Hey Elderly Aunt, I love my family, and I love my job. I put a lot of effort into spending enough time with both, but it never feels like it’s enough. Admittedly, I’m a perfectionist, but the constant juggling act and feeling of never having enough time takes away from my enjoyment of both my family and my work. How do I let go of this feeling that I can’t be an adequate parent/spouse and professional?
Rest assured, dear reader, that the Elderly Aunt feels your pain. As wise as she is, she’d reached her mid-forties before it occurred to her that no matter how hard she tried and how much sleep she sacrificed, she simply could not do everything. So the first thing the Elderly Aunt suggests, dear reader, is for you to join her in the real world and accept that you cannot do everything either.
Next, the Elderly Aunt invites you to consider the three words—I’m a perfectionist—that you park between commas at the beginning of your question’s second sentence. Those commas suggest that you see your perfectionism as a kind of throw-away aside, while the Elderly Aunt wonders if those three words might not be the root cause of your anguish.
Over the course of her very long life, the Elderly Aunt has met many, many others who consider themselves perfectionists. For her, all these hard-working, conscientious people appear to have one thing in common. Gremlins have staged a sit-down in their heads — gremlins whose only mission is to make certain their host person knows that no matter how much they do, it is not enough; and no matter how well they do it, it should be done better.
As the Elderly Aunt sees it, if you, dear reader, are cursed with a resident gremlin, then you are the victim of either your upbringing, your temperament or your ego. If the gremlin’s voice reminds you of a person you’ve known and were unable to please, it’s upbringing. If the gremlin’s accusations of imperfection make you nervous, it’s temperament. If the gremlin makes you feel pressured to shine at everything you do, it’s ego. It is also possible to be a victim of all three.
So, you ask, how do I get the cursed gremlin to shut up? Alas, the Elderly Aunt’s answer to that question is, who knows? Therapy, perhaps? Diligent meditation? A relaxing hobby such as sailing?
Just what you need, right — something else to obsess about doing perfectly?
The Elderly Aunt suggests an alternative is to treat that gremlin’s natterings in the same way she treats politicians’ tweets—recognizing them as full of lots of sound and fury, signifying zilch. The Elderly Aunt feels strongly that our gremlins’ only power over us is the power we grant them.
Another point. Over the course of her long life, the Elderly Aunt has known many people who are simply more comfortable feeling bad about themselves than they are feeling good. If that’s you, dear reader, you have a choice: You can continue in your current comfort zone (stressed out, fry-brained, wallowing in your feelings of inadequacy) or you can tolerate the discomfort of feeling better about yourself. After all, you love your family and your job and you’re doing your darndest to do right by both of them. Of course, you’re busy. But it strikes the Elderly Aunt that you are also extremely fortunate. So, she suggests, why not try allowing yourself to enjoy life?
On the second and fourth Monday of each month, the Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life . To get the Elderly Aunt’s advice on an issue that’s been intriguing or bugging you, email your question to email@example.com with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).