There I was, a Student Information Management Technician, (posh way of saying that I curated the information about students, exams, report cards, etc, etc) tapping away at my keyboard, frantically trying to decipher the inner workings of a student software package that had obviously been written by someone with a massive IQ, but with no idea of how the world really works. It was difficult, it was frustrating and I was at breaking point.
“Are you still working on that Michelle? You’re taking your time,” said the headmaster who didn’t even know how to open his own email. I immediately got upset, felt defensive and all day thoughts of how I could prove to him that I was good at my job niggled in my brain.
That evening, when I got home from work, the laundry was still in a pile waiting to be washed and the sink was full of dirty dishes. I felt angry at my ex-husband, irritated by his thoughtlessness. Why couldn’t he just consider how hard I worked and be a little more helpful around the house?
All evening and well into the night I stewed over how wrong these two people in my life had been, and how right I was to feel angry at them.
Then, at around 3 am, it hit me – why was I so angry? Why was I so irritated and frustrated by a throwaway, silly comment and a few dirty dishes? This thought nestled in my brain and I pondered over it. I pondered over it on the bus on the way to work. I pondered over it whilst I poured over the software from hell. I pondered over it for days.
And as I pondered I noticed. I noticed the frustrated faces of the people in the office. I noticed the stressed-out people on the bus. I noticed the anger on people’s faces.
Why was everyone so defensive? What were they protecting?
There is an inner Gollum in all of us. Of course, there is no ring to guard, there is simply the illusion of a ring: a part of us that is invisible but precious. A part that struggles to always be right, to always be perfect. When a person interacts with us, even if the conversation is amicable, we sometimes worry that they are trying to steal our ring. Our very being becomes consumed with guarding precious, protecting it, making it safe.
A dumb comment or a thoughtless act can send our inner Gollum into overdrive. So what can we do?
How can we stop protecting an illusion of perfection?
Let’s start by shedding the need to always be right. Let’s forget trying to be seen as competent, good, smart and perfect all the time. Let’s understand that the words and actions of others have nothing at all to do with how we see ourselves. Let’s stop trying to protect our carefully curated self-image.
Because perfect doesn’t exist. Because the world is filled with thoughtless people. Because dirty dishes aren’t the end of the world.
If we do this, if we slowly let go of our precious, maybe it will allow us to see that the frustrations and rudeness of others have nothing to do with us – they are simply rocking their inner Gollum.
And maybe, just maybe, we can smile and get on with our day.