In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson wrote that it’s easy for many of us to find fault with everything, to the point that we miss the joy of life. I think this is very easy to do during the holidays, when expectations are sky high and yet so many things can fall short of our expectations. For those of you who are like me, who tend to be perfectionists and want everything just so, it’s a great lesson to let go and not hold on as tightly to how things have to be. Last night, for instance, my family and I went to see the old movie It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen in an old movie house. When we arrived, there were almost no seats, the place was run down, and my daughters’ arm rest, which was covered in gum, actually fell off. We could have gotten upset, but instead we just laughed about it, and remembered the slum we lived in when we spent time in Sydney a few years ago, that was falling down like this movie house, and then we enjoyed the movie. And today, when we went to my son’s choral concert, we ended up surrounded by people who were either chatting or texting or checking their PayPal accounts during the concert as soon as their own children weren’t singing. I just gently said “shhh” to a few people with a smile and let go of the larger fact that they were acting rude. I was able to enjoy the concert and they got the message. I didn’t have to get drawn into analyzing other people’s insensitivity.
Tonight my daughter celebrated her 15th birthday with 25 of her friends, including boys. Since many of her friends are from all over the world, because she goes to an international school, half of the parents didn’t RSVP. My daughter texted her friends as well, but even as we were heading to the party, we didn’t really know who would show up; texts were coming in, asking where and when the party was again. I had to accept that even though I was raised to respond to invitations promptly and write thank you notes, that this may not be important in other cultures. So I just took a deep breath and accepted that whatever happened would be okay. In the end, we had two last minute no’s and one last minute yes and two people arrived late and one person left early and everyone had a great time. We did have a party room that only sat 16 people, so the other nine had to stand, but we squished them in by the door and handed them cake and soda and they were fine for the brief 10 minutes we were in there. One dad couldn’t seem to find the venue to pick up his daughter so I had to talk him through using Google Maps, and another boy hid in the bathroom since he was feeling socially awkward, but my husband and another kid were very kind to him and made him feel better. We also got kicked out of the skating rink since it closed at 9pm, so we stood in 15 degree weather outside, waiting for the late parents to pick up. We ended up hanging out with a bunch of kids in our car until those parents had arrived, which ended up being fun.
It always amazes me how wonderful life can be when we let go of needing to seek perfection, when we let go of rigid rules and expectations, and when we accept that cultures are different– not everyone values responding or being on time, and that’s okay. When you let go of that, then the magic appears. You enjoy the concert and don’t worry about why the audience is so inattentive. You enjoy the birthday party and don’t worry about not having enough chairs, or getting kicked out of the venue into the cold. You come up with a Plan B, which is more creative and fun. You realize that you don’t have to be the perfect hostess and follow all the rules, which frees you up to notice the dynamics of your daughters’ first boy-girl party. You get to notice the joy that these kids felt just being together, and you realize that they didn’t care if they had a seat or were kicked out in the cold, as long as they could hang out longer.
To find your world stage, try to soften your rules, expectations, assumptions, and judgments. The world is large and we are all so different. If we let go of what needs to happen, we start to see the magic of what does unfold, for better or for worse. This holiday season, remember that you don’t have to be perfect, but instead be open to whatever comes.