I missed the memo about how to lighten up.
My mom likes to say I was “born 30” and I think that’s code for the fact that I am congenitally uptight. I’m “Type A”, judgmental, a rule follower, a worrier, a planner…so it’s no surprise that I’m often told to lighten up.
I submit to you Exhibit A, an inscription in my senior year book:
(“Blockhead”…I had forgotten about that…this guy didn’t appreciate my strong jaw and truly exquisite bone structure, but check it out…back in high school, my face was nearly a perfect square…this was my serious debate team face…)
I used to bristle at the suggestion that I ought to lighten up. Telling someone to relax when they’re obviously having a hard time relaxing usually has the effect of making them even less relaxed. Isn’t it funny how that works?
But these days, I try to take the suggestion to heart. I’m starting to understand that when I start to get rigid, it’s usually because I’m scared, anxious, or just really, really annoyed. The world of rules and structure is my safe zone, and I retreat to it when I’m having a hard time coping with anxiety and uncertainty. As an attorney, this is awesome. When I’m stressed out about a case, I can go look up a statute and figure out what the rules are, and the rules make me feel a little more grounded.
In real life, however, there isn’t a universally applicable rule book. Some might say go look in a Bible, and that’s of some comfort, but the Bible unfortunately did not contemplate a rule for how I should conduct myself when my husband forgets to push down that little doohickey that makes the water come out of the faucet instead of the shower head and I get doused with cold water…again. I suppose there’s something in The Good Book about husbands and wives honoring each other, but that’s not a complete prescription for how irritated I’m allowed to be in this situation.
The thing I’m trying to learn is that when I’m asked to lighten up, it doesn’t mean that I’m not right, as I am just about always right, just ask me. Rather, it means that I need to keep some perspective. Right at what cost? When I tense up, dig in, and fight about something inconsequential, what good is served? I talked before about my hair and the trouble it causes me, so in the aforementioned shower scenario, it kinda is a big deal as getting my hair unintentionally wet can seriously ruin my day. OK…there I go again…”ruin my day”? Really? A little perspective, please.
I still hope my husband gets the memo about pushing down that doohickey, but if he doesn’t…memo received.
© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball