November 2015

Today I start my Inspiration with the beautiful fable of the frogs in the milk pail. I found this version in the book The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson but originally it’s an Indian folk tale:

Two frogs left the safety of their swamp one day and ventured into a nearby farm to explore. Soon they found themselves in a dairy, where they found a large milk pail. Hopping into the pail, they found it was half filled with fresh cream.

The two little frogs were absolutely thrilled. They had never tasted anything so delicious! Soon their bellies were full. Feeling sleepy, they decided it was time to leave – and that’s when they realized they were in trouble.

They’d had no trouble hopping in. But how were they to get out? The inside of the pail was too slippery to climb. And because they couldn’t reach the bottom and there was nothing for them to step on for traction, hopping to safety was out of the question, too. They were trapped. Frantic, they began trashing about, their feet scrabbling for a foothold on the elusive, slippery curve of the pail’s sides.

Finally one frog cried out, “It’s no use. We’re doomed!”. “No”, the other frog gasped, “we can’t give up. When we were tadpoles, could we have dreamed that someday we would emerge from the water and hop about on land? Swim, brother, and pray for a miracle!”.

But the first frog only eyed his brother sadly. “There are no miracles in the life of a frog,” he croaked. “Farewell.” And he sank slowly out of sight.

The second frog refused to give up. He continued paddling in the same tiny circle, over and over, hoping against hope for a miracle. An hour later, he was still paddling in his futile little circle. He no longer even knew why. His brother’s dying words clutched at his thoughts as fatigue tugged at his tiny muscles. “Was my brother right?” he thought desperately. “Are there no miracles in the life of a frog?” Finally he could swim no more. With a whimper of anguish, he stopped paddling and let go, ready to face his fate …Yet to his surprise, unlike his brother, the second frog did not sink. In fact, he stayed right where he was, as if suspended in midair. He stretched out a foot tentatively – and felt it touch something solid. He heaved a big sigh, said a silent farewell to his poor departed brother frog, then scrambled up onto the top of the big lump of butter he had just churned, hopped out of the pail and off towards his home in the swamp.

This nice metaphor has remained with me, because it is such a fine illustration of an important principle when you want to change or achieve something in life. Now that I’m going through these huge changes in my own professional life, this very much applies to me. Since my last congress a few weeks ago, my life has been a bit chaotic – I still miss a clear direction in my coaching business and I have the feeling that I’m standing still without any results or even the slightest change in sight. This is frustrating and sometimes makes me lose courage.

But I persist in doing a few (simple) things – like publishing a new blog every 2 weeks. I have also started doing muscle strengthening exercises every morning, and afterwards – maybe even more important to me – I meditate. Meditation is not something that comes naturally to me. Sometimes, from the moment I wake up, my head is filled with thoughts and ideas that are not always easy to silence – in a friendly way – and to focus again on my breathing and on my energy field.

But slowly I’m getting better at it, although some days it feels like going back to square one. The difference now is that I remain friendly and understanding towards myself – after all my head is also a part of me! Meditation creates the mental space and introspection that I now need and from which other things can be created. So I will continue doing this every morning, knowing that I will get better at it. One day I will find myself on top of the lump of butter that I have churned and I will be grateful for my perseverance.

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A common question during a job interview: the employer asks the applicant – usually in the final stage – what his/her weaknesses are, and chances are high that the applicant replies perfectionism. Naturally, the applicant implies for it to be seen as a virtue, disguised as a weakness – after all, you cannot expect applicants to bring themselves down in an interview. The fact that perfectionism is brought forward as a so-called weakness, implies that there is something not quite right about it.

A distinction needs to be made between performance oriented perfectionism and self-critical perfectionism. Performance oriented perfectionists are ambitious and strive to make it in life. They go for excellence. Those who score high on the self-critical perfectionism scale are rather critical towards themselves, often feel that what they do is not good enough and needs improvement, and are worried about making mistakes.

It is clear that self-critical perfectionism is not healthy, these persons tend to be continually stressed and in the end it leads to a very fragile self image. However, especially performance oriented perfectionism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and does more harm than you would expect at first sight. Those who aim high all the time can fall very low. What if they are suddenly confronted with failure? Can they deal with it in a balanced way and put it in perspective? Or do they slowly end up as self-critical perfectionists? I was pleasantly surprised this morning that Aviva Romm, a blogger I’m following, wrote exactly about the same subject and its dangers. There’s synchronicity in the air! If you want to know more click here to read her article.

In an interview the writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the danger of perfectionism. After the sudden success of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ she was confronted with her own high expectations, as well as those of the audience and literary critics: would she ever be able to emulate that success? She resolutely threw these doubts overboard and followed her creative calling. Her next books have not matched the success of her first so far, but that has not stopped her from writing and publishing. Because that is what she really wants to do in her life, it is her calling and goal. She is a true believer in this: just start with whatever it is that you really want to do. She also cautions not to ruminate and edit endlessly, but finish in due time. A perfectionist will either simply not start or never finish anything, for fear it will not be good enough.

I also take a mild attitude whenever I create a new Inspiration. I take my time to write each one of them, and some are better than others. However, if I was a perfectionist, you would not be reading a new piece every two weeks.

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