“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”

I haven’t written in a few months. And the truth is, it’s because I’ve been afraid of what might come out. As a process of personal consciousness-raising, writing allows me to get in deep with my own thoughts and feelings about the personal, political, and vocational. And lately, in all three of those arenas, I’ve gotten close enough to the edge of the pool to see that it’s getting awfully deep and it is looking like I haven’t cleaned it in quite a while. So I’ve been sitting on my lounge chair, biding my time until I convinced myself that if I dive in, I’m a good enough swimmer to make it back to the surface. 
One struggle over the past few months has been with my level of “busyness.” Much-reviled busyness, which I frequently take to task here and elsewhere, was starting to enthusiastically creep back into my life. It turns out, once you figure out some important truth about the best way to live your life, you can still retreat to old habits. Furthermore, when the context of your experience changes, so too must the way you make meaning of your values in practice.  Behold, having recently proclaimed myself as unburdened with busyness, I launched into a schedule that can only objectively be described as absurdly busy.  I have allowed tasks and responsibilities that are non-essential and driven by obligation and perfectionism to consume my time. The distinction between those types of activities and those that are essential, important, and aligned with my values and goals is very important, because spending time on the essential is not busyness, but rather an investment. For example, taking two weeks to be with my family when my grandmother was dying: essential. Worrying about trying to put together alumni class activities for college homecoming: busy. 
As a recovering perfectionist, it’s still a pretty ugly process for me to own up to vulnerability in public arenas. However, I share my writing because I am deeply invested in human connection and value the process of exchanging thoughts and ideas with others. Still, it’s a lot easier to share something that you anticipate people are going to find positive and inspiring than to share your struggle. So once I realized that I was bumping up against my own values in a rather uncomfortable way, starting to bullshit my way through life because things were getting kind of ugly and painful, and I was getting dangerously close to reneging on my own self promises of wellness and authenticity, I started putting my protective walls back up. One of those walls was avoiding writing. 
I’m a master of building emotional walls. I’m impossibly good at shutting other people out when it allows me to evade owning that I am scared, in pain, confused, or sad. My partner is very proficient at noticing this, most likely because he has some good practice at carefully dismantling said walls. I am a persistent builder, though. And although I’ve done better lately at not hiding my vulnerabilities quite so much, every once in a while, when I feel like I’m losing control, I will drag out the bricks and mortar and get to work. Brick 1: anger; Brick 2: defensiveness; Brick 3: blame. So on and so forth, glued together with the cement of self-righteousness. Although I haven’t managed to rid myself of this tendency yet, I’ve started to be able to name it, and as previously mentioned, my partner will name it too. Being called out on being insufferable and emotionally distant kind of sucks, but not nearly as much as continuing to be insufferable and emotionally distant would suck. 
One recent example of a calling out happened when I was in a rare mood. I was swimming in my own feelings of hypocrisy, shame, and not being good enough as a partner. I had recently (with the supportive listening help of my partner, sister, and father) identified that my priorities were messed up and hadn’t been able to fix it yet. I was still reeling from grief and worn down from an unforgiving schedule of work and travel. I described myself to my sister as being stuck on a swing, but I couldn’t figure out when or how to jump off without getting hurt. So obviously, I decided to transfer the blame. I was mad at myself for not making enough time for my relationship and for my personal well being, which I spent a five hour car drive thinking about, so I started to transfer my anger by picking a fight. I called my partner and said “Can we please DO something when I get home, because I really CANNOT just sit on the couch all afternoon?” It’s remarkable that I have the inflection and attitude of my twelve year old self when I’m steeped in feelings of inadequacy and exhaustion (this may merit further exploration). He amiably agreed and asked if I wanted to go on a hike (of course I wanted to go on a hike! It was a beautiful day and I love hiking). Because I won that fight too easily (mostly because it was not a fight at all), I lingered and clung to the idea that he was only going on this hike because I had somehow tricked him into it and that he totally resented me and didn’t want to go, instead of accepting that although hiking is not his all time favorite activity, he suggested it and was obviously okay with it because of his love for and devotion to me. I appended this new nugget of inadequacy and failure to the mental novel of Inadequacy and Failure that I had written during my long drive.
And so I kept swirling in this little shame storm. When I got home, I picked another argument when my partner casually joked about our hiking plans. I got into a full blown “conversation” with him about how I feel that “we” don’t do enough “fun things” together (read: I’m being a shitty girlfriend because I’m constantly traveling, I’m totally stressed out, and pissed at myself for not making time for the things that I say matter). I will add here that I’m fortunate to have a partner who fights fair, with love, and an immense amount of care. We actually had a sort of productive conversation, but I was still trying to build a wall around myself to avoid my vulnerabilities. Finally, we got into the woods (literally, we were in the woods). The path we were hiking was slippery with late fall leaves; he went ahead of me, offering his hand as I commented that I thought the path was a little dangerous that day, and reassuring that he would protect me. I  snapped: “I don’t need you to protect me,” and as the words left my mouth I immediately felt the weight of my own hurt. He casually responded “Oop, there’s those walls…” I felt guilty but was grateful that he called me out. Denying that I need help or protection is how I justify the wall building behavior. If I don’t need anyone other than myself, I can justify crappy behavior because it will only impact me. 
I’ve since resumed the hard work of reexamining and committing to my priorities. I thought it was enough to name and understand these things for myself, but the truth is, I can’t live an authentic and whole life without the help and investment of others. I needed help as I navigated major transitions in my life. A new job, a new relationship, a new living and financial situation, and the death of a loved one are all kind of a big deal. 
I’ve been coming to terms with the idea that my development is neither linear nor sequential. Fellow educators will get this: I’m finally figuring out that I’m not following a stage model. This perhaps should have been easier to figure out, since I don’t necessarily believe in linear development as an accurate description of the human experience, but alas, knowledge is easier to understand written on a page than seen in a mirror. So I need to give myself permission to sometimes fall down and sometimes stagger backwards when faced with challenging situations. I need to remember that thinking that I can perfect anything in life is  dangerous and destructive. I need to accept that the beauty is in the struggle and that learning is a direct result of challenge. And I need to be open to the fact that an authentic and whole life is one in which I am open to others and forgiving of myself. 

