The Cure for the "Perfect" Life: 12 Ways to Stop Trying Harder and Start Living Braver

If you’ve ever thought you might crumble under the burden of perfection (and who among us hasn’t?) you’ll want to meet my friends Kathi and Cheri. They’ve just written a book especially for us!

Here’s a little about each of them so you’ll know who they are before we dive into questions & answers:

Kathi Lipp is a busy conference and retreat speaker and the author of several books, including The Husband Project and Get Yourself Organized Project. She and her husband, Roger, live in California and are the parents of four young adults.


Cheri Gregory
 spends her weekdays teaching teens and weekends speaking at women’s retreats. She’s been married to her college sweetheart, Daniel, for 25 years. The Gregory’s and their college-age kids, Annemarie and Jonathon, live in California.

I recently spoke with both of them about their new book, The Cure for the “Perfect” Life. Here’s what they had to say:

When did you first realize you wanted to become an author? How did you sense the call of God to write?

Kathi: I’m a speaker by nature, but was told over and over. “If you want to speak, you need to write.” (Which, failing freshman English and being dyslexic, terrified me.) The call of God really didn’t come until after my first book, The Husband Project. I prayed and felt no resistance to writing (except my own,) but now I really do feel God’s pleasure (after my pain!)

Cheri: My first book was published when I was 2.  (I’ve attached a photo!)  So I’ve always considered myself an author. I felt the yearning to write as a teen whenever I heard Christian women speakers share their testimonies so transparently — I wanted to be able to communicate in such a way that gave hope and healing to others. I attended many trainings in my 20s and 30s, but each time God made it clear that He and I had a LOT of work to do in my life before I’d be ready to write for anyone else!

What propelled you to write a book on such a challenging topic?

Kathi: I tend to write on subjects that keep coming up in my life. This is a subject that showed up repeatedly when Cheri and I spoke. And then I started to see the threads in other relationships and conversations.

Cheri: I wrote and performed a monologue called “The PERFECT(ionism) Crime (http://youtu.be/rzg5Jl4apTI) in 2012 in which I personified Perfectionism and accused him publicly of the crimes committed against the women in my family. I then surveyed my blog readers about the four “P bullies” and was astounded by the detailed responses they gave, telling how these bullies have beaten and controlled them, too.

Why did you choose to co-author The Cure for the “Perfect” Life?  What are the benefits of co-authoring and under what circumstances would you recommend it?

Kathi: Cheri has a ton of strengths I don’t have and we’ve worked on projects together that have proven over and over that we balance each other well. I mean, who wouldn’t want to choose their coworkers? That being said, I’ve had one of the hardest years of my life, and have had to rely on Cheri way more than either of us ever expected. I’m grateful Cheri lives out what she writes about – we’ve had brave conversations about expectations, and so far, it’s worked. And if there is a point it doesn’t work, we will have another brave conversation.

With coauthoring, it’s easy to be attracted to people with similar giftings. While it’s fun in the dreaming stages of a book, like a marriage, you need someone who will complement you and your weaknesses. Cheri does that for me.

Cheri: I happened to mention to Kathi on a phone call that I’d come up with a book title: “Good Girls Break Bad Rules.” And she said, “I wish I’d thought of that!” She mentioned it to her agent who said she’d love to see the proposal. Since I LOVE collaboration and synergy, I told Kathi that I would FAR rather write it with her than alone.

The benefits of co-authoring are myriad. Our readers are getting two very different perspectives. We had no trouble divvying up the 12 “bully belief” chapters — it was so clear which were mine and which were Kathi’s! So the right gal wrote the right chapter. Also, Kathi and I have very different strengths/approaches as authors. I’m very good at defining and exploring the problem; Kathi’s amazing at coming up with practical solutions and inspiring women to change. (I’m the “Woah” and “Oww” girl … Kahti’s the “Woo” and “Wow” gal.)

And quite frankly, I would never have been offered a contract to write this book alone.  Kathi’s platform and long-term relationship with Harvest House were the key factors in the book becoming a reality.

How did researching and writing this book help you conquer your own struggles with trying-harder living?

