How my partner talked me off a notebook-induced ledge

This is DEFINITELY not my notebook.

Oh, the irony abounds today. I spent the morning delving into BrenĂ© Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I read about the things that get in the way of us becoming our authentic selves and embracing vulnerability. From the first page, I recognized so much of myself in the situations she explained: how perfectionism isn’t the same as personal growth, how it’s possible to strive to get better while also recognizing that you are enough just as you are, how we avoid talking about shame and doing the hard inner work that’s necessary to living, as Brown says, wholeheartedly.

Not long after that, my Amazon Prime order of a new notebook, pens and some bullet journal stencils arrived. You see, I’ve been feeling awesome lately and as though I’m finally starting to regain a bit of control over my attention, intentions and anxieties. So naturally, that called for a fresh start.

I’ve spent years looking for the perfect planner. I’ve tried the Passion Planner, Brendon Burchard’s “High Performance Planner,” a training journal, online project management software…you name it, I’ve tried it. I think it’s part of how my anxiety manifests itself; if I can name/label/list/categorize/colour-code something, that means it’s tangible and therefore, controllable. So, in my inspired and slightly-less-anxious-than-usual state on Sunday night, I placed that Amazon order with the idea that I would give bullet journaling another chance.

The other half of this “new life, new planner” mindset was the idea that I should be more creative on a regular basis. I was reading in another book about how we lose the ability to create for the sake of creating as adults, and how it’s important to reclaim that creativity. (More on the sheer volume of books I’ve read about this shit in another post). My thought process went like this:

I already write down a task list and plan out each day, so why not spend a bit more time in the morning and turn that list-building and planning into something beautiful and creative?

Visions of perfectly straight lines, gorgeous headers written in cursive, neatly categorized to-do lists and colour-coded blocks to separate work from home flooded my mind. This approach was going to solve so many problems: I would finally have a beautiful notebook filled with every aspect of my life rather than wrangling notes and lists and ideas from multiple different paper and virtual sources. It was going to look beautiful and prove (to who? I sure as hell don’t know) that I was capable of being patient, thoughtful and deliberate in what I create. It was going to be the first notebook I got that I wouldn’t discard after filling up the first few pages – because every page was going to be perfect.

There was just one problem.

Just because I got new pens and a new notebook and some stencils didn’t mean that I suddenly knew how to lay out this ideal notebook that would somehow fulfill all my hopes and dreams. I didn’t magically possess the ability to write in beautiful cursive, nor did I instantly gain the steady hand required to outline stencils without smudging ink. I spent a good half hour trying to figure out what kind of layout I wanted to create (monthly logs? Weekly spreads? Lists? Boxes? What colours? Sentence case headers or title case? Solid lines, dashes, dots? A mix?) When I finally cracked open this beautiful notebook, I fucked up the first line. And the second. I tore out multiple pages. I smudged another page with the ink that somehow got all. over. my. hands. My blood pressure probably rose. I fucked up a stencil attempt. I tore out another page and started again.

This damn notebook had me feeling the exact OPPOSITE of what I’d intended to feel. I’m not creative. I’m too sloppy. I’m never going to be patient enough to create something with my own hands. I’m not artistic. This was a waste of money. Why did I even try to emulate Pinterest?

I felt like complete and total shit. Because of a notebook. A fucking notebook.

Later in the evening, I related this story to my sister. She’s also a recovering perfectionist and I knew she’d understand. I felt a bit better – I needed to give voice to the feelings of unworthiness and shame that came from this whole endeavour. She understood, and I felt a bit better. And when I came home, I blurted this all out to Chris in one single run-on sentence. I felt like a bit of an idiot – who lets a notebook ruin their whole day? But unlike me, Chris is the most grounded, reasonable and logical person. I hate it sometimes. But it’s also a huge part of why I love him.

He essentially asked me whether it was fair to expect that trying a new thing would result in perfection right away. I admitted that no, it wouldn’t make sense that it would be exactly the way I wanted it.

“So, if you walk away from this journal because you didn’t like how it turned out the first time you tried it, what will you get out of the experience,” he asked.

“Well, nothing except frustration and a feeling of failure,” I grumbled, already knowing where this was going. Damn that man and his ability to put things into perspective.

“But if you were to open up that journal every morning and work at it, how do you think you’d feel in a week? How do you think it would look?” he continued.

“Um… probably pretty good. It would probably look nice too,” I sighed and buried my head into his chest and I’m pretty sure I swore at him for being so damn reasonable. It’s infuriating when all you want to do is have an irrational freakout and he refuses to let you jump off the deep end!!

Lesson learned: You don’t need to be perfect, and you definitely don’t need to be perfect the first time you try something.

And so, here I am. Writing this post at 10:30pm and staring at that damn notebook, knowing that tomorrow I’m going to open it up to a new page, write my intentions, goals and tasks for the day, and I’m going to use these beautiful pens and stencils and have some fun on that page, smudges, wobbly lines and chicken-scratch cursive included.

Ok. That was supposed to be the end of that post, but I need to say it. I feel silly that I just wrote that much about a notebook. I’m tempted to delete the post because it feels ridiculous and embarrassing and completely unnecessary. But tonight, the fact that I nearly cried over a notebook is my truth. It’s time for me to start doing a better job of owning those truths.

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