Monday, September 26, 2016
How To Be (Less) Perfect
Last weekend, I helped my mother-in-law celebrate her 70th birthday in Cambridge by stepping in to organize the cake, decorations, and music (Udita and I performed violin duets) for an afternoon tea in Cambridge.
The week before the event, I also had one of the worst anxiety attacks I've had in years.
The reason? I had over-committed myself. Again. At work, I was in the middle of concluding a difficult negotiation and, after work, I was scrambling to submit a paid-for travel piece in a magazine - all in the same week. The mere thought of tying together all the loose ends for the party on top of that: the flowers, the party favors, the music, photography, and more ... made me hyperventilate.
By the time Saturday finally rolled around, my anxiety levels were at an all-time high, and I spent the morning frantically running up and down the stairs yelling things like, "Where's the basket for the cards? Did you wrap the present? Did you bring an extra charger?" and generally acting like a (not-so-hot) mess.
Of course, as soon as I got on the train, I realized I'd left the arrangement of 'Happy Birthday' Udita and I had composed (which I'd painstakingly transcribed onto DIY musical notepaper) at home. When I arrived at the venue, I also discovered that I'd failed to make numbers for the tables and, worse, I had mistakenly used John's aunt's maiden name on her place card instead of her married name (which she goes by).
The amazing thing was though, instead of freaking out and hysterically crying like I normally would, I decided to let it go. We re-wrote my part for 'Happy Birthday' (Udita had her part memorized because, of couse she did) and the table numbers were written by hand on the back of spare placecards. John's aunt also received a hand-written place card in blue ball point pen (which was the only pen I could find at the hotel) rather than ink calligraphy.
And it was okay.
No one died (although my niece did kind of launch herself head first out of a chair while under my care - oops). No one complained that her placecard was written in blue ball point pen. Everyone found their seats despite the ridiculously small table numbers. Instead of trying to capture every moment with my camera, I handed it to my brother-in-law (who has a fantastic eye) so I could sit and have a scone and catch up with John's lovely extended family.
Six months ago, I would have replayed these "mistakes" in my mind over and over again like a bad movie. I'd press "play" and let myself feel the shame and guilt of not doing enough or being good enough.
But on Saturday, I recognized that my expectations for myself were vastly different than other peoples' expectations for themselves and indeed, even for me. I'd wanted things to be so perfect for my mother-in-law (who would have been happy with anything, I'm sure), that I compromised my well-being trying to achieve that unrealistic goal of perfection.
I'm not gonna lie: I hated being imperfect. I hated that the flower arrangements weren't accompanied by beautiful table numbers; that we didn't have more pieces to perform in our duet repertoire; that I hadn't considered buying chair covers for the ugly purple conference-type chairs for the room.
But the difference this time was that those feelings were fleeting. They popped into my head, I acknowledged them, and then ... they didn't bother me anymore.
And I was so, so happy about this triumph over my mind. But more importantly, I loved looking over to where my mother-in-law was sitting and seeing her laugh and smile. This party was for her, after all.
What triumphs have you been winning this week? Please share!