I’ve published dozens of blog posts that contain typos. I’ll leave the house knowing there’s a tiny coffee stain on my shirt and pretend it happened in transit. I’ll happilycobble together a meal from a wilting green pepper and some freezer-burned corn and then yell about how I’m pretty much Julia Child.
But I’ll also spend weeks – or months! – polishing and editing and fussing over an ebook that’s already 99% amazing. I’ll wander into the kitchen at 10 pm “just to wipe down the counters” … and then it’s 45 minutes later and I’m defrosting the freezer. I’ll spend so long tweaking a client proposal that I almost miss the deadline.
Of course, truly getting over perfectionism is the work of a lifetime and probably lots of therapy. But while you’re doing that deeper work, here are two surprisingly effective tips that have helped me get out of my own way and get on with my totally-not-perfect-but-still-awesome life!
Have you ever seen that tv show Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? It is, by and large, an exercise in realizing that you now know nothing about history, science, or math. How many cups are 28 fluid ounces? Between 1455 and 1485, the War Of Roses took place in what country? A common type of radio wave is referred to as VHF. What do those letters stand for? I DON’T KNOW OKAY. But I can definitely tell you the full name of Instagram sensation Tuna Melts Your Heart! As kids head back to school, I am more motivated than ever to stretch and build my brain so I’m not stumped when my 12-year-old stepson quizzes me about the difference between genus and species.
But are you one of those Type A humans who runs themselves ragged? Who struggles to uncouple their productivity from their self-worth? Who fill their days (and evenings and weekends) with one million tiny tasks?
If you are this person, I’d like to introduce you to one solution to your Type A problems: the To Do For Fun list. Quite simply, a To Do For Fun list is a list of fun things you’d like to do with your evening, your weekend, or any free time that falls into your calendar.
I realize this might sound completely counter-intuitive, but sometimes if I don’t plan to have fun … I don’t. My lazy, unstructured weekend becomes an opportunity to organize paperwork, clean the fridge, and detail the car. And then once I‘ve worn myself down, I’ll fall into a Netflix coma. Instead, what if I made a To Do For Fun list that looked like this?
Weekend To Do For Fun list
Go to the beach + get nachos at Sandcastle
Give myself a manicure
Make sweet corn ice cream
Even if I don’t do any of those things (which is fine, since it’s a To Do For Fun list!), I’ve taken five minutes to remind myself that this time is set aside for fun and relaxation. This time is not for never-ending chores, meeting other people’s deadlines, or putting everyone else’s needs before my own.
“Girl, 2018 is not the year I want ideas for random acts of kindness. This is the year I’m calling my senators every day, yelling my head off at protests, and #resisting.” <- Is this what you thought when you read the title of this post?
Friend, I get it. I really, really, really do. When it feels like the whole world is on fire, returning your shopping cart or bringing in cupcakes for your coworkers can feel futile and foolish.
Let’s be real: 2018 has been horrible. Most of us could use an injection of Feel Good. Luckily for us (and everyone around us), kindness can do that.
People who volunteer and donate to charities have been shown to have higher levels of self-esteem and happiness. They have a 22% lower mortality rate than non-volunteers!
So let’s add some random acts of kindness toour self-care regime, tucked between ‘re-reading a favorite novel’ and ‘going for a walk next to a body of water.’
Random acts of kindness help you feel empowered – instead of powerless in the face of, say, a crumbling democracy
I don’t know about you, but taking action – almost any action – makes me feel better. If malaise and overwhelm are what ails me, taking one tiny step towards a kinder world is an antidote. When I see that my neighborhood is free of litter because I picked it all up like a weirdo, I feel slightly less downtrodden. When I know my favorite NGO has a new copier because of my donations, I’m less likely to scream-cry into a paper bag. When I find out my favorite barista is a manager now (maybe because I kept praising her to the owner?), I feel slightly less adrift in a world where bad things happen to good people.
