I have a natural tendency to get worked up about things. I worry. I stress. I fret. I am, by nature, an anxious person. It doesn’t serve me well. Though I believe, in the deep and rarely examined recesses of my mind, that my worry and anxiety will ultimately benefit me, they don’t. Somewhere along the line, I became convinced that conceiving of, and preparing for, every eventuality would give me some influence or control over situations. It doesn’t. I read once that “Worry doesn’t rob tomorrow of its problems, it robs today of its joy.” That pretty much sums up the reality, but still, somewhere in my mind, I equate worry with control and control with happiness. Thus, I somehow think that worrying will make me happy, even though it never, ever has.
I’m also a perfectionist. (Being a perfectionist might not mean what you think. It doesn’t mean “doing everything perfectly”. It means “not being able to let go of the idea of doing everything perfectly”. Which is crazy-making, because no matter how well you ever do anything, you can always find a way that it isn’t “perfect”.) If I don’t work on it, I naturally revert to a state where I am constantly anxious about how I can make things perfect. So, I basically make myself miserable pursuing an impossible goal. And perfection isn’t even a good goal! Again, in some back room in my mind, I got the idea that perfect = happy. Also, not true. Trying to be perfect, at everything, all the time, is actually a pretty great way to NOT be happy.
I’m working on this in myself, and I’ve made good progress. I can now see that somewhere in my mind I think that worry = happy, and I can see the nonsense of that idea. I can also see that my life is actually happier when I don’t worry about anything being “perfect”. Which is great. But I’m not totally immune to it yet.
When I was preparing to go home for Christmas this year (yes, back in December), amongst sick kids, sick me, a break-in across the hall and all the usual frenzy of the Christmas season, I slipped back into this thinking. I spent a lot of time in the weeks before my trip home contemplating (aka worrying about) all the things I could do to make the holiday at home with my family go perfectly. I worried about what I would pack. I wanted to make sure we all had the right sweaters, the perfect pajamas, the best outfits that we could for our weeks at home. I tied myself in mental knots trying to figure out how to maximize every moment of our time at home so that we could see all of the people we wanted to see and do all the things we wanted to do in order to ensure a perfect holiday. I stayed up late doing laundry, wrote up complicated planning calendars of people and events, and lost sleep over things like whether or not I had packed all of the most perfectly appropriate socks.
Before I made myself sick, crazy or miserable, I got things straightened out, though. A few days before we left, in the midst of the chaos of that week, I realized that the only thing that truly mattered is that we were going home. We were travelling across the ocean to see our family and our friends. We would spend time with people that we love. We would do fun things. We would also not get to see everyone we wanted to, because time is finite, the holidays are busy and kids have a limit on how much activity they can handle happily. No one would care if we had our best Christmas sweaters or the best possible collection of socks on hand. Whether or not we made the connections on our flights was not going to make or break our trip. None of the stuff I was agonizing over was going to make the difference between having a wonderful holiday and not. What was going to make the difference was me NOT trying to make it be perfect. In trying to make it be perfect, I was going to miss the fact that it was going to be absolutely wonderful regardless. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it as well, and in not enjoying it, I would have gradually eroded the enjoyment of the people around me. In reality, it didn’t have to be anything different than exactly what it was to be a happy holiday.
In the end, it wasn’t perfect. We didn’t get to see everyone we wanted, and we didn’t get to see anyone for as much time as we wanted. There were tons of things we wanted to do that we didn’t (there always are when we go home). There were peaceful moments, busy moments, quiet moments, festive moments and lots and lots of love and fun. It didn’t have to be any different. It was exactly right as it was.
(I mean, really — how could we have improved on this?)