Subdue Your Inner Perfectionist

It has to be perfect.

Every word, every syllable, every turn of phrase.

Nothing out of alignment.

All parts marching blissfully toward the greatest expression that ever existed.

Everything else is crap.

That’s what it’s like living with a perfectionist. I should know. I am one.

It’s fascinating. I couldn’t care less as to how much dust is accumulating on my bookshelves, or whether my cupboards are organized, but when I sit down to complete a task that I place great value on, it had better be perfect.

The pursuit of perfection has positives and negatives. On the positive side, I will always hand in my best work. Anything less is unacceptable. The down side? I am often plagued with unnecessary stress and crippling self-doubt. No one else is telling me my work is shit, or that the essay I handed in was subpar. I am. It’s all self-induced pressure. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned to negotiate terms with my inner dominatrix. But recently, I discovered just how detrimental being a perfectionist can be to my writing.

I have a new novel I’ve been working on. I’ve been messing around with it all summer. But now that it’s approaching autumn, I’m no further ahead than I was months ago. Why? Because I was trying to come up with the perfect motivation for my heroine that would propel her actions throughout the entire novel. In my mind, it made sense to set up her sound, logical reasoning right out of the gate. I figured the story would flow much easier. After all, if we both knew (my heroine and I) why she was doing what she was doing, then it would make each witty exchange of dialogue and every dollop of conflict in every scene relevant and poignant.  

I hammered out my motivation and then pounded out 10,000 words. Until suddenly, I couldn’t pound out a single word more. My perfect setup hit a road block. What I assumed was perfectly sound, ended up having so many holes in it, it wouldn’t hold up to a bucket of water, let alone a reader’s critical scrutiny.

I became muddled in logic and loop holes. I couldn’t write a single word more. Instead, I spent the next two months trying to fix the leaks. I dug deeper, grabbed the plaster and trowels and taped, patched, and remodelled but I couldn’t get it right. My writing ground to a halt.

Obviously, I had hit upon another failure. At least this time, I realized it early in the process. What if I’d spent a year or two of my life working on this thing only to find out the novel stood on a teetering foundation of paper cards?

I moped about for a bit. Railed against the uselessness of it all. Then, it hit me. If I wanted to write this damn book, I needed to write the scenes I wanted to write, regardless of whether I’d figured out the motivation or not. Perhaps if I just kept chug, chug, chugging along, something would finally click.

I wrote one scene.

It wasn’t perfect, and I knew that meant when it came time for revisions and second, third and hundredth drafts, I would end up changing a whole whack of stuff, but at least I was writing again. I decided this was immeasurably preferable to sitting around and twiddling my thumbs all day.

Then, as if to hammer home the point, I came across an article, which suggested that perfectionism ultimately destroys creativity.

Touché universe, touché.

I got it. No more trying to fit my writing into a neat and tidy box, now I will let the words flow. I’d figure out how they all fit together later.

Maybe.

Maybe it will suck, and nothing will come of it. But, deep down inside, I think I’m on to something. I just need to let go of the wheel and enjoy the ride.

In gratitude,

Marissa xo

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Ever ask yourself that question?

Are you still asking that question?

I am.

40ish years in, and I still have no clue what it is I’m meant to be doing when I grow up.

I’ve tried my hand at a lot of things…woodworking, yoga instruction, accounting, customer service, writing. I took courses in botany, html, photography, carpentry, English, editing, psychology, anatomy. All these varied subjects have become spokes in the wheel of my life, and I enjoyed many of them, but somewhere in the hub of that wheel is a girl still trying to get her shit together.

I envied my peers in high school who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up…a teacher, doctor, veterinarian, nurse. They had a course and a compass. Everything they did aligned with the vision they saw for themselves.

I, on the other hand, had an amorphous idea that I wanted to create something, and I wanted to be successful at it, but other than that, I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Originally, I wanted to be an actress, but I decided I was too self-conscious and not nearly good-looking enough for that job.

Then I decided I would become an author, but after decades of trying different things…writing articles for newspapers, magazines, ezines, and blogs, and penning self-help books and novels…I decided I sucked at writing and needed to focus on something else.

I thought maybe I could be a photographer, but my pictures were just mediocre. I couldn’t compete with the truly talented people out there taking incredible photographs.

I’ve always been a life-long learner, taking college or university courses part-time in my efforts to discover myself, but this past September, I decided to go back to college full-time and channel my energy into the pursuit of a career in public relations.

