Just before Easter, when my son was three years old, I obediently brought a dozen eggs to his preschool for egg dyeing. I left them with the teachers, proud of being so on top of things that I had purchased white eggs, even though we usually eat the brown ones. Also, I’d sent twelve eggs, more than the required three or four, so my son would be able to share with the children whose (less organized) parents had forgotten to send eggs to school.
I made it home, sat in front of my desk, and began my work, before something that had been niggling all morning finally rose to the surface of my brain. I leapt out of my chair, ran back to the car, and drove to the school, wrenching the box of eggs out of the teacher’s grasp just as she was about to distribute the raw eggs to the preschoolers for dyeing. I apologized profusely and took the offending eggs away, but it was too late for me to hard boil them and get them back in time. I’d blown it.
I felt like a fool. I beat up on myself. And when I retold the story, which I did several times that day and week in search of a narrative I could live with, I always said, “That’s not like me at all. I’m a really organized person.” I’d found myself saying that with more and more regularity. “I’m a really organized person.” When I left their lunches home. When I accidentally dumped the dinner soup into a colander and strained all the broth out (I was thinking pasta). When I forgot to pick up a kid scheduled to have a play date at our house. “I’m a really organized person—usually.”
Then a very wise woman said something life-changing to me. She said, “You know, if you set the standards lower, you wouldn’t find yourself being so disappointed in yourself all the time. Why do you have to be the kind of mother who always remembers everything? Maybe you’re the other kind of mother. Maybe you’re the scatterbrained kind. And then, when you do something scatterbrained, it’s just the way you are.”
It was so liberating. Suddenly, my mistakes were not disasters. They were part of who I was—not that I was a screwup, but I was somebody who got things right a lot of the time and wrong some of the time. You know, just like everybody else.
There’s a line in The Matrix, just after Neo is unplugged, when he’s confused by the fact that, jacked in, he can still “see” his body. Morpheus tells him, “Your appearance now is what we call residual self image. It is the mental projection of your digital self.”
Sometimes, I think we get stuck with bits and pieces of residual self-image. I was the good daughter—prompt, obedient, organized. My brain was hardwired to see me that way through years of parental reinforcement. When it came time to let go, it wasn’t easy. I had to have my illusions stripped away.
Clinging to those little bits and pieces of residual self-identity slows us down. It makes us vulnerable to insults that no longer should have staying power. It keeps us from changing when big life events require us to be nimble, when suddenly we’re responsible for three lunches instead of one, or when we have to give up a certain career vision because it no longer fits who we are. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s a good idea to stop and take stock of who you think you are and what you believe your limits are. Or, conversely, what you believe the minimum requirements of being a good human being are. Both of those things can be enslaving. So check in with yourself from time to time. Because it’s possible that it’s time to take the red pill.
What about you? What do you think you have to do to live up to your standards? What do you believe about yourself that might not be true anymore? Have you ever had a red-pill moment?