J: My guest today is Monica Packer and she's a podcaster, a self-development coach, and recovering perfectionist at About Progress. She's a wife and mother of 4 young kids living in San Francisco, East Bay Area. Monica is passionate about empowering women to find develop and hone their own gifts by refusing to be held back by their fears of imperfection. Monica's a former middle school English and history teacher, has always been obsessed with Oprah, and loves to bore people with her tales of recently learning how to swim. You'll almost always find cookie dough in Monica's fridge and a musical blaring from her speakers. You can find more
about Monica and her podcast coaching workshops and community at aboutprogress.com. Welcome to Vibrant Happy Women, Monica.
M: Hey, Jen, this is so fun for me, I'm really happy to be here.
J: Yeah, I'm happy to be talking with you as well. We are doing this fun little podcast swap where I got to be on your podcast…
J: … and you're going to be on mine; I love it. And so let's start out with your favorite quote or a motto.
M: Sure. So this is one I love, I think it's a foundation to everything I do, and it's by Winston Churchill, and he says, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” I just love that.
J: Yeah, I love Winston Churchill, but yeah, this quote in particular, how do you apply that one in your life?
M: Okay, so for me, what I love the most about that quote is that very first sentence where he says, “Success is not final,” because I think that's what we've kidded ourselves on so much in our culture by thinking that, once we get somewhere, we'll be there and it'll be awesome and so defining and monumental. And it could be for a little bit, but it's not final, success doesn't stick around. And so why I love this and it's been true in my own life is just learning that it's the middle ground between success and failure, it's that messy middle, that's what really counts, that's where you grow, that's where you thrive, and that's where real fulfillment is when you are not counting on the success piece being the most fulfilling part.
J: I love this, and it's actually a unique way of thinking. I think we all have this idea that we're being gypped if we don't have constant happiness and success. And then we create these…
J: Yeah, we create these stories like, “Ugh, I always suck at this!” and, “I can never do anything right!” And so tell us more about where you came to think like that and emphasize this quote in your own life.
M: Oh I think, like many lessons, I learned this the hard way and in many different forms, I have to be beat over the head with some lessons at pairs. But, for me, I call myself a recovering perfectionist because so much of my life was driven by perfectionism, either to be what I call an overachieving perfectionist, and then later on once I was trying to recover from where that overachieving perfectionism took me, which is a pretty ugly place, I then went into becoming an underachieving perfectionist who also wasn't fulfilled or happy or progressing. So I just had to learn throughout my life that I need to focus on growth and trying and messiness and things not working out well all the time. And changing that and how I viewed that has honestly changed my life so much. Even just recently, this is just the past 3 plus year thing for me, and it's been so life-changing that that's what everything I do is about, is about helping other women do the same and learn the same lessons.
J: I kind of have this image of a mountain range in my mind, you know, those peaks are nice but you're not really on them for long, and then somehow the journey between the peaks is really where all the glory is. So…
M: Oh, I love that.
J: (Laughs) But that's kind of… it's true, it's like the messy middle. Well, tell us more about what you used to be like when you were more of a perfectionist and how you've come to enjoy those messy middles, because that word ‘messy’ has, you know, some negative connotations for some of us.
J: How do you learn to enjoy it? Yeah.
M: Well, I think I have to go back to just growing up. You know, I think when I became a teenager, that's when I really became a hardcore perfectionist. And so many years between then and, you know, up until I graduated from college, I was so hell-bent on my achievements making me feel worthwhile and worthy. And so I was always at the top of my game, like academically, physically, spiritually, I was striving for everything to be perfect. And one of the examples there is ballet, I loved dancing, it was a huge part of my life. And as I approached 18, you know, I'd been dancing since I was 4, because I was so consumed by how I appeared on the outside and how my worth was dependent on how I was doing comparative to others, I completely lost my joy and my passion for ballet, it just left me. The ballet studio became a place of torment instead of joy. And that also happened with performing too. I loved to perform, I was also a musician, just things like that that because my outcome or my about my achievements didn't measure up the way I thought they had to, it sucked the joy out of these things I had been so passionate about. And, you know, when I went into college and I didn't get into the performing arts group I wanted to for, you know, both stage stuff and theatre as well as music, I just put those things immediately on the back burner and haven't done them again. Like, I truly haven't danced or performed since I was 18. And then I went into academia like full throttle.
