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The Perfection Trap

Right now, I feel like a fraud. The combination of a couple new projects, two new chickens and the nasty cold that is going around has thrown me off my game. On top of that, I’m turning 50 in a month and a middle-aged hysteria is coming to a slow boil as I schedule salon and doctor appointments, trying to stave off wrinkles, bone-loss and such. I’ve found myself cleaning the carpet using a lint roller, a sign that I’ve fallen off the edge of “normal organized person” and into the “compulsive perfectionist” trap.

The first sign for me that I’ve fallen into the perfection trap is that I begin my day with a feeling of “not enough.” Since I’m under the weather and woke up later than usual today, I began my day with “not enough time.” I usually over-do the coffee on days like these, to speed myself up and try to make up for lost time, but the over-caffeinated state just adds to the un-ease. If I recognize this thinking and don’t act on it, I can choose to do something positive, like take a few very deep breaths and drink a huge glass of water.

Sometimes on my “not enough time” or “not enough energy” days, I am tempted to skip exercise. After all, it would save me at least an hour if I went straight into work mode, right? Actually, the physiological changes caused by exercise — the release of serotonin and whatnot — make it one of the best things you can do with an hour. A friend of mine recently had a desk for her laptop built to fit onto her treadmill. For a lot of us, this is overkill, but she has the right idea; even walking two miles an hour while returning e-mails will oxygenate the blood and clear the mental cobwebs.

So today, I Googled whether or not it was OK to exercise with a cold. I got the WebMD go-ahead and I was amazed at how great I felt after my lungs had warmed up a bit. I went on to work on my projects with a much clearer head and a lighter heart. My fraudulent feeling started to fade.

Another thing that I find helpful when I feel out of sorts is to write a gratitude list, even if I just run through the top 10 things I am grateful for in my head. When I start to feel like a saggy, flawed, near-sighted mess, I remind myself of the crazy amount of stuff for which I’m grateful. Perspective is everything.

I have a friend who, when I’m feeling down, tells me that self-esteem is created by doing estimable acts, such as doing something for someone else, preferably anonymously. I don’t use this nugget of wisdom as often as I should, but when I do, I’m suffused with a warm glow that makes the rest of my life look a lot rosier, even if it is absolutely imperfect.

When I stare at my pores in the mirror, search the web for hours for the ideal 1960s earrings or obsessively reorganize my closet or files, I try to recognize that I’ve fallen into the perfection trap, which is not a life in order, but a life out of balance. Taking a time out to breathe, take a walk, write a gratitude list or, especially, do something for someone else, is the escape route from the trap.