From Perfectionism to good enough: Finding Joy in a Shitty Christmas Card

I love everything about holiday cards. I love receiving photos of friends and family scattered all over the country. I love opening the cards slowly and placing them on our mantel.  I love imagining them doing the same; getting a glimpse into our growing family and sending well wishes. For many of these people, this is it- I watch their lives change, their families expand and their children grow up through this yearly correspondence alone.

But this past year I had every reason to opt out of the whole thing.  Between having a baby in the summer and working full time, it seemed like it was a bit crazy to even try. But I love the tradition and sharing our new marriage and new baby seemed the best reason of all to keep it up.

But then November came and the cards started coming in the mail, each one seemed better than the last: professional photos on soft, stiff, expensive paper, hand written cards wishing us well or full essays describing in beautiful detail everything that had gone on in their lives that year. I imagined ours, scribbled with the words: We had a baby. Period.  And even that made me tired just thinking about it.

Then the pinnacle of all holiday cards arrived in the mail from an old friend. It had at least 11 professional photos, 4 fold out sections, complete descriptions of each family member’s latest achievements, and an envelope lined with yet another beautiful, perfect, family photo. Naturally, they were in a meadow. In my sleep- deprived haze, I kept wondering how they got the dang photo to line the envelope.

Ughhh. It was exhausting. Everything perfect, expensive, time consuming, paralyzing. I put off doing a card because I didn’t have professional photos, and I didn’t really want to spend hundreds of dollars on cards that would quickly make their way to the garbage.  Also, between breastfeeding and trying to brush my teeth every day, the thought of doing anything extra was overwhelming.

I was in perfectionism paralysis.

But as I often do, I gave myself a pep talk.  ‘Lindsey, if you want to do a card, just do it. If you don’t, don’t. But the bar is going to have to be lowered if you want to get anything done.’ In other words, it was time to opt out of the perfectionism urge and work on my ‘good enough’ game.

So I snapped out of it by I snapping a photo on my phone of my baby girl wearing a Santa hat with the gorgeous background of our unmade bed, found another photo of all of us laughing and got on where I found the cheapest, least fancy Christmas card money could buy. I pressed ‘submit’ before I could second guess myself.

I picked up the cards the next day, intent on getting at least some of the cards out before the New Year, and opened up the envelope. I hadn’t formatted the photo correctly so one side of my face was cut off and a typo sat right in the middle of my heartfelt message.

‘Good!” I said to myself.

After all, this is what happens in the real world, with people that work, and have babies, and have a budget. I want things to be messy and for there to be mistakes, and for people to see our real family, not some contrived, perfect, watered down version. Truth be told, I was walking through Costco with spit up in my hair, a pacifier clipped to my sweatshirt and a shitty but real Christmas card in my cart.  I felt amazing.

This was my Hallmark moment.

The cards went out, I laughed with my girlfriends about the typo, enjoyed my holiday, and life went on. But this shitty Christmas card taught me some things that stuck. The first is how easy it is to feel paralyzed with perfectionism. We convince ourselves that there is some impossible, unrealistic standard that we HAVE to keep up with, even if it doesn’t reflect who we want to be. We feel this pull, never taking a moment to look down and realize that we don’t have to hold on. The second is how easy, simple and rewarding it is to let go of those standards. For me, once I decided to let go, I felt joy in that authenticity. To truly share my family and all our chaotic, sleep-deprived, happy, and messy world was so much more rewarding than even the most beautifully created card.

Also, I got a damn Christmas card out. And sometimes finishing something is good enough. 



In the comments below I’d love to hear:

Where would lowering the bar on being perfect bring more joy into your life (or at least allow you to finish something)?