The Pursuit of Excellence

(I wrote this piece for the January 2023 newsletter of the California Association of American Mothers, Inc.: https://www.americanmothers.org/)

As we prepare for 2023, you may be making some New Year’s resolutions. If so, please let this recovering perfectionist share a final anti-perfectionism insight: choose the “pursuit of excellence” rather than expecting yourself to be perfect. This distinction was made by Dr. David Burns, the well-known cognitive-behavioral therapist, in his book 10 Days to Self Esteem. My own beloved therapist gave me this image of perfectionism: imagine a pole vaulter who has trained hard and learned to jump over quite a high bar, but she considers herself a failure because the bar is not one inch higher. It is “all or nothing” thinking that always judges oneself to be “nothing.” In contrast, the “pursuit of excellence” mentality sees a realistic spectrum of ability and accomplishment and empowers a person to keep trying to develop her character (or athletic ability, in the case of the pole vaulter).

A related insight from Dr. Burns is that our flaws and imperfections can actually make us lovable to each other. Imagine a woman who has it all together and never appears to make a mistake. We might respect such a person, but it would be hard to feel affection for her. When we honestly share our struggles with each other, our motherly hearts naturally go out to each other. So don’t be afraid to share your problems with people you trust. Your relationships will be strengthened rather than weakened because of your honesty.

May God bless us and our families as we courageously pursue excellence in mothering in 2023 and beyond!

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