On “Being Perfect”
The same pile of books has sat on my bed side table since we moved a year and a half ago. My current reads come and go but this pile of books has remained. Today, I picked up one, brought it downstairs and read.
I have read Anna Quindlen’s Being Perfect a few times but not in a long time. I read it today with thoughts of Caroline who is completely consumed with perfection in all areas of her life right now. I was hoping to find a word or two of wisdom to share.
I found many including…
“Trying to be perfect may be inevitable for people who are smart and ambitious and interested in the world and its good opinion. But at one level it’s too hard and at another, it’s too cheap and easy. Because all it really requirers of you, mainly is to read the zeitgeist of wherever and whenever you happen to be and to assume the masks necessary to be the best at whatever the zeitgeist dictates or requires.”
“I was mesmerized by that phrase: effortless perfection. Obviously it is an oxymoron. Even the illusion of perfection requires an enormous amount of work.”
I had Caroline in my mind the whole time I was reading until I arrived at this line…
“There’s some muscle group around your shoulders that seizes up during the perfection dance and doesn’t let go until you are asleep, or alone. Or maybe it never really lets go at all.”
Hmmm. Over the last few months, I have done many things to try to get my body back in to shape to run. I have always exercised but had to give up running a few years ago because my shoulders became painfully tight during and after a run. I have tried many types of exercises, classes and programs. In fact, Rob jokes that I have been to every gym in Bergen County.
While, ironically, I think I may have found the perfect combination at the moment, I had to read the sentence above over and over again. I know that running is part of why my shoulders are tight. But that said, I know my shoulders have always been tight and I know they have been tight because of the ‘perfection dance.’
I have vivid memories of walking down my high school hallway, Mr. Sphoer’s history room on the left and Mrs. Barrows geometry room on the right and feeling my shoulders creeping up to my ears. I did then and do now remind myself constantly to lower my shoulders. To take deep, slow breaths. I have never been good at stopping the ‘perfection dance’ myself, of giving my shoulders a rest. Perhaps, as I think about the role model I must be for Caroline, I can find a way to relax those muscles once and for all…
Good grief…it must be a family trait as I use my shoulders as earrings daily. As I approach my first tennis match of the season, I will try and remember some of the quotes above because all the fun is taken out of tennis while trying to be perfect and win!
I lovet that visual! My shoulders are earrings too and not the dangly kind! Happy tennis playing!
For me it’s my jaw and neck, but yes, I get this. I need to read more AQ. She’s so inspiring and wise. And funny about your multiple gyms–I just joined the Y and almost forgot that I have to quit the “other gym” that I (almost never) went to. 🙂
I thing I want to be Anna Quindlen when I grow up! And ouch- jaw and neck- a whole different kind of discomfort.
I’m like Kristen, it’s my jaw, which I grind without even realizing it. I love Anna. And relate so much to what you say about Caroline. Sigh. On these girls, so much complexity, so much wonder, so much beauty. xox
So much everything right now with the girls, right? It is a amazing and exhausting all at the same time.
AQ spoke at my college graduation and her speech was an early version of this book before it was published. It’s one of my all time favorites. And yes – feeling it in the shoulders regularly. Yoga helps but I have to go on a regular basis or they’ll start creeping up again…
Oh! You are so lucky to have seen Anna Quindlen in person- I would love to hear her speak. And yes to yoga. It has fallen out of my routine and I am paying the price!
I’ve read Anna Quinlan’s work in the past, but for some reason Being Perfect is a book I have not explored. Many of the quotes resonated and I struggle to teach my eight-year-old daughter on celebrating imperfection and flaws. (Mine manifests in my jaw as well – teeth grinding and all).
So crazy that we have to talk about perfection with our eight year olds! My girls are 11 and 8 and while my 11 year old is most definitely a perfectionist, I am starting to see signs in my 8 year old as well…
Countless acupuncturists and massage therapists have made a small fortune in an effort to get my shoulders to relax! I’ve attributed it to many things over the years, and finally chalked it up to that big catchall bucket: “stress”. But your post have given me pause…thanks for sharing.
Ah… you are now the third person that has mentioned acupuncture. That’s one I haven’t tried yet 🙂
It’s my jaw too. And just an all around tightening around the shoulders and neck area!
Ugh! Jaw and shoulder combination is not at all fun!!
the fact that you are willing to confront your own history of perfectionism and willingness to help guide your daughters away from it is so very admirable and courageous.