the all or nothing approach and why it doesn’t work

I’ve mentioned before that I have a hard time finding balance. Balancing the needs of my soul (writing, socializing, yoga), my body (exercising, juicing, eating well), my family (my husband & two children) and my business (Herbal Philosophy Teas). Which is why I don’t get around to this blog very often. Sometimes I wish this were different, sometimes I accept that this just how it is. We’re given a handful of ways to spend our time, and if we’re lucky, we have the freedom to choose.

I am one of the lucky ones because I get to choose. I have chosen to work at home so I can be here for my children. This freedom is the fruit of my marriage. My husband is supportive of my decisions, both financially and emotionally. I know that many mothers do not have the same luxury. I know that many wives feel their marriage robbed them their freedom rather than granted it.

I was given these gifts. Gifts that cannot be replicated or destroyed. Time with my daughter, the freedom to work for myself, the platform of this blog, an innate love of writing, an insatiable hunger to read and be read. I want to be here in this place; inspiring, sharing, beautifying my corner of the blogosphere with the same care I take to decorate my home. I believe these gifts came to me for a reason, and sometimes I find myself fretting over their existence, wondering how and when I will prove myself worthy.

Whereas surrender and detachment are paramount to transformation, the world would not be what it is if humans did not possess the unavoidable desire to create, and to leave the world more beautiful than we found it. Herein lies the precarious balance. How much do we surrender and accept, and how much do we press on, chasing dreams and ignoring skeptics, all the while worrying if we’re making the right choices?

Will anyone ever read this novel? Will people let tea change their lives? Does hard work always pay off or just sometimes? What do I do next?

This is where I detach. As Julia Cameron said in her book, The Artist’s Way, “Great Creator: I will take care of the quantity, you take care of the quality.” This may seem counterintuitive and it is, in fact, paradoxical. Because I think every artist, every creator, every entrepreneur frets over the quality of their work. Perfectionism is practically a given in the 21st century. Apparently evolution has favored this trait.

But perfectionism is also what gets in people’s way. The all or nothing approach. Either I will eat a perfect macrobiotic/paleo/vegan/raw/dukon/(insert your diet of choice here) diet, or I will eat whatever looks good to my eyes (to hell with what my body needs). Either I will post five days per week on my blog, or I will abandon it for months. Either I will paint something exquisite, or I will paint nothing at all.

This kind of attitude is paralyzing. I never would have started writing my first novel 2.5 years ago if I critiqued the words that fell onto the page without much order. Instead, I listened to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and I allowed my first draft to be terrible. I allowed myself to write without knowing what was going to happen next, both literally and figuratively. Because she said that writing is like driving at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but that’s enough to get you all the way home. For me, it’s been enough to finish more than one manuscript.

This morning, I dropped my daughter off at preschool, I ate a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and honey and almond butter, I made espresso and threw it away, and I brewed a cup of tea. I turned on my space heater, I lit two candles and a stick of incense, sipped my tea, and opened my computer. (See photo below.) I looked at the view from my office, I rejoiced in the clouds and this time that I have to write, and I glimpsed something I wanted to share, though I wasn’t sure what it was.

The message is clear to me now. If you’re reading this, if you have access to a computer and the internet and warmth, it’s likely you’re a lucky one, too. Perhaps you don’t know it yet. Maybe you don’t know how to start loving your life. (I’ve been there.) My advice to you is to focus on loving the small things. Your bed, your breakfast, your tea. Maybe you don’t like your body, but you like your shoes. Maybe you don’t like your boss, but you like your co-workers. Maybe you don’t like where you live, but you like your city. Maybe you don’t make a lot of money, but you love what you do. Maybe you’ve experienced loss, but you’ve been left behind on this earth for a reason.

Don’t have an all or nothing approach to loving your life. Practice loving the little things, and soon, gratitude will become a habit. You take care of the quantity, and the great creator will take care of the quality. The more you can find it in you to love, the more things you will find to love.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you feel this serves you or hinders you? What are your greatest gifts and how do you seek to share them?

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4 thoughts on “the all or nothing approach and why it doesn’t work

  1. Yes! I am a perfectionist! And I do often have an all or nothing attitude with, especially, my writing and writer self. But it’s no good. I must learn, I am learning to accept imperfections and incomplete wanderings because this keeps me mindful of my humanity. I am a better writer when I don’t try to be a perfect writer. I say what I want and worry less about what what I say will mean to others. That’s when art is made, I think. It’s made in the midst of a decision to just create something because it must be created now.

    I don’t know why I didn’t get this post in my email. I was thinking about you and emailed you without even knowing these words were written. I must check my email subscription options.

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    1. Ha, it seems so counterintuitive yet it is so very trye. “I am a better writer when I don’t try to be a perfect writer.” I just loved your thoughts here, thanks for sharing. We must accept every part of us, even the parts we assume to be imperfect. For example…I just spend the last 20 minutes shopping online when I could have been reading/editing/writing. I don’t like this about myself, but I will try to embrace it. Perhaps there was a reason…

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  2. I think we are perfectionists when we harbor fear of people seeing the truth of our flaws. I am a perfectionist in some areas, and a half-asser in others. The things I perfect hide my deepest shames.

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  3. This is a beautiful blog and the words I needed to hear right now. I just completed a cleanse and felt great and then this friday’s news drove me to eat a box of wheat thins for dinner. Thank you for the reminder to simply feel what I am feeling and to soften into that: the tea, the sadness, the love.

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