What we miss by “holding it together”


The Petersons. Letting one another show up “warts and all” is important in my family. As the oldest of seven children–ages 51 to 36–I do my best to model authenticity and self-compassion.

I’m the oldest of seven, the product of overachievers, a hyper-competent “woman who always has the answers and knows where she’s going.”  My friends and family see me as the go-to girl who always seems to have it together.

But over the past few years, I’ve been questioning how this affects me. What is the price I pay for adopting this personae?  Yes, I’ve come a long way. I’ve let a lot of perfectionist tendencies drop, am less controlling than before and am a big advocate for practicing “good is good enough.” But what would it look like for me to be MORE vulnerable? To be less prepared, less polished and more messy and human than I’ve ever been before?

It takes a lot of energy to told it together. My yoga teacher Jenn shared a story about a visual artist who photographed Salvador Dali over a stretch of five minutes (with time-lapsed breaks in between). Seeing Dali go back and forth between “DALI!” and a tired, slightly slumped over normal guy in a chair, was fascinating. It showed how much it took for the artist to be on stage, in personae–to “hold it together.”

Right now, two of my close friends are going through hard times (one may lose her house, the other is navigating a rocky divorce). We’ve been talking about how essential it is for them–for all of us– to allow ourselves to come undone, feel our feelings, turn into puddles, ask for help and be vulnerable–in order to transform into who we’re meant to be … next.

Author Brene Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection) says, “What fuels this unattainable need to look like we always have it all together? At first glance we might think it’s because we admire perfection, but that’s not the case. We are actually the most attracted to people we consider to be authentic and down-to-earth. We love people who are ‘real’ – we’re drawn to those who both embrace their imperfections and radiate self-acceptance.”

A few years ago my son and I attended family week at Omega Institute–nestled on 500 hilly acres in Rhinebeck, NY. It was amazing. Towards the end of the week we dropped into a lunch session with singer/songwriter David Wilcox for some Music Medicine (short, original, spontaneous pieces written to soothe/inspire your heart and spirit). My son asked David for a song about “feeling free,” and what followed was one of most beautiful, heart-wrenching pieces of songwriting I’ve heard. As I listened to David’s lyrics about Jonah running with his friends like the wind through the woods, I felt tears run down my face and I wondered, “What is the price that those around us–those we love most–pay when we feel we must hold it together or maintain our vision for how we think things “should be?”

I am much more interested in the second half of life in who I want to BE, than what I want to DO. What most calls to me in the decades to come is to be even more vulnerable, to make more mistakes, to put myself out there as unfinished, a work in progress, maybe even clueless. And to hopefully inspire others to consider doing the same.

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Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance speaker/author and Career Strategists president, Renée Peterson Trudeau. Renee’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Spirituality & Health and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal group based on her award-winning curriculum.  She leads workshops & women’s retreats around the globe and is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 14 year-old son. More on her background here.