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Imperfection.

Why hello, blogosphere…It’s been a while. I’ve been quite the absentee for a while now. Perhaps I’ve been overwhelmed by other commitments. Perhaps my writing is subject to the fleeting nature of the seasons. Perhaps I lost inspiration. At any rate, I think I’m back on the writing wagon. A fitting introduction for this post, which concerns my “One Word” for 2014: Imperfection. 

Why fitting? Because Perfectionist Ashley would have looked at a 9 month hiatus from the pursuit of blogging as a failure that should be swept under the internet rug. Cancel that domain. Delete the account. Hope no one ever asks me again about blogging. However, I’m on a little crusade to battle perfectionism in my life, which I started to explore in this NASPA WISA Blog Post a few months ago. In honor of this, I have chosen “Imperfection” as the word that I hope to use to define the next year. 

For those who aren’t familiar with the One Word concept, it’s sort of like a New Year’s Resolution, but instead of choosing a goal, you choose a single word to embody and explore for the year. My previous words have been Change and Momentum. I can’t help but feel that Imperfection has a decidedly different character than the previous words. My One Word always has something to do with what I can become in the coming year, and Imperfection might seem like a cop-out to some. Am I trying to give myself a pass to screw up over the next year? How unprofessional/childish/capricious/blah blah blah…

But wait. I am giving myself a pass to screw up. Well, I’m trying to, at least. I’m trying to exercise self-compassion in the moments of screwing up. I’ve already started to practice this philosophy and I’m feeling pretty good about it so far. Because let’s be honest: I’ve been screwing up royally for my whole life at various times. And I can say that telling myself “Hey, it’s okay, you’re still an awesome person and people love you” as opposed to “OH MY GOD you really messed that one up, there’s no recovering from that, everyone will be so disappointed in you!” makes a pretty big difference. 

I hope to write about my journey into Imperfection here. But if I get busy and forget, then oh well. I’m still a pretty cool person. 

And for good measure, here’s a very nice picture of imperfection. This was on New Year’s Eve and I hope that my year is something like this. I was having an awesome time and didn’t even care that I look borderline rabid in this selfie with my best friend. May all of 2014 have this level of delighted abandon!

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