Letting go of perfection during the pandemic

Reading my daily dose of “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again,” a book on igniting the creative spirit by Julia Cameron, I learned that perfectionism blocks creativity. The need to be perfect is counter to being messily creative. I struggle with perfectionism and it leads to writing blocks. I can’t get started or continue with a project because it doesn’t seem good enough.

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I read several parenting articles that shared this same philosophy of letting go of perfectionism. The pandemic is making parents let their parenting ideals go. Just surviving through the day, working from home, home schooling, and going on month seven of being cooped up in their homes gives them a fresh perspective on what “good” parenting looks like.

Here’s an excerpt from CNN.com It’s time to give up perfectionist parenting — forever. Here’s how by Elissa Strauss, CNN contributor. Click here to read the entire article.

Before the pandemic, many of us found ourselves doing a little more parenting than we knew we ought to be doing. Maybe we weren’t full-on “helicopters” or “snow plows,” and, no, we would never have done something illegal to try to ensure our kids’ success.

Still, many of our parenting decisions — especially those of us privileged enough to be making lots of choices about our children’s lives — were informed by more “shoulds” than “coulds.”

The diagnosis? Never-enough-itis. The symptoms? Busyness, guilt and deluding ourselves into thinking we could pull this off.

Our kids, the magical thinking went, would be wildly successful, self-motivated and down-to-earth, and we parents would remain balanced and happy. Rising income inequality, a lack of community and the increasingly winner-takes-all atmosphere in which we live didn’t help.

But now, the chaos and suffering brought on by Covid-19 have laid bare just how impossible our parenting standards are.

It has never been clearer how much is expected of parents, mostly moms, with little support from our workplaces and public institutions. Contrary to popular belief, moms are also subject to the time constraints created by the rotation of the planet. We too, only have 24 hours in a day.

Then there is the impact on our kids, our poor kids, who saw what little agency they had over their time and life choices go down the drain. Our children don’t need us pushing them to be shinier, more brag-worthy versions of themselves in this moment.

Two new books consider what perfectionist parenting does to the human brain, and what a relaxed, more compassionate parenting can look like for parents and kids. While both titles were written pre-Covid, their messages about privileging connection over perfection are more urgent than ever.

It’s hard to avoid perfectionism

Judith Warner, author of the recently published “And Then They Stopped Talking to Me: Making Sense of Middle School” had never intended to be a parent that pushed her kids too far.

“It was always my very conscious intent — my most precious hope as a parent, in fact — that my daughters would feel loved and valued for who they were and not what they accomplished,” Warner said of her daughters, now 20 and 23.

But even with the best of intentions, her kids got the wrong message anyway. This was partly from the world around them, which defined success in somewhat narrow terms: good grades, fancy college degree, followed by professional success. It was also because no matter how hard we try to say the right things, our children tend to be keen observers of our true, sometimes even unconscious, desires.

The second article I read, Leaning Into ‘Free-Range Parenting’ Has Helped Us Manage Our Pandemic Stress by I found at Scary Mommy. She talked about how the pandemic has allowed her to view life with her family in a different light. She’s letting go of her standards and surviving and connecting more with her kids.

Somehow, powered mostly by microwaved coffee and dirty sweatpants, we’ve managed to create a largely relaxed, playful, and even hopeful environment for our kids during this lockdown, more than I ever expected that we could. It hasn’t been easy most days, but we’re doing it. I don’t know exactly how we’ve managed to make this work more than not, but I think it boils down to becoming the kind of parents who learned early on to embrace the giant ass dumpster fire that was new parenthood, especially since it almost ate us alive a couple years ago. We moved from the West coast to New Hampshire in 2019 for my failing mental health and to finally have some family nearby to support us. We never planned on also hunkering down here during a global pandemic.

So what’s been our secret to getting through the endless season of coronavirus without our kids always feeling like it’s the literal end of times? We’ve lowered our standards of living even more, let our children really lead us for once, and kicked perfection out the door. We’ve also turned mask-wearing into a semi-fun game (who knew that was even possible?), navigated our children’s reactions to social distancing with a lot of hugs and empathy, and let go of needing everything to be okay right now. 

Have you found that you are letting go of perfectionism during the pandemic? If so, in what ways?

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It’s never too late….

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View of the moon over the mountain during my morning walk.

I began my fourth book by Julia Cameron. I started with “The Artists Way” trilogy six years ago and a few weeks ago I picked up “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.” It’s targeted to retired people to help them fill the void from being in a busy career to finding yourself suddenly home with countless hours stretching ahead. Although I’m not retired, I view COVID-19 and staying home as what retirement must feel like. I’ve been home for 139 days — but who’s counting? During this time, I have suffered from too much time on my hands, social isolation and a lack of motivation. I have a couple productive days and then I don’t want to do anything.

