It is true that I read Jenny Lawson, a.k.a. The Bloggess, more than probably just about any straight man in America that isn’t married/related to her.

Well, at least I hope her husband Victor is straight. But if he isn’t, I mean hey whatever floats their boat collectively, you know?

Wait, I had a point around here somewhere…

Anyway, today she had a post that hit a little close to home for me (emphasis mine):

I realize that I’ve accomplished a lot in life and deep-down I know that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I only have a few days a month where I actually felt like I was good at life.  I know I’m a good person (as in “not evil or intentionally arsonistic”), but I’m not very good at being a person.  I don’t know if that makes sense and it’s not me fishing for compliments.  Please don’t tell me the things I’m good at because that’s not what this is about.  It’s just that at the end of each day I usually lie in bed and think “Shit.  I’m fucking shit up.  I accomplished nothing today except the basics of existing.”  I feel like I’m treading water and that I’m always another half-day behind in life.  Even the great things are overshadowed by shame and anxiety, and yes, I realize a lot of this might have to do with the fact that I have mental illness, but I still feel like a failure more often than I feel like I’m doing well.

[snip]

Please tell me the truth (anonymous answers are fine).  How many days in a month do you actually feel like you kicked ass, or were generally a successful person?  What makes you feel the worst?  What do you do to make yourself feel more successful?

Please be honest.  Because I’m about to be.

I feel successful 3-4 days a month.  The other days I feel like I’m barely accomplishing the minimum or that I’m a loser.  I have imposter syndrome so even when I get compliments they are difficult to take and I just feel like I’m a bigger fraud than before.  I feel the worst when I get so paralyzed by fear that I end up huddled in bed and fall further and further behind.  To make myself feel more successful I spend real time with my daughter every day, even if it’s just huddling under a blanket and watching Little House on the Prairie reruns on TV.  I also try to remind myself that most of idols struggled as well, and that this struggle might make me stronger, if it doesn’t destroy me.

When she writes about feeling like a failure more often than when she does well, I feel a burning sensation across the back of my neck going all the way up to my ears. It is an old feeling, one of shame and embarrassment.

It is also unquestionably, unequivocally bullshit.

I can write that now without flinching. But I know a couple of years ago I not only wouldn’t have been able to admit that, I would have found any reason to dismiss it when others said as much about me and what I’ve done with my life. Any excuse, any exception, any possible qualifier to apply to the praise bestowed on me and I’d find it faster than you could blink.

It’s taken however may years of therapy and reinforcement to get myself to not do that anymore and even then I can still hear the words in my head even if I stop myself from saying them. I imagine that when I break myself of that habit completely, it will definitely feel like one of those days where I completely kick ass. It will feel even more so if I don’t realize I’ve stopped and can just let that go quietly into the dustbin.

Curiously, one of the things that has helped me get over that hump was a realization spawned from people around me. Everyone who knows me knows me knows that I’m very pro-gay rights. I have a huge number of gay friends and the idea that there are still people out there who think that my friends should be something less than equal. The idea that they base this on their religious beliefs is fine until they start imposing those beliefs on the choices others make is where I call bullshit.

And in that, suddenly the light bulb goes one.  One same-sex couple’s happiness is no business of anybody else. But that idea has to cut both ways. No one else can create that happiness or unhappiness for them or anyone else. It belongs solely to those involved. Which isn’t a novel concept but applying that idea reflexively just didn’t occur to me for the longest time.

Taking the idea apart even further, though, it occurs to me that if no one is responsible for my happiness but me then why should any of my achievements or failures be set in comparison to anyone else’s? It makes no more sense for anyone else to have control over the merits of my accomplishments than it does for them to have control over whether I am enjoying life or no, whether I’m sad about something or no.

Ok…now we’re getting somewhere with positivity. And I feel like it’s helped me be a better, happier person over the last six months it not the last year. But there’s a second point Lawson raises which isn’t necessarily dependent on other people. How many days do I feel like I genuinely kick life’s ass and how many do I feel like I’m just treading water.

Well if I’m honest, most days are pretty flat. I’m pretty well settled into my job and while there are days now and again where I feel like I really do stand out, most of them are pretty non-descript. It’s a quiet life. And I’m not out there curing cancer in my off time or anything like that. It’s a notable off-day when I do something like write here or see a movie I genuinely like.

(Segue: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. A Western that isn’t a Western. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are excellent. Recommended.)

I guess the question I have is: how is this a bad thing?

