Ditching Perfection to Find Belonging

Out of Place – Susan’s Story

“If only…” was my unconscious mantra for most of my life. 

If only I won more.

If only I was prettier.

If only I got the highest grade. 

I was convinced I was just one breakthrough away from fitting in. If I achieved XYZ then I would finally unlock the secret to fitting in and feeling comfortable in my own skin. 

In high school and college that looked like joining anything and everything. I not only had to be in the Girls Varsity Club, I had to be president. I not only had to be a college athlete, I had to be captain. I not only had to be in the honors program, I had to get all A’s. 

I was lonelier than ever. 

Striving for perfection

As I started my career, “if only” looked like working long into the night and over the weekends. I not only had to be a manager, I had to have the most direct reports and the highest achieving team in the organization. I not only had to be good at my job, I had to have stellar performance reviews that held no criticism. 

The perfectionism was crippling and painful. 

When I became a step-mom, “if only” grew a into grotesque monster that oozed out onto my people. If only I kept the kids at the table longer doing homework, they would get better grades, and I would be perceived as a better parent. If only my husband got on board with my plan for weekends packed with activities with the kids, I would fit in with all the other moms making happy memories with their families. 

The feeling of failure was devastating. 

I tried to escape the loneliness, pain, and devastation in lots of ways – grad school, alcohol, making more money, over-exercising. I was rigid with my schedule, my feelings, and my relationships. None of it worked – it was not producing the relief I desperately needed. And the pace was unsustainable. 

This was a turning point. Over time and through a lot of therapy, I slowly began shifting to create a life I didn’t need to escape. I started making small, sustainable adjustments that align with this shift. Sustainable Productivity was born. 

Sustainable Productivity

This shift has helped me be more what Dr. Susan Davis refers to as “emotionally agile.” I can sit with negative feelings (yours and mine) without having to fix them. Additionally, the shift has created space between rigidity and agility. Considering what to put in that space reminds me of the Viktor Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

With that growth and freedom, I now look at actions, thoughts, and requests through a lens of Sustainable Productivity. I have my intention as an anchor for that lens – Create a life I don’t need to escape. That space is where I ask my Sustainable Productivity questions:

Is this Productive: Am I getting the result I want?

Is this Sustainable: Can I continue this lifelong if I want?  

Here is a practical example of how this might play out. 

Spring is here, and I love to be in the yard. Nothing soothes the rough edges on my soul like getting my hands in the dirt. If I let it, my old intentions quickly take over. I load up the trolley with all the flowers at the garden center and order the 10 yards of mulch. I research irrigation systems and commit to delivering produce to the community food bank weekly all summer.

Not only will I garden, I will have the best garden on the block, be included in the garden tour, and do the most good for the community. My garden will help me be seen and belong!

Can you hear the record scratch as this plan quickly goes off the rails? 

I return to my anchor: How can gardening help create a life I don’t need to escape. I make Sustainably Productive adjustments to meet this intention.

What is Productive? I know I have minimal full sun so flowers and produce are not going to work in my yard. 

Adjustment: Gardening is productive for me when I do what works for my space. 

What is Sustainable? Because of my work and family commitments, I can realistically give maybe 5 hours / week to the garden. My body cannot shovel 10 yards of mulch at once, that is for sure. 

Adjustment: I can enjoy the pace when I buy smaller quantities. I can always go back and get more plants if I find I have capacity. 

This is just one example of how I am learning from Sustainable Productivity. I apply it to meal planning, exercise, reading, learning new craft and computer skills – you name it. By creating the space to do what is Sustainably Productive for where I am today, I find I belong where I am – not where I think I should be. Or where I perceive others to be.

I wonder if this might be true for you too. When I talk to other women about how they are doing – really doing – I hear the same loneliness, pain, and devastation. It rarely comes out like that though. Instead, I hear self-deprecating jokes about how she has failed the most. Or “bragging” about how busy her family is that she doesn’t even know her partner anymore. Then she talks of missing simpler times. 

This pace is not sustainable, nor productive. I want everyone, especially women, to get off this crazy train and create a life they don’t need to escape. Come join me in creating a more Sustainably Productive life.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet Susan Sanders

Susan Sanders writes and teaches at SusantainableSue.com where you can find more information about Sustainable Productivity and its 3 pillars: Health and Fitness, Mental Well-being, and Environmental Surroundings. Susan’s Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology, MBA, Project Management Professional Certification, and Professional Organizer experience give her a unique foundation to help you create a life with more fulfillment and less need to escape. You can connect with Susan on Instagram, and Facebook.

*Feature Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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