by Stephanie Grossman, M.A.
It’s wedding season. It’s baby shower season. It’s mother’s day, father’s day, all the summer birthdays. I have so many presents to buy, and I am paralyzed. Luckily for me, this perfectionism is somehow confined to this one, gift-giving area of my life, and from an objective perspective, it’s pretty ridiculous. I remember back in college as my friends were worrying about grades, jobs, and honors theses, I was feeling fine. I was confident that these things would get done and work themselves out. That is, until holiday season would roll around and I would find myself tasked with getting not one, but two Secret Santa gifts for my friends (one present to buy, and worse, one to make). While I was somehow unfazed by major events that might actually impact the trajectory of my life, I found myself anxious about having to get the “perfect” gift. I felt the same way back then as I do now.
This dilemma played out in its typical fashion last weekend leading up to my friend’s son’s first birthday party. Some thoughts running through my mind included: “What will the baby love!? What if he already has this? Will my friends think I put any effort into this? How am I supposed to decide between clothes vs. a toy vs. a book? What size is he anyway? Where do I even start!?” I feel this anxiety when I don’t know what the perfect gift is for a particular person. Without asking directly, I can’t ever be sure, but if I do ask directly, the element of surprise will be gone and I fear it will appear that I did not consider what this person would appreciate. Somehow, I think, this gift is a reflection of my own creativity, my care for this person, and my true understanding of the recipient. If they don’t love the gift, they’ll think I don’t care. I also believe that I should know what the best gift is. If this person really is my close friend or family member, I should be able to easily find a unique gift that the person would really appreciate. And I am frustrated at myself that I struggle to find this elusive “perfect” gift. As a result, I often avoid the task altogether. I avoid the inevitable anxiety and frustration that comes along with searching for the gift in the first place. This avoidance results in a scramble to put something together at the last minute, or worse, showing up empty-handed and delivering a gift belatedly. These outcomes, of course, are the exact opposite of the perfectionism I desired to begin with.
It’s been interesting for me to write this blog post. Even now as I begin to explore this topic, I’m still not certain which belief causes me the most anxiety. Is it that “I should be able to the perfect gift since I am good friend,” or “Others will think I’m a bad friend because I didn’t find the perfect gift and that would be…awful?” Regardless, I know that my avoidance tactics are only perpetuating these unhealthy negative emotions and preventing my desired outcome. Perhaps I am striving for something that doesn’t exist, or something I could never predict or control regardless of how hard I tried. And maybe I just need to accept that sometimes, I’m going to give the most memorable gift of all time, and sometimes my gift will be returned, and that’s not so terrible, because while I’m not a mind reader, I’m still a good friend.