Random acts of kindness fill you up so you can keep going + keep fighting
You have the wherewithal to attend another protest or call another politician. You’re calm enough to diplomatically discuss immigration reform or reproductive rights. You can sleep at night and wake up well-rested enough to cope when you turn on CNN.
7 ideas for random acts of kindness
1. Praise someone to their supervisor
Public-facing jobs are haaaaaard. Cashiers, baristas, and servers are on their feet all day, dealing with people who are hungry, impatient, or under-caffeinated. Customer service reps get yelled at all day, every blessed day. Nurses are surrounded by sick people who hate the healthcare system. So when we encounter someone who does their job with patience and grace, let’s make sure they know they’re appreciated. We can tell them directly, “I really appreciate the way you handled this.” Or we can call, email, or tag their employer to let them know how much we enjoyed our experience. Even if that person doesn’t immediately get a raise or a promotion, they’ll know that their generosity and patience has been noticed. And they’re more likely to pass that patience on to the next customer.
2. Clean up a public space
In a perfect world, everybody would return their grocery cart to the corral. Garbage would never blow out of overstuffed cans and gas station employees would check the bathrooms every hour. Bad news: we do not live in a perfect world.
Good news: with pretty minimal effort, we can return that errant cart so no one hits it with their car. We can wipe off the sink with the paper towel we just used. We can pick up that plastic bottle that’s rolling down the sidewalk.
A cleaner, nicer world for all of us!
3. Send a care package to a soldier
Regardless of how you feel about our current administration and its military policies, I think we can all acknowledge that being a soldier is incredibly challenging. The people serving our country deserve better than the treatment they often receive once they’ve come home. Organizations like HeroBox allow you to ‘sponsor’ a service member and send them care packages specific to their needs + wants – like ‘detective novels + Snickers bars.’ Or you can donate funds and items to Operation Courage Is Beautiful, an organization that sends care packages to female service members.
4. Schedule reminders into your Google calendar to reach out to people
This piece of advice comes from a friend who lost her mom at the age of 20. “Everybody’s really supportive for, like, two weeks,” she said. “But then life moves on, people get busy, and if you’re not crying at work every day, people think you’re okay. What really helped were the friends who continued to check in with me six months or a year after the fact.”
So if your friend is going through something awful, schedule a reminder to check in with them in a month. Reach out to your friends who have less-than-amazing relationships with their parents on Mothers’ and Fathers’ day.
If you know the anniversary of a miscarriage, divorce, or death is coming up, drop them an email. If you’re worried you’ll forget, schedule an email in Boomerang!
5. Give a gift card (or some water or a care package) to a person experiencing homelessness
If you don’t carry cash or you’re not comfortable handing it out on street corners, there are still lots of ways you can help someone experiencing homelessness.* Give them a gift card to a nearby fast food restaurant or store. There are often people asking for money on the median near our house, kiddy corner from a Walgreens and a Burger King. It’s super easy to buy a few $5 gift cards when I pop into Walgreens for mascara! I can keep the gift cards in my glove compartment and hand them out when the opportunity arises.
You can also put together a care package or buy a bulk package of bottled water and hand it out on hot days. * Of course, donating and volunteering with homeless shelters is great as well! This is simply a way to meet a need more immediately.
6. Pay off someone’s layaway plan
In the age of credit cards, not as many people use layaway plans but there are still thousands of open accounts at stores like Sears and Kmart. If you’re not familiar, a layaway plan is a way for people to make periodic payments towards the purchase of an item they can’t afford to purchase outright. People are usually charged fees or a percentage, making the final cost higher than if they bought the item in one fell swoop. Paying off someone’s layaway plan will take a bit of finagling. I had to find a Kmart, drive there, and explain myself to two employees, BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT. For $17, I paid off a family’s layaway of a Dora The Explorer bedding set. I spent the rest of the day getting weepy every time I thought of that kiddo snuggling under that comforter.
