The Introspective Salon
One of the things I often think I’d like to change about myself is how slow and cautious I am in life. I take eons to make a decision and I fill out forms like I’m getting paid for each hour I spend on them. I am slow to get myself sorted in the mornings, despite the fact that I don’t wear makeup or ever really mess with my hair. I’m slow to finish projects. I take forever to learn new tasks. I’m slow to warm up to people.
I move about as fast as a sloth.
I'm a slow poke, and I usually get frustrated with myself about it, but this holiday season I made two big financial errors because I was rushing to finish tasks. I made two big financial errors that put our bank account in the red. Thank God it was only temporary and we had funds elsewhere to cover it, but the whole fiasco could have been avoided if I had taken my usual slow and cautious approach to paying our bills.
At first, I was really mad. I went the usual route of looking for someone to blame and then getting mad at myself. Then, once the anger had subsided I was embarrassed and weepy. I felt so stupid. I couldn’t believe my mistakes. Just one right after the other. Both times were so similar – shouldn’t I have learned from the first mistake?
After a couple of hours and some hugs from my unbelievably understanding husband I stopped berating myself and decided that maybe these mistakes were a lesson in appreciating myself for my slow poke ways. When I take my time, I hardly ever make such big mistakes. When I check and recheck and triple check I keep myself from doing something potentially catastrophic. I still feel pretty stupid about the whole thing, but I also feel like it was a lesson well learned.
I need to be able to find the value in the traits that frustrate me. I believe so much that people can change so sometimes I want to change every trait or quality that doesn’t suit me, but being a slow poke is a part of how I operate and it suits me in more ways than it fails me. I’m slow and I’m cautious and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Today I am feeling content and I want to canonize it somewhere where I could never lose it to a box or a garbage can. I don't feel content very often. I usually feel ill at ease, like I'm not doing something I should be or I'm doing whatever I am doing wrong, but today, I feel peaceful.
The day didn't start off this way. This morning as I was walking my dog I ran over my plans for the day in a panic. I felt like I had to do one thing right after the other in order for the day to make any sense. In order for everything to stay controlled. In order that one task didn't negate another. I often have this mode of thinking where a small to do list turns into a beast because I think I have to get it done in some particular order and damn it I want to drink my coffee first and I already started my laundry so I have to put it away soon and I need to give the dog a bath before I clean the tub and I still need to eat and if I don't write first thing in the morning then I'll never write.
Then it happened. I stopped myself. I realized I was making a mountain out of a mole hill (that is such an accurate phrase to describe what I pretty much always do).
Maybe having a mountain to climb feels more significant and that's why I do it. I want to feel important, but once I recognized I was merely stepping over a mole hill I felt so much better and I didn't even feel insignificant because my worth is not tied up in how many mountains I climb (metaphorical or not). I had the whole day ahead of me and I could attack it in whatever way I wanted. I could do my laundry first and if it sat in the washer for an hour who cares. I could give the dog a bath after I'd had coffee and eaten. I could clean the tub whenever the hell I wanted. I could write whenever it worked out. I could not write. I could read instead. Heck, I could carry on watching reruns of The Golden Girls and zoning out the world if I wanted. It was my day.
When the dog and I got back from our walk I had my breakfast and half a mug of coffee and did a little school work. Then I snuggled on the couch with the dog for a few minutes. I drank a bit more coffee as we looked out the window together and I realized I was content. I didn't feel pressure to get up right away and get started on anything else. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. I didn't feel lazy because I wasn't climbing a mountain. I just was and it was bliss.
In the breakroom at my workplace, there has been a longstanding and outspoken frustration that there are some people who don’t put their dishes in the dishwasher. Since I’ve been working there, there has been a sign that politely asks people to put their dishes away, but recently, the ante was upped and a new sarcastic sign, complete with the picture of the inside of a dishwasher, was posted. Even more recently, the ante was upped again and a sign with a campaign to raise money for a charity if dishes were being put away, was added to the cabinet above the sink.
My reaction toward the sign was one of confusion. The charity was one that helped children to stay off the streets in violent neighborhoods in Chicago, and my workplace is situated in a very comfy neighborhood in Northern Colorado, so I thought it seemed a little unbalanced to put our “dish problem” up against the violence children live with in Chicago. I was further made uncomfortable by the dish ploy because when dishes were found in the sink, money was going to be taken away from the charity.
