Self Criticism and Some Instructions on Life

I recently started reading Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and coincidentally one of my favorite blogs, BrainPickings posted an article, The Definitive Manifesto for Handling Haters: Anne Lamott on Priorities and How We Keep Ourselves Small by People-Pleasing. The article calls out items from the book and some commentary from Ms. Lamott’s Facebook page.

What makes Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (public library) so timelessly rewarding and one of the greatest books on writing of all time is that besides her wisdom on the craft, Lamott extends enormous sensitivity to and consolation for the general pathologies of the human condition — our insecurities, our social anxieties, our inner turmoils. Among her most powerful and memorable meditations in the book is that on how our perfectionism kills the creative spirit — something she revisited recently in a short essay on her Facebook page, spurred by a surge in negative comments and vicious troll attacks.

I just finished reading the chapter on “Perfectionism” and I certainly recognized my self as I read those pages. My perfectionism has kept me from doing and trying so many things in my life; if I don’t think I can do something well or know how it works ahead of time I just don’t attempt it. I hate that about myself and want to jump in and try things that I never have and experience things that I have been too driven by the perfectionist tendencies; worrying about making mistakes, failing, looking foolish and so on, to get out there and just do them.

And another quote the article pulled from Ms. Lamott’s Facebook Page really struck this people pleaser.

 “Do you mind even a little that you are still addicted to people-pleasing, and are still putting everyone else’s needs and laundry and career ahead of your creative, spiritual life? Giving all your life force away, to “help” and impress. Well, your help is not helpful, and falls short.

People pleasing and perfectionism go hand-in-hand and I know began at an early age for me. As the first-born your every moment is watched, recorded, critiqued, praised or scorned and corrected.  There is a little note in my baby book (see below) written by my mother that I came across awhile ago and this illustrates nicely how early my perfectionism and self criticisms started.


Self criticism started early.

Since my mother’s last entry in the book was around age three or just when I turned 4 after my brother was born; this “amusing saying” likely occurred around age 3. I spilled my coffee and milk (more on why my mother was giving a three-year old coffee in another post) and said to my self; “Christ sakes Shari” (more salty language). And I have certainly improved over the last 40 years, never really giving myself a break on anything.

I am going to get that “shitty first draft written“, keep writing and posting here and not let those voices in my head that are telling me I’m not good enough win.

I plan on releasing my copy of “Bird by Bird” on BookCrossing when I am finished, because I’m sure there is another aspiring writer or perfectionist that could use the help.

Do you suffer from perfectionist tendencies?



1st Book Review

A friend of mine was recently in the hospital and is now home recovering for a few weeks. She posted a request on Facebook for some suggested reads while she recovers and this got me thinking about some of my favorite books. So I looked through my library to pick out a few to recommend to my friend and thought I would start sharing some of them on my blog as well.

It was very difficult to pick my first one, there are so many favorites and then there are always the classics on everyones top 100 list. I picked the first one I recommended to my friend, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel.

I first read this book riding the commuter bus back and forth from Everett, Washington to downtown Seattle while I was working for one of the Big 5 consulting firms. I was laughing out loud on the bus at some of the passages and a couple times holding back tears. I loaned my copy to at least 4 of my fellow riders and have since purchased at least a half dozen as gifts for my girlfriends.

Ms. Kimmels memoir about growing up in a small town in Indiana is full of some of the funniest stories of childhood. Some of them that felt like they were from my own childhood diary.

Besides having my hair problem and my face problem and teeth too big, and besides being always the tallest, skinniest girl in my class, I had what my sister called ” the unfortunate situation” of being deformed. Most clothes that we bought in a store came in sets, and if the shirt fit me even reasonably well, the pants were too short. We had tried buying the sets with the pants the right length, which meant my mom had to take in the waist, and the shirt fell right off my shoulders. I was thinking maybe the solution would be to find the girl who was deformed exactly the opposite of me, and we could share. ”  

And this passage about having to get up and get dressed to go to an Easter service cracked me up;

I grumbled out of bed and stood shivering next to the coal stove. I was instantly cold in the way that causes the spine to shrink up. In desperation, I put my forehead against the black enamel stove and burned it, just a little. Then I tried to straighten up, but failed, I scrunched over again, put my forehead against the stove, and burned it. After I did it the third time I had no choice but to look at my father. 

“You want to just open the door and stick your head inside?” he said, with his harms till crossed. 

“Daddy. Are you going to get me out of this, yes or no.”


There are just so many great little stories that will definitely resonate with you if you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s like me. I can’t say enough wonderful things about “A Girl Named Zippy” – just read it!

What’s one of your favorite books?