Bookcases Can Really Be Problematic

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I thrive on competition, and I get really discouraged by comparing myself with others. It can be psychologically excruciating. Striving for perfection throughout my entire life stems from the feeling that I have never been enough; I have never met my own expectations or my perceived experience of what I think others expect from me.

Perfection certainly runs deep in my family. My husband still laughs about an incident that happened with my dad the week before we were married. I think it was my husband’s first glimpse at what he was REALLY getting himself into with me (with the exception of getting mooned at the table on Thanksgiving before we were engaged).

About two or three weeks before Tim and I were married in Michigan, there was a torrential downpour at my parents’ house. A recent leveling of land two lots away from their house to rezone for a development had changed ground water drainage and flow, and the result was a river flowing into the backyard. The in-ground pool in their backyard looked like coffee with cream, and once that was full, the overflow ran into their finished basement. The pool was supposed to be the location of a large pool party and family gathering, and the basement was supposed to house family from out of town. They lost power for several days, so my Dad bought a generator to keep the pool pump, sump pump, and freezer running (all of the food for the reception was stored in their commercial-size chest freezer). Upon our arrival in Michigan, we helped with clean-up, drilling a drainage system in the basement, and completely remodeling and refurnishing. In the midst of refurnishing, my Dad was attempting to install several oak bookcases. My Dad asked Tim to help him level the bookcases. Ten minutes later they were still moving them ever so slightly back and forth. Tim, after looking at the still crooked bookcases said, “Maybe the bookcases aren’t completely square.”

And so goes my life. I am forever moving bookcases back and forth believing that it must be my ability to level them that is the problem. It could never be that the bookcases aren’t square. I tend to take it a step beyond that, though. Shame that I could not level a bookcase would keep me from two things: 1. No one would be allowed to see the beautiful bookcases because I believe I have ruined their beauty. 2. I could not tell anyone about my failure to level the bookcases. Everyone would know about my inadequacy. Someone might come along and try to help me, and if they succeeded in lining those bookcases up together, then I would know for certain that I really am the failure that I suspect myself to be. They would know too.

I have been told a few times that I am “one of seven billion people in the world.” There is actually a world population counter that indicates there are nearly 7.8 billion people in the world. So, at the time of my writing this sentence the number is 7,764,837,728. I am convinced that I am somehow uniquely much less of a person than any of the other 7,764,837,727 people on this planet. I am in fact unique, but I am not less of a person (Writing that is much easier than believing it).

There are some people in my life who embrace the very uniqueness that I stifle about myself. This is a shout-out to those people. This is a discussion on some of the things they have helped cultivate in me.

My Meditation Instructor.
On Saturday, she read a paragraph from Mindfulness for Beginners, written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at UMASS Medical School. “Ironically, to grow into the fullness of who we actually are is the challenge of a lifetime for each of us as human beings. No one can take on that work for us. It can only be our own undertaking in response to our own calling – and only if we care deeply about living the life that is authentically ours to live, in the face of everything that we are called to engage with, being human…the challenge for each of us is to find out who are and to live our way into our own calling.” My calling is to be human, flaws and all. My meditation instructor demonstrates and models authenticity in front of me and encourages me to do the work. The work, at least in mindfulness, is done through kindness and compassion. I recently brought her downstairs to see my bookcases. She did not comment about how crooked they were. She did not try to make them straight. She told me I was courageous for sharing.

My Therapist.
Speaking of judgment, I frequently wonder what my therapist really thinks of me. She likely knows more about me than any other person in the world, how could she not look at my bookcases and think, “Wow, she can’t get it together.” I once commented that she never said anything unkind or judgmental, but I frequently believed that the dialogue in her head must be similar to my own. Her response was this: “Thinking those things may be worse than actually saying them.” So, either she is a complete jackass for not saying what she is thinking, or she is also demonstrating and modeling authenticity, kindness, and compassion. She has seen my bookcases just as my meditation instructor has. She has a slightly different approach though. She tells me my bookcases are crooked, but that adds to the uniqueness and beauty of them. She offers to help me straighten them (rather than stepping in to do it without me), but helps me understand that bookcases are not always square. She provides tools for me to take a closer look. She tells me I am courageous for sharing. I am courageous for being willing to use the tools to see that I am not inadequate. And she is patient with me when I try to right the bookcases anyways. When I step back into that form of self-destruction, she reminds me of this: “This isn’t in the way of our process, it is our process” (I think I remember her telling me she read that – it resonated with both of us, apparently).

My Friend.
First, I do not use the term “friend” lightly, but this friend is an authentic person. Totally and completely flawed, aware of those flaws, and is comfortable with them. She has crooked bookcases, walks into the basement, points to them, and says, “check these out!” I am certain that if I showed her the bookcases in my basement, she would smile and tell me I did an awesome job. That is what she does at the gym. When we work out together, we push each other hard. She usually beats me, but her authenticity and work toward her own security provides me with my own sense of security. Typically, my own sense of insecurity would keep me from wanting to help someone else work on their own bookcase. If theirs is better than mine, it further confirms that I am inadequate. I don’t think twice about helping her fix her bookcase. I know she is helping me work on mine too. And if mine still looks imperfect, she doesn’t care. The bookcases are still awesome. Yesterday, she beat me on a timed workout (again). Our times were within six seconds of each other. Probably the only reason our times were close is that I know how to row very efficiently. She wanted to know how to row efficiently too. I could have chosen to keep the secret to myself so that I can continue to maybe close the gap, but why? She doesn’t want to improve to make me less of a person; she wants to improve for herself. She wants the same for me. If the scenario were reversed, she would have shown me how to be efficient on that 20 calorie row, without a second thought.

People show kindness and compassion by commending your courage to share your bookcase, accepting your bookcase, helping you accept your bookcase, moving the bookcase back and forth with you, pointing out that the flaw may actually be the bookcase, providing the tools to investigate the bookcase, and providing the tools to fix the bookcase if that is necessary. Either way, it’s all part of the process, and each and every person in my life has a part in that process.

“Ironically, to grow into the fullness of who we actually are is the challenge of a lifetime for each of us as human beings. No one can take on that work for us.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s