Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why It's Okay to Not Be Perfect

I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

Here's a bit of information about myself. I'm type-A. Very type-A. I tend to be a hard charger and pretty hard on myself. Certainly, moving to Cali from the east coast and having a child have mellowed me - in a good way. I have learned to cut myself some slack. But I have a history of being a hard-charger, from being HS valedictorian, varsity volleyball player (did I mention I'm only 5'2.5"?), president of the National Honor Society, yearbook editor in HS. Then of course onto college where I took 19-21 credits per semester, was in NROTC, majored in Chemical Engineering in a top-10 school, held down a job for 5/8 semesters, and pulled a 3.7 gpa, graduating 5th in my class. Then of course I worked full time in the Navy, got my master's degree at night, and played on a few volleyball teams to boot.  Right about now I have a FT job, I'm pregnant, have a 6 year old, and decided to make a quilt to donate to my son's school fundraiser.  So, I like to be busy. 

When I started running a few years ago, I decided to try a half marathon.  That's pretty hard-core to most people (maybe not the marathoners or ultramarathoners).  Understand that I am short, stocky, and built more like a sprinter.  But then I got injured just before my 2nd half.  I ran it anyway, then "cut back" by training for a triathlon.  And then I eventually had to stop running.  For about 9 months.  THAT was one of times that I realized that I'm not perfect, and had to cut myself some slack.  I had three women tell me "it's great that you are listening to your body".  But the tone - they  meant 3 different things.  One of them meant "it's great that you are listening to your body."  One of them meant "wimp."  One of them meant "OMG I hope that never happens to me, I'd die if I had to quit running."  The thing is, none of them had to experience my daily sharp shooting sciatica pain, so they really couldn't relate.

You all know that I am interested in frugality, healthy cooking, and simple living. A lot of this has to do with my upbringing. I like to think about it, talk about it, learn how to do things better. I like to practice frugailty, find new ways to save money/spend less/ do more with less.  I also like to encourage others to do the same.  With math.  Like "if I pack my lunch and my spouse's lunch every day - in 5 years, it's a new car."  But I do see, on occasion, that I can take it too far.

You know when your spouse says something like "sometimes it's not enough for you. It's one thing to try and keep our grocery bill to $200/month. But then you try to do it while shopping organic and local and only buying meat at the farmer's market". And he's right. It's all about balance and choices. If your main goal is to eat 100% local, you will have a harder time keeping it frugal. If your main goal is frugal (by necessity or desire), then it will be harder to be local. If you are really into eating paleo and local, then throw frugal out the window (unless you kill your own meat and have chickens for your eggs). This is why my life is shades of gray, and I'm always trying to improve in certain areas - but with tradeoffs.

I have a love for the blog Mr. Money Mustache. This guy is badass when it comes to frugality and how to retire early. And he has a "take no prisoners/ no complainypants attitude" that I love. And I hate it at the same time. Because my life is shades of gray. Some people cut themselves slack - too much slack - and it keeps them in the consumer mindset and the merry-go-round longer and longer.   You know people like this.  I know people like this.  But sometimes, you HAVE to cut yourself some slack, but just know when and for how long. I've had periods of my life where we were super frugal in many areas, compared to most others. But I'm not right now (hence the slack). Examples:

1. When some people complain about gas prices, I mention riding my bike to work. I hear a lot of "but I can't because..." but I live in a beautiful area with great weather.  And I live 10 miles from work.  So anyone who lives closer than me is really just complaining.  Then again, right now, I'm pregnant, and I'm not riding. So, I am cutting myself some slack.

2. When I have more energy, I do things like carefully plan out my meals weeks in advance - so I am carefully using everything in the pantry, buying in bulk, baking most of my own bread, making my own yogurt. It can be a delicate dance of buying and making just enough and not wasting any food. But again, I'm pregnant. I didn't expect to be this exhausted the 2nd time around (and everything starts to hurt earlier), but I also didn't expect to have 2 hours of insomnia every night for the last 6 months. And I underestimated what it would be like to be pregnant at 41 WITH a child already (while working as an engineering manager at a startup company). So instead, I bake SOME of my own bread. I buy big tubs of yogurt. I do my best to cook from the pantry, but I also keep canned beans on hand and grilled cheese makes it onto our menu a LOT.  I have more cereal and toast for breakfast, less homemade oatmeal.  I figure that because I am successfully eating all of our CSA produce weekly without waste, that I'm a success! Even though our grocery bill has gone up by about 20%.

3.  Exercise.  I love exercise.  When I was pregnant with my son, at this point in the pregnancy, I was working out longer and harder.  These days, I am happy to get in 30 mins 4 days a week.  My max walk lately has been 3-4 miles, not the 6 I was doing last time around.  It's the slack.  I am careful, however, to not cut myself TOO much slack, because it's "use it or lose it".  I know that if I stop entirely, it will be harder to start up.  (I haven't stopped exercising entirely in decades, so that's not really a risk, just an example.)

