“Do more things badly.”
My inner perfectionist flipped out when I first heard this recommendation from one of my mentors; Rebecca Latimer, who wrote a book called You’re Not Old Until You’re Ninety: Best To Be Prepared, However.
Rebecca said to me;
“Oh SARK, when you speak to groups of people, would you please let them know that if they meditate and do it badly, it still works? And that goes for everything else too. My best recommendation to you is to do more things badly.”
I knew from experience that my perfectionistic ways were inhibiting my joy, so I took her recommendation to heart and began consciously practicing doing more things badly, or imperfectly, or just not up to my former standards. I discovered that the more I did “badly” the happier I felt.
I found that my perfectionist inside was exhausted by me and my ideas about how to do things. I’d learned really well from my perfectionistic Mother how to do things “the right way,” which was basically HER way, but it took me years to figure that out.
So that’s when I began doing things like eating a chocolate cake with no silverware, lying down in line at the bank, singing Amazing Grace at the Department of Motor Vehicles, doing a TV interview with the back of my hair soaked in coconut oil from a massage the night before and singing Karaoke- without alcohol. I also experimented with tinier, more mundane things too.
I’ve learned that not only is it fun to do things badly, it’s such a relief to give up so many of the “rules” I’d grown up with and then imposed on myself. I’ve also learned that I’m a pretty high achiever, and in some cases, an over achiever, so my dialing down from a 10 on a 1 to 10 scale, to a 5 or 6, is barely noticeable to anyone else!
It was noticeable to me however, so I engaged in some practices to support my new freedom.
1. Giving myself “primary permission” to do some things badly or imperfectly, or just differently.
I do this by experimenting and practicing, and noticing the results. For example, I’m usually very quick to do favors for people, or fulfill requests. My younger brother had asked me to find out some information for him prior to his wedding, and I simply didn’t do it. When he asked for the information, and I confessed that I didn’t have it and hadn’t done it, he was shocked and annoyed with me. I apologized, but didn’t feel guilty. We processed what had happened, and both realized that I was ALWAYS reliable and so rarely faltered, that I’d given myself no room at all to just be human. It was really fun to watch him be “the responsible one” who was getting things done for his wedding, and I got to experience the role of “someone who hadn’t come through.” I am now really learning to consciously give myself that primary permission first, that I’d always automatically given to other people.
2. Ignoring or simply not noticing what others think
I used to get so scared or worried if someone felt disappointed, annoyed or irritated with me about something I had or hadn’t done. I had been a people pleaser who relied on being filled up from outside sources in order to feel good. Now that I consistently practice self-love and exquisite self-care, I fill myself up first, and allow others to experience and take responsibility for their own emotions. I don’t focus on other people’s reactions much at all anymore, and it’s felt like such a great relief. I also practice ignoring people when I do unusual things, or I invite them to join in. I got the whole room to sing Amazing Grace with me at the DMV. Several people sat, or laid down with me in the bank line, and it was no problem at all to find people to eat cake with me, with no silverware.
3. Practicing self-love and exquisite self-care consistently
I practice living as a “full cup of self-love,” ready to share the overflow with the world. I used to live like a half empty cup, looking for people or substances to fill me. Now that I’ve learned how to care for myself exquisitely, I can respond to the world, instead of reacting. In response, there is a choice, in reaction, there is very little choice. Now I choose what to respond to, and why. When I feel less than self-loving or caring, which is often every day, I engage in specific practices and processes to recenter myself. I am then able to extend so much more love to the world.
And of course, in all of the above, I also fail, falter, stumble, flail and flounder and do a lot of things badly, and sometimes very badly. I’ve discovered that being truly self-loving is a long term relationship with myself that contains EVERYthing, as every relationship does. The point is not to love myself all the time. The point is to practice loving myself as consistently as I am able, in all sorts of conditions. This means practicing loving the fat, forgetful, resistant parts too. And when I turn away from myself in aversion, to bring myself back as lovingly as I am able. And perhaps an even greater challenge, to love the successful, brilliant and soaring parts of myself. Because I sometimes feel more afraid of my joy than my pain. Pain seems easier to relate to, and joy can feel lonely.
My early abuse experiences taught me that pain lasts, and joy is unreliable. I’ve now learned to live more often in a opposite state- joy is everlasting, and pain can’t always be trusted. And in between those two states, is the glorious middle spaces where most of my growth takes place. My explorations in doing more things badly have shown me that there is a lot of joy in the mess and chaos of living as a “splendidly imperfect” human bean.