When I got engaged, my friend Susan took me out for lunch and gave me the best advice I ever got. It was a long time ago, so I may not be remembering accurately, but I think she even tagged this advice as, “A little recommendation that will save your sanity.”
It was challenging advice to follow but, when I did, I found she was right: it saved my sanity.
This was a real challenge for me because I had been used to being a perfectionist. In my mind, you could always make things a little better; that if they weren’t exactly the way that I had imagined them, I was a failure; that nothing was ever good enough, and I always had to be nudging a little bit more. And, when I thought about the weddings I had attended in the past, I felt a need to do something original.
One of my cousins had a reception at the biggest, most historic hotel in town, with several wedding cakes, a mariachi band, and a rehearsal dinner with a cast of thousands. One of my sisters got married at a sweet little inn on the intercoastal with the perfect weather. A friend from high school got married in the winter, the tiny church enveloped in the silence that comes only when it’s snowing, lit only by candles. One sister-in-law had her reception at the Central Park Boathouse. The other at a park near her house, under a huge tent, where everyone danced late into the night. I was no bridezilla, I told myself, but I felt I had an obligation to my guests to give them a wonderful – and unique – experience, unlike anything they had ever witnessed before.
At the time, I was working a very demanding job in a department and at a company that was traversing, unguided, a huge amount of organizational change. I felt like my direct colleagues, whom I had gotten along well with in the past, had turned into condescending bitches, nothing I did was right, and I was struggling. In fact, we were all struggling: it was 2001 in NYC and everyone was going through a huge amount of stress. 2001 was very different from 2020: now we are inundated with articles about caring for your emotions, dealing with grief, being empathetic to your colleagues, navigating a stressful landscape and the anxiety that brings. In 2001, we were pretty much on our own as we wandered through a city stricken silent with grief, dusted with the ashes of neighbors and landmarks, and papered with tattered “have you seen me” posters that made real every person that no one would ever see again. And then there was the financial impact: an immediate dimming of the retail landscape where I worked.
In short, I was stressed. I was so stressed that I developed perpetual sinus infections, adult-onset asthma, mysterious allergic reactions, broke out in hives. My knees swelled up to the size of pineapples and I itched places that I couldn’t scratch in public. All the time.
As my fiancé and I navigated all the decisions we needed to make in preparation for the wedding, we took Susan’s advice to heart.
Where to hold the ceremony? We chose the small U.N. chapel: it was close to our apartment and would mean a lot to his father who had worked at the U.N. for 30 years. For a moment, I paused internally: his sister had gotten married there – would it seem like we were copying her? Should we get married somewhere else? But where? Susan’s advice kicked in and we reserved the chapel.
Where to hold the reception? We looked at a number of venues and finally decided on the restaurant at the top of a hotel a few blocks away from the chapel. They offered a catering package and discounted hotel rates for our guests and the view was amazing. I paused: we would be limited by the venue’s capacity to 100 guests… but that would keep the costs down and allow we to exclude my hellish colleagues. Easy decision, check.
The catering package included a cake. This was one area where I really had my heart set on something specific: my grandmother’s lemon cake recipe. We went to the tasting: no lemon cake. They weren’t about to try my grandmother’s recipe and their selections were ok but nothing to write home about. This time I hesitated a few days, holding out until my husband reminded me: the easy decision. I let go of the cake and moved on.
And so we continued. Music: the venue had a band they had worked with; we hired them, then hired the band’s trumpeter to play the processional at the chapel and lead the guests (tourists all) through the streets of NYC back to the hotel for the reception, playing songs about NYC the whole way. Flowers: corsages and boutonnieres for the wedding party, no bouquet for me (flowers, allergies, definitely not), and candles for the tables at the restaurant (everyone would be staring at the view anyway). Photos: got a recommendation from a friend and checked it off the list.
Two Mondays before the big date, we realized we had completely forgotten to plan the rehearsal dinner. I remembered my cousin’s rehearsal dinner, the huge number of guests, the speeches, the flowers, the beautiful venue… Our hotel had a second restaurant on the ground floor, a tiny café with dated décor: we reserved it at the last minute and invited only our nuclear families and my aunt (maid of honor).
And do you know what? Susan’s advice paid off. We don’t regret any of the decisions we made. People had a really good time. They loved coming to the city. And when they talk about the wedding now, do they remember the food, the cake, the lack of flowers on the tables, the simple ceremony, the band, the rehearsal dinner? No, they mention the trumpeter playing them past the U.N. from the chapel to the hotel – an idea I totally stole from my cousin with the mariachis. The funniest thing: years later, that cousin was raving to me about the trumpeter and didn’t even realize I had stolen that idea from him, until I pointed it out. His wedding had been so awesome, so complex, that he had completely forgotten the mariachis.
I still remember Susan’s advice and how it saved my sanity during that crazy year, when no one was thinking straight and least of all, me.
And I remember Susan’s advice now, when I am at work, in the throes of a crazy project where all hell is breaking loose and the status code isn’t just red, it’s flashing red with a blaring klaxon. Just make the easiest decision: I know you want your product to be right, to be perfect. I know you have a lot of pressure on you to produce something amazing. But you just don’t have time to do it right, to be unique, to be impressive.
In the modern world, you have to be quick to market with something just good enough. And then you iterate. Otherwise, the competition eats your lunch.
So when you are faced with a decision, remember Susan’s advice, the best advice I ever received.
Take the choice that is going to make your life easiest.