The idea for this blog came when a friend said she was going to copy my hair care ‘routine’ because I have nice hair and hers was a bit of a mess. At which point I replied ‘”What hair care routine?” To be clear, I don’t have a hair care routine. I wash my hair daily (mostly) and let it dry by itself, because I can’t be bothered to blow-dry it. I brush it about once a day, occasionally I forget, and mostly chuck it in a plait at night to keep it out of the way. That’s it. I’ve got straighteners, but I don’t know where they are. I just can’t be bothered.
I used to do all those things to my hair, I know I’ve got nice hair so I looked after it, I even went through a phase of colouring it browns and reds when I moved up here. I gave up doing things to my hair, mainly because L turned up and I didn’t have time, but partly because I saw no difference when I didn’t do anything to it.
So what if my hair isn’t always brushed? I’m probably just going to stick it in a ponytail when it gets annoying anyway, nobody even notices. And if they do they don’t care.
Same applies to my belly. I used to want a perfectly flat stomach (even though this is absolutely an unhealthy thing for women), and it did used to be relatively flat. Then I had a baby and it’s probably never going to be flat again unless I put in some serious effort. Which I don’t have the time or inclination to do anymore. But now I don’t care, I’m also too tired to care. My belly isn’t flat, it’s got a bit of a pooch left over from having a baby – but so what? My belly grew a person, that’s pretty amazing when you think about it. I grew a human being, what has your belly done?! Anyone who has a problem with my belly can stuff off, life is too short. I like food, get over it.
Given I used to have an eating disorder that was a pretty big statement. I no longer want control over everything and I no longer want to be perfect. And as a result I think this is probably the first time I can say I’ve actually recovered fully. It only took me 25 years…
I’ve spent a lot of time this year sorting myself out, and part of that meant looking at why I was such a perfectionist. I’ve always been that way, I always did well in exams, I passed all my music exams earlier than expected and was always principal/first bassoon in whichever band or orchestra I was in, even if I had to share that role, I was on all the sports teams and so on. I always wanted to excel in what I did, maybe it was a control thing.
When I was 8 my dad left, and my world got a bit wonky for a while. The need for control comes from this period in my life, when I felt like I had no control at all over my world. The eating issues kicked in a few years later as a direct result, it gave me something that I had control over, and I liked that. I had control over my school work, what I ate, how my body performed, and my music. So I controlled those things and tried to be perfect.
Even though there’s no such thing as perfect. The goal of perfection will result in misery, because it’s simply not possible, in any area of life. Perfection is unattainable, and the imperfections we have make us who we are. I’m such a long way from perfect, but my flaws make me who I am. And flawed people are so much more interesting than ones who pretend to be perfect.
It’s not possible to control everything and why would we want to? It doesn’t make things any better, at any level, and it just means that we lose out on surprises that might happen when we let go of control. Surprises are nice, they make us smile.
This year I let go of the need to be perfect. I just didn’t have time, life this past few months has been a complete whirlwind and so much has happened in my life, perfection was something I didn’t have the space for. So I stopped checking every tiny detail multiple times, I went with the ‘it’s fine, let’s do the next job on the list’ approach, if things got missed I took the view that someone would let me know or it probably wasn’t that important in the first place. You know what? Nobody has noticed. In fact the last report I wrote (confession alert) was over 3000 words and was put together in an hour and a half: it got a response of ‘brilliant’. It’s not at all, but clearly it’s plenty good enough. Things don’t need to be perfect to be good enough, they need to fulfill the requirements of the job. Perfection is definitely not a requirement.
I didn’t miss much either, even though my to-do lists became rather erratic. I’ve always had a list, I love a list. I didn’t ditch them, more used them when they were needed and stopped re-writing them if they got messy. This is strangely liberating for a perfectionist. Turns out not being in control can be quite nice, and life got a whole lot more interesting and exciting when I didn’t have control over everything. If things are predictable they’re kind of boring, and boring is no fun at all.
What’s important is having a life, is engaging and spending time with the people that matter. I do love my job most of the time, even on bad days and when there are problems, but it’s just a job at the end of the day. My little girl and my life outside of work matter so much more and will always be my priority. I refuse to work around the clock like some academics do. There is a culture of overwork in academia, and it won’t change unless we change it for ourselves. Academia tends to attract perfectionists, we’re all trying to do the best we can and were all overachievers at school. Overwork tends to happen, particularly given the huge demands of the job we have.
But I need sleep in order to function properly, I can’t work all hours and still have fun with my girl in my time off. So I no longer work crazy hours, because my girl deserves better than a knackered mummy who is too distracted and too tired to play with her. It’s no longer an option to work long hours. I work the hours I need to, but give myself a cut-off time and find time to do other things. Life is about balance, and I moved up here to get a work-life balance. I used to be a teacher and that involved working 12 hour days 7 days a week, outside of the music I squeezed in around that I had no life at all, and it was rubbish. I want to hang out with my girl now, and have fun, I want to see my friends outside of work and I want to enjoy life. I don’t want to work all the time.
Turns out I still know what I’m doing, even if I don’t work all hours of the day. I’ve had to put my trust in myself this year, I’ve had to trust that I know what I’m doing, that I’ve done enough work, that I’ve been doing this job long enough to know what is going on at any point in the year, and trust that I can learn the things I need to in my new role without too much drama. Sure there have been problems, and it’s definitely not been smooth sailing, but on the whole it’s been no better or worse than if I’d been striving for perfection and trying to control everything. I can’t do either of those things so I’ve had to trust that I can do the job and just get on with it.
Putting trust in myself after all I’ve been through has been one of the toughest things I’ve had to do this year. I’ve been wrong so many times, I’ve said the wrong thing, I’ve done the wrong thing, I’ve been let down so many times because I put my trust in the wrong person despite my instincts telling me not to. I stopped trusting everyone around me, but I stopped trusting myself as well. How could I trust other people if I couldn’t trust myself? I’ve had to learn how to trust that I’ve got good instincts after all the crap I’ve been through. Everyone has been through crap, it’s what you do next that defines you.
I have always known when people were lying to me, I have always known about the affairs (all of them) before the guys confessed or were caught out. Each and every time. It’s not as much fun as you might think to have good instincts. Which is probably why I ignored them, it was slightly easier and ignorance can be bliss before the inevitable crash and burn that follows.
But trusting my instincts is something I’m having to learn to do, because I keep being shown they’re right in one situation. I’ve been repeatedly shown how much I can trust an individual and it’s been so disconcerting that I’ve been a bit bamboozled to be honest. I still don’t trust many people at all, and I’m not used to my instincts telling me I can trust a guy. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for months now. Each time he has found out more about how I’m thinking and feeling I’ve been waiting for the inevitable disappearing act, and it just hasn’t happened. If anything the reverse has happened and I’ve had reassurances he’s going nowhere. I’m having to learn that some people are actually going to do what they say they’re going to do, even if they haven’t done it yet. Turns out not all men are bastards.
Control is over-rated. Letting go of control and the need for perfection is liberating and takes you places you don’t expect – it leads you in directions that you can’t anticipate, which can sometimes be the best surprises ever.
Trust yourself enough to let go and allow yourself to be flawed. There is no such thing as perfect, and that’s perfectly OK.