I’m rummaging through the crispers in the fridge, scrounging up enough to make sandwiches of roast Italian pork, Brie, Granny Smith apples, spicy mustard, and lettuce. The bread is stale, but toasting it will disguise that problem. The sandwiches get wrapped and tossed into a cooler along with frozen homemade applesauce and jam — we need a gift for our friends. Racing upstairs I pack my daughter’s toiletries, clothes, and her favorite “guys” (stuffed animals).
Our whole week has shifted after my husband suggested we drive to Kansas City, Missouri, to attend the Royal’s World Series victory parade. As longtime fans and lovers of spontaneity and celebrating, we start to clear our schedules. However, spontaneity requires good planning or a personal assistant. Lacking the latter, I try but struggle to clear my calendar. My husband and daughter set off in the car with the aforementioned meal. I will fly out the next morning.
With heavy eyes and a burning mid-back, I stand over the sink full of dishes and realize it is already 10:30 p.m. My mind races with what needs to be done before going to bed. The list is long: sub out yoga classes, switch meal train days with my friend, cancel carpool, email coach, find pet care, move a private session, and put off writing. I race through my home, wiping counters and fluffing pillows — panic sets in. How am I going to finish my list? How will I get my house in order before going to bed? Deciding what to leave undone paralyzes me. Why can’t I let it go? This trip is supposed to be fun!
Surely it’s possible to be like Martha Stewart, the successful businesswoman, crafter, and pie baker I grew up watching on TV (I’ll skip the part about going to prison). I could raise a healthy, well-adjusted child; create yummy, homemade meals; garden; date my husband; clean my own toilets and floors; and organize my closets into cute storage solutions, all while creating the career of my dreams centered on finding balance and self-realization. It’s not wrong to want to do it all, is it?
Here’s the thing, though. I consistently feel conflicted. It is exhausting trying to balance the different messages about what I should be doing for my career and family. After all of the study, teaching, effort, and investments in pursuing my passion for yoga, I feel a sense of failure and grasping. Teaching yoga is not especially lucrative. I do not have endorsement deals or thousands of followers on Instagram. And while social media provides me a free platform for promotion, networking, and finding potential clients, it can also feel like a self-aggrandizing time suck that all too often sends me down the rabbit hole of unhealthy comparisons and self-doubt.
Despite my best intentions, it is a struggle to see a significant financial return on my investment — and my floors, toilets, and gardens are a hot mess! Is it possible to make a living in yoga without compromising the values it teaches while maintaining the type of home life I value most? Am I an impatient perfectionist?
Where is self-compassion and acceptance? Where are the peace, the ease, and the joy? As a yoga teacher, these are my mantras. Suddenly, it becomes clear — I must kill “Martha Stewart”!
“Martha Stewart” has become a code name for the inevitable slide I make into neurotic perfectionism. This happens when I stray too far from living with intention and purpose. I suspect I am not alone in this struggle.
The word perfectionist bothers me; it’s a polite way of saying “uptight” or “control freak.” I am laid-back, easygoing. After all, I spend my days teaching people to let go of creating the perfect posture, and I just dropped everything to go to a parade! I’m not chasing my daughter around the house Joan Crawford–style and screaming, “No more wire hangers!” And I’m not Julia Robert’s character in Sleeping With the Enemy, being beaten by a perfectionist, abusive husband for not lining up soup can labels.
Regardless of my negative impressions of the term, perfectionism isn’t entirely negative. Psychologist Don E. Hamachek argues for two types of perfectionism: normal and neurotic. Normal perfectionists are those who can pursue excellence without their self-esteem and self-worth suffering in the face of setbacks. This type of perfectionist experiences satisfaction as a result of their efforts. Martha Stewart herself readily admits “I’m a maniacal perfectionist” and credits these tendencies with attaining success in life. Neurotic perfectionists, in contrast, set unrealistic standards and experience dissatisfaction when goals are not met. This dissatisfaction isn’t always projected outwardly; it often shows up as paralyzing negative self-talk, procrastination, and self-doubt.
In their book, The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide, authors David Daniels and Virginia Price argue that perfectionists focus on personal integrity and can be wise, discerning, and inspiring in their quest for the truth. Brené Brown’s research in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are shows perfectionism “exists along a continuum.” Everyone struggles, and it doesn’t necessarily show up evenly in all aspects of our lives. Brown notes, “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.”
Crap, this is where the heat of embarrassment and shame washes over my body. For as long as I can remember, feeling “good enough” has always been an internal struggle. Thankfully, in my journey to seek personal truth and growth, I have found ways to kill my Martha Stewart.
The practice begins with cultivating awareness and prioritizing stillness in my day. This can be challenging, especially when there never seems to be enough time. It becomes more attainable by letting go of how stillness should look. It could be two minutes at a stoplight or 30 minutes on my meditation pillow. To stay on track, I routinely ask myself these questions:
- How do I want to be?
- Who am I?
- What is my purpose or intention?
- What matters most to me?
- What are my priorities?
- Am I living this moment out of gratitude or fear?
It is essential to let go of some of the “shoulds” on my list to make space for new experiences. But caring for my home is part of my identity, and I enjoy the work when I’m not overwhelmed. Sourcing out these tasks makes me fearful of being seen as incapable — or worse, spoiled. Recently, though, I did just that. I hired two local businesswomen, who were following their own passions, to help me clean and garden.
Finally, I have begun setting intentions rather than goals. There is a difference. Goals attach a particular outcome to measure success. Intentions are how we relate to the world. For example, my goal to lose weight after pregnancy lingered for nearly five frustrating years. The shift came when I began to focus on the deeper intention for the weight loss — to feel better physically and emotionally — rather than to focus on the number on the scale. Because healthy practices align with how I want to be and feel, they easily fell into place and are easier for me to maintain. Returning to and frequently reviewing my intentions remind me of my deeper purpose, lessen attachment to the outcome, and enable me to enjoy the journey. Sliding into self-doubt happens less, and these practices are shifting my perspective on life.
As for that parade — the experience was amazingly imperfect! The cab driver dropped me off by the highway because he couldn’t get through the traffic. One last-minute plane ticket and a $60 cab ride later, I found myself hiking up a large hill with hundreds of other inspired fans. As I reached the crest of the hill, the magnitude of the experience hit me. An estimated 799,999 other fans had the same idea! All cellphone service was down, and despite having set a meeting place, I couldn’t find my family and friends — or see the parade, for that matter. I stood there alone, within yards of the parade route, too short to see anything, a speck in an ocean of royal blue, trying not to freak out. After all of our efforts, this was not the goal. Or was it? I was not alone. It suddenly occurred to me the blessing and rareness of standing among nearly a million people who were happy, filled with joy, and living in the present moment. It was absolutely perfect.