In just a few months, I will have lived in New York for 10 years. Living anywhere for nearly a decade will ensure that you pick up certain local habits and lifestyles. One trait I know for certain I’ve picked up from New York is the fast-paced, often impatient speed of the city. I groan when a subway train stalls, and far too often, I cut in front of people that I deem are walking too slow.
That is until a few weeks ago when I was bulldozing along at my typical clip, but even about 25% faster because, you see…I was running late. I was set to meet a friend for a private yoga session, it was already 5 minutes passed our scheduled starting time, and I was still at least 2 avenues away. That’s when a lady exiting the subway got in my path and caused me to break my stride for all of a few seconds. I rolled my eyes and quickly bounced around her to continue at my original pace. “How dare she get in my path and move so slowly?” I thought. “Doesn’t she know I have somewhere to be?!”
I got to the building, stepped into the elevator, and furiously pressed the button for the 6th floor. The doors were slow to close so I stepped back and took a deep breath – I mean I was heading into a yoga session…I figured I should find something even resembling neutral before pretending to get zen.
Just then, a woman quietly stepped onto the elevator. Can you guess who she was? Yup, it was the same woman I had cut around not even 5 minutes earlier. All at once it hit me – despite all of my stressing, all of my anxiety, all of my frustration, we arrived at the same destination within seconds of each other. The cherry on top of this irony sundae? Turns out we were even headed to the same floor, but as I had been the first one to get onto the elevator, she was actually first in line to get off. That’s right, the woman moving at what I considered to be a glacial pace, beat me to the finish line. I swear I read “The Tortoise and the Hare” growing up, but clearly I needed to experience the lesson first hand for it to stick.
I admit I am far too hard on myself. I am a serial perfectionist, and as much as I’m aware of my pattern, it continues to be a tough one to break. This elevator moment helped me to realize that the pressure I was putting on myself to be “on time” despite already being late wasn’t getting me anywhere any faster, it was only making me feel miserable. I had done everything that was in my power to be on time – the simple fact is, I was running late due to my subway car stalling under ground for 20 minutes. It was nothing I could have changed or controlled and yet I was beating myself up both mentally and physically for not being able to.
It’s become my new practice, in situations when I start to feel flustered, to take a moment to check in with myself. Have I done everything possible to better the situation? If the answer is no, then I can choose an appropriate way to take action, but if the answer is yes, then I’m better served to relinquish control and show myself a little kindness. Things happen, people understand – there isn’t one person alive who doesn’t know what it feels like to be tardy. It helps nothing to berate yourself with woulda, coulda, shouldas. You’re better off accepting the situation for what it is and focusing on moving forward from it.
Since embracing this new practice, I’m happy to say I’m moving slower. I’m listening more intently. I’m taking notice of things that otherwise would have raced right by me. Just last week I was returning to NYC after a blissful vacation to my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. I was sad to leave my family, the thought of returning to a bustling city was daunting, and there was question if the flight was even going to get off the ground due to a snow storm that happened the night before. I sat on the plane, starting to get nervous and anxious that we were falling behind schedule. An hour after what was our scheduled take off time, we received an update from our captain that the ground team was still loading checked bags onto the plane. Because of this, the flight team had decided to open the already closed boarding door for a SECOND time to let tardy passengers board the flight.
Immediately I felt myself getting tense. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. “All these people that were on time are properly settled. Letting more people board will only create disruption.”
I caught myself. I asked, could I control or change this situation? Of course not. My griping and moaning to the flight crew would just make it more uncomfortable for everyone. This was not a personal slide against me – Delta was just trying to accommodate as many people as possible. I took a deep breath and decided to count what was good. I personally made my flight – for a moment the traffic and weather made it look like there was another possibility. I was comfortable in my seat…which was on an aisle…and amazingly I had no one sitting in the middle seat next to me…and holy crap there was a puppy directly across the aisle from me! I kid you not – in all of my travel jitters…I completely missed A PUPPY! I immediately struck a conversation with the owner and before I knew it we were up in the air.
The lesson doesn’t end there kids. (Hey, travel days are long and full of life lessons – stay open to it!)
Getting off the plane, I gathered my bags and hauled everything outside to call myself an Uber. The weather was cold and dark and I just wanted to seamlessly get to my apartment, have some dinner, and fall asleep.
This is when I made an error. I got turned around, read the wrong sign, and instructed the Uber driver to pick me up at the wrong terminal at JFK. Needless to say, after figuring out the mistake about 10-15 minutes later, incurring a $5 penalty for cancelling the ride, and listening to the Uber driver belittle me over the phone, I was primed to fly into one of my frustrated, perfectionist funks. I mean, let’s be honest, this situation was different than the others. I legitimately made a mistake. A stupid mistake that I could have controlled – I mean, who doesn’t double check everything before submitting an Uber request?!
But I didn’t berate myself. Instead, I took a deep breath, submitted a second request, and muttered a quiet, “it’s okay” to myself. I recognized that I was tired and sad and that my focus had been pulled in one too many directions which allowed me to make an error. I needed to focus on getting home to rest rather than beating myself up. In short, I gave myself a break.
And you know what happened? It was as if the universe threw a celebratory party for my progress. My Uber showed up and the driver greeted me with a Starburst candy shouting, “Happy New Year!” He helped me with my bags as I got into the car. The passenger I was sharing the Uber with greeted me and asked where I was traveling in from. Twenty minutes later, we were joking and laughing like friends that had known each other for years. It turns out she was a professional musician in town visiting her brother who plays in a jazz band. I shared with her that the jazz scene was always something I wanted to check out. Minutes later I had all her favorite recommendations. She then inquired about my business, and upon hearing I coached with kettlebells and barbells asked a few burning questions about her own fitness routine. It was such a joyous car ride and I couldn’t help but reflect that had that first Uber request worked out, I wouldn’t be having this same experience. I truly feel I ended up exactly where I was supposed to, and thank goodness I remained calm and kind to myself – it allowed me to stay open and responsive to the experience at hand.
The car pulled up to my apartment, my Uber-mate and I exchanged contact information, and I headed inside to get the rest my body ached for. The next day the sun came up, the world kept spinning, and I didn’t have to expend any energy to put the $5 mistake behind me for it had already been long forgotten.
The moral of the story (for those of you like me, not fully processing the meaning of The Tortoise and the Hare here)…be kind to yourself. Focus on you and what you actually have control over. The rest is out of your hands so it isn’t worth stressing about anyway.
Until next time,