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20th August

A minor act of sabotage

I had it all figured out: for the semi-annual board meeting of my foundation I was going to wear dark blue trousers, a white shirt, and a jacket of pale blue cotton gauze.


Clothes are like armour for me. Even when I'm wearing a loose summer jacket, I feel braced. Not that I even have a clear idea of what I should brace myself for, other than my own anxiety about not wearing the right outfit.


Nevertheless, when I stood in front of my wardrobe, something kept me from opening the closet where I keep my jackets. My hand was guided towards a light-blue shirt. It’s not new, but I’ve only worn it for special occasions, like dinner with good friends. I knew I would regret this choice, but I felt I was without volition.


The only thing left for me was to devise a rationalization for this involuntary change of plans.

I came up with the idea that I wasn’t going to wear a jacket because I didn’t want other board members to feel underdressed. In my head I reran the moment of choosing what to wear and spliced the justification ahead of the action of picking out the shirt, as if I were editing a film.

I gave myself the illusion that I was in control, and as a bonus I also emerged as a thoughtful person who takes the possible sensitivities of others into account.


When I walked into the meeting room, I saw that two of our board members wore elegant yet informal jackets, which was exactly the effect I had wanted to create, and I felt distinctly underdressed.


So why do I sabotage myself? Am I addicted to the feeling of having fallen short because it’s a feeling I know so well, even though I very much dislike it? Does my mind feed that addiction by making me do things I’ll regret? I thought of the Costa Rican jewel wasp that hunts cockroaches and takes over their decision-making processes.


Why does my mind perpetuate this idea of my not being enough? If our minds are geared towards survival, what does it have to win by giving me a feeling that undermines my self-confidence?


Fortunately, that tendency is completely absent in my work and important life decisions. I chose the right life partner and the right friends, and I’m involved in activities that seldom give me cause for regret. On the contrary, they make me very happy.


So perhaps the best remedy is not to take it seriously. In fact, I’ve found that the best way to go through life is by not taking myself too seriously.


But one thing I know for sure, at the next board meeting I will wear a jacket. And it will be more elegant than ever.

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