There is a crack in everything

For a very long time I’ve been carrying around the heavy weight of my past, a story of childhood hurts that I kept telling myself over and over again until it defined me. My dented trust in life’s innate beauty, my need to control and improve whatever and whoever was around me, my lack of playfulness, as it turns out, were once needed ways to ring-fence my vulnerable core from the heavy storms of life. I had become resilient, or at least I thought so.

noun  re·sil·ience  \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\  

Merriam-Webster defines resilience as the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens, as well as the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

I became strong and healthy and successful after what had happened. I was, however, not able to return to my true original shape where there is joy and silliness and playfulness, no fear of life, no fear of being hurt, abandoned, or rejected. Where there is only peace with and acceptance of whatever is now and curiosity about what is to come.

Instead I lived like a tumbler toy, picking myself up again and again but there was something fake about the re-established position. It felt stuck. How could it not? In order to spring back from the heavy forces pulling it down it had to be fixed somewhere, it had to grab on to something. For me this anchoring place was perfectionism. There is a beautiful post by Kathy Parker about perfectionism. I could not put it any better than this:

There’s nothing wrong with healthy striving to work hard and be the best version of ourselves that we can be. But that is never what it is about for the heart of a perfectionist. It is striving for your acceptance and your approval. It is all about what you think of me, not what I think of me. It is the belief that if we do everything perfectly, then we can avoid your shame and judgment. We can avoid ever feeling out of control. Because if we let go of control, even for a second, we begin to unravel. And so we grasp tightly to control and hold onto our perfectionism like a security blanket.

It usually takes another big storm, in fact more something like a tornado, to shatter perfectionism and show it for what it is: a stopgap solution that can never fulfill the heart’s true longing. It can, at best, only prevent worse.

My tornado happened in 2015 when the things that provided me security and a sense of belonging fell apart: my marriage, my home and my job satisfaction. It’s no coincidence that all three things happened at the same time. They were all related and pinpointed to the one same insight: that my perfectionist ways were no longer functional. Its negative side-effects had started to take over its benefits. I had become too exhausted, too miserable, too critical for my own good and that of others.

I knew I had to change but I was horrified of it, for change meant unpredictability, insecurity, nowhere safe to cling onto. And worst of all: letting go of control. The idea alone felt dreadful but I had no choice. The old ways simply didn’t work anymore. So I started a journey of self-discovery, of traveling back the road to my own true self, the one that I had left behind as to not expose it to the dangers that life presented.

The journey is hugely uncomfortable, the road stony and shabby and engulfed in thick mist. I can hardly see two steps ahead. I have no idea whether the next turn takes me left or right. And I can’t tell whether there is a cliff edge expecting me around the corner or a sunny beach.

The only thing that keeps me going is that there is no way back anyhow. I can only stay stuck where I am now (no way) or proceed forward and hope for the best. I’ve read so much lately about those times of crisis and about the opportunities for growth embedded in them that I have started to feel, deep within me, that there is some truth to it, even though it still seems like a very long shot for it to materialize.

For a start I have begun to frame my story differently and to look at myself with kinder eyes. Yes, I have suffered. Yes, I have seen stuff I didn’t care to see. Yes, I have missed out on things that others had the privilege to enjoy. But those very same things made me the very person I am today, that brought about not just the shadow but also the light of my personality.

I used to think of myself a lot in terms of shadows, in terms of what to improve, what to fix. I have now started paying more attention to what is good already, in its imperfection. It’s a rather hard thing to do for a perfectionist as it implies resisting the urge to fixate on the difference between what is and what could be. What has helped me reframe my thinking, amongst others, was this short video on resilience.

 

 

It’s rather beautiful, isn’t it? Reminds me of the lyrics of an old Leonard Cohen anthem:

Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

me

 

Feature image © Reel Youth

Perfection

34 thoughts on “There is a crack in everything

  1. By the way, your M blog on procrastination just made me look up “Kintsugi”. How fitting! According to Wikipedia Kintsugi, the repair of broken ceramic pots with gold dust, can relate to the Japanese philosophy of “no mind” (無心 mushin) which encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life:

    “Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.”

    — Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

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  2. Excellent post. 2015 was an excruciating year for me as well….hell so were a lot of other years. I’m not done with my redefining self process but what I can definitively say now that I could not a year is that … I will not be defined nor stuck in that same place nor time. I will continue to grow, push forward, and conquer.

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    1. Playfulness is the antidote to perfectionism, I feel. But it’s the hardest thing to do for a perfectionist because it means to just let loose, to cut some slack, to just roll with it. Giving up control, basically. The opposite of what perfectionism is about. Because it’s so not about excellence, I find. Took me over 40 years to realize…

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      1. Yes. I completely agree. I am intuitively drawn to playful people. I even married one. Of course … THAT has caused no end of heartache over the years. I, too, have been on a healing journey (for the past 15 years or so). I call myself a recovering perfectionist. Some things have shifted beautifully .. but … if/when I get fearful, I have to keep such a close eye on me to ensure I don’t default to old patterns of control to quiet my anxious mind.

        It’s such an interesting journey. And … one of the best parts is meeting kindred spirits along the way. 🙂

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      2. We do have a lot in common. I also married a very playful person. Sadly, this didn’t work out in the long run. I wish I knew then what I know now. Have you ever studied the Enneagram? Lots of wisdom regarding the 1 and 7 type couple combination which certainly was mine…

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  3. Wow you have me in tears, such heart touching writing that speaks to me. I too am a perfectionist and needed a major life shake up, the big C, which I of course fought and tried to ‘fix it’ so I could get back to my life and put everything in order again. Oh how naïve I was too think that than, I am learning to accept my new normal. And as you said it is scary as hell, especially being the type who wants to plan and know what is ahead but as I come with better acceptance and mindfulness, I am starting to embrace this journey more and the possibilities of the frightening yet intriguing changes to come. Your right, only one way forward…thank you for sharing your journey. Beautifully written

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    1. Wow, thank you so much for this incredibly touching comment. I’m so honored you reblogged my post. Perfectionism is such a farce, such an unhappy-maker. Took me so very long to realize. And yes, when you do, it’s so so scary, because you can’t just fix perfectionism. It’s trying to heal by applying poison. You really need to embrace the imperfection in yourself which is one of the hardest things to learn for me. I never thought that perfectionism plagues so many people until I started blogging about it. So good to know that we can share our experiences and help each other along the way. All the very best wishes for you on your journey!

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      1. I wrote a blog about being perfect. Now I strive for completing the must haves for the day and leaving the rest, gratitude journal helps to remind me that I did accomplish things and there were good, not always perfect, but good things in each day. I took a leap yesterday and started pursuing a dream of mine, scary but exciting too…strange lol.

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      2. Yes, I can relate. A gratitude journal helps. There is so many little and not so little things that we have reason to be grateful for, if only we pay attention to them and don’t take them for granted. I have a photo grateful journal that I enjoy very much now. Good luck with your leap, I admire you for the courage and wish you all the very best!

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      3. Yes, I started off writing a gratitude journal but then stumbled on a website of a young women who had started a gratitude photo a day challenge for one year after she’d lost her kid. It got her back on track. I’ve switched to photos too and now prefer it over the writing. I take pictures of my terrace, the sun going up, my cup of coffee, etc. It’s so nice to have visual reminders to scroll through. I’ve reached over 400 photos, mind you, I take more than one a day. Why should I limit myself when I have more reasons to be grateful… 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Marianne, it’s funny you say that, because it’s through this post that I came to know Kintsugi. One reader commented and I found a reference to Kintsugi in her blog. Since then I have also been intrigued by the concept. I just published another post, ‘What they don’t teach at school,’ this time with direct connection to Kintsugi. It’s such a deep philosophy. Weird how things sometimes find us just when we need them. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

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  4. such a motivating post this was, got so much food for thought. Being such a perfectionist myself and trying to micro manage almost everything i often end up disappointed and understanding about resilience and about letting things be as they are, learning tot shadows of my life in new life helps so much. Thank you for making me give up self criticism and learning gratitute towards myself.

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    1. Thank yo so much for your warm comment and for reblogging, of course. I’m happy my post resonates so much with you. It’s really difficult to start with letting go of perfectionism but it really does get better over time, I feel. Warm wishes!

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