The important thing to remember when you cut yourself slack is to keep learning and keep striving to be better - but maybe not perfect.  "The perfect is the enemy of the good" says my boss.  The outside world does so much to make it hard for all of us. 

For one thing, there's the "stuff". The hardest thing about the "stuff" is that everyone else has it. And what's another $400 on an Ipad? Or $25 on a meal out? I can afford it, right? And look at how cool all those smart phones are!  You can access your email and facebook from anywhere!  You can find a restaurant or hotel on the fly!  Well, frugality is a like a muscle. As you practice, you get stronger. You learn more ways to save money. It gets easier to say no. But then life happens and you slip. What's important when you slip is to cut yourself some slack...but not too much slack. Like an eating binge, you don't want that 5 lb gain to turn into 20 lbs. You don't want that one night of ordering pizza to turn into ordering in 3x a week, every week.  And you don't want that $100 expense to turn into $1000. It's always good to visit frugality blogs and forums to get support and a kick in the pants when you need it.   But recognize when you need the support, and when you need the kick in the pants.

I have really enjoyed reading Mrs. Money Mustache's "what a baby really needs" post. I have a niece who is pregnant with her first child, and she registered for a bunch of baby stuff. And I REMEMBER thinking that I'd need all of that too. And how little we used. We got rid of literally everything but the high chair with our first son (we were "one and done"...oops). This second time around - not so much.  We don't really need all that much.  I have purchased so little this far it's scary.  And my friends are purging too, which helps.  This is the kick in the pants that I need.

I love to vacation, but I'm scaling back my expectations - fewer trips to Hawaii (airfare! yikes!), more short car trips to lovely So Cal destinations. And more camping. I was just thinking about this recently anyway, after reading a recent book called "Living Off Off Grid". A week in Hawaii would have been $5000 this year. A week in Palm Springs would have been more like $1000-1500. (Our vacation in Yosemite/Bay Area was around $1200). How many hours do I have to work to afford that vacation? Crazy huh? I work a week just to afford to take a week off. The author of this book pointed out that people work hard, save money, and then spend a week "getting away from it all" camping when...couldn't they just live more like that in the first place?  This in particular has been a bit of an epiphany. Why don't I just take a week off?  Or work less?  (For the record, I will be cutting my hours by 25% after my maternity leave is over. My experience last time I worked PT is that our happiness level went WAY up and we didn't miss the money. I may actually be effectively doing this before I go on mat leave by taking every Friday off for the next 3 months). In reality, I *know* my kid would rather have the extra time with me than the money anyway. What does he ask for more often...another Lego, or for mom or dad to pick him up early from school? It's a no-brainer. He wants to be picked up early.

Only you and your close friends and family can TRULY know when you are being a "complainypants" and when you are just cutting yourself some temporary slack.  Outside people can give you perspective when your inner circle is caught up in the merry-go-round of consumerism.  They can also identify if you are just being...negative.  There are negative people and positive people, and I've found that optimism and the realization that I have control over my own life (I am not a victim) have really helped me achieve success.  Perfection is a good goal, but if failing at perfection means you give up entirely and throw your hands in the air and go back to your old ways (is that your personality?), then learn to compromise. But only a little. :) 
I've decided at this point in my life that it's okay to compromise in areas that maybe other people wouldn't, and maybe think are silly/stupid.  Pregnancy, work stress, insomnia, and severe illness have really taken it out of me.  This winter, I visited my family for the holidays and my mother passed away unexpectedly the day after I arrived.  I never got to talk to her, hold her - she was just gone.  I am still grieving, going through a pregnancy with a baby who will never meet his maternal biological grandparents (they are both gone - he will have my stepdad and my husband's parents).  I cannot call up my mom and share stories about the baby kicking, and tell her how excited my son is to be a big brother (she never even knew I was pregnant.)  It's a huge gaping hole in my life that I haven't adjusted to just yet.  And yet, I've learned some great things from this experience.  My mom's death was alcohol related and self-inflicted.  She spent much of the last decade as a "victim" to everyone else's outside influences.  I will NOT be that way.


Carole said...

Nice post. You might like this post about not being perfect.

Marcia said...

that was good!

Anonymous said...

Hi Marcia - great post!

Like you I have/had battles with being being perfect and it's only now that I'm in my 40's, that I'm learning to cut myself some slack.

I also go to extremes with frugality and spending, finding the middle ground is not always easy for me.

I'm sorry to hear about your mum.

Jane said...

I'm sorry about your Mom ... I really relate on so many of the things you mentioned.. cutting slack is not the same one person to another, I think you have to make your own decisions. And take it easy! I struggle with perfection too and go to extremes (like all the time). I hope you have a great Easter!