Kathi: Sometimes writing down your story is the most powerful thing you can do. When you put a little light on the situation, you can see it from different angles than when you’re in the midst of it. Seeing my own struggles in the light of perfectionism has been eye-opening to say the least. I’m pretty laid back, but when things don’t go according to how I feel they should go, I tend to lose it. Accepting this as not just my reality, but as most women’s, was empowering.

Cheri: I have to write from experience, not just theory. I can’t tell others what they ought to do if I’m not doing it myself. I don’t mean living “perfectly” but I do mean living with integrity. So during the 15 months we had to write this book, I was very conscious that the important thing was the daily journey God was taking me on to battle the bullies and their beliefs. The book was simply (to quote Emily Freeman) the souvenir. Probably the greatest evidence that I’ve made progress is the fact that I didn’t stress during the last two weeks leading up to our deadline. I put in plenty of writing and revising time, but I also kept a (relatively!) clean house, spent time with my family, exercised, showered, ate healthfully, and slept well.

More recently, as in just yesterday, my husband and I missed a flight out of Serbia due to a gate change. We’d been at the original gate for 1.5 hours, but our plane left without us from a different gate; we heard no announcements. It’s cost us over $2,000, and back when the P bullies ruled my life, I would have been in tears. I might have yelled at the ticket agent and demanded that they rebook us without charging us. I would have considered the entire trip “totally ruined.”  I would have decided that this meant I was unfit for international speaking and should never accept an international invitation again. What actually happened was very different. I was able to let go of “what should have happened” and focus simply on “what is now happening.” We made the best alternate arrangements we could. I stayed calm and was able to enjoy the rest of the day. I will still talk with customer service and see if we can get our money back; if we can’t, I will not berate or punish myself. I will adjust our family budget and trust God to figure out where that “missing” $2,000+ is going to come from. All of this represents enormous growth for me!

In what ways can readers expect to become braver by reading The Cure for the “Perfect” Life?

Kathi: I think we are brave in numbers. When you read other’s stories and see yourself in them, you will understand that this isn’t just a “me” issue, it’s a “we” issue. When we see that so many of us are struggling with, and conquering, the same issue, it gives us strength to know that God has helped many, and can (and will!) help me.

Cheri: Kathi coined the great phrase “tiny acts of rebellion” and we’re already hearing from readers who are making brave little choices that are having HUGE repercussions, both in their own families and with their friends. One woman turned in a paper that was “done enough” rather than spend two more days fussing over it; she spent those two days enjoying her children and husband. That’s a Tiny Act of Rebellion; that’s BRAVER LIVING!  Another woman realized that the frantic activity schedule she’d planned for her three children this fall was entirely driven by the P bullies; she re-assessed everything and made changes that better reflect her family’s values and her children’s needs. That’s a Tiny Act of Rebellion; that’s BRAVER LIVING!  Another woman had several unannounced visitors in the same day; instead of fussing over how she looked or how the house looked, she invited each person in warmly and was fully present. That’s a Tiny Act of Rebellion; that’s BRAVER LIVING!  Braver Living looks different for each woman: for one woman it might be starting to do something, and for another it might be deciding to stop doing the very same thing. But for each woman, it’s making one small choice to stop living out of fear and start living out of love.

Most of our readers are writers. What will they learn in the pages of The Cure for the “Perfect” Life that they can apply to their writing journeys?

Kathi: Share your story – share your power. People are dying to hear that they are not alone. That if they are broken or damaged, at least there are others who are as well. That’s what writing does, proves to the read that they are not alone.

Cheri: The chapters on procrastination will be especially valuable, as well as the chapter on fear vs. love. I wrote those after spending days avoiding the manuscript, and I finally realized that I was allowing evil /villainy — which says the only way a human being can be motivated is by fear — to win. That startled me into action. Writing should be motivated by love, not fear.  I also think the chapter on personalities is valuable — to know your potential weaknesses but especially your strengths and work from those areas of God-giftedness.

What adventures await you after the launch of this book? Do you have another book project in the works?

Kathi: Cheri and I are cooking up another book, but for now I’m working on Clutter-Free (another reoccurring topic that Cheri and I tend to discuss on a daily basis.) It talks about some of the same issues of The Cure, but now it applies to the piles of stuff around our homes (and I know that other authors struggle with that too.)

