Jennifer Thomas | Louis XIV Lives Inside my Head

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Jennifer Thomas received Bachelors degrees in Italian and Art History and pursued graduate studies in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.  When finally faced with the need to support herself, she turned to major-gift fundraising and worked with an educational non-profit in NYC and MGH in Boston.  Occasionally she still creates and conducts travel study tours to Italy for both family and friends.  Jennifer is the mother of four boys, including 5 year-old twins, and lives outside of Boston, MA.

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After years of study in the arts, I have a well-trained eye, and know lovely when I see it. Beauty feeds my soul, but sometimes torments it as well.  It turns out that there is an unexpected occupational hazard that comes from a head filled with beautiful things other people conceived of and made; it can be very intimidating to find room in there for your own ideas to generate. Even worse, the trained critic in me is always looking at something with an eye to make it better.  So, no matter how hard I have worked at something, I still see only the flaws.

Recently (shortly after returning from a trip to France) I flew into my hometown a few days before a beloved brother's wedding.  My parents were hosting his reception in their perfectly lovely backyard, and so there was lots of work to do.  I got there early hoping to help, and tackled what was left of my mother's punch list.

I didn't inherit my perfectionism from my mother. She has a very sane, “good enough, is good enough” attitude, and is a scientist by training and temperament.  So her list was easy enough, but at its end things were pretty far from exquisite. Six hours off the plane I had moved on to a list of my own.  I was planting, pruning, painting and generally moving at a frantic pace.  I just kept thinking: “This is David’s WEDDING!”  I had marshaled the troops and developed an elaborate schedule, but was starting to panic; we didn't have enough time left.  Paralysis began to set in.  It was at this point that another (generally sympathetic) brother called it as he saw it, and said: “You've got Louis XIV in your head and you've got to kick him out, we've got stuff to do.”

Overview versaillesSource:  Trekearth

He was right, and I have been thinking about that statement ever since.   I can remember countless times when I have let Louis and his ilk squelch my dreams.  Too often I am paralyzed by both my own sense of the lovely and what others have already accomplished.  A garden reception? “Think Versailles!”  But, who can possibly live up to that?  Perhaps my most painful and stupid example of this is the Christmas night I spent crying because my holiday accomplishments hadn’t perfectly reflected all my creative ideas.  I felt like a failure.  My husband was not only mystified, (His first response to my tears was: “How could it possibly have been better?”) but probably a little afraid as well.  I let a vision of perfection ruin all my hard work and our peace.  That was the real and only failure of the day.

Versailles_GardenSource:  Wikipedia Commons

I think that I may have some great dreams inside my head, but the resources at my command are not those of the Sun King.  I don't have solitude, or a patron or a budget or a staff. I don't even have a desk.  I do often have a detailed vision of the end, but am blind when it comes to seeing how it can possibly be achieved or even approximated.  So all too often I quit before I start, and Louis comes off conqueror.

All this means that my brother was right, and Louis has got to go. I am realizing that if I am ever going to follow a big dream to fruition, and create something exquisite of my own, I have got to figure out how to see the ideal, but accept the compromises forced by reality. I have got to somehow stay on speaking terms with perfection but not let that beautiful conversation drown me out.  So my resolution this year is to kick Louis out.  He can head back to Versailles.  It’s hard to imagine a better place to live in exile, which has always been exactly my problem.

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Do you ever find yourself struggling to be on speaking terms with perfection without letting the conversation drown you out?

What can you learn from people for whom “good enough is good enough”?

I have something that I am envisioning right now that seems a little overwhelming.  What about you?  I find it effective to break things up in small steps.  Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson recommends thinking about what stands in the way and going back and forth.

Will you give yourself the gift of kicking Louis out? 

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