This Easter, I reluctantly accepted that I would need to let go of my penchant for perfectionism because I didn't have the time to do everything I would've like to have done. The entire holiday weekend was jam-packed with commitments, not the least of which was a five hour anatomy lecture I had to teach on Easter Sunday. No matter how I sliced it there just wasn't enough time for elaborate entertaining. Instead, I rummaged under my bed and found the remnants of decorations from those years when I must have had a lot of spare time on my hands. Peering through the dust bunnies, I found some baby chicks, birds' nests, and robin's eggs. I felt both grateful and disturbed to have had a small forrest of creatures living under my bed.
The large branches I bought at the Union Square Green Market made a statement without a lot of effort. Wait, what am I saying? Carrying them home on the PATH train was an all-out war; I'm fairly certain I took a few peoples' eyes out that day. When I finally arrived home I realized that I could've cut the same exact branches off the trees in front of my apartment (although I think it would've been illegal to do so). Drama.
On the menu front, I decided to stick with something relatively simple—scrambled eggs and bacon—until the shame of not doing enough prompted me, at the last minute, to make homemade buttermilk biscuits. Thankfully they were a breeze to make. They even gave the bacon a run for its money.
Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits
8 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
I made the dough right in my food processor. Combine all of the dry ingredients. Add the butter and pulse until it's the size of small peas. With the blade running, pour in the buttermilk until the dough just comes together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and kneed with your hands. Roll out and cut out the biscuits with the rim of a glass (unless you happen to have biscuit cutters laying around). Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350, or until the bottoms are golden brown.
Breakfast tasted so yummy, in that good 'ole fashion Southern kinda way. I could've used a Bloody Mary, but other than that it was a lovely Easter. In retrospect, I'm thankful to the Universe for forcing me to abandon my typical "go all out" approach to entertaining (or life, come to think of it). I learned a lot by observing myself through the process. Admittedly, I felt anxious about doing less. My emotions waffled between pride (for attempting to let go) and inadequacy (What are we going to do without homemade menu cards? How will we manage?). I'm so used to trying to accomplish it all that I felt naked without a long to-do list. Some compassionate post-game analysis revealed that perhaps, to some degree, I see the success of a perfectly executed to-do list as a benchmark of my own worthiness.
The pillows I bought at West Elm, which I carried back to Jersey along with the deadly branches, because I felt like I hadn't done enough to decorate.
I'm currently reading Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and it's calling me out on the shame I feel about not doing enough. As a shame researcher, it's only fair that she uses examples from her own life to illustrate her points. She writes, "...there are days when most of my anxiety grows out of the expectations I put on myself...I want to show the world how great I am at balancing my family and career. I want our back yard to look beautiful. I want people to see us picking up our dog's poop in biodegradable bags and think, My God! They are such outstanding citizens." Frankly, it's just so nice to know I'm not alone.
Make no mistake, if I had had time to dye my Easter eggs with a homemade concoction of extracted organic beet juice, I would have. Spending hours lost in my creativity is extremely relaxing to me—it helps me refill my well. But then there are those times when I just have way too much going on and I can't, for example, make homemade buttermilk biscuits and then write a timely (and perfectly perfect) blog post about it. It kills me, and it's hard to let go of feeling like I'm not doing enough ... of feeling like I'm somehow not enough for not doing enough. Sometimes I force myself to find a way to do it all, but then I black out and wake up months later covered in paper mâché, or sprinkles, wondering what the hell happened to me. Brené sums up this need to keep up with my expectations: "When we struggle to believe in our worthiness, we hustle for it."
All of this self-study reminds me to be aware of what's motivating my efforts. Why do I do what I do? If it makes me truly happy, it becomes an uplifting experience; it brings me closer to myself. If I feel like I have to do something in order to be enough, it only makes me feel more inadequate. I'm trying to edit my overzealous to-do list by learning how to discern between what empowers me and what makes me feel less-than. If not, my long list of expectations will continue to loom over my head, threatening to perpetually make me feel like I'm always falling short of the mark. It's challenging because the unrealistic bombshells are strategically hidden amongst the benign chores.
Do the laundry.
Look like a supermodel.
Take out the trash.
Lower your cholesterol.
Hand-paint Easter eggs.
Be better at everything in general.
I know I'm not alone. Elizabeth Gilbert, in an article she wrote for Oprah.com, suggests the following: "As we head into this next decade, can we draft a joint resolution to drop the crazy-making expectation that we must all be perfect friends and perfect mothers and perfect workers and perfect lovers with perfect bodies who dedicate ourselves to charity and grow our own organic vegetables, at the same time that we run corporations and stand on our heads while playing the guitar with our feet?"
Time with my family reminds me of what's important.
And so it seems a perfectly performed to-do list is not a report card for the Soul. I'm learning that imperfection and inadequacy are not synonymous. As a reminder, I've been repeating this mantra from Brené's book: "Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough."
This work is big and heavy. I'm happy to put my Easter post to bed because I need a break from all of this self-study/vulnerability/shame stuff. I want to go do something fun. As my teacher Mark Whitwell says, "Just live your life and have a nice breathe." Maybe I'll go make a scrapbook of my recent vacation. Or maybe I'll make some homemade lavender sachets for my underwear drawer. Oh, there's so much to do!