One of the faults I am most aware of in myself is the desire to “do it right,” and that goes for anything, from how I get out of bed in the morning to interacting with animals, people, and even the feelings in my heart and the voices in my head. At first that may seem a strength, perfectionism has its perks and many of life’s tasks are best learned using other’s experience. My innate intelligence, desire to learn, and ability to mimic made me pretty good at many things relatively quickly. However, believing there was and wanting to do it “the right way” is not the same thing as wanting to be better, so a disproportionately large portion of my life was spent taking classes, reading books, studying others, trying to learn the “right” way to live instead of living. I was frozen, stuck in my past choices, wondering which road would lead me out of the the dark, dreary wood.
I kept gorging myself on large helpings of this spirituality or that self-help book. I owned a dozen books each on how to parent, how to write, how to cook, how to sew, how to house clean, how to decorate on a budget,how to knit, how to crochet, how to exercise, how to lose weight, how to be happy, how to be grateful, how to be a good person, etc. Sometimes I would start the project, a few I even completed but I was still a fat (actually not really), sedentary, unhappy person who “almost finished” everything, I rarely even completed a craft project. I knew I was a fake, I was doing life all wrong and although at the time I was regularly completing paid writing projects, I was never even starting all the crazy ideas in my head that mattered to me. I felt I was a failure at all of it, and so I just kept looking for the “right” answer that would make it all, make me, okay.
I wish I could pinpoint the epiphany moment, but I think it was more of a gradual process. In the early 90’s I knew I was running away from a failed relationship and a belief I had failed at life and I realized how scattered I was. I was fleeing me, although to the world it looked like a move towards a writing spot on a smaller paper more in-line with my beliefs I espoused and a chance to focus on parenting-friendly and insurance-granting stability of multi-store retail management.
In preparation for flight, I was packing box after box of books to donate or sell and do remember realizing that I had read hundreds of how to books but “done” none of them for very long, if at all. So I carefully picked and packed a box of those books I meant to actually put into practice once my now much smaller family and I were settled in Albuquerque, because in this new place, I was going to do it right, the way my friends thought I should.
And I did. I burned my politically incorrect bridges and road off onto the sunset to do it right this time.
I was “doing it right”. The company I worked for helped us find an apartment in the right part of town for the right price, I was doing Yoga daily, cooking nutritious meals for the boys, reading my meditations, writing in my Journal. As a journalist I was covering things like “Womyn’s Festival” and as retail manager I turning a nice profit at the two stores and making all my goals at work. That lasted all of about 4 months, maybe 5, and the rug was pulled out from underneath me when I came to work one day and the doors were chained shut. That is someone else’s tale, but lets just say the owners son had been using interstate shipments for more than stocking the store shelves. I was without a job except for the pittance I was earning at the paper, and then two months after that, they folded. Everything fell apart. Long story short, I ended up homeless for the second time in my life, only this time I had Wil, Rick and Dallon to take care of as well.
So just like the little claymation Christmas characters, I started putting one foot in front of the other again, building a life the books, and magazines and friends and family told me I should have. I was the little train that could. Of course my “doing it right” castle of sand crumbled again and again. And the next (but not final) time, not only were we temporarily without a place to call home (this time due to my health, no FMLA benefits, chemo) but someone had stolen every single thing we owned right down to baby pictures and underwear. So again I did what I thought was the “right” thing, and I agreed to move in with and marry a man who was seriously courting me, said he would take care of me and my boys; and I married the right situation again even though my gut opposed the idea, and yea that was the final sand castle.
Today, I don’t believe there is a “right” way to do things. I do believe there are rules that make functionality improve or deteriorate, like never stirring sour dough starter with a metal spoon or never licking metal sleds when its zero degrees outside. I also believe that there are many people who have tested and tried behaviors and are willing to report their own findings which I incorporate into my daily life without trying the same experiments myself.
But when push comes to shove, the only way I can ever be good at anything is just to do it, frequently badly, many times over before I show improvement. Today I still own a plethora of cookbooks, craft books, spirituality writings and even a few self-help books. The difference is now I implement the author’s suggestions and if the “do” fits, I wear it.
That is how I, or anyone else, can actually do anything;by listening to their own instincts and then doing it, allowing for the fact they may do it badly at first, and second, and sometimes third. Achievements are sometimes easy, sometimes hard, but achievement always take action.
I still write professionally today, although I try to avoid a byline, instead I write the things that matter to me. I do that today by putting pen to paper (or often like now, fingers to keyboard) for the time or the goal I have allotted. I am currently in the infancy of a writing project I would never have attempted, even five years ago, that just may be the most important thing I have ever written. I believe this not because I have a lucrative contract, or that others would even get why I am pursuing it, but because my gut tells me it is important.
My gut is pretty smart. My gut also led me to pursue nursing as a profession; to travel to London with a friend; to take a patient to Kenya as a volunteer; to take that job at Borders; to start a game night; make friends with Jen, Sara, Anne, Regina, Angela, Pat, Gil and others, to train for a Sprint Triathlon. Basically my gut has pushed me in the direction of all that is good in my life today. My gut gave me the direction but then I have said hello, got the passport, said yes, put pen to paper, studied for classes, took the tests, put my face in the water, feet on the pedals, and went the distance.
And that is what I know to be true for me today. If I am hiding something, or making excuses, or feeling stuck today, I will still probably pick up a how to book, but more importantly I will meditate, journal and talk to the universe (some might say I am just talking to myself, that’s OK too, I just believe its more than that) figure out where I got turned around, what I need to accept, what I need to change, where I need to go next and if I need help to get there, and then with my goal chosen, I start moving.
When two roads diverge in a yellow wood today, I will still have a moment of freezing and wondering which the right one is, but then I breathe and I just take one…..