After a full year and 12 courses under my belt, with a combined grade average of 95, I panicked. What if I couldn’t pull off a second year? What if the success of the first year was a fluke?

I began to question whether I should return to finish the diploma. Was this really what I wanted? In truth, who knows. I love a lot about PR, but was this really what I wanted to be when I grew up? Maybe. But what if it wasn’t? What if I got out into the PR world and didn’t like it? What if I’d made a terrible mistake? What if I failed?

I almost didn’t sign back up to finish my studies. The fear of failure stopped me dead in my tracks. And that’s when I took a long, hard look at myself. My lack of confidence and fear of failure had stopped me in almost every endeavour I’d chosen to pursue. The irony…I’d succeeded in everything I’d set my mind to, sometimes phenomenally. So, what on earth was going on? Where was this coming from? And how the hell could I stop it?

That’s when I realized, I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop it. At least not in a cold-turkey been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt don’t-need-to-worry-about-it-again kinda way. I also recognized, for me, it didn’t matter where or when I developed this crippling self-esteem issue. Knowing how it came about in my childhood wasn’t going to help me move forward. What I needed to do was recognize when I was self-sabotaging myself now and gently redirect my focus to my successes and stop focusing on my failures (perceived failures) and all the reasons why I was convinced I sucked.

Now, to know me, to talk to me, to hang out with me, you’d have no idea I lacked confidence. I seem to carry it in spades. After all, I willingly went back to school. I changed gears mid-life stream and swam in another direction. For many, throwing caution to the wind and trying something new or reinventing one’s self is terrifying, and only the foolhardy will attempt it.

But trying something new has never scared me. In fact, I live for variety, and curiosity has always pulled me in a million directions. I’m compelled to follow the path of passionate exploration. But once I’m on that path? Once I start succeeding? Doubt and uncertainty creep in, and I pull back the reins. Or worse, I hit a snag and it seems to confirm all my lousy suspicions, and I run away screaming, grabbing the life preserver and jumping overboard before the whole thing goes to hell.

In saying all that, I have managed quiet moments of victory over my demons. After all, I did sign up to finish my diploma. I have completed four books and am working on my fifth. And my confidence in general has definitely improved over the years. But you’d think I’d be further ahead than I am at this point in my life—that all the self-awareness and growth that comes with getting older would have kicked this useless limiting belief out on its ass by now.

Unfortunately, overcoming fear and negative thinking is a long, convoluted process. It involves winning little victories, getting knocked a couple steps back, then rallying and doing it all over again. I may not have all the answers yet, but I’m in a better position now than I was twenty years ago. Wisdom truly does come as you get older. But I have much more to learn.

If you’d like to be part of my tribe, stop by and sign up for my newsletter: http://eepurl.com/dEGv0r You won’t get spammed, I promise. And join me on Facebook or Instagram. I’ll make sure to pass along relevant insights as I come across them. Until then, know you’re not alone in your journey. We’re all in this life-experience together. I’ve got your back.

So, do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Have you reached your definition of ultimate success? If not, what’s holding you back?

In gratitude,

Marissa xo

 

A Villain – Cathbad

 

Every good novel needs a powerful villain. I think I found mine for The First High Priestess. Meet Cathbad, a druid priest with lofty ambitions and a dark malevolent side.

Here’s an excerpt I’ve been working on today:

Cathbad emerged from the darkness of tree cover into the grove. A towering goose-feathered headdress plumed from his forehead, the fringe alternating between vanes of black and grey. Red deer antlers sprouting from either side of his head, the polished spread seven-hands wide, cast a terrifying image in the shadow lurking behind him. Draped in a mantle of wolf pelts, he carried a golden sceptre, pitted with divots that sparkled like starlight in the glow of the torches. Tonight, he channelled The Horned One, Cernunnos, a god of infinite power who ruled over beasts and man from his palace in the Otherworld.

A slight tilt of his head brought his gaze to bore through mine. A shiver ran down my spine as a curl raised his lip. The ritual provided Cathbad a gateway into the realm of the ancestors and access to immeasurable power.

In gratitude,

Marissa xo

The First High Priestess – Chosen

Well, I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting a new writing project. This series would take place hundreds of years before we meet Avelynn but the lineage would be the same. Here, back in post-Roman Britain, in the wilds of Paganism, I’ve chosen to set the stage for the first high priestess on English soil.  The following is the very first piece of writing in a story that is as elusive as the mists of time. Will be interesting to see where this one goes. 😀

The hem of my dress rippled along the shimmering quartz path that cleaved the outer circle, the stones of the ancient walkway crunching faintly underfoot, their resting place firmly entrenched by hundreds of reverent feet.