M: So full throttle, I think my worst grade… I went to Brigham Young University and I got almost straight A's, but my worst grade was one B+ in a religion class, which is really ironic because it's a religious college. (Laughs)
M: And I failed basically at my own religion in my own mind.
J: That’s funny.
M: Which is hilarious to know now.
M: Yeah. But you know what, Jen? I was so, so intense with my academia and my… how I looked on the outside and my spirituality, and I probably was never at a better place on the outside. I know people thought I was just this woman who had it all together and that life looks so good for me, and I had never been more depressed and mentally ill. And that's where, you know, years and years of disordered eating and obsession with my body image really caught up to me and I just got in a series of very low lows that rocked my world and taught me that I had to change. If I wanted to live a life worth living, I needed to change dramatically. And, you know, that's where I say that I became an underachieving perfectionist, like almost I went to the other side of the pendulum there because a fear of getting back to that bad place. And it wasn't until I was a young mom with my third kid 3 years ago, I have since had another, but that's when I realized that I was equally depressed and equally lost and equally falling apart as when I had been very intense because I was no longer pursuing growth and trying things because of fear of failure and fear of not measuring up or fear of getting into a dark place again. And I guess that's kind of a nutshell version of my story that I just… I really have had to learn that I had to own the middle, like we talked about, the middle of those mountain ranges and the dips and the valleys to find happiness. And, to me, happiness is progress, it's not the end product now, it's where I'm growing now. And finally owning that progress is not linear just like that mountain range, it's a squiggly line all over a chart. And it has freed me to invest in myself again in ways I hadn’t before, and it's been so much more fulfilling and a such happier way of living than it ever was for me in the past.
J: Ah, so give us some examples, you know, as a mom, where's the messy middle where you're able to find happiness? Okay, so…
J: … painting that picture, I'm a mom too so there's a lot…
J: … of repetitiveness and dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, diapers, and a lot of moms are like, “Ugh,” you know, you mentioned lack of growth. So how do you stick that middle and find joy?
M: Well, I think for me, I mistook my position as a mom and my label as a mom to mean that I could not be a good mom and be anything else.
M: And, you know, I still had interests, like I would still read, I would still exercise, but they still had to be, you know, when I could fit in a little bit of time here and there and not… I'm not in the way that I was really truly investing in myself, but I was just kind of cheating in investing in myself.
M: And, for me, the messy middle as a mom is knowing that it's never going to be perfectly balanced, you know, working on your own… your own passions and interests, and being a mom, there's going to be give-and-take constantly. And I think what the trap is so many women fall into is whenever they get a little sign that their kids are, not being neglected but, you know, having to not constantly cater to them, you know, like for example, I was trying to exercise this morning before we did this and I had 4 children literally at my feet (Laughs) while I was trying to exercise. And there was this part of me that was saying in my head like, “You're a bad mom because you have 4 kids at your feet who were wanting your attention.” And, in my past, I would have taken that as a signal that I needed to stop completely, and there are times where I do do that. But the messy middle is owning that it's never going to be perfect. Some days, you're going to have to have 4 kids crying at your feet because they want your attention when you need to finish investing in you, and other times, you need to say, “You know what? I've taken a good time for myself, and maybe too much. It's time to relax and just sit on the couch and read some books with my kids or go on a walk with a child.”
M: And it's never straightforward, it's always going to be a little bit cloudy and you just have to keep trying to invest in yourself and your kids. But I will say that learning to take more time for my self-development separate from motherhood has, by leaps and bounds, made me a more fulfilled and present and happy and engaged mom. And I think a lot of women are scared by that because they want to know the how and what it looks like exactly, like, “What's the time frame? What's the schedule? What things do I do?” And like I said, it's not going to be straightforward, but you need to be brave in figuring out, “What interests did I used to have that I've long buried that I want to bring out again and that I want to explore a little more? How can I explore my options? Maybe that entails trading with friends so that I have time to read something that I want to read or study or take a class or whatever it is,” but you do have options and you do have ways that you can invest in yourself. And some of those are going to be free and some of those are going to involve spending some money, but doing so honestly will bless you and your family infinitely more than pretending that that part of you shouldn't matter.
J: Oh, I couldn't agree more; a million percent agreed.
J: So my story is so similar, I tried to be that perfect mom, baking bread all the time and just craziness.
M: Yes! (Laughs)
J: And then, you know, you hit this low point and you realize, “Ugh, number one, I can't feel this way anymore, so things have to change for that reason alone.”
J: But then I realized I was teaching my kids just grumpiness, that's all they were seeing. So I'd love to hear your version of that… that story, it sounds like you have one.
M: Oh, yes.
J: Yeah (Laughs) where you realize, “Maybe it's okay to be happy, maybe that's what being a good mom actually means,” I don't know.
M: Definitely. Oh, I feel like when I look back on, you know, me 3 years ago, 3 and a half years ago, I had my third kid and I had 3 kids, you know, my oldest daughter was 3 for just 4 more days and then she turned 4 right after I had my third. So 3 kids, I mean, right under 4 and my order to have some pretty significant personalities, like really extreme personalities and very opposite, so it was a lot for me to try to figure out because they were so opposite and so extreme. And then with the third, you know, it was just too much. My husband was working all the time, we never saw him. In fact, my oldest daughter who's pretty literal in a lot of ways called him Brad for 2 years because we only saw him, you know, a little on the weekends, and in her mind, it was Brad, not dad.
J: Oh no! (Laughs)
M: Which is kind of sad, you know? Things have changed but, you know, it was just a point where there was too, too, too much going on and there was too little time, I thought, to take even time for myself, which I can now see I did have options but I was unwilling to explore them. But I remember just having, you know, that… a little baby in a carrier next to me and like a bottle of balsamic vinegar, you know, falling to my counter and shattering everywhere.
M: And I did not know balsamic vinegar was so hard to clean up. But at that moment, my 2 other kids were both screaming at high-pitched levels, and then I had a baby screaming, you know, 3 kids screaming at the top of their lungs. And I'm in the middle of trying to clean this up, and instead of me being like a grown up mom and just taking care of it, I had, you know, what many could call a mommy tantrum where I just, you know, shouting at the heavens like, “Why?” like as if was one of the worst things that happened to me, “Why? Why am I the only one that can clean this up, that can calm these kids, that can be in charge of everything?” It was… I had so many of those moments, moments I was ashamed of, I'm like, “How could I be like this? How could I be someone who is falling apart over spilled balsamic vinegar or spilled bubbles or my daughter peeing her pants in the middle of Trader Joe's?” Like, any little thing would sent me over the edge in ways that was not me.
M: And, you know, as I took stock of that, that's where I really found I had to change. And, for me, that meant having a messier house truly and being okay with a mess. And during nap times, I started doing things for me. I created a list of 30 before 30 bucket lists, I was turning 30 and I had all these random things on there of things I had wanted to do that I had put off for so many years, and they were simple. They were like learn how to watercolor, create 30 new recipes, go on 10 dates with my husband, try 5 new ice cream places, just fun exciting but also, you know, challenging things for me when I hadn't had that experience of pushing myself in any way, but not necessarily goal oriented, like these were different in tone. And during my nap time, that's what I did. I read books, I made new recipes, I learned how to do things I'd wanted to do, and one of those was start a blog which ended up turning into this podcast. You just never know where things are going to take you. So I really truly believe that creating 30 new recipes changed my life, like it changed everything for me. It was that catalyst that started everything that's come from it, I never could have guessed where it would have taken me. And for some people, it might not be so public or so much of a job thing that it's turned into me… for me rather, but what it will do is it will create you again, you will find you again and there's nothing better than bringing a full you to the table.
J: Mm, yes, yes, for sure. And how have you seen things change for your family as a result of bringing you to the table; the full you?
M: Yeah, I mean in many ways, things are a lot messier, and I mean literally.
M: My house is messier and the laundry is really… it takes a long time to get put away, my husband folds most of it now. Like, there's a lot more of a literal mess and, you know, it can be a little bit cloudy too at times on how we're going to do things and get it all done, but I… like I've said, I am so much happier and fulfilled as a mom. I had my 4th kid this year and it was one of the most circumstantially difficult years… well, not the one of the most, it was the most circumstantially difficult year of our married lives. You know, we were in the middle of a botched kitchen renovation when he was born and we had no running water, no cupboards, no…
J: Oh no.
