Back in the Day (Puff)

Sometimes, the universe sends me exactly what I need when I least expect it.

This year, I decided I wanted to take more control over my life. I wanted to better understand what I did each day and maximize my time–COVID showed me life is short, and I want to make the most of each day I live. So, in true Virgo fashion…

I bought a fancy planner. 🙂

This planner is built like a brick house, but so sleek and chic I don’t mind how much it weighs. It’s got a spot for everything: my daily schedule, a to-do list, even a spot to write down what’s for dinner every night! In addition to all that, there is a little quotation at the top of each page. I admit I didn’t really pay much attention to this section–too focused filling in all the other stuff–but Monday’s entry gave me pause:

Close up of a planner page with the quotation "I fling my past behind me like a robe...I have outgrown it." by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
“I fling my past behind me like a robe…I have outgrown it.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Oof. What a punch in the gut.

I consistently berate myself over things I did/said in the past. My inner saboteur loves to mollywop me with reminders of cringeworthy statements and inappropriate behavior, particularly when I’m anxious or depressed. Doesn’t matter if it happened in 2nd grade–that nasty inner voice has a sharp tongue and a long memory.

On Monday, I was stressed and anxious. I’d had a rough couple of weeks at work and my nerves were one adverse event away from snapping. These factors created a prime situation for negative self-talk and I almost gave into it. But this quote made me stop and ask myself, “How does beating myself up over last week help me this week?”

Short story: It…doesn’t.

So I shook it off and went to work. I disregarded any silly comment or errant mistake from the last week. I moved forward.

And so should you.

Beating yourself up over things that happened “back in the day” doesn’t help current you. Shame and criticism are not effective motivators, especially over something that happened a long time ago. Learn from your mistakes, grow from them, but don’t let them control you.

You never know if you’ll get a tomorrow, so treat yourself with care and compassion today.

Not perfect. Still good. 

So, I made a big goof at work today. Nothing that warrants the electric chair or anything, but still not something I should have done. Excuse me while I beat myself up over it for the next 10 years. 

Seriously. I cried as soon as it happened and have been replaying it over and over in my head since it happened.  Even as I write this now, my face flushes with shame and my eyes well with tears. 

Why do I do this? Why do I put this ridiculous pressure on myself to always do and say the right things at the right time? And why do I mentally berate myself when I slip up and show that I am, in fact, a human who sometimes makes mistakes?

Anxiety is probably part of it. But mostly I think it’s because I’ve always felt so wrong that I needed to be absolutely, perfectly perfect to balance it out. Ever since I was little I’ve felt like I had to prove to everyone that I was the best at every thing because I felt like nothing about me was correct.

Too loud. 

Too fat. 

Too Black. 

So, I worked hard to be the absolute best so it wouldn’t matter that I was bigger than the other girls–I’d be smarter than them. I pushed myself to erase the whispers of “jiggaboo” on the bus every single day and and the sound of my sixth grade crush laughing, reading a note I’d written him aloud. One day, I would be laughing at them–better than anything they ever hoped to be. 

And anytime I let that veneer of perfection crack, I punished myself. Hard. I remembered that fault longer than anyone else, and I reminded myself of it each time I made another mistake–a ticker tape of every single time I felt embarrassed or unworthy. 

Not a good way to live, people. I say all the time I’m a work in progress, and this is one area where I still struggle. I’m trying to rewire 28 years of thinking and remind myself I’m still good, even if I’m not perfect.