I Just Don’t Like Messing Things Up

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I see her again. I see her every Thursday afternoon between French Conversation 2 and advanced journalism.

She usually sits at her table alone. Like a lot of the students do in the lounge.

I can’t gather up the courage to say hello. Instead, it’s just me in a constant inner dialogue with the critic and perfectionist.

It’s just a hello, yet I am averse to any sense of rejection. What if she finds it weird that I approached her? What if we hold nothing in common?

So I stay at my table. I keep my head in the textbook.

C’est la vie. I don’t feel failure, but I fail to even try.

I stare before the glowing screen. The assignment says, “Draft.” But I’m not a fan.

It’s a long-time away from learning about the Enneagram and brain efficiencies and the essences that make me proficient. I’m not aware of the fact that I fear using energy toward the same thing more than once.

So, I type. I type like this is a masterpiece. Like the pages don’t have a delete option or undo. Like it’s the inception of the printing press and every word is a painstakingly set, inked slab of metal type.

I don’t want a revision. I want a completed paper at my first go.

A friend makes a comment that feels off-handed. My lines are blurring while theirs are double-edged.

The world before me is growing. Categories I took as eternal are graying, like old wallpaper peeling at the corners.

Yet the invitation to participate has a plus one. Complicity.

I fear my attempts to help bring diversity, equity and inclusion will lead to more uniformity, oppression and isolation.

Or worse, a debate that just pits sides like the evening commentary on the latest sensationalized event.

So, I read about it. I study it. But I don’t act upon it.

What good will trying do when so many who tried made things more complicated? The energy to persuade my circle seems half empty before I start.

The leg on our sunroom rocking chair feels a little loose. So I grab the Allen wrench and go to work.

This perfecting seems doable. Solvable.

Until it is evident the manufactured hole directs the screw out the finished wood.

I hold a deep-seated belief that something to right is better “as-is” than worse-off, because I attempted to right it and failed.

It’s built upon those times I liked a girl in middle school, expressed my feelings and was rejected. It’s cemented by the articles submitted that never got published. It’s enhanced by statistics that define the likelihood.

Like the modern cities over ancient passageways, what is in front of me now is distinct from what came before—but what came before still matters.

Like my use of the words “failure.” “Messed up.”

It’s how I filter my existence. I just don’t want to mess up.

My fear is not reaching the end of my life and feeling I wasted it. It’s the notion that I will get there and there will be something I did that was never righted. Fearing the possibility I wasn’t enough.

I know I am not alone. Those around me also seek to survive.

I hear some believe it’s in remaining positive. So they numb to negative emotions or pain, but, while doing so, numb themselves to the joyous occasions as well.

Others I hear believe it’s in popularity. So they trade masks like playing cards, suiting to the house.

When I read Paul of Tarsus write that we aren’t given a spirit of timidity and fear, but one of power and self-control and love, only now am I beginning to grasp what he meant.

Fear and timidity, power and self-control—they’re two sides of the same coin. My fear of messing up enhances the reality of my very fears, leading to a sense of helplessness. Same for those seeking positivity or popularity.

To control myself is to control the very things I am most proficient at that can have control over me. I am not a bystander. I have agency.

I had agency to try dating. For relationships to not work out. For two people to go separate ways. But sticking with it led me to my wife.

I had agency to write. For articles to be loved. To be drowned by trillions of new words crashing upon the Web. But worse than failure is me not writing to begin with.

I had agency to advocate. For misunderstandings to continue. For reshaped views to materialize. But the fear of complicity is realized in my refusal to act.

What I don’t have agency over is others. I can’t control others' affections, accolades or acknowledgements. At least, if I try to, I fail to love.

The fear is legitimate, but power over others isn’t something I have the right to possess, so it doesn’t need to concern me.

This time in human history brings with it much timidity and fear. Some actual, but many perceived. What isn’t lost in all of this is agency.

Agency to love. To hold compassion. To create.

So, that’s what I choose today. Right now I feel controlled and in power. It will ebb, no doubt. That’s why Paul wrote reminders.

So, I type away at this, honestly, not for you. I type away as a love letter to my soul. To remind myself of my humanity. My value inherent by a divine decree.

For this kindness is the pivot from fear and timidity to power and self-control.

To be vulnerable is what makes self-giving love possible.

To create is to express beauty for others to enjoy and for created things to flourish.

To challenge is out of love for those pushed aside and disempowered.

To hug my soul with a reminder that I am loved frees me from fear.

My agency is not in avoiding fear. To fear is human, with today already possessing enough to be concerned over.

It’s in choosing love that outshines and speaks louder over the critic, perfectionist and sense that I just can’t mess up.

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Lane Lareau

Lane Lareau

Husband, dad, peacemaker, storyteller || Empowering spaces for flourishing || He/him