7. Write Yelp and Google reviews for your favorite small businesses
Anytime anyone compliments my haircut, I fairly scream “Amberlie at Rouge Salon in St. Paul! This is a $36 haircut!!!” That’s great and everything, but I could probably send more business her way by taking 1.5 minutes to leave a glowing online review. Yelp reviews and Google reviews matter! Especially for service providers like stylists, mechanics, masseuses, and house cleaners. So if you have one you love, tell the internet about them. If you’re in the Twin Cities, Worku is our extremely beloved mechanic and Kenny loves Hilda’s haircuts and does all his bike-related shopping at The Hub. But I want to hear from you! How are you keeping your batteries charged during this super trying time? Have you been on the giving or receiving end of a random act of kindness? Tell us in the comments so we can try it!
Here’s a short list of times I’ve been so uncomfortable I sweat through my shirt: Moving to New Zealand, knowing no one Is it a terrible idea to enroll in a graduate program in another country? I don’t know anyone here – who will I call if something goes wrong? How do I get around the city? How am I going to find an apartment? Meeting a blog reader for coffee for the first time What are we going to talk about? What should I wear that’s simultaneously cool and not-trying-too-hard? What if she’s disappointed by who I am IRL? Sending a fourth follow-up email to that Dream Client Are they going to block my emails? Will they forward them around the office, mocking me? Will I be blacklisted from their entire industry, known as That Horrible Pushy Woman From Minneapolis? And the results of those cringe-worthy, sweat-inducing experiences? Once-in-a-lifetime memories + an education that helps me create better courses An eight-year friendship that includes yearly vacations to wonderful places A five-figure contract of I-can’t-believe-you’re-paying-me-to-do-this projects
It’s walking into a room full of strangers with your head held high, your heart beating in your throat, and a desire to try your best – even if you’re sweating through your shirt a little bit.
I want to hear from you! If you’re good at doing things that make you uncomfortable, tell us how you work up the courage in the comments below so we can learn from you! P.S. If you need 1-on-1 help or accountability to get uncomfortable, I can do that!
I see my friend across the noisy bar and I immediately blush and smile awkwardly. Seven months ago, my friend went through Something Awful. The sort of thing they write country songs about and base made-for-tv movies on. I was heartbroken for her! I was vicariously incensed! I had no idea what to say to her so I didn’t say anything! Now this friend – the one who has spent the last half-year rebuilding her life with zero support from me – is making her way through the crowd in my direction.
And as soon as she is within hearing distance I start babbling a strange combination of small talk questions and reasons/excuses for why she hasn’t heard from me. “I’m so sorry, dude. I wanted to write you the world’s most perfect card and I didn’t know what to say, so I just didn’t say anything. And that’s awful and you deserve better and I’m really sorry. Seriously, I’m so sorry. ” She waits me out and then puts her hand on my arm and says, “Sarah, it didn’t have to be perfect. It just had to be something.”
Of course, I teared up and we hugged, and I vowed to do better in pretty much every arena of my life and our conversation moved on to her plans for the holiday season and aren’t the fries at this place great? Unsurprisingly, her words stayed with me and I’ve started applying them to other parts of my life.
If you know you should be doing something, don’t hide in perfectionism.
When your friend loses a parent, goes through a health crisis, or gets divorced, your support doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be something. Don’t spend so long searching for the perfect words that you don’t say anything. You can shoot her an email. You can spend 60 seconds writing out a fond memory of their late parent. You can send him a text that says “thinking of you today.” When your senator votes to deport Dreamers or your mayor makes racist comments, don’t wait till you’ve crafted the perfect call script or fax. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be something. You can leave a voicemail after hours that just says “We’re disappointed in your policies and behavior and will be voting accordingly.” If you’re trying to buy fewer things you don’t need or save up for a big exciting purchase, you don’t have to avoid Target for the rest of your life. You don’t have to de-clutter down to, like, two t-shirts and one vase. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be something.
Don’t wait till the perfect moment to get your finances figured out. Once wedding season is past? When this big work project is over? You can unsubscribe from J. Crew’s newsletter. You can bring lunch to work once a week.