The book is divided into a few pages of reading per day, plus an exercise in thinking, writing or doing something physical like decluttering your space. Each week, Cameron leads you though work on a memoir from a certain age in time from you life, beginning with your first memory. Each week you move up an age group. This week, I’m thinking about the years 16 to 20 and who was important in my life, along with sounds, smells and tastes. I’m enjoying it the process. The book has me reflecting about my life, what I’d like to change, and what legacy I’d like to leave behind. It’s also helping me spark my creative spirit and think about what other creative things I’d like to try.

My best friend from college gave me my first Cameron book, “The Artists Way.” She said she had given it to other friends, too and everyone found it life-changing in some way. For me, I began the routine of morning walks and morning pages. Writing three pages when I first wake up is like a brain dump and I get rid my worries, to do lists and clear my head for more creative thoughts. After a few months of following the book’s instructions, I began this blog and began writing parenting advice for SwimSwam.com. It prompted me to return to other writing projects like a mid-grade fiction book that I had set aside for years. Also, I began a non-fiction book on sports parenting. I’ve also taken on other writing assignments from magazines. All because I read a book and did what it said.

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Sunrise during my morning walk.

How are you spending your time while staying home? Have you found any surprising inspirations?

 

 

Staying On Track When You’re Overwhelmed

IMG_0140Do you ever wonder why sometimes life is slow and easy and then bam! We get overwhelmed with everything that has to be done at the same time? I’m feeling that way today. I’ve made it through days of cleaning and cooking for our Christmas crowd, reclaiming my house by washing sheets, towels and putting away the decorations.

Now the New Year is flying by. I’ve got lots of work to do and am trying to take a deep breath before I freak out. Here are a few of my secrets to keep me calm and on track:

ROUTINE

I try not to mess with my established routine. For going on six years, I have followed Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and it’s served me well. I start the day with three pages of journaling, a long walk and prayer. Even when I’ve got tight deadlines or a crazy schedule, there’s no way I’ll cheat myself of this time to get my head and body refreshed and ready for the day.

SWIM

Exercise is so important to staying stress free and to keep your mind clear. Unfortunately I have let go of swim practice when I’m too busy. It’s my New Year’s Resolution to be consistent with three practices a week. I’ve got a good start to January and I’m not going to blow it now.

PRIORITIZE and ORGANIZE

Figure out exactly what you need to get done and let go of the other stuff. When I’m juggling a bunch of projects at once, I figure out what is most important. If I do the harder tasks or work I don’t want to do first, the rest is easy. Getting the clutter out of the way helps, too. My daughter is big on color coding her work and putting it on a white board or calendar. I’m going to try color folders for each of my projects so I’m not searching through papers on my desk.

WORK AHEAD

When I have a few minutes of free time, I work ahead. Last week I was waiting on work, so instead of surfing the internet and reading news online, I made a list of everything I needed to get done for this week — and jumped in on it. Lists are my saving grace. I start each day with a list of to dos and work my way through the day. Then, I make a list for the next day, and start in on that, too.

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Views from my morning walk.

What are your methods to stay on track and focused when you’re crazy busy?

Tips to Rekindle Your Creative Spirit

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Inspiring view along my morning walks.

I’m reading a few pages a week from Julia Cameron’s books. Who is Julia Cameron you ask? She’s a writer, musician and artist who encourages creativity for the rest of us struggling along our jumbled paths. I read something in the book Walking in This World  that helped me out and wanted to share it.

What’s ironic is that it’s the same thing I write about in my parenting tips for SwimSwam. Why don’t I take the advice I shout out to the rest of the world? Who knows?

It’s all about performance pressure and focusing on results rather than the process. When our kids focus on times, or we add performance pressure on them, they will struggle to improve. Likewise, if we are too focused on the number of “likes” and “clicks” on our writing, we lose sight of our creative spirit. We’re more worried about what people think of our work–rather than losing ourselves in the process and creating art.

This results in writer’s block, frustration, second-guessing our work and losing passion for what we’re doing.

What is Cameron’s solution to this? In her books, she has a number of suggestions that include writing morning pages, walking and making time for an artist’s date with yourself. Also, she suggests trying something artistic outside your chosen field. For me it’s getting out a sketch book and drawing from time to time. When I was a little kid, I wasn’t worried about what people thought about my artwork. I drew for hours on end. I found it scary at first to try and sketch again, but I reminded myself that nobody is looking at it. I won’t be looking at the number of “likes” and “retweets.” It’s a creative outlet just for me.

Another suggestion of Cameron’s to rekindle the spirit of creativity, is to use your talents to help someone else. Make a gift for someone, teach, volunteer, or do something for your community. It does make you feel enthusiastic after helping someone else and getting the focus off yourself and your end product. 

Thank you to my BFF Cindy for giving me The Artist’s Way five years ago and encouraging me on my current path.

