Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

I like things to be a certain way.

You might not know it by looking at my piling habit (something I am gaining more and more control of each month, which is good because "Pile Management" was in my wedding vows), but I am very organized.

I keep lists. I plan. I love good organizational systems. I color code. I have binders.

This can all be very fine and good, especially as a teacher. Planning is the difference between order and chaos (with"order" being relative of course, there's no room for creativity if everything's TOTALLY ordered), between getting stuff done and swimming in a sea of stress. Planning helps me manage household stuff. Preparation is important to me -- I hate, hate, HATE going into things unprepared.

There's a downside to this, though. Something I discovered with a vengeance during our whole infertility/adoption journey. Because there are things you can plan, and there's things that you just...can't. All the preparation in the world doesn't actually change some outcomes. I have a beautiful flowered box in my closet that is proof of that -- it's filled with all my notebooks and records and folders and pictures and protocols and binders, all things I kept track of through both medical and adoption processes, to the point of obsession. I also have a plastic tub filled with things from our nursery I can't bear to part with, so that's also proof that all that planning was helpful in some ways for keeping me relatively sane, but it didn't change the outcome. And in some ways, I think my efforts to create some order in the incredible chaos that is trying to get pregnant/waiting to be matched, actually caused me more stress than necessary. It made me feel like I had some semblance of control, and when it was apparent that we had NONE (negative tests, inability to transfer, miscarriage, not getting matched, not getting profiled, not having that "click" moment in adoption), it broke me. "But I kept LISTS! But I LOGGED ALL MY VALUES! But I spent FOREVER on a profile book!" None of it mattered, in the end.

This is why I suck at puzzles. My mom gave me a puzzle for Christmas, a 1000 piece lighthouse garden thing. We had a day or two of pure relaxation at home before heading out to Vermont, so I set it up on the coffee table. I thought it would be fun.

Oh holy jeezum, it became an exercise in torture. I set out all the pieces that had edges. I got the edge done except for ONE PIECE that completely eluded me. I searched and searched but couldn't find it, so I had to make do with an ALMOST complete frame. It bugged me.

Then I set about putting other pieces together. I probably sank a good 10 hours into this puzzle, grumbling and bitching about it the whole time I tried to piece together cherry blossoms and pansy containers and walkways and tulips.

"Why don't you just stop doing it if you hate it so much?" Bryce said, as he sat on the couch reading, which is what I really wanted to be doing.

"BECAUSE, even though I am not really enjoying myself, I CAN'T STOP. I NEED to keep going, I NEED to get it done."

I didn't get it done before we had to leave, and so I covered it with magazines in hopes the cats wouldn't destroy it in my absence. Wishful thinking. Our housesitter texted me that she kept finding pieces on the floor, and I just pulled the plug and told her it was okay to just put it all in the box.

I wanted to finish it. I felt compelled to finish it. I wanted to get it perfectly, awesomely done, and it wasn't realistic in the time I had, nor was it truly enjoyable. (100 piece mini puzzles are a different story. I need something I can accomplish in one sitting otherwise it becomes obsessively unenjoyable.) I wanted to be doing other things, but once I started, I had to keep going. Coloring can be the same way -- I love coloring, and it is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable. I have found though that I need to decide what else I have to get done if I start a coloring project, like a calendar I had last year or my beautiful You Are Here book by Jenny Lawson -- because once I start, I have a REAL hard time stopping until it's done. I need it to be perfect. I hate mistakes. It was definitely therapeutic when I was having my breakdown in April, because it kept me focused and unable to think about other things, but on an average evening or weekend day...I get lost and lose a lot of time to this activity. Weeding is another area where this perfectionism gets me, because I have such a hard time stopping. I have to set an area and say, "I'm going to get this ONE area done" -- because if I just say I'm going to weed I will easily do it until I am too sore to do anything else the next day because I need to do it all, all at once.

