A month ago today I turned 36. I thought about making a list of things to do before I turn 37, but instead I celebrated it by acknowledging two startling (to me) realizations about myself:
1. I am an undercover people pleaser.
2. I have allowed my self worth to become directly tied to the things I accomplish.
Ok, so who wants me to plan their next “celebration?” — Let’s start by having everyone line up single file.
(I this demonstrates pretty clearly why I have panicked feelings about wedding planning, yes?)
All kidding aside though, I did spend some time around my birthday (as I usually do) navel gazing about who I am, where I am going, what the hell I am doing with my life and those were two of the biggest (and most shocking, frankly) things that shook out.
On the people pleasing front, I mention undercover because I think if you know me in real life you know that (in the wise words of Eric Cartman) I do what I want. I am fairly stubborn in my pursuits, and I don’t have a problem with other people thinking I’m absolutely crazy – I will gladly carry on. In fact, I mentioned this people pleasing theory to Garrett over my birthday dinner and he actually choked on his food a bit laughing out loud.
But here is where I’m going with this: Yes, I do what I want. But that is only one element of the equation.
I have realized that in the past few years that I have defined “what I want” largely by a need for outside approval. If someone is dangling a carrot, I feel very compelled to demonstrate how good I can be at chasing it. It’s almost an animal instinct. And when you fold in a carrot dangler telling me I *shouldn’t* chase it, or that I likely won’t have success chasing it — watch my motivation is almost super human.
I am incredibly stubborn, focused and persistent. But where do those things actually get me? I am steadfast at proving people wrong? I am good at ignoring everything and being laser focused? I love to give the finger to people who doubt me? All of those things, while useful in moderation, added up day to day they are not the most loving and joyful way to life.
This smacked me in the face this year because I have spent so much time feeling so lost, while simultaneously getting more accolades than ever for my successes and accomplishments. But that also leads right into realization number two.
It has become an easy habit to define myself (and ultimately how I am feeling about myself) by the things that I accomplish. I’m sure this isn’t hard to believe about me if you have been reading this blog for any length of time. My whole life for so long has been structured around goals and the future and what’s next and what’s the plan. I have found that a very comfortable way to live, aside from the fact that I am always anxiously waiting for the future to get here so I can decide how to feel. This lifestyle is taxing, both emotionally and physically, because it feels like nothing is ever done. Nothing is ever complete unless someone says “Yes! Good job! You’re done!” and then I panic because what is next?
On a number of occasions I have found myself — mid successful efforts — wondering why the hell I am even doing something. But deciding to change course, or put a particular goal on hold would cause me fear and anxiety. And don’t even get me started on how incredibly hard on myself for the things that I perceive as actual “failures.” If something works out different than I have planned, my knee jerk assumption has been than I wasn’t enough. I could have planned better. I could have done better. I could have been better.
I know rationally that life is fluid and that things change and goals evolve. My brain understands that nothing is actually ever a failure, it’s all just an opportunity to learn something new, try a new route, give up something that isn’t serving us any longer. But man is that a practice. And at some point in the past year this idea of reconciling efforts with accomplishments became an exhausting full time endeavor and I just wanted to find another way to live. How do I get to a place where I can just be, and be okay with that?
I’ve struggled to find a way to share this here because obviously it feels incredibly vulnerable. I know the a portion of the audience of this website is filled with people I know in real life who I probably wouldn’t run up to and strike up this conversation. Also, there is a tiny voice in my head that is saying this sounds whiny and self involved and there is nothing I’m more scared of being than weak an un-self-aware. But I think it’s relevant because I have talked a lot about goals in the past and there is part of me that wants to keep doing that because I know it resonates with a lot of people. But there is also a part of me that needs to let that go and learn to appreciate who I am when I am not living my life on an accomplishment bender.
Trying to prove that I am worthy over and over has only served to insidiously reinforce this insecurity that I think we all have that we need to be fixed. If we could only lose a few pounds, make a bit more money, get married, have a baby, insert random goal here, then… Then, what? Then I’d be okay? Then I’d be acceptable? Then I’d be worth acknowledging? I don’t know, and therein lies the challenge.
I want to work on feeling great in the moment and not thinking about what I can accomplish in the future that will make me great. And for me, I think that means I need to stop trying to exercise control on every area of my life. If I’m being honest, it panics me to think about life without structure – to live without mapping out my end destination as well as all the stops in between. But I have also come to realize that some of the greatest moments in my life have happened when I have veered off course and allowed myself to be lean into uncertainty rather than control. I have absolutely no idea how to navigate all of that, but I have a feeling as with most things in life, the lesson will be revealed once I start on the journey. So I see you out there 37, but I think I’m just going to stay right here and focus on enjoying 36.