I used to be a perfectionist.Those who really know me may find this a humorous admission, because I have never had many of the visible symptoms of a typical perfectionist. I do not wear make up every day. Some days my clothes, or those of my children, are a little wrinkled. My house is not perfectly neat, my lawn and my finger nails are not perfectly manicured, and I have never served as a member of the PTA.
So, what made me a perfectionist? Expectations. Completely unrealistic, ridiculous expectations. I used to put these expectations on myself. They created unnecessary anxiety and stress, which rendered me unable to find true joy in my daily tasks. Joy was present, but always competing with those nasty expectations.
Most of these expectations sprang up from a deep well of guilt. They have taken many forms over the years, but in my early adulthood, they usually sounded something like this: “You know, you really should go see ______________ (fill in the relative) for _______________ (fill in the holiday). You should really take a turn baking, organizing, supervising _______________ (fill in the activity), because Billy’s mom always does it. You should really show up to help ______________________ (fill in the cause), because those people have real needs. What is your problem? Get it together.”
These things used to really bother me, and I felt a deep-rooted obligation to participate in every volunteer opportunity that crossed my path. I always said, “I can’t do everything,” but that guilty obligation made me believe that I should.
Unrealistic expectations didn’t only consume my desire to over-participate, they also consumed my day-to-day life. Simple things created undue amounts of anxiety. Having company? Anxiety. Getting ready for church with small children? Anxiety. Unfinished laundry, vacuuming, food shopping? Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety. It’s not that any of these things in and of themselves are anxiety producing, but the looming knowledge that they had to be done created an uneasy feeling in my spirit that was difficult to shake.
Anxiety was just part of me, so that the people around me didn’t necessarily see it for what it was, and for a long time I don’t think I did either. I could function in all my daily roles, and even do them fairly well. But unchecked anxiety is a constant companion, and it often robbed me of true joy and peace, squeezing my chest in a way that kept me from completely living in the moment.
Then, several years ago, a friend gave me a book about finding true freedom through the Bible. I spent an entire summer praying through that book, releasing my anxieties in Jesus’ name. It was amazing. I felt a peace and freedom that I had never felt before. Living without the burden of anxiety didn’t change who I am, it made me embrace who I am, because I could finally see who I am in Christ. I praised God for my new-found freedom and began enjoying the moments of my life in new ways.
But still, guilt lingered. And sometimes, anxiety would try to work its way back in. That guilt that obligated me to sign up. To say yes. To be an overachieving participator. That anxiety that told me past rejections could never be fully restored, that I would never be what I longed to be: good enough.
And then I turned 35. On my 35th birthday, I decided that I would no longer overachieve, even if I was really only overachieving in my own mind. I would no longer entertain the past hurts that I had already released to Jesus. I would still do the things I had done before, but not with the same level of anxiety. Or expectation. And sometimes, I wouldn’t do everything I had done before. I would simply do what I could, and no more. And I wouldn’t feel anxious about
it. Or guilty. And that would be good enough.
This process of releasing expectations for me is embracing mediocrity. Embracing mediocrity means that if you come over for dinner, you may be eating soup and grilled cheese, but you will be visiting with a relaxed hostess who knows that if you expected steak for supper, you would have gone to Outback instead. Embracing mediocrity means taking each day, each moment, as it comes, and enjoying it for what it is, rather than trying to make it something more, when it doesn’t need to be. It means letting it go, whatever it is, because it was never really mine to control anyway.