This is why I was a little nervous about the bullet journal. I did finally start it, because I had to pull the trigger on actually starting rather than planning and planning and searching for the perfect spreads and layouts so that it could be the most perfect thing from the start. It was a metaphysical bullet journal for longer than it had to be, because I was afraid of starting and getting it wrong.

I think that this is an area where the bullet journal is going to help me, a lot. I am embracing the fact that I can change things as I go. That if I make a mistake, so what? That I spent so much time researching things that my January weeks aren't filled out until the 15th, and that's okay. That my gratitude log didn't get started until today, so I tried to retroactively fill it in and then just was like, you know what? I can have a full one in February. No biggie.

Look at me, being all Zen and letting go, not holding on so tightly to everything one thing!

Here are the things that I've discovered I really like about the bullet journal, now that I have January in there and a few fun pages:

- I like that it's just bullets and I can just capture a smattering of things that happened without writing a long narrative, which is what got me away from traditional journaling -- it was just too time consuming.
- I like that I can customize every single thing about it. That I can do my monthly pages for January and see how I like it, and then switch to a different layout for February to try different things out.
- I am embracing mistakes. I am working on not being perfect with it. (Okay, maybe embracing is a stronger word than reality, but I'm getting there.)
- This is terrific for my anxiety ridden, swirly mind. I have so many thoughts running through and I forget to put things down on paper and so they swirl and swirl and swirl. Now I can capture these things in one place and make them colorful and pretty.
- I am not trying to become a master letter-er or doodler. I can learn these things, but in the end, the content is what's more important to me than the pretty designs. Although I'm doing okay in that area, too.
- So far, I have just spent money on the notebook itself ($19.95), the set of 20 fineliner pens ($17.99), and a math set that included a 6" ruler so that I could give Bryce back his woodworking ruler ($5.89). He actually convinced me to get the set instead of just a small ruler, because it had two compasses, a protractor, and some triangle things, and he was like "now you can make all your shapes!" since he saw me making concentric circles with water glasses. My stencils (because a good drawer I am not) were dry-embossing stencils I've had FOREVER and they work just fine. I can also use stamping supplies I already have, although that becomes a bit of a time suck.
- I do suddenly have the urge to buy a bigger pocketbook, one I can put a pouch in with the pen supplies (my pastel-y highlighters I bought for school over the summer and then purloined for this project) in it and the notebook (the handy folio in the back is holding all my stencils). This way I can really capture things as I go and I can use it to its best advantage. I'm still using my "travel purse" that I bought for our California Honeymoon, because it was compact and waterproof(ish) and fit in my diaper bag that I use as a carry-on. It does NOT fit journaling supplies. Hmmm.
- I can see how this could quickly become a money-and-time sucker. However, I also see how I could set things up so that I can go back when I have free time and decorate things, or set aside time to work on this. It does help with the whole prioritizing thing because time I spend on this is NOT time I'm aimlessly scrolling through Facebook. Replacing Facebook with Pinterest is not a bad trade for peace of mind.

I like this new project. I will be honest, it was a huge time suck in the beginning before I started actually making spreads. I think launching it was the hardest thing because I was afraid of screwing it up. My perfectionism actually made me waste time on this one. I do think that some planning and research up front is helpful, but I think I went way overboard. It can be as simple as you want it to be, and because you make the spreads as you go, and the index captures where they are, I can manage the time for setting pages up better now that I've started.

I think this is going to be a great tool for wrangling the thoughts, organizing my lists in one place, having a creative outlet, and learning to let go of my "just-so" ways. A little. Let's not get crazy.

Now for some pictures, some are blurry on purpose because of information:

Look! An index! I have 22 whole pages in my bullet journal so far!