There was a time when entire villages of people—men, women, and children—would walk the path from one side to the other, entrusting the bones and prized possessions of their loved ones to the goddess, but those ages had long since passed, and the inner sanctum was reserved only for the priests.

Though I had been permitted to approach the outer circle with my father, I could tread no further. But even then, standing on the outside, I had marvelled at the earthen ditch, carved from the hill by hands that laboured beyond a time remembered, which marked the boundary between the living and the dead.

I cradled the urn containing my father’s remains, holding it tight to my chest, the weight of my transgression heavier with each tentative step as I passed through the inner circle of polished stone. The smooth surface of the sentinels flickered in the torchlight, blinking as if waking from a dream to see what would happen next.

I stepped onto the stone dais and knelt in front of the timber shelf, a triple spiral carved into its broad surface. I whispered the chants I had been taught, as much out of fear as out of respect, repeating the words over and over until they whirled like tendrils of smoke around the clearing. A gust of wind lifted the hair from my neck and sent shivers down my spine as I placed the urn on the convergence of the spirals and hung my head in deference.

My heart shook and stuttered, my muscles coiled like a caged beast rabid to escape. I had only a few moments before the druids returned. Eyes shut tight, I chanted faster and louder. The words roared like the thunder of waves crashing against the shore in my own ears, until suddenly, the whoosh and clamour retreated into silence.

I knelt not in the clearing on the hill, but in the middle of a great valley, surrounded on both sides by scarred and jagged mountains that clambered to the sky. A mid-day sun shone high above me and I basked in its warmth. A single coracle lapped gently at the water’s edge. Pulled by a force that I could neither explain nor deny, I climbed into the small craft, released the cord tethering it to the bank, and watched the sail billow, leading me across the tranquil surface to the other side.

A faint rustle exhaled from the stretched hide as the bottom of the boat glided ashore and I stepped overboard, my feet sinking softly into the silt. A raven circled, like thread wound round a distaff, its distant call announcing my arrival. When my gaze drifted to the mountains before me, the whole scene ebbed and swelled, undulating like waves of heat rising from burning coals. When my vision cleared a woman appeared before me. Dressed in glowing robes, as bright as the sun, I gasped at her beauty.

Her mouth didn’t move, though, I heard her speak as plainly as if a song bird called out through the trees. Her voice enveloped me.

“We’ve waited a long time for you to come.” She extended her hand and I opened mine in response. She placed into my outstretched palm a ring of silver. The outline of a woman had been carved onto its surface. Her hips and breasts swelled around a deeply indented waist. Her hair swept into the likeness of a bird, and under her feet reposed a wolf. On the inside, Ogham letters stretched from one of the edges to form the word Mother.

The golden vision blurred, the waves transforming until I stood before not one, but four shimmering women. Still, only one voice spoke from the depths of the river and the expanse of the sky. “You are the chosen one, to speak with one voice the echoes of our world. A high priestess of your people, a woman standing with one foot on either side of the great river.”

I slid the ring onto my first finger, the smooth metal nestling into a hollow as if it were always meant to belong.

“As we will it, so shall it be.” The women merged into one and when I looked into the depths of her golden eyes, in an instant, I was transported across lands and time, mist and worlds until I stood shaken in a cold, harsh wind, bathed in moonlight.

I stood in the clearing, my father’s remains resting at my feet. The torches still flickered, though the stones seemed to have dimmed, unmoved by my journey, having turned their shimmering faces away once more. I grabbed the burial urn and backed away, the hairs on my arms prickling, as if a storm had raged over the hill and great forks of lightning had severed the sky. I passed the sentinels of the inner circle, my footsteps faltering in my haste to retreat. It was only when I passed the outer circle, the weight of a silver ring burning into my skin that I turned my back on the power within and returned once more to the world of the living, knowing nothing would ever be the same.

In gratitude,

Marissa xo

Honour Your Truth

 

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Malala Yousafzai

If we don’t speak up, who will hear us? We can apply this concept globally by pointing out injustice or inequality, for example, and/or we can make this personal and contemplate all the ways in which we remain silent in our own lives.

