The thing that is really hard, and really amazing,
is giving up on being perfect
and beginning the work of becoming yourself
– Anna Quindlen
Sometimes, at night, as I go to bed and my brain slowly turns off the thinking, winds down the planning for the next day and I get to briefly go over the day’s tasks and tick off some of them with pride, in between “real life” and the “dream time”, I see her, Wonder Woman, smiling at me softly and encouraging me to let go.
“Go to sleep, Ronit. You’ve done your best. The world will still be there waiting for you tomorrow. Close your eyes. Everything will be just fine”, she says, and as I dose off, she whispers, “Sweet dreams”.
Last week, I met one of my clients from a few years ago and we had a great time together. She said to me, “Come on, Ronit, tell me what you’re doing now”, so I spent the next 15 minutes telling her about all the different things I was doing.
When I finished, she asked, “Really? When do you have the time to do all that?”
I smiled. Good question. I was not sure I had the answer.
“Ronit, you’re Wonder Woman!” she said, “You’re amazing. Everything you do is so perfect”.
Although I was flattered for a while, as I imagined myself being the perfect “Wonder Woman”, the compliment quickly faded. I do have my wonders, but perfect I am not. Everyone wants to be successful at what they do, but success and perfection are not really related.
“Thanks, but the real wonder is not in doing everything perfectly but in choosing what to focus on”, I said to her.
Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things,
but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well
– Angelique Arnauld
Life through Photoshop
If you want to understand what was going in my mind, try to think about your definition of Superman and Wonder Woman. I am sure every time you see a photo in a magazine, you add another item to that definition. I am sure most women in the world would want to be as beautiful, as any gorgeous girl/woman in the photo so I would think it is safe to think that “you are Wonder Woman if you have managed to find the equivalent to a Photoshop program – the one that covers the flows and irons out the wrinkles of experience and preferably, with the touch of a button”.
I think that definition would fit as well to guys/men. In the magazines and in all the fairy tale movies, most of the guys are good looking with strong muscles (preferably without a shirt to see their six-pack), great hair and lots of money. They are amazing lovers and have all the time in the world to do sports, travel, live in luxurious homes and drive fast sports cars – all they need is a Photoshop program to cover the gray hair (if they do not have the courage to dye) and hide the tummy or the dark circles around the eyes from lack of sleep and worry.
Unfortunately, we all fall into the Photoshop trap as we are very influenced by media, fashion and popularity. Celebrities contribute greatly to a society that is trying to fit into a very narrow definition of Superman and Wonder Woman, all of which is a disguise for making people buy, buy and buy things in order to feel young, famous, strong or popular.
The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is
– Oscar Wilde
Superdad and Wonder Mom
Unfortunately, family people – Superdad and Wonder Mom – are in a bigger trap. While they may have barely fit into that narrow definition of perfection as young people, this turned into an enormous challenge when they became parents, responsible for young, dependent kids and having to accommodate a partner. As parents, the requirements for perfectionism are a lot tougher. Good looks no longer do the trick.
As we discuss in my parenting workshop about the definition of good parenting, the self demands to perform, to succeed and to accomplish are so high that parents do not even stand a chance. At night, when Superman and Wonder Woman encourage them to let go and whisper “Sweet dreams”, they never listen. In their mind, they cannot afford to listen. Here is what they think instead.
Superdad works in a highly-paid managing position or has his own, very successful business (that became successful as soon as he thought about it). He earns lots of money. He earns more than his wife and is a wonderful provider for his family. His salary/income is enough for a luxury house, a least two new cars, private schooling for the kids and expensive after school activities.
Every day, Superdad goes to the gym or exercises for at least half an hour, rain or shine (must keep those muscles toned). He spends lots of time with the kids, helps them with their homework, comes to all their performances at school, puts them to bed and reads them a book every night.
Superdad is a great cook (he knows that this is the way to a woman’s heart). He shares the cleaning in the house equally with pleasure. Superdad maintains an efficient household inside an out and still has time to meet with friends and have an expensive hobby.
