[Image description: Allison’s arm with a tattoo of the word ‘grace.’ They are sitting on their bed with plants and decorations in the background.]
A lot of life has happened to me in 2017. My dad got diagnosed with cancer and subsequently started and finished treatment, I broke up with my partner of two years, graduated college, got my first full-time job, moved 700 miles from New York to North Carolina. And that’s just a handful of the life that’s happened in this year. I’ve gone through all of those difficult things with strength and my mom’s favorite word for me – poise. But it’s only in the last few weeks, really starting this new chapter of my life, that I’ve gotten familiar with the word grace.
I don’t give myself grace. With anything. If I do things, I do them well and if I can’t, I don’t do them. I envision how I want things to end up, and don’t give myself room to consider alternative ways of meeting that goal. And here’s the amazing thing about moving somewhere new, completely by yourself. That shit does not work. How can I create a vision for myself, in a context I have zero familiarity with? I spent my first three weeks in North Carolina in a frenzy trying to make friends and get ready for work, not even considering the massive move I just made. And several of my fellowship mentors have had to step in and say, “slow down.” It’s from them that the word grace has entered my vocabulary. It’s a concept I truly and honestly did not understand until the last few days.
I need to give myself grace in every facet of my life, because up until this point, I’ve been on overdrive with everything. Soon, I’ll hopefully begin addressing where that mindset comes from (Tumblr memes suggest its from being a high achieving kid that grows up into a perfectionist, anxious adult). But what I do know right now is that I feel completely and totally burnt out, most of the time. Trying to perform at maximum capacity for everything is not possible, according to said mentors, but I’ve really been trying at it for the last twenty or so years, and thus haven’t really seen a reason to stop. My shit seems together.
Since moving here, a lot has changed (as one would expect and hope). I’ve had to say to several people what my expectations are for them and myself in relation to them. I don’t know that I’ve had to be accountable in that sense before, or really had my needs prioritized in such a way. I realized that I had been so caught up in what I thought I should be doing for those people that…I don’t even know what my expectations are of them. Or what my personal needs are. My needs haven’t ever been a consideration of mine. Naming my needs and expectations feels like an ultimate act of vulnerability, and as I’ve written about over on Medium, vulnerability and I are not friends.
Now, here’s where the tizzy about grace has ensued. For someone so concerned with results and logic, my intuition is deep. I can feel situations. I’ve spent so long mediating that intuition and infusing my actions with logic, to a point where what I end up doing is only a fragment of what I initially intended. I need to give myself the grace to trust that intuition, and let that guide me. As I keep saying to my partner and myself, I need to trust the process. As it relates to more emotional, relationship-y things, I need to give myself grace in naming what I want from other people and accepting if they can’t offer it. I need to give myself the grace of being vulnerable, with the possibility of rejection but also the very real possibility of something beautiful emerging. In my work, I need to give myself the grace of being a person that does well and also makes mistakes. It’s okay to come into something knowing I need to learn, rather than coming in assuming I know what I already need to (it’s amazing how insecurity and arrogance often overlap). I need to give myself the grace of asking for help.
Right now, I’m in the place of being terrified to acknowledge what those wants and needs are, and giving myself the grace to know, once I put something out into the world, its reception is no longer in my control. If I sound like a jackass at work, or I ask my partner for something they can’t provide, that’s okay. I can work on it after. I feel like perfection doesn’t lend itself to apologies, and grace does. I can’t keep running myself ragged wanting to be everything for everyone and nothing for myself. Moving here by myself has made me realize how little I intentionally spend time with myself, because I don’t want that intuition to reveal itself to me. I don’t want to question myself, although I need to regularly. It’s possible to question myself and not doubt myself.
Accepting all of this has made me feel a massive wave of relief. Throughout the last few days I’ve been able to say to myself, “This is what I want from this person,” “This is what I want from this situation at work,” more and more. Again, to refer to my Medium article (really, just read it – it’s quite good), I often try to plan out what I’m going to say to people and when. And recently, I’ve just said this is how I feel, this is what I think is wrong. And even in those moments of being wrong, myself, I don’t feel regret. It’s freeing to say what I mean, even if it didn’t come out the right way.
With all of this, I need to infuse grace more into my everyday thought processes. I can’t be a perfectionist for 22 years and then suddenly, be free and stand in my truth when I don’t even know what that looks like. I need to give myself grace and trust the process – trust that deep, internal knowledge and self that says it’s all okay. To quote my notes from my mentors, the gift of me brings beauty into the world, but I can’t give anything to others I can’t yet give to myself.