“Come have a drink with your friends!,” she said – well, shouted – as she stood in the doorway, blocking my exit. But I was a man on a mission. Tasked with organizing a barbecue for some 130+ guests, I was in the midst of a frantic cleanup. As the party was winding down I was busy directing a crew of Jesuits whom I had emptying garbage cans, breaking down tables and chairs, packing up leftovers and dousing orange embers in the oversized grill. “I can’t,” I snapped at her. “I have to do this.”
The friend of a friend, I had met her only the night before and now I was yelling at her.
As I finished directing the cleanup crew of Jesuits (no small task, mind you – I figure I’m in line for some sort of religious-life Purple Heart), all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed, to flee the party that was still going on in little groups here and there across campus. It was a celebration after all: nine Jesuits were ordained as deacons earlier that morning and would serve in parishes the next day for the first time in their new roles, and their families and friends were in town to mark the occasion. A big step in their lives.
And all I wanted was to go to bed. I wanted to be alone. Tired and cranky, anxious and overwrought, I passed through the celebrating crowds with my folder of setup plans and shopping lists tucked under my arm and made my way to my room to decompress. Behind my closed door, and with the party only yards away, I started rifling through receipts, to make an account of my spending.
I have to do this, I thought, as I opened up yet another spreadsheet on my computer.
That night, and the weeks leading up to it, I was in-the-zone and, let’s face it, probably a real pain to be around. When I get focused on a project – or a paper, or an event, or you name it – I get intense about it, myopic even. It’s like I can’t think of anything else until that one thing is completed, and completed perfectly, or as close to perfect as possible. So don’t talk to me until it’s over.
And I don’t like that about myself. It’s one of many things…
I don’t like that I can’t keep multiple balls in the air at once or that when I am stressed out I am short with people, both with those I love and with those I barely know. I don’t like that I procrastinate, making the projects I have to complete that much harder to accomplish, nor do I like what I do to procrastinate, opening up Netflix or surfing the web for the next mindless distraction. I don’t like that I jealously guard my alone time at the expense of maintaining or developing relationships, nor do I like that I compare myself to other people, which I seem to do all the time. And I don’t like that my first reaction is often to be fearful – of places, of people, of situations.
There are many things I do not like about myself, but that’s my problem, isn’t it? No one asked me to host a perfect barbecue and none of my friends or family members expect that I spend all of my waking moments with them as if all or nothing was the key to a successful relationship. No one told me that anxiousness was not permitted or that decompressing alone after a long day was forbidden.
There are many things I do not like about myself, but the problem is that I fail to realize that my authentic self is the mess of it all. I want perfection and goodness and health in mind, body and soul, and those who love me want those things for me too. There’s a trap here that I fall into: that I think I live at the end of a process instead of in the middle of one. That I think I was created once and for all and that I’m no longer growing.
But I am still growing, still being created, and I have to allow myself to know myself as such. This ongoing creative reality of my life is one of shared vision – me and God – but it often feels like I have one of my eyes closed, myopically focused on something that, in the end, doesn’t matter that much.
There are many things I do not like about myself – my own expectations and my comparisons to others, chief among them. But who am I asked to be? Me, of course. And that me is unfinished, messy, and still being created. I’m not perfect. And that’s perfectly alright.