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Posts from the ‘The Outer Banks’ Category

Perfectionism: A Killer of Dreams (or what I learned from dinosaurs)

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Illustration by Charmaine Olivia

I’ll never forget waking up out of a dead sleep when I was in third grade. I bolted upright in bed in a cold sweat. I was having a panic attack at the age of nine.

For weeks I had been researching, writing, and illustrating a report about dinosaurs. I’d drawn my creatures with colored pencil precision and meticulously penned every word.  My report was, well, perfect. Pleased with my finished product, I put it in a clasp binder, decorated the cover, and went to bed.

Fast forward to my panic attack. No, those paleontological beasts weren’t haunting my dreams. What was terrifying me was the thought that I might get less than an A+ on my report. I turned on the lights, retrieved my magnum opus, and flipped through the pages. Was Triceratops’ head too large? Was Brontosaurus the wrong shade of brown? Suddenly, my dinosaurs were all wrong and I was out of time.

Photo: Marlia Cochran

I am happy to report that I am now a recovering perfectionist. It took me years and a lot of failure and not doing much about a lot of things to realize I wasn’t perfect. Of course, everyone who knew me already knew this, but it’s something I had to learn.

So I’m here today to talk to you about perfectionism and why you need to ditch it. In the past 24 hours I have read not one, but three, blog posts about perfectionism, and I knew it was a sign that I needed to write about this great Killer of Dreams.

The first post was from thought leader, Seth Godin, entitled “No one reads a comic strip because its drawn well.” He closes by saying this: “As creators, our pursuit of perfection might be misguided, particularly if it comes at the expense of the things that matter.” And what matters is that we create. That we do the thing we’re passionate about to the best of our ability and let the rest go.

The second post from Brain Pickings was sent to me by friend and fellow writer, J. Dana Trent. It was a reminder from Anne Lamott about why perfectionism kills creativity:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft . . .

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

When one of my kindergarteners messes up a picture they’re drawing, I refuse to give them a clean sheet of paper. “You didn’t mess up,” I tell them confidently. “You just have to figure out how to make something wonderful out of what you have.” And they do, and soon they are all smiles because they’ve learned an exciting truth: every mistake, every failure, every misstep is an opportunity for growth.

Which leads me to the third quote from our old friend, Mister Rogers:

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And that’s what growing up is all about. So, as we face the coming year with all of its perfectly terrifying and exciting challenges, let’s defy small by stomping out perfectionism. How?

  • Do your best.
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short.
  • Pick yourself up and keep going.

Because that is the perfect solution for making your dreams come true.

Stop hitting the snooze button (reflections from my week at the beach)

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“Life goes by in about three weeks, so be here for it. Stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up! That’s why you’re here.” ~ Anne Lamott

I just got back from a week at my beloved Outer Banks. For those of you who don’t know about the OBX, it is the fragile thread of barrier islands running along our magnificent North Carolina coast. My brother lives there and it is my second home, so, naturally, I headed that way when my spring break began.

I stayed in a little cottage like this one in a place called Pelican Shores. I arrived exhausted, burned out from too many mornings of rising at five and working late into the night. But a girl does what a girl’s got to do, and so I have. Now it was time to stop, breathe in the salt air, and reset my spirit.DSCN2275

One of the ways I keep from losing my sanity as I move through life is by reading the musings of Anne Lamott. She is now on Facebook and if you’re not following her, you should. This woman truly does live out loud. And that’s why I’m drawn to her. Anne has the rare gift of putting her raw, unfiltered, gloriously imperfect self out there for all the world to see.

And that brings me to the snooze button. Anne was about to go on a book tour last week and I was reading a post she had written about what she was packing, where she was going, and what she might say, when she said (in her thought-provoking, Anne Lamott way):

The most important thing I will say tonight is that life goes by in about three weeks, so be here for it. Stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up! That’s why you’re here.

Yeah, baby! my inner voice resounded. But wait. I’ve probably already lived at least two of those weeks. Perhaps I need to start thinking about Week #3.

So I left for spring break with Week #3 very much on my mind. I brought along my computer, a suitcase of books, and my joie de vie, so I felt I was well prepared.

What insights about Week #3 did I glean from my week at the beach?

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My writing spot.

1. Stay awake. Be present. Enjoy every moment. I rose with the sun each morning and enjoyed coffee in my pjs before heading out for the day. I ate lots of local seafood. I enjoyed some great wines. I took afternoon naps and drives along the beach. And I found a funky little place to hole up and write.

2. Make time for those you love. I spent time with my beloved brother, my nieces, and a cherished friend. Hugs and kisses, laughing and lingering, are good for the soul.

My brother Horace at The Brine and Bottle

My brother Horace at The Brine and Bottle

3. Beauty is all around you. Drink it in. A friend of mine lives in a lake house nestled in the woods. This former New York/London/LA dweller now loves feeding the geese that frequent his lakeside shore. “There are no bad days in nature,” he says. Take time to enjoy the beauty of creation. And don’t forget to stop and thank the Creator.

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4. You don’t need much. The older I get, the less stuff I need. Or even want. A friend once shared with me the secret of Europe’s relaxed and happy cafe dwellers: They don’t have a lot of stuff. Most have a modest dwelling. A nice leather jacket, a few pairs of jeans, and comfortable walking shoes. They share a passion for good food, good wine, and good friends, and, of course, travel. And they set time aside to enjoy all of the above.

5. Be grateful. Every day is a gift. Wake up and be thankful.

6. Give back. Discover and develop your passions and talents. Then use them to bring blessing and joy to others. Make a difference while you can.

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7. Don’t take anything (or anyone) for granted.

Doing this thing called life is simple, really. But day in, day out, we forget. Sometimes we just have to get away and be reminded that life is short and we need to stay awake for it.

What are you doing to stay awake? I’d love to hear your story.

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