Lauren’s eight month mark came and went and her birth story is still hovering at 90% written. But here I am writing about our present while the unwritten past is biding its time waiting in the wings.
I’m getting better and better about moving forward without angst when things aren’t as perfect as they could be. That is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since Lauren’s birth.
I’m an optimizer by nature, which has frequently been manifested as perfectionism in the past. I love figuring out how to do things efficiently and eke out the maximum value, whatever that might look like.
But, my husband asked me a very pointed question a few months ago that has changed my mindset. “What are you optimizing here?” I believe we were talking about a specific aspect of homeschooling at the time (bless that man’s patience), and I realized that I was actually trying to perfect that particular piece of our day to the detriment of my time, our budget, etc. “Good enough” there was, in fact, optimization because life is lived as interconnected pieces, not in isolation.
So now I try to ask myself that question when I find myself going into full-on Anne Optimize Mode. “What am I optimizing here?”
Example: I try and have something healthy and delicious for our family for dinner. However, tardy dinners were really becoming a problem for our evenings. They delayed bedtime, shrunk our read-aloud time, and we found our parental patience evaporated long before tuck-in time. My idealize plan for dinner was cramping our style. So now my policy is that if I don’t have dinner close to done at 6, I abandon ship and we eat the simplest meal imaginable so we can all sit down by 6:30. That might be beans and pineapple from cans or it might be cold cereal, but it’s saved our sanity.
(Plus, I’m naturally doing more meal prep ahead of time, meal planning, etc. because who wants to eat beans from a can more than once a month?)
Example: I try and look ahead for homeschooling and optimally prep our lessons so they are the best they can be. But when life got in the way, or rather real life was the way, I found myself having to scramble at the last minute to get my act together to teach my kids. That dragged our school day out, made a pile up of kids waiting for me, and made me feel frazzled. I decided that instead we’d just go with what we had, imperfect though it was, and skip things that weren’t ready. I rotate through my kids for school and I started just filling in gaps with a great book or time talking or playing a game. “Good enough” has been glorious. Everyone’s still learning and we’re probably learning more because we’re showing up consistently and spending more time “doing” than planning/gathering. As a result of this mindset shift, I tend to gravitate towards lower prep curricula and/or I’ll prep in advance more often if I’m really committed to it.
One technique that’s helped me optimize my optimization is considering the “true cost.” Often in my quest to perfect something, I’d leave a wake of undone things. The true cost of researching the perfect toaster to buy (for more than an hour, late at night!) might mean I have less time to sleep, less patience the next day and less enjoyment of what the next day brought. The “good enough” (10 minutes of research) toaster is truly more optimal right now than a superior toaster might be.
Final example: We keep lots of clothes and shoes to pass down from child to child because I don’t enjoy shopping or spending money unnecessarily. I used to try to keep an inventory of what we had and have each bin sorted by size and season. It was all very organized and looked nice in my head, but in practice it made me dread the seasonal rotation and it gave me angst because I’d get “behind” on keeping up the index. Now? I have a bin of “clothes to grow into” for each child and one for “shoes to grow into.” We dump the bin out, figure out what they have and what they need, move things down to the next kid and move on with our lives. No fancy index.
I’m sure for lots of people that’s just common sense: Don’t spend time perfecting things that don’t need to be perfect. But for me it’s taken me close to 35 years to figure out. I really had to feel maxed out before I took a hard look at where I was putting my energy. Progress, not perfection.
It’s funny how we each have our own blind spots. I would never dream of being late(r) to an event just so everyone looked perfect. But in other areas of my life I was repeatedly deep-ending on perfecting things that sucked my energy from things I value more. I’m not doing that so much anymore.
– Anne Bean, loosening up since 2019.