I am someone who has incredibly high expectations. I am not sure when in my life it happened that my standards became so high. I was joking with a few colleagues the other day about how I was raised and how my dad used to vehemently remind us to do it right the first time. I know there are many ways of looking at the world, and that making mistakes is one where we learn the most. That, however, was not how I was raised. I distinctly remember a few specific examples. One time my sister and I were asked to clean our room (we shared a room). We cleaned it, but not to my dad’s standards. When we got home from wherever we were that afternoon, we walked into our room and found every drawer of our respective dressers empty, and every desk drawer empty, and the contents of our shared closet all sat in a massive mixed pile in the middle of the room. I remember him barking some sort of comment to us: “Maybe next time you’ll do it right the first time.”
I was horrified. I do not remember how long it took us to clean it up, or what my sister and I discussed during the process, but I will never forget what my room looked like that day. Now, I can think about a million other ways to get through to kids, and whether my dad was right or wrong, he was definitely creative about getting our attention. He also was a bit scary. I do think his “get it right the first time” mantra in some ways made me use problem solving tactics and critical thinking skills at an early age. You see, my dad could turn a million different ways and I had to be prepared for it, so I thought: “if I do this, what will be the outcome?” or “how about if I do that?” I was not always so savvy to be prepared for how he might react, but I was definitely aware of the consequences of my actions. Never mind that I probably should have just been out playing.
There was another occasion when it was my chore to scrub the bathtub, specifically the soap scum ring. On one occasion when my dad inspected the bathtub (it was a pink bathtub too), to see if it passed his inspection, he decided it was not clean enough and that I needed to start again. In order to ensure I would have to clean the entire bathtub again (and not just work on the soap scum) he poured ketchup into the tub. Again I was horrified. I just wanted him to show me where I missed a spot, and give me a chance to fix it. Starting again felt so unfair. Maybe that is why I detest cleaning the shower/bathtub (thank you Chris).
Did my dad ingrain in me the desire for higher standards? Maybe. Did he know he was doing it? I do not think so. I think I am a by-product of finding creative ways of knowing I had dotted all my i’s and crossed my t’s. I had a backup plan for my backup plan. My brain constantly looks for all the different scenarios and which ones to stay away from and which ones lead to the best possible scenario. It has helped me at home and in my professional life. There are way better ways to teach critical thinking skills and to learn consequences for different choices. I will not be passing on the ways of my father.
There is always someone else in our life that has it worse off than we do. No matter what the situation, every life is different and has extremes of good and bad. When you are in a funk, or just cannot understand why you are still in the continuously spinning hamster wheel, just remember that there is someone else in the world that is probably struggling worse than you are, or there is someone who could actually use your help.
I think of that often when I have a bad day. I ask myself questions such as: “Will I care about this situation in a day, week, month, year?” If the answer is no, then I should probably let it go. Or, “Is this really so bad?” Whatever the answer we usually have options to change our life. Sometimes we just do not know which direction to walk or which door to open. I just finished a gut-wrenching memoir titled: “Chanel Bonfire” by Wendy Lawless. It takes you through her life and her experiences with her crazy (yes truly crazy) mother. She and her sister handle their situation differently. Her sister, Robin, fights her mom and reacts. Wendy is the caretaker and the smooth-things-over daughter. The result, she loses herself:
“Talking to him made me realize that I couldn’t talk about my plans or dreams because I didn’t have any. I was amorphous. I had no idea who I was, what I liked or disliked. I had spent so much time as Mother’s warden, and Robbie’s bodyguard, that I had subjugated a large part of myself that was, from lack of tending, small and undeveloped. When I walked into a grocery store, I would walk up and down the aisles, like a robot, aimlessly looking at all the boxes and jars wondering what I should buy. Did I like green beans? Cheerios? Cheddar cheese? I didn’t know. Living my little half-life, I was so used to not thinking for or of myself. I was just going along. Just existing.” page 266
While I did not have a crazy mother (far from it) or childhood that was in any way similar to Lawless I still felt I could relate to her. She goes from socializing with the upper class in London and Paris as a kid, going to some of the top schools, to having her mom lock her in closets and threaten to kill them all. I relate to Wendy because I found that after taking care of my mom for so many years (with my sister) I felt I could relate less and less with my peers, and quietly retreated into a quiet place. Since there was no one that knew at all what it was like to be 12, have a mom who was bedridden, where we had to support her every need, what was the point of talking about it at all? In so many ways it was my little half-childhood. I was just existing.
Lawless’ memoir will remind you how vastly different families live. A similar situation could be happening at your neighbor’s house. Be grateful for the good in your life, and help those that you know might be in similar situations.
Do you ever have those days when you cannot decide what to wear? Of course you do, we all have them. Even men have them. Although I have a hunch that women have them much more often. Most likely it is our hormones. I cannot tell you how often in the past I ended up on the floor of the closest in tears (and trust me I rarely cry) because nothing fit, or nothing felt right on my body that day.
My usual instinct is to always be comfortable. Presentable, but comfortable. What makes things more complicated is when I have to do a presentation, whether in front of a larger group of people, or a group of leaders. It makes me think that much more about being comfortable while also presentable. I occasionally miss the years of my life when I worked from home and my only “clothing” mission of the day was that I take a shower before Chris came home from work. I could at times go days before ever leaving the house. I do not have that luxury anymore. Each day is a new day with all of its newness, oldness, and everything in between.
When I came across this photo on Pinterest, I thought “oh man that is so me.” On those days when I have to give a presentation and all I want to do is be ever so cozy, and yet I cannot be. Instead, I need to be a bit more put together. I need to be more aware of how what I wear does not distract from the ideas I am sharing or the strategy I may be rolling out. In the end, dress, clothes, and what we wear matters. That does not mean that I believe that you have to dress up, but what you put together and how you present yourself matters.
Does it matter for men in the same way? Yes and no. In many ways I have seen it first hand where a guy can wear a t-shirt and jeans and it not matter if he looks less “put together” and yet if a woman wore it in the same situation she would be considered dressed down. Not fair, but at the moment it is the state of things.
Embrace the days where you sit on the floor of your closet. See if you can find something that can express who you are supposed to be today, who you are, and who you want to be.