It’s become apparent in the last week or so that it’s much easier to feel joy on holiday or immediately after a holiday than it is in the midst of a busy work week – particularly if, like me, you’re a perfectionist with extremely high standards and a rather obsessive way of working.
Perfectionism is probably one of the main things that robs me of joy. It can stop me from having a go, from trying in case I fail. Or, once I’ve decided to have a go, it can make the process so torturous that I wonder whether I’m up to it.
This week I’ve been working on my first commission for a magazine I really want to write for and while I’m delighted to have the opportunity, it’s definitely awakened my perfectionism and my fear of being judged. I heard the actress and writer Maureen Lipman on the Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show on Radio 2 this morning talking about writing. “No one loves to write,” she said. “But I love having written.” That’s probably not true for everyone but it really got me thinking.
There are types of writing I really love – writing on this blog, for example. There’s something so freeing about writing from the heart. It doesn’t involve interviewing lots of experts and then coming to a decision about which quotes to use or which points to make. It doesn’t involve choosing who or what to leave out. Of course, there’ll always be scope for judgement – people might be judging me right now – but no one can argue with how I feel. They might tell me I’m nuts or to get a grip but there’s no point writing a letter to the editor (if I had a blog editor) saying my reasoning was spurious, my argument unsubstantiated or my experience invalid. My feelings are as they are. Or, said in another way, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
Don’t worry, I’ve no intention of crying. Things are still going relatively well but I have concluded this week that some of us have to make a conscious effort to hold on to joy on a daily basis, lest it slip through our fingers, dragged away by fear, anxiety and all the other trials and tribulations of life.
Which brings me back to balance. Balance seems to go out of the window when I’m doing a piece of work I’m really passionate about and particularly interested in getting right. When my perfectionism takes hold, my good intentions to get to the gym, to go to Pilates or yoga (despite my blog on yoga a few weeks back, my core is still mush) or to have lots of fun alongside my work remain just that – good intentions. But I’ve decided to go easy on myself. I’m a lot better than I ever used to be and it’s progress that matters, not perfection! I did read a book a while back, though, that had some great ideas for those of us who are struggling with our behaviours around work. It’s called The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working and it made a lot of sense to me when I read it. Its suggestions include working in blocks of 90-minutes at the most and taking a good break in between, exercising in the middle of the day, playing a game of pool in the office during work hours and even having a nap at your desk. I guess we all know that we’re more alert and work more efficiently when we take regular breaks but so many of us just plough on through.
But I do believe we can all learn a new way of working. And I also believe we can challenge our perfectionism or whatever else robs us of joy. It seems with me, the more I challenge my fears of being judged, the less control they have over me. There was a point a few years back when I really felt I wanted to give up writing and journalism and do something completely different. But now I see I was probably running from my fears and would have just transferred them to my next career. Better to face them where I’m at.
These days, I’m drawn to writing more than ever and I know I still need to be doing this, both the blogging and the journalism, and maybe a book some day. There are just too many things – both from my own life experience and other people’s – that I want to put down on paper.
Right now, there’s plenty more I want to write about. There are the London riots and how I’ve felt both anxious and sad about what was going on and wondered how I could use my own experience or skills to make a tiny difference. There are the numerous stories of heartache I’ve come across this week, particularly involving IVF treatment, that have really made me wonder if I’d ever put my body through that. And there’s the fact that I feel passionately that we need to be talking and writing more about women’s choices around careers and motherhood. But these are all topics for another day. There’s no point writing about balance if I don’t put it into practice.