Once upon a time I was at a Walmart in Alabama, doing my best not to be a Jersey girl. That is, I was trying not to rush and dash and move at twice the speed of other shoppers. (Talk about accepting yourself.)
Every checkout line was long, so I headed to self-checkout. My pragmatic husband loves self-checkout: the efficiency! The autonomy! The lack of interaction! I would rather go to a cashier, though. I like cashiers. They’re people, which means they’re family.
Self-checkout and I … we just don’t get along. I try to be careful, but I always set off the threatening red light. Then I get flustered, because I feel like I’m … in trouble.
Accepting Yourself Anyway
In trouble is the kiss of death for me. Here’s my rap sheet: A-student, team captain, president, honors graduate, and rampant perfectionist. You’d think I’d be able to handle self-checkout. But no. The harder I try, the worse it gets.
Once, I scanned a bottle of wine and the machine went off. I was paralyzed; what had I done? Am I under 21? No … Willie is 25 … ergo, I must be 27. That was the day I learned that you cannot buy alcohol in our county on Sundays.
This time, self-checkout is – dare I say – going well. But then the machine says: “There is an unauthorized item in the bagging area.”
“What?” I say. “There’s no unauthorized item! No wine! This isn’t even a Sunday!” My hands are on my hips; I am talking back. Then I see it: a Dora the Explorer toothpaste tube – not mine – jammed in the corner.
Exasperated, I push the tube to the floor. I try to keep scanning, but the machine sees this as an act of aggression: “Please wait for assistance.”
“I do not WANT to wait!” I exclaim aloud. I wave my hands, because I’m part Italian and I can’t not wave my hands. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” I feel injustice in the pit of my stomach. This machine is insane, and it wants me to go along with the insanity, but I refuse. I have had enough.
Flying free with Grandma
I’m not really arguing with the machine, though. I’m arguing with all the contradictory messages I’ve ever received in my life.
You’ve heard them too, I bet: be perfect, but be real. Don’t get noticed, but shine. Tell your truth, but not when it might not be well-received.
Still in Trouble
I cajole the machine into scanning the rest of my items … but then there’s the coupon. “Drop coupon in slot,” the machine says. I obey, but then I see a written notice that says NOT to drop coupons, because they must be approved by a cashier (!)
The red light goes off. Despite my best efforts, I’m still in trouble! The machine still doesn’t approve! I nearly cry. But instead, something remarkable happens: I smile. I laugh. All at once, I am free from the tyranny of trying too hard.
You see, I can’t win. Not with the self-checkout, not with the people-pleasing, not with any of it. And what do you do when you realize you’re playing a game you can’t win? You surrender.
This ridiculous machine has given me a beautiful gift: clarity. I see the futility of trying to earn self-acceptance. I can’t. I can’t! It’s so wonderful to fail, because now I can stop running. I can find what’s been here all along.
The clerk comes over. “Did you drop a coupon in the slot?” she says, a note of accusation in her voice.
“Yes. Yes, I did,” I say, peacefully. She’s just doing her job, after all. I don’t have to internalize her tone. I can relax and take the pressure off. I can be free. Once we resolve the matter, I carry my groceries out.
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