Julia Cameron has been an active artist for more than thirty years. She is the author of forty books, fiction and nonfiction, including her bestselling works on the creative process: The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Her work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages and has sold more than four million copies worldwide. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television.

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I find inspiration from my view.

How do you rekindle your creativity if you’re discouraged or reached a block? Do you have any tips to share with us?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

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Where I spend my days writing.

I get overwhelmed with big projects and that leads me to procrastinate. Whether it’s cleaning out a room, closet, or working on a book proposal, I also have a tendency to overestimate how quickly I can complete a project. I’ve been reading lots of interesting books lately and I’m seeing the same advice over and over. For example, in Finding Water: The Art of PerseveranceJulia Cameron talks about her goal of writing a few pages each day. She doesn’t say she’s going to write a chapter, or tens of pages. Her goal is three. Her consistency of writing each day adds up to complete books and screenplays.

The most important thing is to keep working small and steady. If you break down a project into small daily tasks and don’t overwhelm yourself, you’ll have less drama in your life and be able to finish the job. The biggest bit of advice is to start. That’s right, don’t wait for things to be perfect or your muse to appear, like Nike says, “Just do it.”

I found an article on Inc. called, “Use These 6 Little Steps to Make Really Big Things Happen” by Chris Winfield. “This simple system will help you start (and finish!) any big project, achieve huge goals, and make each day ‘your masterpiece’.”

Here are the basics of his six tips. (If you want more details, read the article linked above):

Step #1: NAME Your Goal

This one is pretty easy because all you have to do is think about a big project or big idea that’s looming in your mind.

Step #2: SET a Reasonable Deadline

I underlined reasonable because many times, especially when we’re feeling really motivated and inspired (think New Year’s resolutions), we can be a little over zealous with our deadlines.

Step #3: BREAK It Down (Work Backwards)

For this step, you’re going to work backward in time.

Break your goal down by weeks, months, quarters…whatever timeframes are necessary based on the goal itself and the deadline you’ve set…from the deadline backward until today.

Step #4: ANSWER the “When?” and “What?”

Once you have your goal broken down from the deadline to today, the next step entails deciding the “When?” and the “What?”

Step #5: START

The fifth step is simply to start putting your plan (your when and what) into action.

Step #6: BRING IT to the Present

The next and final thing you want to do is maintain that action, that motion, that momentum.

“How do you eat an elephant?” my husband asked me. “One bite at a time.”

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Where I think and clear my head.

What’s advice do you have for reaching your goals and dreams?

Have You Read This “Life-Changing” Book?

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Me and my friend Cindy.

Four years ago my best friend Cindy gave me a present. It was a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It took me a while to open it up and dive in, but Cindy kept pushing and prodding, explaining how this book is magical and life changing.

Doesn’t that sound a little crazy to call a book “life changing?” It did to me. But Cindy told me stories about how the book changed a few of her friends’ lives. It led them on entirely different life and career paths that proved to be more satisfying and creative. At the time, I had quit working with my husband as a financial advisor and was facing my empty nest with both kids away at college. I learned the secrets the book offered—morning pages, prayer or meditation, and daily walks. I incorporated each into my daily life and Voila! I saw changes. I made a routine for myself—and best yet, I stuck with it.

Soon after starting my morning routine, I started this blog, submitted a story to SwimSwam.com, rewrote a mid-grade novel, began a project writing the history of Southern California Swimming with the website socalswimhistory.com. I also dove in and learned to swim myself and joined U.S. Masters Swimming.

Looking back on reading the book The Artist’s Way, it was life-changing for me. My writing projects have multiplied and my biggest problem right now, is not spreading myself too thin. Writing my morning pages, walking and praying keeps me grounded. On the rare occasion I have had to miss my morning routine, I feel at odds with myself — a little off like something isn’t quite right.

It dawned on me to buy another one of Cameron’s books and the title I chose was Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. It’s more of the same, but pushing me further along my path as a writer. Then, I sent The Artist’s Way to both of my kids. I have no idea why it took me four years to share this gem with them. I just spent a week with my daughter, and we took our daly walks together and we sat at her dining room table writing in our journals.

My son called me this morning and said he had begun his morning pages today. The book says to write three pages every morning when you first wake up. It’s a brain dump of getting rid of all the little worries, fears and negativity that you’ve carried over into a new day. By eliminating all this garbage, or writing down what worries you—or even the tasks you need to get done—you become free. You’re free to see the creative forces and beauty around you. My son said although he found the spirituality in the book a little “90s” he thought the book had some really good stuff in it.

I’m sharing this with the hopes that whether you’re an artist or not, read The Artist’s Way. Give it a try and see how it changes your life.

Have you read The Artist’s Way and how did it change your daily life? I’d love to hear your story.