Beginning a new year. Or a new day.
Note: I started this post on Feb. 8, 2014 and, like many things I started during the time I was working on the perfectionism book, lost track of it before I finished. I think the idea of coming back more than 2 years later to complete this post speaks to the very topics I meant to address here—persistence, resilience, and completion, maintaining a commitment to goals and projects we didn’t even remember we had started.
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.”
An old friend** once told me that whenever he was having a bad day, he would just start his day over. “Even if it’s just before midnight, it’s not too late to turn your day around,” he advised.
I always admired his attitude and even with the beginning of a new year fading fast in the rear-view, I’ve been thinking about resolutions and fresh starts.
I’ve never been very good at resolutions— although I understand putting off certain goals until some artificial starting point, like the first of January. Research I kept seeing around the holidays suggests I’m not alone: only about 8% of us actually achieve our resolutions, and only 46% are maintaining their resolutions after six months.*
Statistics aside, I have always been an intensely goal-oriented person, and can’t think of a time that I didn’t have more things I wanted to do, make, learn, explore, develop, or achieve than was humanly possible. While I often get overwhelmed, I don’t give up easily. That said, as I get older, I have learned that there are times when a bit of flexibility and patience is entirely appropriate, as is the ability to take plans in different directions or simply let them go.
So I’ve been thinking about things like intentions and persistence lately, because despite the number of goals I’ve achieved throughout my life, there are a few that continue to elude me, with each attempt at a do-over carrying a history, in many cases, of inconsistent success, if not consistent failure. I can’t always wait for a whole new year to start over. Sometimes, I just need to know I can try again in the next few minutes, or maybe just remember that tomorrow will bring a whole new day with a blank canvas for me to fill, and that I can paint something different next time, regardless of my history.
Because what if there really are no mistakes? What if everything we do is just learning?
I’ve been working on a series of projects to learn lace knitting. Although I’ve been a knitter since I first learned at age 9, lace knitting (which is about creating patterns, generally with “holes” or spaces in the work, as opposed to making actual lace) has always confounded me. It’s so easy to miscount or skip a step and even as I’m getting better, I still find myself ripping out what I’ve just done—sometimes long rows at a time—stitch by messy stitch. On almost every project, I’ve had to tear my first few inches out and start over. From scratch, but with a better understanding of the pattern and processes.
This willingness to start over, and sometimes even accept flaws as we keep moving forward, is a wonderful and healthy alternative to the all-or-nothing, why-bother attitude that accompanies perfectionism. So we fell off the wagon, missed a week at the gym, dropped a stitch. I’m a big believer in second chances, and although I don’t practice what I preach as consistently as I would like, applaud efforts to continually strive for excellence, pick up where we left off, and try again, try again, try again.
*University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology. Posted Jan. 1, 2014 on the Statistic Brain Web site: http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/
**The old friend I refer to here is a guy named “Biker Steve” Saiz. We lost touch with one another during the years I was on the road and I recently found out that he passed away at age 50 in 2004. I credit Steve’s advice with many of my fresh starts and dedicate this page to his memory.
Book: The Perception Deception: Why Trying to be Perfect is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage
Website: The Perfection Deception
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