By: Christine Watkins
I’ve got this woman who lives behind me who constantly shares her negative thoughts and opinions even if I don’t feel like listening. I call her Fanny because she’s a pain in the ass… She shows up unannounced all of the time and is never a welcomed guest. Ever. Just when I am having a great day and begin to feel very proud of the words I’ve written, the delicious dinner I’ve made, or a gift I’ve created, she rears her ugly “Fannyesque” head and shouts out a criticism. Do you really think someone will read that?!?! Are you sure you didn’t add too much garlic?!?! That kind of looks like a kindergartner made it!! I don’t know where this evil woman came from but perhaps she is simply the collective voice for every criticism I’ve ever heard in this life. The collective voice reminding me to play it safe and avoid risks. The collective voice constantly reminding me that homogony is best in every situation. I never invite her in, but she’s always behind me because Fanny is the inner critic inside my mind. I have made many attempts at thwarting her in order to live more freely and creatively, but these attempts have been fairly unsuccessful…until recently.
I was on a flight home from a conference when Fanny was in rare form. She was berating me for my outfit choices and second guessing every word I had spoken for the four days I was away from home. It was then that I had an epiphany that I needed to try and make friends with Fanny and greet her kindly when she arrives instead of trying to run from her, or worse yet, engage in her madness and agree with her.
This. Epiphany. Was. Huge. However, I recognized that it was going to take a lot of work on my part. I decided I was going to have to do two things in order to create a long lasting shift in my life and stop looking to Fanny for guidance or punishment: First, I needed to honestly take a look at and acknowledge my own perfectionistic qualities, and second, each and every time I acknowledge them, think of how much I appreciate authentic people in my life and dislike being around perfectionists who are constantly trying to alleviate their own discomfort by proving to me that they are perfect. How could it be that I admire authentic people so much, but struggle to be authentic myself? I could make this change, right?
The first creative endeavor I accomplished after this epiphany was to write a blog for work. Fanny sat in my office with me the entire time, but I chose to invite her. I listened to her critiques, but continued to write anyway. And, you know what, when my blog went live on our website, I got really great feedback. Who knew?
Secondly, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house with way too many people for our small dining room and allowed everyone to bring a dish. I gave up the need to cook and control everything in order for it to be “perfect” and coached myself through the process by remembering a dinner party at a friend’s house that couldn’t have been more enjoyable or delicious…even after her dog took a dump next to the perfectly set table right before we sat down. That dinner party was so remarkable because her dog completely broke down any perfectionism in the room by being his authentic geriatric self. After that, we dined on incredible food, drank a bit too much wine, and laughed all night. This being said, my Thanksgiving feast went off similarly albeit my dog was on his best behavior.
Third, I have dried all of the herbs from my summer herb garden and created small gifts for Christmas presents. I designed the labels and hand wrote messages on them. When Fanny chuckled at how immature the labels looked, I laughed with her thinking about how much my dear foodie friends will enjoy using these gifts and how thankful I am that I actually made them this year instead of letting the plants succumb to the winter weather.
Fanny and I may always find ourselves dancing through this interplay of perfectionism and creativity, but I am beginning to see our dance becoming more like a waltz and less like a tango. With less resistance, we synchronize our steps together gently reminding each other of our individual presence, as well as, taking accountability for each of our parts in this dance of life. And now, I am beginning to relish in the awareness that I am becoming more like the authentic and creative people I admire in my life and less like a person who is trying to gain the approval of others…in particular, the approval of Fanny.