I’m not being facetious in asking this, nor trying to make light of the issues Lawson’s talked about publicly in her space. The depression, anxiety and ADD are all very real and her pain when self-doubt creeps in like this is too. But as someone who doesn’t have to deal with that every day, I can look at the front page of CNN or some other news site and this is what I see:

  • Syria: chemical attacks and debate over bombing people that have done nothing to me and pose no threat to my well-being unless I want to play a delusional political version of Six Degrees.
  • Related to that: Iran is saber rattling as well.
  • Global warming and the environment going to hell in a handbasket and making it feel like we’re already there.
  • Russia’s anti-gay laws that are really freaking scary.
  • Economic collapse still a risk in Europe and we’re still pretty damn close to the brink.
  • Not that Congress will do anything about that.

And that’s just for starters.  Every day if you pay enough attention to the world, there’s no less than half a dozen things that could make you want to just pack it up and move to Mars. There is a litany of things that could compel even the most level person lose faith in the world and everything around it.

FSM knows I find it hard to hold that faith a lot of the time.

But as I see it, every day that I don’t just chuck it all in and say “What the hell, there’s no consequences to anything” is a win. Because I can see the areas where I I’m making small progress in my personal life and I don’t lose that ground. Glacial motion rather than glacial retreat.

That may not be kicking ass, but it sure as hell isn’t a loss.  And the reason why that matters is because when I haven’t lost any ground on the 26 days out of the month when maybe I don’t kick life’s ass, the ground I pick up on the days when I do goes a hell of a long way.

I see Christian, my little from Big Brothers Big Sisters maybe twice a month now.  He’s 16, he’s in high school. He has a real life and he’s experiencing it as much as he can. This is phenomenal and it’s why I don’t try to force more time with him than I presently do. He should be enjoying life with people his own age.

But the days we do hang out? When he feels like he can talk about the drama that exists in his world and I can help him gain perspective on it from my own experiences both as an adult and as a teenager? When I help him see that whatever headbutting he does with his parents over the way he lives his life, he can also see what’s motivating it in terms of their love and concern for him and how to deal with it from that perspective so that he can accept it without feeling limited by it because he understands it

Those days I don’t just kick life’s ass. I absolutely dominate the mother.

The days when multiple people at work both below and above my current position seek out my input because I know my job backwards and forwards? Because they know I’m going to give them unvarnished input but I’m not so wedded to my opinion that I can learn new tricks that let me do things better.

Domination.

For those 26 days where the meter maybe moves maybe only an inch or two, as long as those inches are moving forward and not backward I’m still coming out ahead. So that when I do feel like a world beater, I move that meter a mile and I gain an actual mile, not half of one because I felt like I gave the other half back. Losing ground because someone on Twitter or Facebook accomplished something or posted something that has jack to do with me? That’s wasting energy over stuff that doesn’t even matter as far as I’m concerned.

It’s good for them, don’t get me wrong. I have one friend who just published her first novel, another whose first comes out this month. A third friend who’s on the doorstep of finishing edits on her first, one that is good enough that she’s going to be querying it soon. They are made of awesome and I’m proud of every one of their accomplishments.

They also do not make me less of a writer or a person because they’ve done that and I haven’t.

I know that at the end of the day, I’ll be a writer if I really want to be and if I put the effort in. I won’t be Hemingway, but I will be a writer if I put my mind to it.

I may never make a six figure score or five figure score playing poker like one friend I play cards with has over the last three years. Another I’ve been telling him that he needs to take his shot because he could be as good or better (and he should take that to heart when he reads this. I know he will.)

But I know that I’m a respectable player. I know where my strengths are and where my weaknesses are. I know that I have gotten to the point where the number of decisions I make that I question are fewer every game. And I’m not questioning them simply because I lose the pot. So that if I decide to apply myself more, when I get the opportunity to take that next step I can make the most of it. Be it in Vegas, Oklahoma or somewhere I haven’t played yet.

And what makes me feel more successful today is knowing that I’ve finally learned the lesson that it begins and ends with me, not someone else. That what other people do, think or say ultimately isn’t the standard by which I should be judged. The only standard that matters is my own.

Maybe one on of those other 26 days out of the month when I don’t crush it, it’s someone else’s turn to do so. That’s all good. That doesn’t equate to me sucking. It just isn’t my day. But it will be before long.

2 Comments - you say something?


  • 6 September 20131:28 pm Lindsey

    I feel the same thing as you (and Jenny) are describing here a lot. I know I can’t always do everything, let alone perfectly, but I feel like I should. Learning to let go of that is a vital lesson, but so so hard.

  • 8 September 20132:55 pm Eugene

    I think it’s okay to step back and review your life once in a while, but everyday is overkill. You can’t see where your path is heading if you analyze on a daily basis. It’s like losing weight. If you look in the mirror every hour you won’t see the changes, but once a month you might actually see the results you seek. It’s all about perspective.

    And let me know when you’re ready to hear to Oklahoma. One of the biggest reasons I don’t go is I don’t want to go alone.


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