I am one of those people who has a difficult time letting go of ‘perfect.’
As my time to write this blog approached, I was doing research on a variety of subjects that I thought might be good candidates for topics, but none of them felt appropriate for the season. They were either too depressing (dementia) or dull (interest rates) or predictable. I realized my need to write something that was ‘perfect’ was getting in the way of writing ANYTHING.
And that’s one of the biggest problems with ‘perfect.’ Perfection isn’t really possible, so striving for it constantly creates mental and emotional barriers that keep you from beginning a project. You attempt to anticipate everything that might go wrong. You can become afraid to try new things, because it might not turn out the way you want it to. And you worry about letting people down, because you might not do something the way they want it done.
I believe the holiday season inflicts the stress of ‘perfect’ in us more than we want to admit. Movies and commercials indoctrinate us with the images of perfect Christmas gatherings, where the food and decorations are Martha Stewart and Pinterest perfect. Trying to find the perfect Christmas present or hostess gift for everyone only adds to the pressure.
This year, I worked on abandoning my quest for perfection, and tried to recognize when it began creeping back into my thought process and causing me stress. When I gave up the idea that everything had to be perfect, I was able to enjoy the time with my family and be present in a way that I couldn’t be when I was worried about every little detail. Every person’s situation is different, but here are some things that worked for me:
Reflect on What’s Important
Every Christmas in the past I’ve prepared hand decorated Gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, snow balls, candy cane cookies, spritz cookies and more. We host the annual dinner for my family (about 22 of us now) the present opening, and most everyone stays at our house for one or two days. It’s in my Appalachian heritage, and I really love having everyone with us. But I realized I was getting myself too worked up over making things ‘perfect’ in my mind.
So this year I only made the cookies the kids love the most, and used a bakery for the rest. I bought donuts for part of our breakfast instead of making pancakes for everyone – which made the kids very happy! For our big dinner, I accepted help in the form of side dishes from my sister-in-law, sister and daughter. It was more a state of mind than any one major change, but changing my approach allowed me to enjoy our time together so much more.
Give Time and Love, Not Stuff
I can’t take credit for this idea, because my sister-in-law is the genius who thought it up.
My parents are 81 and 78, and they are very active, traveling to see us and other members of our family over the holidays and throughout the year. As a result, they have given up decorating their own home with a Christmas tree, Christmas lights and other decorations, since they don’t have the time or energy to get everything up. This year, we surprised them right after the Thanksgiving holiday, by showing up at their house with a Christmas tree, cookie dough, dinner, and a slew of grandkids. We decorated their house, put up the tree, made cookies for them to share with their friends over the coming weeks, and had a lovely dinner together.
It was wonderful helping my mom unpack the Christmas ornaments that had been stored away over the last several years. As we worked, she reflected on where each one came from, or remembered the time we made them together. She found a note from her mother that she’d saved from many Christmases ago, asking her to come home for Christmas, and it brought happy/sad tears. You can’t put that in a box under the tree.
It was a wonderful lesson for me. I can guarantee that my parents don’t remember what I got them for Christmas last year, but I know they will never forget this year’s visit. As a result, I am trying to do a better job of focusing on the time I spend with my family and friends that I love, showing them how I feel, and not assuming that they know.
Let it Go
This Most Wonderful Time of the Year is particularly difficult for many people. We miss friends and family members who have died, divorces cause families to be separated, and schedules for visits with different families inevitably leave someone unhappy. It can leave us with a deflated feeling and a suspicion that everyone else is happy but us.
The truth, of course, is that no one else’s life is perfect either. At the risk of inflicting a Frozen flash-back, we have to let it go. Let go of the idea of perfection in our lives and celebrations, and appreciate all that we do have going for us.
This year, allow yourself to give up the idea of a perfect Christmas and New Years, and accept the imperfections that make up our lives. It’s the best gift you can give yourself and the ones around you!