When I am at my meanest

Yesterday my to-do list included mailing in my quarterly State and Federal income taxes. I detest writing those checks but I detest putting them in the mailbox even more. Still, I am a rule follower. Whether or not I like how the government spends my tax dollars, I always pay my fair share and I do it on time.

Until I didn’t.

wide eyeImagine my dismay when I pulled out my file and realized I had forgotten to mail my quarterly taxes that were due April 17! Yep. There sat the payment vouchers for both the Illinois Department of Revenue and the US Treasury, big as life (as my mother used to say). I audibly gasped and then cried out, “Noooo!” like one of those cheesy late-night horror movies on cable.

I immediately accessed my bank account on-line (with fingers crossed) to see if maybe, just maybe I had paid and hadn’t used the vouchers my accountant had provided. Nope. No payment.

I was officially a scofflaw.

Instantly I began to berate myself:

What a stupid mistake.

How could I have missed that?

I must be losing it.

I’m not reliable.

I neglected something important and there is no excuse.

I can no longer be trusted to do anything that matters.

I have no value and now everyone will know.

I imagined appropriate (I thought) consequences. A big financial penalty would be assessed; my husband would refuse to file jointly with me ever again; my accountant would mutter to himself about how stupid a client I am.

I jumped in the car and went to the post office at 9:30 p.m., where I mailed the dad-blamed checks. Then first thing this morning I contacted my accountant and confessed in a dither. I was prepared to go ahead and pay the penalty even if I had to take it out of savings. “Just tell me how much it is!” I had fretted and worried about it every time I woke up during the night and I was exhausted.

His response? Basically, “Meh.” Not that big a deal. He explained they’d assess the penalty when I file my return next year and it wouldn’t amount to that much. There’s no benefit to paying the penalty now and he advised me not to beat myself up over it. And my husband? He just laughed.

Seriously? I had myself accused, tried, convicted and awaiting a harsh sentence. Over taxes that were less than two months late, mind you.

And I was reminded of how harsh I can be with myself over other things. Friendships I’ve let languish, things I’ve said that have been taken the wrong way, tasks I’ve overlooked at work, opportunities I’ve missed.

I am a borderline perfectionist (some who know me would eliminate “borderline”) and I cut myself no slack for screw-ups. You can err greatly and I will default to grace: “No problem, don’t worry about it, it’ll be okay.” But me? No chance. I don’t deserve it.

I am not proud of how mean I am to myself. And I’m not proud of how little faith I have in other people that I automatically assume they will condemn me in the same way I’ve condemned myself. Apparently I operate as though others are just as cruel and unflinching in their judgment of me as I am.

Wow, maybe some are, but on the whole, I just don’t think so.

I’ve set up alerts now on my cell phone for future payments and written “taxes due” on every calendar I own. That should help.

I’ve paid what I owe the government. Now I owe myself an apology.  

How do you react when you screw up? Are you especially hard on yourself? In what way?

About Diane Rivers

Diane is a native Floridian whose career as an FBI Agent got her transferred to the North. She's retired from that gig now and "repurposed" as a freelance writer, author, and sometimes poet who blogs about the bumpy, bone-jostling ride of her “workaround” life. She loves Jesus, her family, black coffee, kayaking, biking, and hiking, and she looks forward to eternity with the One who will make all things beautiful. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

6 thoughts on “When I am at my meanest”

  1. Oh, DR, I had a similar experience just this past weekend. One goof up and I started losing it over what a colossal mistake we’d made buying the farm. Your blog today really resonates with how hard I (we!) can be on myself.. There’s actually a word for it: catastrophizing. You are certainly not alone!

  2. Yep, I know all of this all too well. Every now and then i run into people who are truly soft on themselves, and wonder what it must be like. Alas, I doubt I will ever know…

    1. Nor will I, I suppose. Seems almost foreign to me. Interestingly, when I read your poetry, Allen, I feel like you have such a serene and settled outlook. To see and interact with the world as you do, with such creativity and awareness, must add a dimension of softness (the good, not weak, kind) to your life, no? We are all such complicated beings.

Your feedback is welcome!