I always like to have a plan, and I always like when my plans work out exactly how I thought they would. However, I, along with many people, found out that in 2020, plans don’t always work. But, I am also a perfectionist, and perfection is unattainable in normal circumstances, and even more so in the midst of a global pandemic. The uncertainty that COVID-19 carried with it, combined with my being the ultimate planner created the perfect storm of stress, anxiety, and desperation.
I was in my second-to-last semester of grad school when quarantine began. Like many of my fellow classmates, I thought I would go home for two weeks and then head back to the classroom. But, that didn’t happen. Our entire semester moved online. I wouldn’t get the chance to say goodbye to my friends or walk across the graduation stage.
At 23 years old, I was living in my childhood bedroom without any direction of what I should be doing. Once online school was over, how would I find a job? Should I be doing more to make sure I had enough experience on my resume? And, if so, how do I even find opportunities with the world on lockdown?
I tried packing my days with a variety of activities to at least feel like I was doing something. I woke up early to work out, then I’d go to online class. After class, I completed any assignments then worked out again. I tried starting new projects, learning new skills, and even attempted joining TikTok. It didn’t make me feel any more productive.
I tried to measure everything that I ate and followed a strict exercise routine. I applied to jobs, tried to make contacts, and even created a podcast to make it seem I was in the driver’s seat of both my present and future. But, the pandemic raged on. The more I tried to control, the more I realized how out of control I really was.
One day while I was getting ready for my second workout, my sister barged in my room laughing. She had found home videos in our basement, that, according to her, I absolutely needed to see.
My whole family and I gathered around the TV to watch 7-year-old me and my two younger sisters perform a rendition of a few “Cheetah Girls” numbers. I was the lead singer and clearly the boss of the entire production. We chuckled at my confidence (I thought I could sing… I could not) and laughed at how my youngest sister, who was 2 at the time, waddled around causing chaos that clearly infuriated me.
For an hour, I was not worried about a pandemic. I was not worried about the future. I was just present and happy.
Then it hit me. The time between age 7 and age 23 went fast, yet here I was mapping out every minute of every day so that it could be perfect. I was missing out on the moments right in front of me. For the first time in five years, my sisters, my parents, and I were all back together under the same roof. Even though it was stressful, it would probably never happen again. I had to appreciate this.
I stopped meticulously planning every moment. I also made sure to do one thing every day that really had no other purpose than to make me smile.
We watched more home videos, had some family game nights, and I started reading again. I found myself lost in books about meditation, life, and, my favorite, sports biographies. Instead of trying to quarantine “perfectly,” I picked a few activities and stuck to them the best I could. If I found myself reverting to my need to perfect, I tried to acknowledge what I was feeling and let it go. If I couldn’t do this, I would pause whatever I was doing and just go for a walk.
One of the most helpful adjustments I made was creating what I called my “let go” time. Every night before bed, I wrote a list of the things that I was worried about, that I could not control. I then ripped the list up, did a “letting go” meditation, and threw it away. It helped me realize that I may not have control of a lot going on in the world; but, what I do have control is how those things impact me. I didn’t want to feel trapped where I was. I wanted to accept it; so that’s what I did.
The last few months have been so freeing compared to the beginning of the pandemic. I have been able to accomplish more and complete tasks more efficiently because I am actually present and enjoying the moment rather than just trying to check a box.
There are still times when the need to be perfect and the need to control the present and the future creep back in. I want to know when things will be “normal” again. But, I can’t know this. What I can do is let go and enjoy where I am right now because that is what I have. I can either make the most of it or try to control a world that is not meant to be controlled. So, I choose the former.