It was a normal Tuesday afternoon when as I was heading out of my teaching job and over to my office to see clients, a colleague popped into my classroom to “chat for a quick second.” I knew I had just a few minutes to spare so I obliged. Well, that second turned into 35 minutes as I had lost myself in the conversation and when I realized what time it was, I politely excused myself and quickly headed out the door. Now finding myself in a crunch for time, I decided jumping on the 408 would be the fastest way to get to my office and it would save me a bunch of time. Coming from a self-imposed “I can get through anything if I just try hard enough” mentality, I knew it would be stressful, but somehow I would do everything I could to make it on time. As I merged onto the busy 408 I could feel the tension building in my shoulders and chest. I didn’t want to be late and secretly I feared I would be.
Within minutes I found myself immersed in heavy traffic and I heard myself saying out loud, “Of course I’d find the only traffic jam in Orlando at 3 pm and I’d get behind the slowest person ever, are you kidding me? I can’t be late, that’s completely unprofessional.” From that moment on my thoughts just began to spiral. I looked in my rear view mirror to see if I could change lanes, all the while feeling the pressure building and my anxious thoughts taking over. And then it happened, a dead stop on the 408. I was stopped and my exit wasn’t for five miles. It was then that my frustration level had reached its limit. The anxious thoughts came quick and swift, I could feel my shoulders tighten and in my frustration, I began to cry.
There it was, my perfectionism kicking in. That little striver voice in my head that shows up in tense situations that wants to do “it right,” that wants to control. I started to really feel that striver mentality while sitting still in traffic. It used to work for me then, it definitely doesn’t work now. Especially stuck in a traffic jam! That mentality leaves me feeling scattered, overwhelmed, and drives me to try really, really hard with no room for failure, mistakes, or even traffic jams.
After a few moments of crying through my frustration and still sitting at a dead stop, I remembered a question a very wise therapist once asked me. She asked, “Where’s there Grace for you in this moment?” It was/is a brilliant question. Immediately, the pressure began to subside in my chest and I could feel my shoulders start to relax. I thought to myself, “it’s no secret you’re working two jobs. It’s hard. It’s okay to acknowledge the hard. You don’t have to be perfect at it.”
It was a short few moments later that the traffic started to move again. I took a deep breath and started to drive. I began to feel compassion for that striver part of me which has helped me through many stressful situations. More and more I continue to learn that by accepting myself and extending Grace to where I am in the moment, I am giving myself permission to be imperfect. I don’t have to do anything to be loved or feel loved. In those moments, life feels manageable again.
And in case you were wondering: I made it to my office with time to spare.