Fun with stencils and lettering (sort of). 
So stupidly proud of this birthdays spread I cribbed from Pinterest and adjusted for me. These are the water glass circles...
Future Log, Future Log (sing to the tune of "Spiderman, Spiderman"...). I had fun making all those tiny calendars. Mine is two spreads. This is the second half of the year, so not a lot in it yet. I do like this whole migrating thing to capture long term dates and whatnot.
I am not advertising for the pens, I'm just hiding unsightly Sterilite drawers on my desk. :) This is my monthly spread. I'm doing it differently next month. There's a month calendar, a habit tracker, a next month at a glance, a quote, and goals.
Weekly spread. Not sure if I'll keep this for February, but I did make the meal plan the whole bottom for the following weeks, because I wanted to capture where the recipes come from and then the red is what we actually ate. Trying to reduce food waste and try new recipes, and eat less meat.
Look! It's a Gratitude Log! Stole this idea from a Pinterest thing, but made it my own. Not gonna worry about the blank dates where I was retroactively filling in. I like the idea of doing a different theme each month for gratitude so it's pretty. Used my handy dandy protractor for the sun! :)


  1. I had to laugh at you and the puzzle. It sounds like it was torture for you, so don't do it!

    I haven't started one yet - but I'm still thinking about it. You might have inspired me to get it organised for February. I especially like the meal plan idea, as I too want to eat less meat and try new recipes this year.

    So well done on the first week. Glad it is helping you let go and relax a little, yet you can still feel that you have a handle on things.

  2. I still don’t totally understand the “bullet journal” or how it’s differrnt from simply having a notebook where you write whatever you want, but it’s cool you are so excited about it! Jigsaw puzzles drive me crazy too, I don’t have the patience. I don’t mind helping finish one if there are just a few pieces left but I can’t imagine starting a 1000 piece one eeek!

  3. oh pretty, the bullet journal is coming along great!

  4. You are Bullet Journalling!!!!! I love mine so far and I'm so excited you're doing one too! Your spreads look great. I love your birthday one! And I'm laughing about your puzzle. Girl, I'm such a perfectionist. I've been exploring it more in therapy and how it relates to my childhood. So I totally can relate to this post.

  5. Holy cow, you are packing a lot of stuff into your bullet journal...! Theoretically, I imagine I could do the same/similar with my Filofax, except it's a smaller size & has the binder rings in the middle. ;) I use it primarily for the datebook/diary function, but I also keep various lists in it, have an address book at the back and keep business cards in it (in little plastic holders) for various service providers I use. I used to track expenses in it too, but that got to be a real chore & I eventually stopped doing it.

    The jigsaw puzzle made me laugh... my family likes doing them, but we don't have as much space to work on them as we once did. ;) I do understand the perfectionism, though -- the fear of starting something new, because it MUST. BE. PERFECT. I enjoyed scrapbooking (when I did it), to an extent -- I loved finding the perfect pretty papers and embellishments to go with my photos, etc... but I would AGONIZE over every layout. (Especially working on albums for my nephews.) I kept trying to remind myself, "This is supposed to be FUN" -- but I would hear other women talk about how they found it relaxing & wonder what planet they were living on ;) because so often I just wound up feeling stressed. :(

    1. P.S. Reading this again, & I was laughing at the first paragraphs about "pile management." My mother always used to say that I had piles of stuff in my room... but she acknowledged that they were NEAT piles! lol

  6. Well, I think we are 2 peas in a pod. And I think I am not yet release-y enough to go with a bullet journal the way you have.

    Your pages are beautiful!

    We shouldn't do a puzzle together sometime ;-)

  7. Well, I won’t be giving you 1000-piece puzzles in the future...Ack! Somehow I’m reminded of my father piling us kids into the family land barge on our way to vacation, bellowing, “You WILL have fun!” But I’m glad the bullet journal is bringing you happiness.

  8. Your journals are like works of art! I like "planning is the difference between order and chaos" but yes, I planned like a maniac for fertility treatment and it all failed spectacularly and no one cared about my knowledge or forward-thing. "The horses have learned to read" said one doctor when I quoted some internet stats and specified what protocol I wanted to do....
    I adore journals and notebooks though, and feel adrift without a current one on the go.