Two months ago I stopped writing this newsletter the same way I stop or start most things in my life. In a rage. In a flurry. In a moment. I was sitting at the kitchen island, the lights above the counter aggressive and loud, as I stared with crazed eyes at words on a screen.
This is not good. This story is stupid. All my writing is crap. I don’t know what I’m doing. And for the last time, I decided enough. I couldn’t do it anymore. I deleted the words I spent the last eight hours sharpening, wielding, molding and haphazardly wrote two hundred words letting everyone know that the newsletter was over. I was DONE. I had too much going on. I was too stressed. Too busy.
Jay, my husband, was relieved. Like how my parents must have felt when I quit softball. They couldn’t watch me cry on the mound any longer. And for the first week, I also felt relieved. It felt good to not have to do it any longer. I didn’t find myself spending the weekend tense and anxious about it. I woke up Monday morning without wishing I had written something better, without hating myself for not taking more time, without lamenting how difficult it was.
Then, one by one, I quit a bunch of other things. My work out routine. Daily showers. Getting up early. Books. (I stopped buying them, reading them, then finishing them at all.) I stopped drinking water and green tea and stopped caring what night I drank whiskey. I stopped putting on make-up and brushing my hair and changing out of the sweatpants I wore to bed every night.
Exactly two months after the release of my book, two days after my thirtieth birthday, one month since stepping on the bike, I woke up in a deep, dark malaise. Besides no appetite for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I had no appetite for life. I spent the next week moving from the bed to the kitchen where I sat for eight hours to do my job, then back into bed to watch TV until I fell asleep. And then, I got an email from one of you.
Hey, I just wanted to let you know, I really miss your newsletters on Monday. I hope you know I don’t care if they had errors or mistakes. Flaws and all, they were a comfort to me.
I received a bunch of kind and generous emails the day I retired the newsletter, but none of them hit me like this one. Maybe, I thought, because this woman saw past what I was pretending to say. She knew why I stopped. It wasn’t because I was too busy. Too stressed. Too overwhelmed and spread thin. It was because I was having a crisis of imperfection.
I stopped writing because I thought these newsletters had to be perfect. And every time I sent one and noticed a spelling mistake or thought of a better ending, I became anxious, stressed, upset. And the next time I went to write one I started to think about all the ways it would be imperfect. How I couldn’t think of a better story, a more useful metaphor, a better description. Until, eventually, I couldn’t write them anymore. I couldn’t write another newsletter because I couldn’t stand the idea of doing another one imperfectly.
I started wondering if the same thing was happening in all the other parts of my life. Like with my job. I felt so stressed about it all the time because I thought if I didn’t show up every day and nail it, that I was failing. If the interaction, the response, the email was less than my expected level of perfection, then I started to hate the job and myself. If every day didn’t feel like this huge accomplishment, this big step forward, I had failed.
The same went for exercising. If I couldn’t do it right, couldn’t get on the bike every other day, it was pointless. If I looked in the mirror and didn’t look perfect, I was ugly. And there was no use getting out of sweats, brushing my hair, making an effort. My life, I realized, was stalled in this crisis of imperfection.
Then I had another thought. What if I just sent an imperfect email? What if I sent this newsletter every week knowing it’s not going to be perfect? It was such a simple yet liberating revelation. I’m going to do something knowing it can’t or won’t always be the best or perfect or even good, because it’s better than doing nothing. Because I know at least one person will appreciate it.
Sometimes I’ll spend weeks on the newsletter and the story will be great and the grammar perfect. Sometimes it’ll be rushed and surface level and written Sunday night. Sometimes work will go well and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes I won’t impress my boss. Sometimes I will. Sometimes I’ll have a great idea, do something amazing, and other days I won’t do very much at all. But I’m going to show up and keep showing up.
And I may have a few bad newsletters in a row. And if the next interview I do for the book isn’t perfect then that’s fine. I tried. I showed up. And if the book sales aren’t perfectly impressive and the reviews on Goodreads aren’t perfect, then that’s fine too. I can do an imperfect life. Because an imperfect life is better than the life I’ve been living the last two months. A bad metaphor or cliché today could be a better one tomorrow.
What if our new mantra when our feet hit the ground every morning is: Today I will send the imperfect email. Seize the imperfect day. Do it imperfectly.
Today may not be a triumph. There may be nothing I do that’s worth attention or praise or that delicious feeling of accomplishment. But what I do today will build on tomorrow. And tomorrow, there’s a possibility for better. For closer to perfection. For growth.
Even writing this newsletter now. It hurts. It’s hard because I want to spend more time on it, more hours on it. And right as I’m ready to pull my hair out, to slam the laptop shut, to turn on Real Housewives and say ‘f*ck it’, I repeat to myself – it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just send an imperfect email. And I feel better. I feel like it’s okay to finish and send it, full of all its imperfections.
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