If you have perfectionist tendencies, like I do, sometimes it’s difficult to find happiness when life isn’t perfect.
I am slightly neurotic with high standards for myself and for others around me. I know and accept that there are highs and lows in life yet I often have unattainable expectations. It’s related to being a bit of a perfectionist.
Logic tells me that things will not be perfect all the time. I accept that perfection is impossible, that things won’t always turn out well, that it’s unrealistic to expect that everything will be perfect. I also can accept ‘good enough’ for much of what I do.
I know that I won’t be ‘on’ all of the time. There are times when I’m tired, or preoccupied, or worried, or not feeling well. At these times, happiness seems elusive.
This has been true for me during the past four months as I’ve struggled to overcome ‘pernicious pneumonia’. Several courses of antibiotics and use of two types of inhalers have helped the obvious symptoms of a hacking cough and low energy. I’ve spent most of the summer at the cottage lying in the sun and doing little except reading, knitting and writing the occasional blog post.
Times, like this summer, when life is less than perfect, teach us about ourselves. Here are some of the lessons I’m learning.
- It’s a psychological struggle to recognize that I am ill and need to rest. During 40 plus years in the workforce, I hardly used sick days. In my adult life, seldom did I have a cold or the flu. Learning to rest means lying down in the afternoon, going to bed early, and sometimes doing little or nothing for the day. I have more understanding of what many people face when they must retire due to illness or disability.
- The biggest difficulty is accepting that I can’t accomplish many of the things that I usually do. Plans for entertaining and socializing are temporarily abandoned. I’ve let some of my standards for cooking and cleaning slip just a little. My garden is neglected. Usually, I measure the success of a day in terms of some accomplishment. During this summer, the measure of success is whether I have enough energy to stay awake until nine in the evening.
- I am discovering how to slow down and to take the day at a pace consistent with stamina and strength reserves. I’ve always been inclined to rush through the day and fill every hour with productive activity. Doing less and proceeding slowly takes patience yet it conserves personal energy.
- I am also learning to accept ‘good enough.’ Among my colleagues in grad school, there was a belief that the difference between an A and a B was ten hours of study time. As part-time students in a difficult MBA program, most of us were coping with full-time executive jobs, families, and commuting. There were times when we had to accept a lower mark because there was insufficient study time to get an A on a paper or an exam.
- Accept life the way it is and appreciate the small moments of perfection. On the weekend, it was my grand daughter’s smile when she arrived at the cottage for lunch and an afternoon visit. Yesterday, it was seeing friends for a bridge game. Today, it was time for a peaceful walk in the early morning.
As I regain my health and deal with convalescence, I am realizing that a happy life doesn’t have to be a perfect life. There are times when you simply have to get through a rough stretch. I know that I’ll never stop striving and I’ll never lose the perfectionist tendencies. I also know that I can adapt and change when necessary.
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