Superdad is good looking with lots of muscles and he is never ever tired. He can get up at 5am (to exercise and prepare the kids’ lunches) and go to sleep when the clock strikes midnight, only to get up again refreshed, energized and relaxed. He is calm, sensitive and has all the time in the world to be with his wife and go out with her to the theatre, movies, restaurants and romantic trips overseas (without the kids).
Wonder Mom is a successful career woman or runs her own business. She earns lots of money, but is happy for her partner to earn more (who needs trouble?). She looks like a million dollars, as if she was taken out of the cover of a magazine. Her hair and nails are always done and she wears full make up every minutes of the day.
Wonder Mom also goes to the gym. She is slim, yet curvy in the “right places”. She meets the “girls” for coffee and cake every day, but the coffee and the cake make no difference to her figure (because they are made from diet water, diet coffee and diet cake – 20% fat free). These outings also do not disturb her time table.
Wonder Mom’s skin glows and she looks 10 years younger than her friends. Her clothes are always in fashion and she buys brand names. She is an awesome mother and takes the kids to and from school every day. She makes sure the kids eat healthy food and do all their homework. She is also a great driver from and to piano class or soccer.
Wonder Mom’s kids are well mannered and smart (they get only A’s and are talented and friendly), all thanks to her.
Wonder Mom is an excellent cook (no cooking course, she is just a natural) and has vast knowledge of nutrition. She absolutely loves cleaning the house (especially the toilet). She never wakes up at night or gets sick and she can manage easily with 3 hours of sleep.
Oh, I forgot to mention that both Wonder Mom and Superdad are magical not because they can do all these things, but because they can do them effortlessly.
When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target
– George Fisher
Success and perfectionism
I do not really have a problem with aspiring to be some ideal person, like Wonder Woman or Superman. I think it is natural to want to be all that and to want life to be successful, happy and easy. What I find problematic is the feeling of completion people talk about only if all those self-requirements are met. In other words, I do not have a problem with the desire to be wonderful but with its close link to perfectionism.
Wonder Women and Supermen can be divided to two groups – those who would love to be super but understand that Christopher Reeve was an actor and his feats were created by hundreds of crew members and lots of special effects and those who think Superman is real.
As I have said many times, perfectionism creates the feeling of inadequacy. Instead of helping people aim for good, it highlights the failures and the things that do not work. In a disguise of improvement, they are critics and in a disguise of honesty they are judgmental and the worst part is that this inadequacy state is their comfort zone. When they go to sleep, instead of thinking of all their achievements, they think of what they have not done. Instead of thinking that tomorrow is an opportunity, they look for signs that tomorrow will be as bad.
Both kinds of people juggle life. One of them will live his whole life searching for the Photoshop program to cover up the challenges and problems and die thinking life was tough because he was just not lucky enough to find the program and the other one will let go of the search and develop some independent mindset that understands that the challenges and problems make us creative and strong.
I can see many successful people around me. Looking for the things they all have in common brings me to the conclusion that each of them is wonderful and super at what they chose to focus on. Why? Because they have made a good choice of battles.
The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best
– Henry van Dyke
Choose your battles
When I wrote the description of Superman and Wonder Woman, I could find many contradictions. Even in coaching, I tell my clients to focus on 3 things they would like to achieve – in between being the perfect mother and amazing life coach, healthy, energetic and good looking – it is advisable to live. I am not sure that the battles are the same for everyone. If you ask yourself what is most important to you, you will find it is not easy to choose, but in fact, you are making this choice every day.
Is it more important to go to sleep or go to the movies with your partner until midnight (Ronit did say every couple should have a date once a week, but I still have to get up at 6 to take the kids to musical ensemble rehearsal).
Is it more important to go to the gym or make the kids’ lunches? Well, I can get up one hour earlier and go to the gym before the kids get up! After the movie night? Some people can get up at 5am. It is not the end of the world!
Is it more important to stay at work one more hour for a special meeting or be at your daughter’s dance performance (why do they have to make the performances at the end of the month, especially when we need to submit the end of month report? Plus she is going to dance for, like, 2 minutes)?
