I rationalized my desire to control my environment through a harsh self-application to even the most mundane tasks.
I sit at my kitchen table, scrolling through Google Calendar, restraining myself from getting to sleep early because I tell myself, “you have more to do.”
I sit on my couch, the lights are off, and the glare of the television reflects off my eyes; I silently scold myself for not washing that glass in the sink — it’s from the smoothie I had a few hours earlier. I scroll mindlessly on my phone desperately hoping that it will make me feel better for not washing that glass.
But it doesn’t; I see a string that fell to the ground from the rope toy my dog so dearly adores, and pick it up. I place the string in the trash and move to stand at my kitchen counter, frustrated. My dog looks at me, confused, as to why I keep getting up and sitting down so much, disturbing his sleep.
Finally, I reach a point where I tell myself, “Darby, please just sit down.” I grab a tea cup, laugh at the corny joke that’s printed on it, and make myself a steaming cup of “Celestial Seasonings” — peppermint, of course.
Unfortunately, this has been my nightly routine since last summer, when I started college. It’s hard to tell yourself when enough is enough, especially when it’s an introspective argument.
My tendencies to control the environment around me came from a fear of failure.
I was scared, and am still scared of failing. I have always been a people-pleaser. If I was a dog, I’d be a Golden Retriever. If you ask me to do something, I will most likely say yes, because my goal is to please — to receive some self-satisfaction. Now, if someone asked me to do something nefarious, of course, I wouldn’t do it. I hate saying “no” because I hate to disappoint — to fail.
These fears of failing have influenced my personal standards which is where my need to control the environment comes into play. If I deem something under my “watch” sub-par, I will try to fix it, to restore it to perfect condition.
I realized that this is why I absolutely love cleaning. There is no better feeling than walking across a debris-free floor. What I have also realized, through the assurance of my mother, is that there are only degrees of cleanliness. She told me, “Darby, you can clean every inch of your apartment, but it will only be a lesser degree of “dirty.”
If I listened to any of the great insights my mom had given me throughout my life, it would be that one. I have found that this mantra applies to other facets of life.
I have to work to continuously remind myself that “there are only degrees of cleanliness.” When I check the boxes off my inspection list, of myself and my environment, I have to reassure myself that it is O.K. to fail even in the most minor sense of the word. Nothing in this world is perfect nor meant to be.
If I don’t remind myself of my mother’s mantra, I remain on the treadmill — chasing the next ticked box. But, I also have to remain pragmatic and realize that there were always be more: more knowledge to be learned, more dishes to clean, more deadlines to meet. There is no peace of mind, no “done for the day.” After all, that is the very nature of the 21st century.
I have to realize that this is how nature works, that everything is either hovering or distancing itself from perfection. The universe itself serves as a magnet of identical charge. As tough as it has been for me to realize, I will only graze the lips of perfection, but be repelled by the nature of the universe.
Originally published on The Odyssey Online