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LLTMN#4: It’s OK If You’re Not Perfect

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“But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.” ~William Shakespeare

[This post is the fourth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

My first and oldest nephew Hudson turned 10 last week – Happy Birthday Hudson!  Already.  Unbelievably.  I literally can’t fathom that an entire decade passed in the blink of an eye since I anxiously waited by the phone for news that you’d made your way into the world.  I didn’t get to see you until you in person until you were three months old, at which point you had this spiky charcoal hair and the cutest little furrowed-brow face when you would concentrate on something – you still do that, and it’s one of my favorite things about you.

babyH3 months cropped

I didn’t move to Austin until you were five and half years old, so I regrettably missed out on so much time during your “younger” years.  But since I have been here, I’ve really enjoyed going to all of your sports matches, spending holidays with you, watching movies with you during sleepovers at my house, and taking you on our yearly Ant Kristi/Hudson birthday shopping trips!  (I really look forward to all of my aunt/nephew birthday shopping trips each year, time with just me and that nephew on a special outing.)

blue butterfly bike

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it was like for me to be 10 years old.  And now that you’re into the double digits Hudson, I wanted to share a little life lesson with you that started way back when I was the same age you are now.  You see, it was around age 10 when I decided that I was going to be PERFECT.  Perfect at everything I did, all the time, no matter what it was:  getting perfect grades in school, being the perfect daughter, performing perfectly in dance class, even having perfect friends.  You name it, and my self-proclaimed job as a kid (and later as an adult) was to be as perfect at it as possible.

Which of course is ridiculous, because no one is perfect at anything much less everything, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.  I wasn’t super-smart, but I knocked myself out for the next 15 years to strive for that 4.0 level of perfection in school; it took me a while, and I didn’t quite get there in middle or high school, but by the end of my academic pursuits, I was valedictorian of my Masters degree class, with the 4.0 to go along with it.  I’d finally made it to the top.  Which, by the way, did exactly nothing for my professional or personal life whatsoever (I can now say) in any realm: career, happiness, income, satisfaction.  That “top” was just a temporary stop on my never-ending pursuit of perfection.  And you know what happens after you reach the top don’t you…you can’t stay there forever, and eventually you start rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important and you should do the best you can – but not at the sacrifice of all the other good things life has to offer along the way, and not to the point where you beat yourself up about it.  I remember being so mad at myself for getting a few “B’s” in high school, and the one and only “C” I got in college shocked and dismayed me.  It was in Genetics by the way, one of the most difficult classes taught by the reputed toughest professor at my university – I should have been thrilled that I passed the class when many didn’t, but instead, I felt sub par, below average – when technically a “C” means average, ok, satisfactory.  But I’d convinced myself that average – in any arena – was the same thing as failure, which of course isn’t true.  And average sure wasn’t perfect (in my eyes), and if I wasn’t achieving perfection, then I was failing.  It’s a dangerous roundabout, the pursuit of perfection, and very difficult to get out of once you’re in it…

I’m ashamed to admit I even quit being friends with some people because they weren’t perfect enough or they did things that I thought would affect my perfect life.  That’s sad.  I caused myself a LOT of stress over the years trying to make everything perfect around me, even if I didn’t have any control over a lot of it – sounds crazy right?  Things that I tried so hard to make perfect – weddings, marriages, jobs, friendships, my health – all ended up in shambles (and made me feel even more crazy).  Mostly because I couldn’t just let go and accept imperfection as a reality.

mmimperfectquote

You see, trying to be perfect all the time is a kind of self-torture, and I don’t want you (or any of my nephews) to have to go through that!  When you try to be perfect at something and you’re not, you start to feel bad because you didn’t reach the impossibly high standards you’ve set for yourself (or that others have set for you).  You begin to be unhappy and frown more than you smile, because you’re always thinking about how you’ve let yourself and others down by not being perfect.  But once you can realize that it’s ok to NOT be perfect all the time – or even ANY of the time – then you can start to really just be YOU!  Imperfect, quirky, beautiful you – good at some things, not so good at other things, but loved and cherished by so many people no matter what.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes better than I’ve been able to.  It’s still a struggle for me to not want to be perfect or to expect perfection in every aspect of my life, but I do know that I’m definitely more UNunhappy and more fulfilled when I just let those expectations go – and I want you to be happy and fulfilled too, no matter what you end up doing with your life. 

Four years ago when I moved to Austin and started cycling, I bought myself a Road ID bracelet that I know you’ve seen me wear every day.  The last sentence on the ID tag is reserved for a “personal motto” expression – and when I ordered mine, of course I picked the phrase I’d said over and over in my head my entire life:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

RoadIDPMP

I think it’s finally time to get a new tag, with a new personal motto…maybe “Pobody’s Nerfect?” I really like that one.

And just remember:imperfectAlways!

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

 

 

 

Oh Crap…and Is The Universe Really Talking to Me?

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“O God! that one might read the book of fate.” ~ William Shakespeare (King Henry IV, Part II)

I revealed in my last post that I recently quit my soul-sucking job.  A few weeks before I gave my notice, I applied for two high-level professional positions that fortune seemed to point in my direction.  One was with a local nonprofit group that does great things in the community, the other with the University of Texas.  I was extremely interested in both positions, and I’d been trying to get a job with UT ever since I moved to Austin over three years ago (the hiring process at UT is extremely competitive).

Both jobs paid significantly less than the salary I was making at the time, but I was so ready to get out of my toxic work situation that I didn’t even care.  I think I would have accepted being paid in chocolate coins if it meant less stress and more meaningful work.

The nonprofit group was the first to reach out, and called me in for an interview.  I ACED it.  I have to admit, I love the feeling you get from a well-oiled job interview!  (My secret tip that I don’t mind passing along to you:  sing “I Have Confidence” from the Sound of Music in your best Maria impersonation at the top of your lungs right before you go into the interview.  Preferably in the privacy of your car.  You’re welcome.)

SoMIHC

Click photo to hear “I Have Confidence” sung by the great Julie Andrews!

It was shortly after that interview that I gave my notice at my then-current job (a very UNunhappy moment by the way).  A day or two later, the UT office at which I’d applied called me to schedule a phone interview.  I was ecstatic!  It was the first UT job I’d applied for (of many) which had reached the interview stage.  And, the job seemed to be literally written just for me: they wanted someone who had lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa (thank you Peace Corps), spoke a foreign language (oui, moi), and had experience advising students (I used to work as an advisor at the University of NM).

Keep Calm and Speak French

The UT phone interview went great, and they then scheduled a second interview for a few days later, to be conducted via Skype.  Everything meshed and it went swimmingly well.  I made funny quips and asked well-researched questions.  I’d done my homework and I was prepared – as I have been my whole life.  Organized, detailed, prepared – that’s me.

I was feeling great!  I was in the running for two jobs in what seemed to be a perfect timing situation!  I’d finally quit my miserable job that was driving me into the ground, and I was headed for happier times!  I drove by the UT office near campus and it was in a beautiful setting; I was already imagining working there and figuring out where I’d park.

The day of the Skype interview with UT, the nonprofit group called me to offer me their job.  However, they told me that between the time of my interview and now, they’d decided to change the job title and some of the duties of the position I’d applied for; it was still a good job, but it was no longer what I thought it was going to be.  It now wasn’t as attractive to me as the UT job – which by this time I was 99% sure I was going to get.

Notice those words “perfect” and “sure” above?  Not-so-subtle foreshadowing.  By now you can probably guess what happened.

I declined the nonprofit job offer.  And then UT emailed me a few days later to say they decided to hire someone else.

What have I done!?

I think I stared at that email for about ten minutes in pure disbelief.  “Oh Crap” is a tame version of my reaction.  My perfect interviews and my perfect preparation and my perfect planning all crumbled away into nothingness as I sat there.  I started to feel the fear rise up from a pit deep inside me – what had I done?

In the following days, I searched for the bigger message in this ego-busting development.  I looked for the answer in many different forms of chocolate, but nothing materialized (except lots of calories).  I even blamed the huge Texas flag hanging on my wall that was visible in the background of my Skype interview camera view; I took that flag to the 2010 Tour de France and Lance Armstrong autographed it for me right in the middle of the white star…maybe they saw that and held it against me, another casualty of the cycling doping controversy?

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen.  Or was it?  Where was Shakespeare’s quoted book of fate when you needed it?  Of course I wanted to know why this detour had forced me to take another direction, but then I started to think that maybe what I needed to focus on was not the “why,” but the new direction in and of itself. 

You see, before I’d applied to either of those jobs or quit my current job, I’d been thinking of and toying with the idea of doing something completely different with my life.  Ditching the traditional 40-hour office landscape for a much different one that I’d been thinking of for many, many years.  One that is vastly more colorful and joyful and meaningful.  I applied for those two jobs out of interest, yes, but also out of fear.  Fear that my other visions and hopes and ideas weren’t good enough somehow. 

Bleeding Hearts

But now here I was at the literal crossroads of fear and fortitude.  Inextricably intertwined.  Giving into one could mean sacrificing the other.  And even though I would have been very good in either of those jobs that I applied for had I gotten them, I feel somehow that the universe was, just maybe (even though it’s pretty busy with all the supernovas and collapsing stars and whatnot) whispering in my ear,  “It’s not the right time for that.”   And so I decided to listen.  And I’m ok with the way things turned out.

As I finished the last few days at my job, I felt strangely calm – this, despite not having a perfect plan in place for my next steps.  Or maybe because of the lack of a perfect plan.  Or maybe it was just blissfully-ignorant shock, but it was nice.  And I felt a sense of freedom – not just from the weight of the job stress being lifted off my shoulders, but also from the blank slate being presented to me.  (But I hate the feeling of chalk on my hands, so I’m going to think of it as a blank whiteboard.)

Yes, I’ve had a few moments of self-doubt…I think it would be strange if I hadn’t.  I have to keep reminding myself that we get this one life, this one chance in a fleetingly short blip on the universal timeline of history to do what makes us feel alive and worthy and content – to do what makes us UNunhappy

Is the universe talking to you?  What is it saying?  And does it have an accent? Enquiring minds want to know.   

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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