I struggle with “analysis paralysis” and perfectionism to the point where I feel like I can’t just get started (I had a group of your notebooks I left empty for years because I couldn’t decide on what the subject of each book should be). What techniques or practices have you integrated to develop strategies and execute plans when you’re feeling overwhelmed/anxious/stressed/insecure.
Dear Shannon –
I do too!!!
I am a pro at agonizing over the tiniest (yes, but also the biggest) decisions. From having a baby, buying a house, to which salad to get at the restaurant. Also, once I have ordered, it is entirely possible that I actually prefer what’s on my companion’s plate. It’s been one of the big issues of my life, as many of close friends can attest. It ended up becoming a problem, and I ended up having to address it.
And yes, you’re right. It stems from a curious perfectionism – but also, in my opinion, from a skewed vision of life. A life where there’s always something better, finer, perfecter. A life where mistakes are viewed as fatal, instead of contributing to our experience. A life where there would be, supposedly, a golden route better than all the other ones.
My house is a great example. We bought it last year. The first time we visited it, we hadn’t planned on visiting it but we drove by and there it was. We entered and right away, something felt good. A sense of peace. That feeling, that’s exactly what I was looking for. I remember breathing deeply. I remember telling Chris, “this might be it.”
Then, we revisited it, to make sure. I still loved it, but I started seeing some flaws. Was there enough light here? Was that house on the side a problem? That wall – would we need to knock it down? And here? Oh gosh, we need a window. I started doing a spreadsheet of all of the houses in the neighborhood – you know, just to compare. Then we offered an incredibly low price, just to try fate. It didn’t work. We offered a better price. It worked. OH SHIT. I started agonizing some more. I called friends to get their opinion. I drove everyone crazy by visiting it a million times, at every hour of the day. I am going to stop describing the agony here, because you know it very well, because this lasted for months, but not without telling you that we almost pulled out ten times. I drove everyone CRAZY.
And then, one day, because I had no choice, I said, “fuck it, let’s go for it.”
This is my life and this is going to be our house and if we fuck up we’ll just re-sell it. And we’ll have learned. And yes, we could have a more perfect-er house, but it would be more expensive-er. This is where we are now. Let’s just do it. And here we are, a year later – and we love it. We are so happy here, you have no idea.
And – the house? It’s not perfect. All the flaws that I had seen in the beginning? They are still here. Some, I learned to actually love. Some, I am learning to change. Some, I’ll just live with. Sometimes, I go to a friend’s place and I have house envy.
But then I go back home and – aaaaaaaaaah, that sense of peace, a feeling that everyone who visits our house feels. And there it is; the thing I love the most about this house has nothing to do with anything you could ever compare, it’s a feeling. And a year later it’s also something else, it’s my home. Uncomparable to anything else in the world.
So – dear Shannon, here are a few things I have learned, just for you.
– Your gut knows better than you. When you are not sure, when you are getting pummeled by questions, find a place of peace, meditate, go to the ocean, get on your bike…and listen to your institution.
– Your life is yours, your choices are what make you, you. There is no international standard of perfection you have to conform to. I know a few people who try – they try to live by the book, and have the proverbial “picture perfect life” – and these are often the people who carry the most anxiety: the quest for perfection is never ending wheel you get on. Get out of it. Life is not a race.
– The people I see that are most happy are also the most unapologetic, uncomparing, “doing their own thing” type of people. They own up to their mistakes and move on. I aspire to be like that everyday.
– Don’t ask for too much advice. People have good intentions, but they will project what is going on in their life at that moment. So for a big decision, ask a few people you trust – but don’t overdo it. I remember asking my Uber driver if he thought I should buy this house or not. Yep, when I say agonizing, I ain’t joking.
– Know that sometimes, we need to make a mistake – even if it’s a big one. I have friends who have married the wrong guy. I have friends who bought the wrong house. I have friends who had a kid too early – or who, like me, went at it too late. Most of them got transformed by the experience in a way that was priceless to them. They wouldn’t change a thing.
All this is to say, Shannon, I think perfection is way, way, WAY overrated. Even more if you’re a writer, or if you want to have any interesting stories to tell at the end of your life. My house is the same as your notebooks. I could still be there, undecided, waiting for a better house to show up on the market. Go on and live, write on your notebooks, screw them up if you need, get better at failing, get better at writing, and at understanding that it doesn’t matter what you pick, what matters is what you learn on your way, and what you make of it.