Monday, April 25, 2011

Relinquishing Perfection

I've always enjoyed the writing of Stephanie Klein.  A self-deprecating, perfectionist Jew from New York with a foodie fixation, a crafty streak, and a constant quest to lose five more pounds, I find her hilariously relatable.  She also has published two books and raised twins to the ripe age of four without any major mishaps, so I've looked up to her as well.  This morning, while I sipped coffee, I popped in on her blog to see what was new, and found a post called "When Passover Leads to It's Over".  Long story short, her attempt to host Seder on short notice while simultaneously helping her husband with a work project leads to what appears to be the beginning of the end of their marriage.  It is beyond sad that she airs all this on a blog, and that she and her husband get into it in her comments section, going after each other for perceived slights and personality flaws, but the fine print was where I really found the teachable moment in this public airing of grievances.

Stephanie's Seder plan includes making a scratch strawberry-rhubarb compote, fresh whip cream, four desserts, two kinds of meat, and something called "Matzoh Harvest Stuffing" (you lost me at Matzoh + Stuffing -- roll that stuff into balls or fry it with some eggs or leave it be -- it is not meant to be anything but the dry cracker it is IMHO); she needs homemade Hagaddahs and special place settings and pink tulips.  I love the spirit behind all this festive planning, but when she realized on Sunday night that Passover was Monday, not Tuesday, I think she should have scaled back.  Even if you aren't Jewish and are saying "Haggad-what?" right now, you can see where I am going here, and this is a lesson that is really hitting home for me right now: the relentless quest for perfection is nothing but an elaborate, tuilp-bedecked way of creating a spirit-crushing prison for yourself.   Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our families is step back, take a breath, and let. it. go.

We live in a world of illusions, where people like Martha convince us that if we don't create our own found-object wreaths and homemade fruit compotes for every season, we are somehow not a total woman.  We're meant to be successful in business, on top of our personal health and fitness, and simultaneously uber-creative, making above-average homes and memories for our children and spouses.  We've taken the highest expectations of women from the last five decades and rolled them into one unrealistic ball for the new millennium, where we all supposed to be some June Cleaver-Gloria Steinum-Diane Von Furstenburg-Martha Stewart-Bethenny Frankel hybrid, managing it all with a smile on our face, and something tasty in the oven.  No wonder we are the most medicated, numbed generation in history, totally overwhelmed at every turn.  There is only one way to put a stop to this cycle, and it is to firmly look into all of these expectations and say ENOUGH.

For me, April has been a month of really taking this lesson about relinquishing the quest for perfection to heart.  This month was beyond packed: house guests, travel, a best friend's wedding, a sister's shower, and many holidays to celebrate.  All of these things are joyful, but can easily turn south if unrealistic expectations are pressed upon them.  There was a time when I would have beaten myself to a pulp if every one of these events didn't go off without a flaw and without me exceeding expectations all around.  I've lived a life where I've been exceptionally good at creating my own prisons, and so it is a real milestone for me to move away from this and just focus on what is truly important.

So the house was full of dog hair tumbleweeds and my mother-in-law got the stomach flu during her visit; we also tore all over Boston with the little man and had a blast, watching chick flicks together and spending quality time (and shout out to her: she was an absolute trooper about catching our virulent flu strain).   So I was exceptionally pale and still in possession of about ten pounds of so-called "baby weight" standing next to my friend at her wedding (not my original plan);  I was there to hold her hand while she had her make-up done, and feed her protein bars when her blood sugar was low and really be present and participate in the day.  So my charoset was pretty average and not-at-all gourmet, and we had to leave the Seder before even eating it anyway as the little guy was melting down and ready for bed; we spent time with favorite family friends and got a to-go package of matzoh ball soup which we ate on the couch in front of the Daily Show (which was kind of perfect in its own way).  And for Easter?  We planned a three-item menu that practically cooked itself.  So there.  By dialing down expectations and anticipating and embracing imperfection, I'm finding I'm enjoying life so, so much more.

My wish for our generation of women is that we all break out of these prisons imposed on us by society and ourselves, let go of the need to have everything be just so, and settle for good enough.  I think there is a fear that if we do this, we are selling ourselves out for a life of mediocrity. I'm starting to firmly believe that this is not so.  Only through accepting and embracing the flaws of life do we open ourselves up to experience the totality of it all.  The moments of truest perfection lie in the embrace of the imperfect.


  1. You are awesome.

  2. AMEN, SISTAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thank you for writing about my life just now, and giving me both perspective, and permission.

    "My wish for our generation of women is that we all break out of these prisons imposed on us by society and ourselves, let go of the need to have everything be just so, and settle for good enough."

    I read this, and was immediately struck with both hope and terror. Telling, no? I will spend a good bit of time reflecting on your words in this post.

    And at the risk of feeding in to our perfectionism, I really must say that you ARE exceptional in so many ways, and being "only" good enough with the day-to-day will NEVER compromise that.

  3. In being a bridesmaid to this bride, you were absolute perfection. And you looked totally beautiful. I love you SMJ.

  4. "Perfection is the Enemy of Excellence

    Excellence is willing to be wrong.
    Perfection is being right.
    Excellence is risk.
    Perfection is fear.
    Excellence is powerful.
    Perfection is anger and frustration.
    Excellence is spontaneous.
    Perfection is control.
    Excellence is accepting.
    Perfection is judgment.
    Excellence is giving.
    Perfection is taking.
    Excellence is confidence.
    Perfection is doubt.
    Excellence is flowing.
    Perfection is pressure.
    Excellence is journey.
    Perfection is destination."

  5. besides, there is far more beauty & grace in imperfection.

  6. I needed this after another day of getting the house ready to "show" with two dogs and two kids trying to undo my every effort. Its so hard to remember to just freakin relax. Thanks for writing this...