"To err is human; to forgive, divine."
- Alexander Pope
Wednesday night I was working at my restaurant job, waiting tables. I had been off for several days, and in those days my boyfriend and I had visited my family in Charlottesville, and I had a belated birthday celebration with eight of my girlfriends. I was ready to get back to work and I was also ready to be a little more disciplined. After having spent the majority of the summer, indulging in wine and rich foods, my jeans no longer fitting comfortably, I was also ready to go on a healthy eating regimen. My boyfriend, Michael, and I decided we would do without alcohol, the beloved sugar in our morning coffee, and eat more whole grains, greens and lean protein.
So, Wednesday, we began our new diet, I went to therapy in the morning, I took my first run around Central Park after a long time, and on my subway trips I was reading Helen Palmer’s The Enneagram. Now, back to my serving shift. I had focused on so many things that day, trying to change big habits in one fell swoop (I’ve never been good at baby steps), that by the time I got to the restaurant I could barely see what was in front of me.
It started as awkwardness, so stuck in my thoughts I was, that when I would try to speak to the guests, it came out fumbling and flustered. It was a very busy night, with 300 guests on the books, so I told myself, “Liz, you better get your sh*t together!” I did and I went into turbo speed. Obsessed with pushing forward out of this unfocused, awkward state, I did my job and others jobs (helping open dozens of wine bottles, running people’s drinks, clearing, and remarking, and taking orders). This is not to say other people weren’t doing their jobs, they were, but it was a busy night, so we all needed to pitch in.
In the hurricane of my forced attempts, when I went to put in the order for a table of four as three lobsters and one halibut, I put instead three halibuts and one lobster. This may not sound like such a big deal, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t. But, when the kitchen is trying to churn out over 300 meals, that mistake can set them majorly back. It’s a domino effect.
There was a surge of heat that filled up my body. Burning tears brimmed at my eyes. I was furious with myself! How could I have done that? Where was my head? (In the clouds, for sure.) I went to the table and took the blame and apologized profusely. They were lovely, assured me that it was not a problem, the two couples had not seen each other for eight years and they were enjoying catching up. I told them, “I don’t know what happened. I am known as the waitress who doesn’t make mistakes!” Promptly, the older gentleman said, “I make mistakes all the time, everybody does.”
Wow. That stopped me dead in my tracks. He was right: everybody makes mistakes. I realized that I had been so hard on myself, pushing myself and pressing myself further, that I had worked myself into a tizzy. I slowed down, apologized to my manager and chef, and tried to get through the rest of my shift as gracefully as possible.
The next morning, on Thursday, I sat down to meditate. When I asked my heart for a word, it said “forgiveness.” It was the perfect word I needed to hear. In the Enneagram, we all have different foci of attention. As a four, my Focus is on what is missing or what I lack. It is incredibly easy for me to see all the ways that I am deficient or not whole. I can also go to my resource point of One, whose attention is on improvement, and seeing things as right versus wrong. Under stress, I go to Two, whose attention is on meeting others needs (and as a byproduct neglecting one’s own). Once you understand your Enneagram type, and where your focus of attention naturally goes, you have a choice whether or not to play out that fixation, or have some distance from it.
It is easy to not forgive yourself if you are in the grips of your personality. All you see is what is not measuring up. It’s as if you have the potential to see the world from 360 degrees, but instead all you see is 40 percent of it. When you are able to take a step back, you can see more clearly the whole picture, and like the glass is both half-full and half-empty, there are more ways than one to see that picture.
Forgiveness is an incredibly hard concept to grasp and put into practice. Forgiveness implies grace, self-awareness and self-acceptance. If we can forgive ourselves first, we can certainly forgive others more easily. Seems like a worthy pursuit, doesn’t it?
What ways are you hard on yourself? How do you forgive yourself? What type are you and where does your focus of attention go? Please leave a comment so we can get this conversation going! And feel free to share or like this blog with friends!