The clock in my car reads 1:04 a.m. How did I let this happen? I think to myself. An hour and four minutes into the new year, and I’ve already blown it. Ripples of doubts, disappointments, and failure invade my thoughts. So much for a perfect new year. I had done something less ruinous (but still unfortunate) a few years ago on this night too. Perhaps it was turning into a pattern.
A few years ago, I had read on social media somewhere that if you lifted your left foot off the ground at 11:59:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, you’d start the new year off on the “right foot.” That night at my friend’s house we played our favorite games, ate food, and enjoyed staying up late—all things typical teenagers do. When the ball started to drop on whatever broadcast we were watching, I prepared to subtly lift my left foot off the ground to start this new year off right. It was a fresh chance to do everything correctly, to make resolutions and keep them, and to tidy everything up in life. Then, my anticipation skyrocketed as the countdown began: five, four, three, two, one . . .
“Happy New Year!” everyone said. We breathed in the air of the new year with smiles as the confetti on the TV broadcast blanketed Times Square. Couples kissed, people gave each other hugs, and I realized my grave mistake. I had focused so hard on lifting my foot in time that I lifted the wrong one.
That year I started things off on the left foot.
In the moment I felt embarrassed, dumb, and kind of shocked at my clear lack of directional ability. I even lifted my left foot off the floor to try and atone for my mistake. As I left the party I thought about my somewhat humorous error. Yet the disappointment I felt on the drive home sealed the deal.
But this year, something else happened. A group of us from work had decided we wanted to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy before our friend went back to school in Louisiana since she (and I) had never seen them. However, half of us had worked that night, closing the store early on New Year’s Eve. After we finished closing, a few people still had to buy food for the party and change into non-work clothes before we arrived. Someone wanted to watch the first two movies that night (a lofty endeavor, if I may say)—and apparently it’s heresy to not watch the extended editions. Needless to say, we started at 10:15 p.m., and I had curfew to meet before the movie ended.
So out into the pouring rain I run. I’m the first of the committed to leave. I hop into my car and turn on the heat, then the headlights, then the windshield wipers. Unfortunately, I remembered the precarious situation I was in. The driveway sloped downwards at an unnatural angle, and I couldn’t even see the street. And being the genius I was, I pulled all the way down into the parking spot. A coworker that arrived after me had parked incredibly close to my car—and since I was the first to leave, I’d probably have the most difficulty navigating out. Could I even get out? I decided to try my best.
I back out carefully, minding my angles as a selective perfectionist, squinting hard to see through the fog and the rain. I certainly don’t want to hit my coworker’s parents’ mailbox on the way out.
Rooom. My back tire spins out in the mulch halfway up the slope. I can’t go anywhere but back down. But I have a Kia Soul, a rather short car, and I figure I can just do a three-point turn and drive out the driveway like a normal human. I love three-point turns.
After I complete the first turn, I start carefully inching backward toward my coworker’s car. There isn’t much room for error, but I think I can do it. After all, perfection doesn’t leave much room for error either. Plus, I’ve been in tighter situations before, right? I calculate my angles and begin hooking the back side of my car around her car. Rubbbb.
Upon hearing the awful sound, I step on the brakes. Oh no. OH NO.
But there’s nowhere to go, so I keep backing up and hope I don’t rub any paint off either car. My heart sinks in my chest. What have I done? I can’t believe I messed up.
I can’t believe I messed up.
I knew my parents would be disappointed . . . but I was already more disappointed with myself than they could ever be. I can’t believe I did that.
After escaping the driveway, I drove home under the cover of fog and nasty rain, turning on my bright headlights to see. I’d still make it home before curfew with time to spare. 1:14 a.m.
I blew it. I messed up my whole year. I can’t even get one night right.
I can’t believe you messed up.
Of course, I would pay for any damage to my friend’s car. I mentally constructed an information/apology text to my friend as I drove home, hoping she wouldn’t tell everyone else at the movie what I’d accidentally done to her car. I hashed and rehashed the words in my mind, trying to find the right ones.
I replayed the event like a movie in my mind, thought about all the possibilities and what I could’ve, what I should’ve, done perfectly . . . but didn’t.
You’re not perfect. You messed up. I accepted that the incident was my fault and sent the apology text—I checked my car with my phone flashlight in the dark and didn’t see anything permanent, which gave me some hope. I went to bed with these thoughts running around in my head. Of course, I messed up . . . I wasn’t perfect. But if I wasn’t perfect, then why did I hold myself to that standard? Anything less than perfection in my life would bring disappointment and failure no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t live up to my own expectations.
That night I learned that perfectionism in any form parades under the guise of order and neatness. Tidy bedrooms, perfect grades, immaculate appearances, the carefree life—whatever the ideal happens to be. While the intention for those things are good, the method is chaos. Perfect grades might come at the cost of health, sanity, or relationships with others. It might take hours of overtime and decades of stress to finally settle into “your best life.”
But it’s often the swirling, unending thoughts of perfectionism missed that cause the most damage. Thoughts like those don’t breathe grace, they don’t build up; they don’t make perfectionism any better. After all, the appearance of perfectionism looks enticing and pleasant. But inside, it’s chaos.