I’m missing it!” “Did I enjoy this last year enough?” “I wish I had done XYZ better, and now I can’t get the time back!” I make resolute goals to be present in the moment and to enjoy my precious babies as much as possible each and every day. I carry weighty burdens of regret for childhood moments lost in the past of this fast track called life. And as I sat there on the couch wallowing in regret once again, it hit me – I haven’t missed it. I’ve been there everyday. It’s just that those days didn’t look how I thought they’d look, or how I thought they should look. Instead, they looked like real life, and the reality of “real life” left me wanting a do-over. Maybe on a second time around things would turn out the way I expected them to. Nope, they never would. Why? Because my children aren’t a photoshopped picture in a magazine; they are real, mini-human beings. And I’m not super mom, I’m just the best mom I can be, which unfortunately is a mom who is cranky sometimes, and who doesn’t get half her to-do list done most days, and who is too tired and overwhelmed to want to play Connect Four right now.

I feel like I’m failing or that another year has zipped on by, and I didn’t do half of the things I had intended to do. The truth is, I did do a lot of things I intended, they just didn’t play out the way I thought they would. All that fun I thought we’d have making cupcakes… they lost interest after cracking one egg and stirring the bowl three times. Mom ended up making the cupcakes alone while the kids scampered off to play. How about that first trip to the zoo? I was so excited to see their reaction to the lions and giraffes. Of course, the lions were sleeping where we couldn’t see them, and the kids couldn’t care less about the other animals I thought they’d love. “Look! A polar bear!” I’d say. They barely gave a sideways glance before focusing their attention on the giant rainbow lollipop they just had to have. Sticky hands, face, hair, legs, and stroller combined with heat, humidity, and exhausted, sweaty parents made the day feel like an epic failure. I’d thought we’d all leave smiling and refreshed from our day out, not all in desperate need of a nap and a bath! We accomplished the family trip to the zoo, but since it didn’t go how I had expected, it’s almost like it didn’t count. It’s still on the mental checklist until we “get it right”. No wonder I feel like I’m not doing all the things I want to do with my kids while they’re little!

It doesn’t matter what we do, or where we go, things rarely turn out the way I envision they will. Instead they turn out alarmingly…real. I don’t need a do-over, or to wallow in regret. What I need is to learn to release my expectations, and embrace reality. Reality doesn’t leave us feeling warm and fuzzy and completely satisfied all the time. Reality is potty training, messes, germs, disciplining the same behavior over and over, and never getting through a day without someone ending up in tears over some silly thing. Reality is that if I look back at what I was juggling in life with my health and the everyday trials of mothering, I see that I really did do my best, and enjoy the years that have passed as much as I possibly could. It’s not that my priorities were out of whack, or that the experiences we had weren’t valuable to their childhood. I just need to take off the glasses of unfulfilled expectations of perfection that I’ve been viewing everything through, and give myself and my kids a little grace.

Looking back through the year’s photos, I realized that snapshots of our life made it look pretty idyllic. If I just posted all of these to Facebook, it certainly looks like we’re living the fairy tale life and loving our cupcake making and trips to the zoo. One smiling photo doesn’t capture the full experience though – the good with the bad and the ugly. What I’m saying is don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone is doing it better than you just because their Facebook albums look so perfect. You’re not failing. You’ve just found yourself in the midst of a real life. A real life that is uniquely yours and your family’s, and that doesn’t look exactly like anyone else’s. How cool is that?

Feeling regret about the past can only make it more difficult for us to be truly present and joyful in our current stage of life. Each stage has its joys and challenges. Life is a balance. Part of that balance is the business of life like cleaning and grocery shopping and cooking dinner. Moms know death and taxes are not the only certain things in life; add never ending laundry and dishes to that list! We can’t edit out the mundane, and the time and energy draining aspects of life, and somehow spend every waking hour truly enjoying playing with our kids. Perpetuating the idea that such a reality exists is a huge disservice to moms everywhere. The true reality is that we juggle and we work for balance the best we can, and some days are better than others. It’s normal and ok to get a little misty-eyed when remembering our favorite moments from past stages. I do miss rocking my babies, but I’m also happy to have moved on from dirty diapers and sleepless nights. I love how much more independent my kids are at this stage. It actually makes them more fun! I don’t need to pine for the past. I can move forward with each new stage and enjoy it’s highs, and be happy when its lows pass as time moves forward. I can also realize that those good intentioned empty nesters are simply remembering the sweet, misty-eyed moments, and making friendly conversation by eluding to all of the joys hidden in the messiness of mothering. They are simply offering a loving reminder that while this journey is fraught with trials, when it’s all said and done we can look back with a heart full of imperfect, yet precious memories.

I’m sure I’ll never be perfect at letting go of all mommy guilt and anxiety. That’s just another expectation of perfection that I need to relinquish. But I can keep on reminding myself when I get caught in the trap that it’s unrealistic expectations that really have me down. I can remember to look for the beauty in reality and learn to enjoy this journey despite its flaws. Flaws don’t make it a failure, they just make it authentic.

Remember my family’s “ruined” movie night? The next morning I heard my kids talking about how great our pizza and movie night was. No mention of going to bed in tears.  Oh, and they ask to go to zoo all the time because they love it so much. See, they really are making great memories! The trials don’t nullify the good. Perfection may be easily ruined, but this real, messy life of ours is beautiful in its authenticity. No regrets. Just grace.