M: … counters, like nothing, we had nothing, no sink, you know, nothing. And on top of that, at a week and a half old, he had to have emergency surgery and on his intestines. And he's okay now but, you know, he's had a year of complications and we were doing this kitchen remodel and we did half of it ourselves. I was tiling walls with a newborn who had just been through surgery, I was painting new cabinets in the garage in 10-minute increments when I could… like life had never been crazier on top of trying to… you know, I had a podcast coming out still every single week, if not 2. And it might seem crazier, but it wasn't, I was way more grounded. Like, this was not a year where balsamic vinegar would send me over the edge.
M: This wasn't even a year where an emergency surgery, you know, fall… you know, balsamic vinegar falling, but emergency surgery didn't send me into despair. All the things that happened to us, I felt much more stable, I felt much more able to think through things and work through things. Like, sure, it was hard and stressful, but I was able to deal with it with such a greater reservoir of strength than I would have been 3 years ago when I didn't even have a reservoir period. So that… and time I've spent to invest in myself built up that reservoir that I needed to depend on when the going went really, really tough for us.
J: So you think all the changes were just because you invested some time in yourself every day no matter? Is that the…?
M: Honesty, truly, like 100%, it's that big of a deal for me, you know?
J: Wow, that's beautiful. And I think I would agree. Last year was my hardest year ever yet, I'm sure there's more coming because I'm seeing…
M: I’m so sorry.
J: Oh, no, no, but we all have it, it's like we talked about the mountain peaks.
J: It's just life.
M: Yes, yeah.
J: That's my new view of life. When the peaks come, I'm like, “Wow, this was amazing,” but I don't expect them to last. And it's much more realistic to know that I'm…
J: I can still be happy when I'm down in the valleys, that's what I'm noticing, it's what… exactly what you said. That was a super hard year but it didn't overwhelm you because you were taking care of yourself, you know?
M: Absolutely. And, you know, I did a 2-part podcast episode, like sometimes I do solo episodes and I did one on happiness and I did one on joy. And, you know, happiness is so much tied to our circumstances, and for me, I learned joy is just a deeper sense of strength. And I can honestly say, through all that craziness about first 6 months of last year, I really did feel joy.
J: Yeah, joy is a deeper sense of strength, that's like a quotable; I like that.
M: Let's do it.
M: Yeah, let's do it. You know, I think I would just say that it might seem too simple for people to think like, “If I put a little more time in my self-development, it will change my life,” but I… I really can tell you that will be the case. And also, some people might be too overwhelmed by that too. And what I love to do is I would love to empower women to see that they do have options to figure out what that looks like for them. joy is a deeper sense of strength
J: Hmm, that's beautiful. So you mentioned at BYU saying you weren't being perfect at living your… your faith. So for all of those out there listening who have a faith and struggle with that perfectionism related to being faithful in their religion or spirituality, tell us how you've coped with that in your own life, you know, balancing perfectionism and faith.
M: Mm-hmm. I'm so glad you brought that up, that's a huge part of my story. And I might take a whole other episode…
M: … to share. But the nutshell for me is, in my mind, I had to be perfect to be worthy of God and his communication with me. And I was so spiritual up until, you know, I reached the darkest point of my life a few years that were really, really, really dark and heavy, and during those years I was doing everything I could to be perfect, to be worthy of God saving me and taking me through it and giving me the peace that I desperately needed. And when none of that came, my perfectionism also told me that that meant either I was not worthy enough or that God just didn't exist period.
M: And for, you know, 12 years I really was in torment over my relationship with God, and connected to that, my religion and my faith. And there really is no hell worse than that I think and questioning everything you've believed and lived your entire life, and want desperately still to be part of your life but you don't know how you fit in anymore because you're feeling different than you ever did.
M: So, for me, a large part of how I've grown in my faith life (because I still am a faithful member of my church) is learning to stand, you know, again, in that messy middle, learning that it is okay for me to be a faithful believer and a doubter.
M: And I did a whole episode on this, a faith episode, if people want to listen to it where I go in a lot more depth. But what I share at the end is I really connect with doubting Thomas. A lot of my years growing up, I thought he was really immature and selfish because he had to see Christ to know that he was resurrected, and now, in my whole heart, I know I'm Thomas, that I might not know if God exists or Christ exists until I see them, but I can still choose to believe and I can be a doubter and a believer at the same time. And that doesn't take it away from what I can bring to the table and how I can live my life.
J: Hmm, that's beautiful. And, you know, I feel like in most faith traditions, there's a lot of shame happening because there's this idea…
M: Oh, definitely.
J: … you have to act a certain way, you have to conform. And, for me as well, you know, having a podcast and having a career and all of my kids…
J: … so much of our stories overlap. But I was different from a lot of the women in my faith and I questioned, “Where do I fit? Am I as quote/unquote ‘right…’?”
M: Me as well.
J: Yeah, “Am I as righteous as everyone else?” I would ask myself. And so…
J: … what's the key for you to essentially stop caring what they think and just have your faith, your own simple faith. Because, I mean, I assume that's what you had…
J: … to do. That's what I had to do, yeah.
M: Yes. For me, I mean, in those early years of motherhood where I was so entrenched and thinking I could only be a mom that did have to tie into my faith and the culture of my faith where our greatest work is as mothers. But what that did for me is send, what I think is an incorrect message that that is the only thing I ever am and should ever be defined by.
M: So a big part of what I've learned to do is to be true to what I believe God has blessed me with, which I think is actually a more ambitious personality than I had given myself allowance to discover.
M: And I spent a lot of years trying to snuff out that side of me to, I think, the detriment of my motherhood we've talked about, but also my faith. And what I did is, instead of looking outward for approval, both from others and how I was measuring up and their standards, and even looking for that approval from God from the outward standpoint, I looked inward. And as I looked inward, I truly found God there, I found God within me, I found God within the divinity that I am made up with that I think we all are. You know, we are all made up of the stuff of divinity. Our interests, our natural inclinations, our characteristics, our gifts, they're all in there waiting for us. And I believe as we fully explore those, we are living how God wants us to live, and that's what's the beauty of it. And what's hard about it is it's going to be different for every person.
M: And so, for me, it has been living a little differently than I thought. Now, I still, for me, do keep the promises I've made within my faith and I still, you know, attend church every Sunday and do all of those parts, but that's because they resonate with who I want to be. And who I want to be as someone who is doing those things, but who I also want to be as someone who does ask questions and who seeks and who lives life maybe a little differently because that's who I know deep down I am meant to be. And doing that has been a lot more freeing than looking outward. And it's difficult, like I still struggle with it all the time, but really owning that… that grayness there has been very liberating for me and also made it so I could, you know, stick with my faith.
J: Mm, that's so beautiful. I'm going to try to share a thought, and it's going to be bad because I don't remember the author or anything (Laughs) but…
M: (Laughs) That’s totally fine. We have the right…
J: … there was an…
M: … interview for that, yeah.
J: … author… yeah, an author who wrote a book about 6 levels of faith, and there's this kind of level where you believe everything, and then maybe a level…
M: Oh yeah.
J: Have you..? Maybe you've heard of it but…
M: I think I'm familiar with it.
J: Well, you share it then, I bet you can do better than me.
M: Go ahead.
J: (Laughs) Anyway, there's a level where, you know, even as an adult, you just accept everything as black and white, and a lot of people never get past that level 4. But then there's this level 5…
J: … where you start to see the gray and it freaks you out. So a lot of people will abandon their faith…
J: … when they see the gray and then…
J: … then this may be the final level where you actually get past it and you're okay with gray. And I feel like that's where I've gotten to and where I can hear you've gotten to as well. But I wish I could remember the name of…
J: … the author, it's really fascinating; to think that there are these levels, yeah.
M: I listened to a podcast about it. Yeah, I'll try to find that podcast just because they reference who wrote it and what they say, but they kind of give their own synopsis of it, and I thought it was super helpful and very true in my experience too.
J: Yeah, we will link to that book and the podcast and Monica's faith episode on our show notes at jenriday.com/155; yeah, that's awesome.
M: That’s good.
J: I appreciate you sharing, I mean, it's a touchy topic and I think…
M: It is hard, mm-hmm.
J: I'm actually just feeling so intrigued at how similar our stories are. I think there's something…
M: I know, I am too.
J: … we’re meant to do together (Laughs); so fascinating.
M: I think so too.
J: Yeah, cool.
M: I really do.
J: Yeah. Okay, everyone, stay tuned for what Monica and I create together, I don't know what it is or what we’ll do. (Laughs)
M: Yes, stay tuned (Laughs); it's going to be cool.
J: Alright. Well, let's talk about a few of your favorite things, so your morning routine.
J: You fill your cup but what are you doing to fill it?
M: I feel like I am still a little bit in the survival zone. My kids have never been good sleepers as babies, so for me, I don't have this huge morning routine, I just do my best to get up before them and do a little power walk in the garage (before they get up) on my really old treadmill. But I will say that, part of my daily recharge or something that I do is I love listening to audiobooks.
M: That's just one of my things. If I am doing some things I don't want to do in the house like chore related, put in an audiobook and it totally gives me that energy I need to do what I need to do; that's been something I've really loved.
J: Nice. And your favorite easy meal.
M: Oh yeah, my favorite easy meal, I love my Instant Pot, but what I do is… it's just called this honey lime shredded chicken, and you can put them in burritos or you can make Mexican burrito bowls, you can put them in enchiladas. But, yeah, you just put frozen chicken in an Instant Pot, drizzle some honey and some spices and a half a jar of salsa verde, and then you cook it for 12 minutes and shred it, put some lime in, and you're done.
M: It's so awesome.
J: What's your favorite book, Monica?
M: Well, this is where I feel like I know I should have something that's really inspiring (Laughs)…
M: … that relates to progress and growth, but my nightstand is crazy. Like, I have so many different books here that I'm only partway through. But what I would say I just tell people like, “Just read, period, just listen to books.” My brain, things go in and out, like I love a book, I learned so much, and then I immediately forget it all.
M: So I think just read.
J: Yeah, yeah.
M: One I love,d though, last year that's actually fiction, so this is not progress related, but I loved ‘The Secret Keeper’, I thought that was amazing. And I'm currently listening to an audiobook called ‘Sleep Revolution’ by Arianna Huffington, and that one has been really needed, I learned a lot.
J: Oh yeah, that's a good one. And what does it mean for you to be a vibrant and happy woman?
M: Well, I think it's trying. You know, my tagline for my podcast and the community is, “Life is about progress not perfection.” So, for me, a vibrant happy woman is someone who is trying and trying and trying and investing in themselves by working on their growth just for growth's sake, period. And I know that is what is going to make women feel alive again and vibrant.
J: Beautiful. And let's have a challenge from you to our listeners and we'll say adios.
M: Alright. Well, I would love to challenge your listeners to just get messy, you know, pull something off of the back burner that they've always wanted to do and just get messy with it without having an end product or a goal in mind. And we know we do something called a ‘do something list’, and it's just do something that scares you, do something that's fun or creative and challenging in a good way, and you dig in and you'll see this domino effect in your life. Like, right now, I've been doing some random things, but one of them is I'm trying to create 10 really hard baking things I've never done before. And a few weeks ago, I made croissants and they were so delicious and so worth it and they just gave me such a boost of self-esteem. And then week later, I made éclairs and they were terrible.
M: Honestly, I could not get them right. And then, you know, we filled them up and I had half an éclair, and I was like, “You know what? I actually just hate éclairs,” I'm so glad I figured that out.
M: And you know what? I actually still felt a boost of my self-esteem and happy, like it was… it was just all for fun.
M: So do something that was challenging and creative but with this goal being to just grow and enjoy being creative and fun and learning again, period.
J: Perfect, period, I love it.
J: Thank you. You know, that's, “Progress is perfection,” that's what you say? Or, “Life is about progress, not perfection,” yeah.
M: Yep, life is about progress, mm-hmm.
J: Perfect, well, Monica, this was great, I loved your story. Everyone, you should go check out Monica's podcast. And do they just search for it on iTunes?
M: Yep, and I should be @About… well, not @About, but I should be About Progress anywhere they listen, and I'm @About Progress anywhere else on social media or my website.
J: Perfect. Monica, thanks for being on the show, I had a great time with you.
M: Me too, thanks so much for having me.