Cheri: Oh, I hope so!  As our launch team responds to the book, I’m thinking, “Oh, we need to address that!  Oh, we didn’t think about that!  Oh, that’s a great idea we need to explore!”

But the big adventure for me right now is marketing this book for the next year in as many creative ways as possible. It may be the only book I ever have the privilege to write, and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest!

Thank you for answering all my questions. I love the book and asked a friend to be my Bravery Buddy and go through it with me–so we can encourage each other and hold each other accountable. I’m sure our readers will want to do the same!

_____

Elizabeth Thompson

Wife, mother and devoted follower of Christ, Elizabeth M Thompson writes articles and devotionals and is learning the art of fiction writing. She leads weekly TwitterChats at #WritetoInspire and hosts writers conferences and workshops. When she’s not writing or serving the members of Inspire Christian Writers, she loves to ride bikes along the American River with her husband Mike and their children.

Does Passion Trump Talent?

“The boy pulled the fiddle from its hiding place inside the wardrobe, opening the tattered leather case with care. Placing the wooden instrument under his chin, he pressed his short fingers against the wooden neck. Next came his favorite part—the bow. Thick strands of horsehair attached to the shiny stick made a soulful sound as he nudged the bow back and forth. He was in heaven! His daddy believed six was too young to play with such a fragile instrument, but Howard knew that wasn’t true—not for him, anyway. He recognized the value of what he held in his hands, and loved it dearly.

The boy’s daddy heard him play several months later—by accident—and realized he’d been dead wrong. Howard had learned chords, and already mastered several songs. The six year-old boy had taught himself to play the fiddle due to two important factors: Talent—and even more importantly—passion.”

Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book, Outliers, and its relevance continues today. He calls it the “10,000 Hour Rule”, and cites Berlin’s Academy of Music as an example. The school divided promising violinists into three groups: the superstars (future world class soloists), the very good, and the good enough (music teacher material). They were followed from age 5 to about 20. What they discovered shouldn’t surprise anyone: there were really no “natural talents” who rose to the top practicing only a few hours a week. The really amazing musicians worked hard. Not a little bit harder, but much, much harder than the rest—totalling at the very least, 10,000 hours perfecting their craft.

And this isn’t only true for musicians. It’s true for dancers, composers, basketball players, quarterbacks, writers, photographers, concert pianists: every single thing that requires skill requires practice and lots of it. But 10,000 hours? Clearly, it would require starting very young to log that kind of time. People often look at those who are gifted and successful and think they fell into it. Although some degree of luck may apply, make no mistake: hard work was involved. I would add another factor: failure doesn’t scare or stop them. They don’t cry and quit because they can’t do it. They work harder.

TALENT.  PASSION.

Don’t you love those words?

By the way, Howard is my 84 year-old dad. I grew up in a house full of musicians (“pickers”), reel-to-reel tape that recorded for hours, bluegrass festivals, the making of albums and CDs and…well, you get the idea. I was 10 the first time I saw the inside of a Nashville recording studio (which also happened to be the first time I stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool!) All this to say, my father is an example of the 10,000 Hour Rule—and then some. Today he’s almost completely blind, but practices at least one hour per day and plays in two bands. One hour would be the low estimate, because for him, music is oxygen. You can’t make someone love something that much. It’s born in them—part of their soul, their God-given giftedness, their life’s breath.

We are all gifted in some way. Maybe it isn’t music—it could be something entirely different but no less magical. It might be your gift of hospitality—making others feel adored and cherished while in your home. If it is, I’ll bet you spend many hours ensuring the comfort of your loved ones from comforters on the bed to comfort food! I know a woman who is brilliant at making others feel special and loved. It goes beyond kindness—this woman seems to see into your soul–reminding you who you were meant to be, and it is an amazing gift. To this day, I’ve never met anyone quite like her.

It may not be playing a piano concerto or being an MVP. But be assured, you do have a gift! And it’s most likely something that sparked your interest way back when you were a child. Like little Howard, who had to sneak the fiddle out of the case to play because his dad thought he was too young, talent and passion always seem to find a way.

Is there something that’s oxygen to your soul? You may have practiced it for close to 10,000 hours without even realizing it.

