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I’m sure this will come as a big shock, but I’m hard on myself. I can’t seem to let go of previous mistakes. On Wednesday, I didn’t turn right fast enough. I kept waiting for the far left lane to be clear so I could merge into it and thus avoid having to change lanes quickly later on. The car behind me did not like this, honked at me, and exclaimed, “You’re not turning left!” I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I feel uncomfortable because 1.) a stranger honked and yelled at me and 2.) he was probably right. I probably could have turned right much sooner than I did. I want strangers to like me. I’m bothered by brief interactions with others because I don’t get to hash things out with them, there’s no chance to explain or justify. The person is left with only one impression and that makes me uncomfortable.
On my best days, I approach mistakes as opportunities, as learning experiences. I remind myself I can’t know everything in advance and the only one who expects me to do everything perfectly every time is me. Oh perfectionism, how I’d like to do without thee.
Another reason I’m uncomfortable with brief interactions with strangers is I want to be able to control outcomes and reactions. I want to be able to predict how somebody will respond and it’s impossible to do that with strangers, and even people I know, really. Trying to do things so that I get the reaction I desire out of someone else is called manipulation, or perhaps people pleasing. At the moment, people pleasing and perfectionism have morphed into martyrdom. I don’t want to displease others so I’m willing to suffer at my own expense.
There is nothing noble about this. Sacrifice is a tenet of my spiritual practices, but there’s a difference between sacrificing out of love for another, or love for a country, and sacrificing so people like me. When I start to allow myself to sacrifice so much that I suffer, I turn myself into a martyr, a role no one asked me to play. I allow other people’s needs and wishes to become more important than mine and that’s not acceptable. If I don’t take care of myself, neither will anyone else.
My needs are just as important as someone else’s. Not more important, not less important, equally important. When I turn into a people-pleasing martyr, I’m saying to myself and to the other person, “I don’t matter, my needs don’t matter.” You know what? They do. Especially if I’m paying for them. I have every right to send food back at a restaurant. I have every right to ask my neighbors to turn down their music at night. The answer may be “No,” but I still have a right to ask. And as I’ve seen time and time again, even when the answer is “No,” my higher power still takes care of me in interesting and creative ways I could never have imagined.
I dream of a world where we strike the right balance between sacrifice and selfishness. A world where we don’t needlessly suffer on someone else’s behalf. A world where we stand up for ourselves, remembering we have to be our own heroes. A world where we do our best to take care of ourselves and when that’s not possible, we remember higher power has it covered.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.