Is it more important to buy fresh ingredients and make healthy food or to save time and do the laundry by buying fast food and frozen pizza? Is it not a win-win situation? Kids enjoy junk food, parents enjoy the time saved (it sure saves some dishwashing liquid, because we throw fast food wrappings straight to the bin – no pots to wash). No one will die from a pizza or hamburger night. Worst case they will be sick and I will take time off to be with them at home. I have an understanding boss, even if it happens at the end of the month when we need to submit the end of month report… We can go to the movies in the time we save. Hmm… Have you noticed that movies are now longer than ever?
Is it more important to clean the house or to help the kids do their homework? Maybe both? Not a problem, we can pay for our kids’ A’s. I will just stay at work one more hour and get a tutor to help my kids with their homework. It is unbelievable what kids need to know today. Maybe the tutor can wash the dishes while helping the kids with their homework… Well, this is too overwhelming. I think I will go to the movies! Dishes can wait until tomorrow! I will get up an hour earlier and do some cleaning. Oh, wait, that gives me 4 hours of sleep. Never mind. Sleeping is a waste of time anyway…
I could play this game forever and lose, because something has got to give. It is in letting go of some things that we can build others. To achieve anything, we must also give something up. My bother-in-law is a champion runner and superior at it. Every day, he lets go of his desire to stay in bed. Every meal, he lets go of his desire to eat things that would hurt his performance and every year, sometimes twice a year, he flies to a training camp in Kenya for 2-3 months and lets go of his desire to be with his family and a his newborn son. Everyone says he is a Superman, because he has his own business and he is successful and a family man and the most wonderful person, but only because he was focused and did not feel any guilt about making his choices.
Perfectionism is the enemy of creation,
as extreme self-solitude is the enemy of well-being
– John Updike
Every day, with every action we take, we choose to pay attention to things that are important to us and let go of the things that are less important. Something has got to give!
At the beginning of the year, I talked about clearing the space to allow new energy to come in (see Renew Your Mental Energy). It is a law of nature that with every choice we make, we let go of all other possible choices, because at that point in time, the choice we made was more important.
In life, we need to clearly define our self concept when wonder has nothing to do with being perfect if we want to allow success and comfort to reside in our hearts.
So instead of saying, “I didn’t have money to do that”, say, “I made a choice to do something else that was more important to me with my money”.
Instead of saying, “I didn’t get a chance to study this”, say, “I made a choice to take advantage of something else that seemed better for me at the time”.
Instead of saying, “I don’t have time to go to the gym”, say, “I choose to spend that hour riding the bicycle with my daughter”.
Instead of saying, “I do not have the skills”, say, “I made a choice to develop other skills that I am very happy about”.
Instead of saying, “My house looks a mess with toys around”, say, “I have made a choice to develop my kids and give them more opportunities to learn new things with their toys”.
Instead of saying, “I can’t go out with my husband to the movies (just because Ronit said every couple should have a date every week), because my parents do not live close by and I don’t have a babysitter”, say, “I have made a choice to live on the other side of the world to give myself and my kids an opportunity to experience amazingly wonderful adventures”.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in
– Leonard Cohen
Wonder Woman and Superman are inside each of us and what makes them wonderful and super is their striving to be the best they can be. Their amazing ability is not in being prefect or able to do everything but in their focus and understanding that life is full of choices and we always do the best we can with it.
Superman and Wonder Woman make the same choices as others do but they stay true to their choices even if they are not effortless and do not seem to result in fame and glory, huge success, gorgeous figure, lots of money and endless time. Their ability to choose their battles is their magic and a source of admiration. They practice their wonder when they dose off into the night and look at Wonder Woman or Superman and say, “I’m off to sleep now. The world will wait. I did my best today. I’m making the choice to let go and rest now and I know everything will be fine”. And as their eyes close, they whisper to the wonder inside of them, “Sweet dreams”.
Let go! Everything will be alright.
Everything is perfect in the universe – even your desire to improve it
– Wayne Dyer
I wanted to write “Be Happy”, because this is what I want to wish you, but I guess the most appropriate greeting today is just “Be”.