Now…go share your talent and passion. The world is out there waiting for you.

“Does Passion Trump Talent?” first posted at SusanBasham.com.

Susan Basham has been writing and drawing since she could hold a pencil, when she realized that words had power. Susan received her B.A. from Grand Canyon University in Behavioral Science and English Literature, where she wrote for and co-edited Shadows, the campus literary magazine. Continuing her graduate school education at Northern Arizona University, she worked in the mental health industry doing client intake on patients and writing summaries for the psychiatric staff.

Continually amazed by God’s blessings and redemption in her own life, she hopes her writing will inspire others. She is currently working on her first novel.

Writing Roundup

Insight and InspirationToday’s Writing Round-Up provides a couple of interesting publication journeys and lots of insightful tips on writing. You’ll also find a great nugget from Michael Hyatt on overcoming perfectionism. Enjoy!

Here are some links that inspired me this week:

What inspired you this week?

Embracing the Thorn

My son was on his honeymoon in Costa Rica a couple years ago. The newly married couple decided to do an adventure excursion involving ziplines through the jungle, a hike, and a swim under a tropical waterfall. As the group started out on the hike, the guide, a local man, warned them about the trees with thorns. “Don’t touch the trees!” he warned. It wasn’t just the pain; infection is a real danger in the tropical climate.

But the warning came too late. While the guide was giving the warning, the first guy in the line of hikers reached out and grabbed a tree trunk to steady himself on the uneven trail. He yelped in pain and drew back a palm-full of dozens of tiny, razor sharp thorns. The rest of the hike, he and his wife worked to extract each thorn. But it was impossible; he had to hike with a hand full of thorns and get help later.

Do you ever feel like that guy?

A few weeks after my son’s wedding, I came down with a fever and body aches. Oh no. Not another virus. I had a two-week bout with the flu over the holidays, right after my son’s wedding. I was finally feeling pretty good and had just about caught up on work. Now this.

But it wasn’t the flu. Later in the day, rolling around in bed trying to get comfortable, I looked at my right arm and noticed an ugly red rash. My arm was painful, swollen, and I could barely straighten it out. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on so I visited my doctor yesterday and we put the pieces together and figured it out.

A few years ago I had several surgeries related to breast cancer. I’m now cancer free, but the surgeries, chemo, and radiation took a toll on my body. (Apparently you do need your lymph nodes. Who knew?) That week I’d overdone my physical activity (skiing, working, cleaning bathrooms, and capping it all off with an aggressive cleaning session involving a big, clunky upright vacuum cleaner). My arm was injured and it reacted with inflammation and infection.

Sorry I’m such a loser,” I told my husband the next day. And that’s truly how I felt. I’ve always prided myself on being strong, athletic, outdoorsy, physically tough. I like to humble brag about riding my horse (His name is Stetson! He’s 17 hands!) and skiing (double black diamond!) and doing the Susan G Komen Walk for the Cure (60 miles!).

I’ve always been strong. Until now.

I was telling my daughter the story yesterday. “It’s like my arm is disabled, and I have to be careful with it.” When I heard myself say those words, I suddenly realized–I’m clearly in denial. First of all, my arm is part of me. If my arm is disabled, then I am (Disability – A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities). I need to own it. Second, almost everyone has some sort of disability, whether visible or not. The older you get, the more likely something goes wrong with your body or mind. I’m not alone. Third, disability can be a gift, if you embrace it. Intellectually, I know that. I’m just not living it.

I’m having a really hard time with this whole idea. I’m feeling angry. Whiny.

That’s it’s unfair and unjust. That I’m still strong–and being disabled isn’t part of my plan. Disability means weakness. It means I can’t do everything I want to do. It gets at my core identity as a strong woman.

But wait–who am I to complain? Am I so shallow that I think I’m above having some hard stuff to deal with? That I’m exempt from difficulties or disability? Gulp. Yes. I am that shallow.

I’m learning. The apostle Paul talked about being given a thorn in the flesh:

“…So I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. <2 Corinthians 12:7>

It’s funny–my recent books have been about people with major, life-changing disabilities.

Each of them has major disabilities, has risen above them, and has extraordinary influence on the people around them. Their weakness has become their strength.

So, even though I’ve written about these heroes of the faith and know them intimately, I’m a little late to the party. I’m still trying to figure this out–how to rely on God’s strength in my own weakness. I’m still trying to learn how to hike with a palm full of thorns.

What about you? Do you have a thorn? How do you deal with it?

Can you use that thorn in your writing? YES! Try this:

  • Be honest.  Great insights can come from great pain. Open up and share them.
  • Expect wounds. Don’t wait for your life, or your writing, to be perfect. Most of the Bible is about wounded people and their struggles.
  • Redeem tragedy through writing. “Deeper knowledge and forgiveness of yourself and others through writing can lead to a lightening of past burdens,” says psychologist and memoirist Linda Joy Myers.
  • Write for the inner person. Most people in pain develop a protective shell and might even appear as if they have it all together. Most of us don’t. Write for us.

“Embracing the Thorn” first at susyflory.com. Permission to use by author.

Susy Flory is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books. She leads an Inspire critique group in Castro Valley, along with Jeanette Hanscome. Susy and four others are incoming directors of the West Coast Christian Writers conference (WCCW), formerly Christian Writers Seminar. More on that soon!

The Writers Road to Rejection

Several years ago I wrote a mystery novel and began to actively pursue publication through traditional publishers. I mailed several dozen query letters including self-addressed stamped envelopes. Some were returned with form-letter rejection notes, some actually with three to six handwritten words as to why they weren’t interested. The remainder just ignored my query and apparently steamed off my stamp to be used again in their private correspondence.

As time progressed, it became preferable to send query letters through e-mail. Publishing houses could now save time not having to open envelopes, steam off stamps or lick envelopes to send back rejection slips. My record e-mail auto-rejection was something like fourteen minutes after submission.

Black Cat's Legacy by Elaine FaberEventually, I was thrilled to find a couple of small presses who asked to read the entire manuscript. One editor suggested I take out all the exclamation points and fragmented sentences. Another suggested I have it professionally edited. Another told me it had too much romance, another, not enough romance. Yet another told me it was not a COZY mystery, but a Fantasy-Paranormal-Romance-Adventure. What? None followed up with a proposal to print Black Cat’s Legacy (a cozy mystery where the cat knows where the bodies are buried and tries to share this information with the protagonist.)

As I traveled this Road to Rejection, I studied with three teachers and learned more about the craft of writing than I ever thought there was to learn. Surprise! You don’t know what you don’t know. Which is to say, the early versions of Black Cat’s Legacy probably weren’t worthy of print in the first place. All those rejections forced me to re-examine my craft, put in the time, investment and energy to improve my writing skills.

Black Cat’s Legacy was revised, edited, re-edited, the story line cut in half, characters and plot fleshed out. Along the way, the cat, a minor character in the beginning took on a life of his own and became a POV character, adding his charm, wit and wisdom to the story.

Looking back, I believe The Road to Rejection is not necessarily a pothole-riddled, mud-filled, weed-infested sticker-path meant to trip up and discourage a new writer, (though it certainly does that) but rather a road of lesson-learning, character- building, knowledge-testing meant to wean out the weak, sharpen the skills of the resolved and define the mettle of the determined willing to learn.

Whether you choose traditional or self-pubbing, don’t rush to publish until you’re sure you’ve traveled the Road to Rejection far enough, learned enough, and made the right decisions. Now your baby is in print. Now you have to learn about Marketing. That’s another road. It’s called The Road to Frustration.

Elaine Faber

Elaine Faber authors a mystery, Black Cat’s Legacy, set at a Northern California resort. With the aid of his ancestor’s memories, Thumper, the resident lodge cat, “knows where the bodies are buried.” He must help Kimberlee solve her father’s cold case murder. But someone at the lodge will stop at nothing to keep the secret.

Elaine has published multiple short stories in magazines and anthologies. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Cat Writer’s Association and Inspire Christian Writers.

Black Cat’s Legacy is Elaine’s first publication, with the sequel coming out this fall. A portion of proceeds from her novels are donated to promote animal health and rescue.Black Cat’s Legacy is a “COZY” mystery, without explicit sex, extreme violence or profanity.

You can purchase a copy of Black Cat’s Legacy at http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgrm