Anxiety over imperfection. That is the statement that got stuck in my brain at 4:45 am this morning as I was struggling to make myself stay asleep. Despite telling myself that today is the only day this week I can sleep in….I just couldn’t. When you are tormenting yourself about whether you should make mashed potatoes or not for your Thanksgiving Dinner it is hard to sleep. What is going on here? What happened to my priorities?
Sometimes I feel I have been fighting this my entire life. Not sure, but I am guessing I have already written a post about it (so forgive me if this is repetitive). Although at this stage in my life having “things”perfect is not at all important to me (anyone who has witnessed what my hair looks like on any given day of the week can testify to this). And if you glance upwards in my house in almost any room it will confirm to you that perfection is not something I suffer with (and the spiders are very happy about that). But that is my physical world. When it comes to “performance” or maybe it’s behavior, or how I may be affecting other people, well that is a different story.
I am guessing I am not the only one who absolutely needed to get the A on a report card. Back in my high school years that C+ I got in typing really bothered me (I told myself I would never take a job where I needed to type anyway and that helped me deal with it..remember, computers weren’t invented yet). Unfortunately, I couldn’t predict this modern world where I have to type every day of the week. Anyway, as time went on, this feeling of wondering if what I was doing was good enough seemed to get worse as responsibilities grew. The first time I was criticized by the chief dietitian in a medical center where I was doing a practicum almost crushed me. It was just the start of my career in the nutrition field and my first experience working in a research hospital, and even though I was not a dietitian yet, it was a lot of pressure. I thought I was doing my best. Yes, I was very shy back then and spoke very softly. That is what put her over the edge I think. She took me in her office and pretty much yelled at me for not being confident. It was horrible. For heaven’s sake, I was probably 19 years old. Although I left in tears, in the end, like all painful experiences, it was a gift. It took a while to digest it all but she was right. I needed to work on this, and so I did. By the end of the summer practicum when I had to do a presentation in front of a large group (well, about 25 people, to me that was big) I nailed it.
But that did not change that inner voice that seemed to always question if I was doing enough. Enter my first child, Jennifer. I was proud of myself for making it through a long labor the natural way, it is what I went to those birthing classes for and I did it! But could I successfully breast feed my new baby? I will never forget my wonderful Italian grandmother looking at me with doubt. She actually said “are you sure you are going to have enough?” She was assuming the size of your breasts were correlated with how much milk you could make. Thank goodness that is not true, but I panicked anyway. She was wrong. I was a natural.
After two more babies, I was blessed to be able to be a “stay-at-home” mother. I had so much energy and was able to keep up with the house, food, laundry, dirty diapers, doctor’s visits, holidays, playgroups, you name it. So why was I feeling like I was still “not enough”because I was no longer “the dietitian”? I was not making any money anymore and it felt weird. Most mothers I know today would have been thrilled to do what I was able to do. Of course, years later after going back to school and work (at the same time) it dawned on me that those years of staying home with babies was much harder than working full time and going to school. I always joke about the joys of getting to go to the bathroom by yourself, or even getting a lunch break where you can actually finish a sandwich. That does not happen on a regular basis for stay-at-home parents.
So then life went on and with experience came confidence in the job/career world at least. Now I know what I don’t know. It is probably a lot but that is totally ok with me because wherever I am working I have no problem asking for help or guidance. It took years to learn that it is alright that you don’t know everything. We learn so much from those around us, whether it is our patients, our students, our co-workers or in my case, even my children. Not knowing it all is not the problem. It is worrying about making everyone happy. That is my conclusion and that is what woke me up this cozy rainy Sunday morning when I should be sleeping.
So back to the potatoes. Are you planning your holiday dinner and wondering about the same silly things? You want the table to look pretty. You want to be sure everyone has a place to sit (in my case anyway). The bathroom needs to be clean. You need to have everyone’s favorite (so even if just one person wants pecan pie, well you need to make it).But what if you didn’t? Would it really matter?
In the end, for me anyway, there is lots of joy derived from all of this. For example, my sister-in-law Michelle is making my son’s favorite brownies as well as pumpkin moon pies. If you despise baking because it is so much work (like I do) that kind of tedious work sounds painful. But to her, I know the pay-off is seeing the smile on my son’s face when he sees that plate. Money can’t buy that feeling. When you give, you receive. Making people happy is a wonderful thing. But is there a line there, a limit to how much energy we should invest? Finding the balance between joy and stress? When does making people happy become a problem?
Only you have that answer. This time of year can bring a lot of both, joy and stress. The need for perfection in yourself, be it in your physical world (body, clothes, clean house, etc) certainly makes it harder. Needing to make everyone perfectly happy can also make this time of year hard. Getting the perfect present, making the perfect meal, sending the perfect card. I ask, do you care what gift you get, or what card, or what food is served when you gather with family and friends? Probably not. It is the people that are around us, the love, the laughter that matters. And I can’t wait for that! Mashed potatoes or no mashed potatoes, I bet nobody cares.
This will be the first Thanksgiving without my dad and we will miss him. I am going to make that pecan pie anyway because he is the one who liked it. I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope you enjoy all that is truly important. The people around you.