“Sir, you’ll have to call on Monday to schedule your court date.” The words echoed through the loudspeaker above as the gentleman in front of me shook his head and leaned against the counter, staring at the small intercom mounted below a heavily tinted window.
The anonymity of the monotone voice mixed with the sense of fear it distilled made the line outside the Santa Monica Courthouse feel more like a trip to see the Wizard.
Holding onto my overdue traffic citation, however, I felt less like a determined Dorothy and more like a Cowardly Lion who would surely turn around at any moment if it weren’t for encouraging friends. And their texts.
“I have the worst anxiety, Megan,” I texted back. “Why does everyone have to know my business? This is so embarrassing! I don’t want to do it.”
I Don’t Actually Have My Shit Together
Each office has the annoying notetaker who pulls up the agenda at the beginning of the meeting while you wonder why they felt the need for a color-coded notes template that matches their Google slidedeck because everything they do requires a presentation for some reason. Like, don’t they have anything better to do?
I’m that person. According to my coworkers I’m in jeopardy of becoming a glorified cat lady if I don’t keep my acute attention to detail and anal-retentiveness in check.
Not only do I allow them to make this assumption, I revel in it. It’s more than okay for them to assume I’m the type of person who has it too together. Who organizes their life into spreadsheets. And who can’t function without Inception-like to-do lists within to-do lists.
Because, truthfully, work is one of the only areas of my life in which I am Type A. In most other aspects I’m Type B. Or C. Maybe even (OM)G. It’s the thing I like about myself least.
As I stood up from my chair that day to put on my striped blazer jacket for a simple trip to the Courthouse, I still appeared like a Type A Dorothy. Someone who could come out of a tornado with their French braids and red lips unscathed. Who acts mature for her age. And who figures out the way – one Google spreadsheet at a time.
However, as soon as my Uber dropped me off in front of the Parking Citations line, the Cowardly Lion came out. The girl who searches for strength and calm from outside sources. Who follows her friends’ lead. And who allows fear of everyday tasks to magnify to the point of unmanageable, consequently acting as an impediment to fully enjoying life.
I Haven’t Driven in 2 Months
I have not driven my car for approximately two months while it collects dust in the parking garage. To other people I pretend that I regularly start its engine, when in reality I have only once. And it took every bit of nerve for me to simply unlock the door and turn the key.
My registration is expired. My new license was sent to the wrong address. And I was pulled over for running a stop sign which exposed both of these.
Instead of simply addressing the ticket right away, I avoided it. The cops said I have until May. Therefore, I’ve sat in an Uber more than a part-time driver and even shamefully convinced my dad to purchase a new bicycle for me. “Besides, Dad, I hate to drive.”
In fact, my dislike for driving soon fueled the avoidance of my driving-related to-do’s, as the list of potential hurdles took hold of my thoughts:
- Do I need a smog test?
- Has my license been suspended?
- Can I get a new license if it’s suspended?
- Can I pause my car insurance?
- Where do I pay my ticket?
- Do I need a court date?
- Did I have a court date I missed?
- Am I going to get arrested?
- Or will the people at the Courthouse just scold me for my delinquency?
Why I Avoid My Responsibilities
In a fourth grade classroom at St. Joseph’s Elementary School I stood next to Ms. Tribout’s desk as she read my journal, wondering what she would think. The class was promised that if we turned in all of our assignments on time then we would have the honor of going to lunch with her at the end of the quarter. Today was that day.
“Annie, are you upset?” she asked, looking up at me. I shook my head and thought about my passive aggressive journal entry in which I described my excitement over my dad taking me out to lunch. If one late math assignment booted me from McDonald’s with Ms. Tribout then I didn’t even want it anyway.
But the tears surfaced, and she pulled me out in the hallway. I was embarrassed. And ashamed. And disappointed. How could I miss that assignment? I really did want a Happy Meal with her.
The same feelings arise every time I open a missed payment. Or forget to respond to an email. Or receive a traffic citation. The shame turns into anxiety which leads to avoidance which causes more anxiety which then circles back to shame while a simple task turns into a self-caused problem that is all my fault.
But how do I stop?
What to Keep in Mind: Choosing What You Value
“Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day… There’s a difference between blaming someone else for your situation and that person’s actually being responsible for your situation. Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you.” – Mark Manson in “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”
- I welcome responsibilities I like and avoid ones that I don’t, like quickly responding to work emails but requiring wine to look at my GEICO auto-notifications.
- I reject the time needed to figure out each item like a child refuses broccoli. If it doesn’t taste good then why do I need to eat it?
- I am the starving artist who is bothered by anything that takes away from painting. But still expects to eat at Whole Foods.
The problem with this is that I’m not choosing my responsibilities. I’m rejecting them until problems arise and choose me.
- If I value visiting friends in Redondo Beach, loading up my car at Trader Joe’s or going on road trips, then I must choose the responsibilities that come with owning a car.
- If I value the joy my blog brings then I must take responsibility for the tax paperwork that comes along with it.
- If I value my friendships, then I shouldn’t be scared to answer their calls.
Everyone encounters the same responsibilities. Some of us are on top of them and some of us slip up. But we must remind ourselves that we value them. We choose them.
What Happened at the Courthouse
“Next!” the voice said over the loud intercom. I approached the window and squinted my eyes to make out the figure behind glass to no avail.
“Hi, I have a traffic citation I need to take care of…” I nervously started.
“Papers!” I slid the crumpled paperwork through the slot.
“I just.. I want to talk to someone.. I just need some help..” I admitted.
“Go inside. Room 109. Next!”
As I waited in the Security line to enter the Courthouse I wondered what the Wizard would be like. Would he charge me $1500 for being irresponsible? Would he lecture me? Would he pull me out into the hall like Ms. Tribout did that day?
As I entered Room 109 I found that similar to the Wizard of Oz he was actually a normal, middle-aged man who probably just wanted his lunch break and had likely seen a million of me.
Before I could even fully articulate the reasons for my tardiness in paying and how much I hate driving and plans to be a better person, he had already given me instructions on what to do and when to do it.
I felt like I might cry, and it reminded me of what Ms. Tribout said in the hallway, “You made a mistake. We all do. And don’t apologize for crying… even Jim Carrey cries.”