Yesterday I had some packages to mail out, so I went to the post office. There was quite a long line. Two people, a young man with a neatly and geometrically trimmed beard and a middle-aged woman in a large black t-shirt with gold embellishments on the front, were standing at a counter close to the end of the line with some papers spread out in front of them. A very slender early teenager in a fuschia hoodie was looking uncomfortable while standing in line as her eyes darted all over, but most frequently at the people at the counter. I took my place at the end of the line. The black-shirted woman got my attention, looked at me, and shook her head slightly- as though I wasn’t who she thought I was. But then she surprised me by boldly requesting that I help her and the young man fill out the papers on the counter. With a nod to the fuschia hoodie, “She’ll hold your place in line for you.”
I agreed to help; it would certainly be more exciting than standing in line. As I stepped up to the counter, the woman declared, “I’m dylexa and he’s illiterate.” I mentally grimaced, since I appreciate reading and writing on a daily basis. Looking over the papers, which were related to sending money to an apartment complex in Virginia Beach, I filled them out quickly and easily with the information they gave me.
The whole episode made me consider the wisdom of clearly stating reality and asking for help when it’s needed. It’s not that people should focus on the difficult parts of their relaities and wrap themselves up in them, but it seems wise to be aware of one’s limitations. If it’s something possible to improve and one is motivated to do so, one can work on it. If not, a person must cope with the limitations. Sometimes, an important part of coping is asking for support.
How foolish would it have been for those people to stand there for hours, agonizing over the papers in order to avoid stating their truth and their need?
How foolish is it for me to think that it’s possible to be perfect, agonizing over tasks in order to avoid doing them imperfectly? It feels like twisting my soul inside out. It means missing opportunities to learn. It means stress.
I am a perfectionist. I allow perfectionism to interfere with many areas of my life, which means that I tend to limit myself and I am not living quite the way I want to. I need to make mistakes and messes, breathe through the anxiety that accompanies them, and see that the world doesn’t end. This needs to happen over and over until I don’t feel so anxious in the face of mistakes and messes.
In the past, I actually attached some pride to my perfectionism. Now, in my mind, perfectionism equals procrastination, which equals cowardice and doing nothing. Therefore, I am no longer inclined to stroke my desire to do things perfectly or not at all.
Here’s to the mistakes and messes that come from action, and here’s to people in the post office who remind us to be bold.