Updated: Jun 3, 2020
The day I turned 49, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders, a mask fell off my face and the bars on my mouth broke free. I realized I was in my 50th year of life. I felt this immediate entitlement to do, say and act any way I wanted. The first half of my life, I worried about what everyone else thought of my every move and how what I said would affect everyone else. You got it, I was born Type A and a perfectionist! Thanks God, love ya. This is great for everyone else, because they know you will always give your best and they can always depend on you, but it’s nothing short of exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, it comes completely natural to me. However, there were so many days in my life I would envy the people who just didn’t care, gave little effort, and didn’t get stressed out if things weren’t done perfectly. I would hear someone say, ‘sit down, there’s plenty of time’ and think NO I didn’t get my success by SITTING DOWN…yelling in my head, never out loud.
It’s been an internal battle about whose way is better, or which one lives a better life - the laid-back taker, or the stressed-out giver? It never occurred to me that there could be an ‘in between’.
As a kid, I wanted to make straight A’s and was completely determined all on my own. My parents never had to ask me, “Did you do your homework?” And, God forbid I would get less than an A minus, then I would beat myself up, feeling like a disappointment and a failure. This began in elementary school, so it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when I went to my parents in 8th grade to tell them I was bored in public school. They found a Christian school for me to attend and the same thing happened, so I transferred to a Catholic all-girls high school. What a culture shock to my system! I got my first D and I thought life was over, convinced I would never amount to anything and cried for days. I had never struggled in school before.
This Type A perfection made it easy to stay away from drugs and never get into any real trouble. I remember sitting next to a pregnant girl in the 7th grade and thinking I would never let that happen to me. While I was no angel, I was determined that my flaws would never surface. I became a pro at putting on a perfect front.
Being Type A can be exhausting, but it is also extremely rewarding. I enjoyed a lot of success very quickly in my career. I started working at age 15, moved out of my parents at age 19 and paid my way through two college degrees by the time I was 25. At 30, I was the Controller/CPA of a multi-million-dollar company and just continued climbing. I remember being on a business trip in Charlotte, NC in the financial district, staring up at the top of the Bank of America building and thinking to myself, “My office will be at the top of this building soon”. If that isn’t some confidence! I didn’t make it quite that high, but I certainly made it to a place of success beyond my imagination. I became a CFO of an international marketing firm, that was growing faster than AOL and Time Warner could merge and disappear.
During this time, I married and had two beautiful daughters, two wonderful stepchildren and the big white picket fence home. Life looked perfect, my marriage looked perfect, my girls perfectly dressed in the cutest outfits, I was hosting perfect holiday parties and held powerful positions in my church, all while crying in the closet.
When people realize you are this type A and you do everything at 110%, not missing one detail, it’s then always just expected of you. It becomes your identity, almost like a celebrity status in your circle. In order to stay “relevant”, you must keep this up. Back then, life wasn’t played out on social media, so I couldn’t pretend to look happy with a video or a quick selfie. I had to actually act out being happy in person, on demand, and at all times or I would lose “my following”. In my mind, I would lose my identity and let the entire world down if I didn’t, as if the world even knew me. But it was that serious to me. Is there anyone else out there feeling me on this, or have I lived on my own planet for 50 years? I have a feeling many can relate.
By the time I was 38, I broke! I failed! I hit the wall! It felt like I was just exposed on CNN and everyone was talking about me, and I lost my whole following in minutes. I wanted a divorce, and I finally said it out loud. Ok, so now imagine the horror on the faces of my family and friends, who never saw this coming. Why? Because I was a pro at perfection. I am pretty sure most of them left my house after a party or gathering, saying “Wow, what a perfect life she has, what a perfect family, and home, if only I could have that”.
Does anyone remember the show Desperate House Wives, and the life that Bree Van de Kamp lived on Wisteria Lane? I would watch the show and think, oh my God, that’s totally me. That was a defining moment in my life. For years I wanted to really act on what I felt, but I was too worried about how it would make everyone else feel, and divorce in my family would clearly mean I was a complete failure, or so I thought.
When you portray a perfect life and always get things done, you are the last one anyone thinks needs comforting. While I had the means to act on this desire to leave, and rebuild a new home quickly, that didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting. It was the first time I realized my life had backfired on me. I was alone. Sure, I had my daughters, and my family, but no one ever called to ask how I was doing. No one ever came by to see if I needed help. I thought coming clean about what I wanted would release me from crying alone in the closet, it did not. Instead, I was crying from being left alone. This was the first time in my life I was able to say I just need to be happy, and everyone needs to deal with it. As I lived on my own again in my 40’s, my career was still stressful yet rewarding. I juggled being a single mom every other week with my girls, but I went right back to worrying about how my actions could be hurting others. When it came to a personal life, I hid it for the next 9 years. I didn’t allow my children, my ex, or my parents to see me date anyone, or really know too much about anything I was going through.
My job had begun downsizing and I was doing layoffs every year right after Christmas, yet I would put the smile on and throw my annual holiday parties, while hurting inside knowing I was about to put families in distress. I carried so much emotional weight from work but did everything I could not to bring it home, or not to let anyone know how difficult things were. They just knew I was successful, traveling the world for work, and taking care of everyone’s needs.
I filled my free time with events and parties, because I absolutely love entertaining, throwing themed events and getting lost in the details. It fed my Type A personality and it became like a drug to me. I would be on this high when I was in the planning stages. But the minute an event was over, it was like I went cold turkey, hit a wall and felt withdrawals. I loved the attention, I loved the acknowledgement, I loved the amazement from the people at my events. I loved the happiness on people’s faces as they enjoyed the night, and I loved the feeling that people thought everything was “PERFECT”.
This is when I started to realize I was putting my perfectionism in the wrong place. In the events and the details, yes, that was a high I never want to come down from. But to serve to make other’s lives easier while sacrificing my happiness in everyday life? Yeah, no.
So, on the day of my 49th birthday, I woke up with this weight lifted. I had tested the waters in my 48th year, but I was still doing my best to protect everyone else and worry about how my life made them feel. But not anymore, nope. God handed me the baton like I was the anchor in a 4 x 100 relay on my way to the finish line. It was as close as I could imagine how Oprah would describe the feeling of an “AH HA” moment in real life.
Since that day, I began openly dating so everyone could see I was going to have a normal life. I began openly using “sentence enhancers”, without guilt and without thinking, “Oh no my parents will kill me”. I decided I had dreamed long enough about doing something I was passionate about and made the decision that when we closed our company this year, I would hang up my corporate hat, live off my retirement, while I built a new career I was passionate about. I started walking down the street with my head high and my mouth unfiltered.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very kind to people, a giver, and a caretaker, that’s in the blood and won’t change. But I'm no longer locked in my own world of perfectionism. I am FREE. This journey to 50 is beyond liberating. It is scary, and it’s HOT (damn menopause sweats), but I wake up daily feeling so free, happy and no longer crying in the closet. There is a “in between” after all.