On Hostess Neurosis

My friend Sue recently introduced me to a delightful term especially applicable this time of year: Hostess Neurosis. I am sure it is something most readers have experienced at least once; I know I sure have.

Thanksgiving and I are in a complicated relationship. Early on in my hostessing career, I was plagued with much anxiety and perfectionism. While this doesn’t make for a happy, calm person, it certainly helps to produce an amazing overachiever-style meal to remember. Back then, I cooked like my life depended on it.

At some point in my early thirties, I snapped out of it and found what healthy people call perspective. I realized that people will still like me and love me even if I’m not perfect. Even if the stuffing is dry. Even if my silverware has water spots. Even if I’m not a size six.

The downside of this, of course, is that I’m no longer a size six. Ha, I kid! No, the real downside is that when you lose your anxiety, you also lose a lot of your desire to perform at the top level of every single thing in life because you’re in on the secret that it doesn’t really matter. Well, no, that’s not quite right. Things matter, but they start mattering for the right reasons. Things no longer matter out of fear of rejection, they matter because they are truly important to you. This knowledge frees you up a lot. And by you, I mean me.

It’s my long-winded way of saying Thanksgiving is still very important to me, but in a more normal way. I’ve never stopped working hard at planning Thanksgiving. I’ve never stopped making lists, and lists of lists, and attempting to serve The Best Thanksgiving Dinner You Ever Ate. I’m still a little competitive and I still care about doing a good job. It’s still a helluva lot of work and there’s no getting around that part. But finally I can say my Hostess Neurosis has evolved into basic garden variety Hostess Seasonal Stress curable with a little wine. In losing the perfectionism, I’ve lost some of the excellence it once produced, but I’ve gained a lot of joy in the production. I think that’s a pretty fair trade, and I’m thankful for that.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird