I want to share something that comes to mind every holiday season. It's a story of how I used to be a crazy person. Gather 'round, and laugh at me.
I once worked at a large church, and every month, we had a breakfast staff meeting. The food was always provided by a coworker, with the usual fare of softball-sized muffins and fruit. I always thought, “I can do better than this.”
See, I was what you'd call INSANE. I thought I was better than everyone at everything which P.S. made me super fun at parties. It's a wonder I had any friends. The problem with being a self-righteous perfectionist is that you fool yourself into thinking people care about your failure, that they're keeping track, that if you appear mediocre in any way, you've lost your value. That's how I saw myself, so I assumed others felt the same way.
So when I volunteered to provide food for the next breakfast meeting, I didn't do it to be kind; I did it to be impressive. And here's how I fell on my face.
I splurged on a couple of platters from Pottery Barn so that my food would look its most beautiful. I asked the church lady in charge if I could bring my own tablecloth; naturally, the plastic ones would make my new platters look bad. And I decided to make stuffed French toast. My friend had made some for a group of us the week before, and I was envious of the euphoric sighs around the table. I wanted that for myself, so I'd make stuffed French toast, too, but even better. I relished my plan like I was Bond villain, an idiot Bond villain who'd never even read a recipe for French toast in her entire evil life.
The morning of the meeting started early as I gathered my ingredients - cream cheese, raspberry jelly, American cheese, and Wonderbread. Because those are the ingredients for stuffed French toast, right? I had no idea. BECAUSE I DIDN’T ASK ANYONE. I didn't look up a recipe. I didn't watch the Food Network. Zero research or help. I assumed I was good enough to figure it out. Insert all the eye roll emoji here.
The mean voice in my head whispered, “If this isn’t perfect then neither are you, so don’t screw up.”
Here’s how I screwed up.
I put American cheese between slices of Wonderbread, stacked them high on a sheet tray, like on top of each other, and slid them in the oven. To cook. And I guess magically turn into French toast? Y'all, there was not an egg or stick of butter to be found. I did the same with the cream cheese and raspberry jelly, essentially warming up weird sandwiches like a crazy person.
Yes, my friends, I had to have been crazy because I still thought I was going to blow this meeting to dust with my awesomeness. The sandwiches - which I never took the time to taste - were cut into cute triangles and put on my fancy platters - lipstick on a pig, y’all - and I drove to work.
I set up the food, intent to finish quickly enough so no one would know it was me. Wait, isn’t that what you wanted? Yeeees, of course, but I didn’t want them to know I wanted them to know! Duh. So I sat at a table in the back of the room as they lined up for breakfast. I was ready to let the praise wash over me.
I don't need to tell you that breakfast was disgusting. No one told me either, at least directly. But the forced smiles of my coworkers, working so hard to shield their disappointment, humiliated me to the point that I wanted to quit my job so that I’d never have to show my face again.
You might think that the moral of the story is to never stop trying, to get better and work harder and one day you too will master the stuffed French toast. Or the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Or the Christmas decorations that would make any magazine editor nod in pretentious approval.
Friends, stop being impressive. It's exhausting, alienating, and rarely even works. Instead, be considerate.
Consider what you have, what you know, and be gracious with yourself as you move toward bringing people together around food.
Consider that your value doesn't come from how well you tend your house or feed your family.
Consider that a small townhouse oven probably can't handle cooking the entire Thanksgiving meal even though you'd like to prove to your mom that you're an adult now. Adults screw up Thanksgiving dinner all the time; there's no correlation. Ask for help.
Consider that being impressive stops hospitality in its tracks.
Consider that having friends over at 7pm but not getting home from Black Friday shopping until 6:30pm means you need to make spaghetti. Like, right now. People love spaghetti. The roasts and gratins and magical leftover turkey creations can wait.
Consider that being able to bake cookies doesn't automatically make you able to make pie. The good news is that someone you know does. Ask them to show you.
And most important, consider that loving people is always the most important thing, and no one needs to be impressive where love is concerned... unless you're on The Bachelor, but that's another story for another time.