My confusion came in because I have a tendency to jump to dramatic conclusions.
I wasn’t sure if I was missing the point of the sign or if I was being overly sensitive, so I took a picture of the sign and sent it to my husband, asking him what he thought. When he simply replied, “what, that’s weird,” I posted the picture to Instagram and asked for others’ thoughts. I was affirmed in my thinking, and then quickly flew to the dramatic conclusions I was trying to avoid:
THE POSTER OF THE SIGN IS AN INCONSIDERATE JERK! THE POSTER OF THE SIGN IS A MANIPULATIVE ASSHOLE! THE POSTER OF THE SIGN OBVIOUSLY THINKS DISHES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN CHILDREN!
Dramatic and completely inflexible to the actual complexities of the situation.
The more my dramatic conclusions escalated, though, the more I felt called to DO SOMETHING. I worried that if I approached the poster of the sign (who had at least attached his name to it), I would simply be trying to change his mind in the matter and that the whole conversation would be fruitless. I over-analyzed my intentions of starting a conversation and instead, I donated money to the charity myself and posted my own sign letting my co-workers know that money had been donated and they no longer needed to worry about the dishes (I did not attach my name to the sign).
I mean, YEA! Because, at first, I was so proud of myself, In my mind, the original poster was a JERK! He had no regard for anybody’s sensitivities but his own!
But then, people began responding to my sign.
And I was the jerk.
According to one of the responders, I was entitled.
I have to admit, the word “entitled” really set me off. I went to my locker and grabbed a pen. I wrote across the top of the sign that the children in the charity were not accountable for our dishes. I made an arrow from the word entitled to the original sign. I WAS PISSED! How dare someone call me entitled! I paced around the breakroom. I felt like I had every right to be mad. I stewed in my anger.
Then I went back to work, and the regret settled in.
I had started a stupid passive-aggressive argument over dishes.
I had taken the emphasis off the charity and off the children involved in the charity, and that was my whole beef about the original sign! The original sign was taking away from what was really important – helping others. But my sign was doing the exact same thing.
I walked back to my supervisor’s office, but she wasn’t at her desk. I paced around the workroom feeling so frustrated with myself and with the situation. I worried that maybe I only wanted to say something to my supervisor because someone had called ME entitled and then I almost talked myself out of setting things straight, but then I walked back to my supervisors’ office again and she was back.
I confessed to posting the second sign.
I expressed my rage at being called entitled and that I was worried my whole purpose for confessing was selfish.
I hardly gave her a chance to chime in as I immediately explained why I was upset with the original sign.
I just kept talking. It was weird. I am normally so controlled, but the words just rolled out of me.
My supervisor, who I have known to also be upset with the dishes, came to the original posters’ defense, but it was interesting because according to her, he had a similar idea. It is just a dish, and this child is living in violence, so put your dish away. But for me, in this perspective, the dish, whether in the sink or in the dishwasher, is meaningless. A sink with a few dishes just doesn’t compare to neighborhoods under constant threat. In much less eloquent words (because talking to people face-to-face is HARD) I expressed that idea, and I suggested a more positive approach.
Rather than taking money away because of dishes in the sink, couldn’t we at least give money because of dishes in the dishwasher? I mean seriously, creating positive incentives, that’s just good leadership (I didn’t say that part).
My supervisor agreed that I had a point. I then confessed to adding more comments to the sign. I asked her to take it down because I felt embarrassed, and she did. Gosh, I should have just talked to her about it in the first place!
I had made a sweeping conclusion that the poster of that sign was a bad person. I flagged him as a manipulative jerk who didn’t even deserve the decency of communication and I experienced the consequences of that kind of black and white thinking. It’s slightly infuriating that I had to learn this lesson this way, if I’m completely honest, because I have been challenging this type of thinking ever since I began challenging my anxiety and depression. I thought I knew better.
In my experience, believing that any person is all good or all bad leads to anxiety and thoughts of sadness. It leads to serious misunderstandings. It is difficult to see the world in gray, though, because then there aren’t really any easy answers. When I thought the poster of the sign was all bad, the answer was easy - make him feel bad for what he did. But it just wasn’t so easy.
I don't condone the sign and I don't condone manipulating people with emotional appeals to get them to do what you want, but I also understand that there are more layers to the person behind the sign than I gave him credit for. Since I talked to my supervisor, the poster of the original sign has offered communication to me about the signs, which is more than I was willing to do.