Embrace the mess

Things fall into place when you stop trying to get it right


Story by Margaret Debenport, Opinion Editor

“How do I do this the right way?” 

That’s the question that is running through my brain right now as I begin to type this. It’s the reason I looked up “senior column examples,” on Google five minutes ago. It’s the question that runs through my brain almost every time I begin to do something, and it’s a question that has greatly dictated my high school career.

How does one even make friends the “right” way? Introduce themselves the “right” way, or have fun in the “right” way? If you’re looking for the answer, I don’t have it. And I wish I would have stopped searching for it long before high school began.

Throughout high school, I tried so many different ways to make my life look right. To make it look like I was a girl from the coming of age movies who had everything together but was still a little messy in a cool way, with all the smoothness of a Paper Town’s Margo and the academic seriousness of 10 Things I Hate About You’s Kat. 

But the more I tried to make it right, the more wrong it all became. I was a freshman with a personal vendetta against myself for merely existing in all the wrong ways; I resented my body, my face, the way I talked, the way I acted, the way I did any small task. I was trying to do everything right, and I couldn’t figure out where I got it all wrong. 

When I landed in a therapist’s office near the end of my freshman year, I found a name for the feeling I felt when I became overwhelmed by my constant fear of not getting it right. I had developed anxiety, and it was directing my life, it was writing the script of my movie, and I was so sick of it. I spent my sophomore year in disarray, trying and failing new right ways to live, tripping up over messes I had made whilst living my past versions of “right” out, and, always ended up feeling like I was still doing this whole life thing “wrong.”

Somewhere between all the messing up and trying to get it right, I began to think the unthinkable: that no matter how much I tried, no matter how much I changed or grew or healed, I was never going to feel as though I had found a right way to live. That if I looked around and felt that everyone else was living the right way, that meant there wasn’t just one way to do it.

There was no good or bad version of me, there was just me, Margaret, a girl in high school who felt as though every decision she made was going to dictate if she lived or died. 

When I finally gave up trying to get it right, suddenly everything felt as I always thought it should be. I stopped trying to reach unattainable levels of perfection when it came to every word I spoke or chastising myself after I felt as though I had behaved awkwardly. I allowed myself to stop trying fad diets and became appreciative of my body for keeping me alive. I accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to make an A in pre-cal during junior year. 

I still struggled with anxiety, but I didn’t throw myself into a shame spiral every time I had a bad day. I began to understand that no one lived a picture perfect life, even if they tried hard to make it seem that way. That life -especially when you’re trying to figure out who you are, ace a chemistry test and sort through new emotions all at once- is messy, very messy. 

When I reached a point where I could find joy in the mess, I began to embrace all the time I had on earth. Well, maybe not all of it in the thick of the storm, but after it had subsided and the rainbow appeared, I was able to appreciate the moments that keep me in a state of perpetual learning. I thought that I was a master when it came to accepting the things that roll my way, and this pandemic has made me do a double take and realize that I’m not. After everything I was looking forward to at the end of my senior year got cancelled, including a trip I had spent a long time saving up for, and I felt hours of miserable disappointment at nothing I had any power over, I had to re-accept the fact that in life, all you can control is how you react to the things that happen to you. 

Looking back at my years in high school and how they were cut a little too short, I can choose to be bitter or choose to be thankful. I am making the choice that allows me to see the bad days as equal with the good, to be thankful for my friends who lifted me up on my worst days and to be thankful for the days I could comfort them.  

So, I guess if I can return to my early ways of thinking and do one right thing by writing this, it would be to pass along the greatest lesson I learned in high school: embrace the mess.