Warning: here comes a Marissa catch phrase… ‘Life is about compromise, but we were never meant to compromise ourselves.’ (You’ll hear that one a lot.) We all have boundaries—lines we don’t want others to cross, parameters in which we feel comfortable operating within, i.e., our comfort zones. When people cross those boundaries, negative things happen. We can get hurt—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We can suffer from regret, guilt, doubt, anger and self-recrimination.

When people cross our boundaries, how many of us speak up? When people impose their judgements and opinions on us, or belittle us and undermine our self-worth and confidence, how many of us speak up? Family members, peers, partners, co-workers, supervisors… when people we respect and trust do this, how many of us let it pass, or speak out only in our mind—imagining all the things we wish we could say?

Speaking our truth is never easy. We run the risk of alienation and rejection—something we as social creatures avoid at all costs. But what if the cost is our own happiness and self-worth? When do we draw the line? When do we speak up for ourselves? When do we say enough is enough?

Always.

No one likes confrontation and very few people handle criticism well, but if we’ve been wronged or hurt, we need to express it. No one is above the truth. Not even ourselves. Denying the injury or pretending we are okay is a serious roadblock to healing. We need to be honest with ourselves. That stomach lurch when we consider confronting an issue is what typically stops us from going further and we gloss the matter over or sweep it under the rug. This often results in frustration or resentment.

Communication is key in a healthy relationship. If we can’t speak about what’s on our mind, or bring up questions or concerns, or point out hurt or wrongdoing then we need to examine the relationship. In my post Relationships and Monkeys, I talk to the idea of getting rid of negative relationships in our lives. But before we get to that point, we should always try to have open and honest communication with the people in our lives. It’s not always easy—for either party— but it’s necessary.

I’ve been together with my husband for 27 years. That doesn’t happen without a solid foundation of communication (plus he’s cute and funny, so that doesn’t hurt either.) We’ve built a relationship on trust and mutual respect. My concerns are not more important than his and vice versa. We listen to each other and then we reflect: How can we do this better? How can we make this work for both of us? It’s a partnership. A team effort. When one person isn’t happy, it effects the entire relationship. We also have to be humble enough to admit when we’re wrong and apologize for any transgressions. Then we have to step up and correct our behaviour. This is all about compromise. But, compromising and being compromised are two very different things.

There’s no mutual respect and trust when someone compromises our boundaries. It’s controlling at worst, and insensitive at best. Stand up for yourself. Speak up for yourself. Honour your truth.

In gratitude,

Marissa xo

Never let your fire burn out

“Keep a little fire burning, however small, however hidden.” — Cormac McCarthy, Author

I had a conversation with a wonderful classmate of mine the other day. He took an incredible risk by following his dream. He moved his family to a new country, turned down an exceptional opportunity within the organization he worked for and went back to school full-time. Most people he talked to were in awe of his decision, but he expected that. What surprised him was how many people mentioned that they too had a dream, but they weren’t ‘brave’ enough to take the chance. They couldn’t imagine doing what he had done. They kept their dreams on lockdown, tamped and filed away, labelled as fancy and fantasy.

I didn’t relocate my family, but when I made the decision to go back to school, people called me brave too. I had a hard time reconciling the word brave with my decision. I was just acting—doing. Nothing brave about that. But in a world where so many people extinguish their own fires out of fear, going against the grain or changing our entire worlds is brave and awe inspiring.

There’s an expression: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” What we know is comfortable—it’s safe. Taking a leap on nothing more than a dream is frightening. There’s no guaranteed outcome. We could fail… miserably. Not many of us are willing to take that risk. Sometimes it’s much easier to stay the course. After all, if things aren’t terrible, why rock the boat?

Deep inside, smoldering within each of us, is a small fire. In yoga, we call it our third chakra—Manipura. Hanging out near our solar plexus, this little bundle of spit and vinegar guides our will and motivation. It drives our passion. It’s the spark, the fire that lights us up and gets us going. We can’t let that flame blow out. We can’t let our dreams die.

Most of us have heard about SMART goals. One of the keys to a good or SMART goal is making sure it’s attainable. There are short-term and long-term goals, but all goals involve making meaningful movement forward by enacting small tactics or actions toward their achievement. Dreams, on the other hand seem like far-fetched unattainable, insurmountable wishful thinking. But what if we approached dreams like goals… deliberately making small changes, small decisions, small movements in the desired direction. Passion keeps the fire burning. Even if it’s just a gentle smolder, let your passion propel you in the direction you want to go.

Dreams can come true. One small step at a time. Find ways to move in the direction of what will make you happy. Never let your fire burn out.

In gratitude,

Marissa xo