I caught a Voltaire quote today which led to immediate inspiration.
The best is the enemy of the good. (Voltaire)
Other versions (due to differences in translation) include:
The better is the enemy of the good.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
If you’ve read some prior posts herein (e.g., Perfection), you may immediately understand why this quote caught my attention.
Hello my name is Sarah, and I’m a perfectionist.
But rather than focusing on Voltaire’s “the best,” what I want to talk about is “the good.” Or rather, trying to appreciate the good.
When it comes to some topics, such as art, I immediately relate to the good and the best.
For instance, I very, very much enjoy photojournalistic photography – capturing moments in their “natural” state sans retouching/editing (or with very limited revisions). There’s just something about this “purist” approach, if you will, that really grabs me. Plus, not to mention, in taking such photos the photographer has to work pretty quickly to adjust the mechanics of the camera in real time – which can take admirable skill.
Recently, I’ve been immersed in the work done by the photographers in the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA). The contest winning photos are really amazing, and weddings are one of those life moments in which there is just so much raw humanness, so much feeling and interaction. But beyond these “best of” photos, I’ve also really enjoyed hunting around the website and finding the work of other active photographers with work that did not place in a contest, but is still very striking and beautiful. And while it’s easy to focus only on the prize winning shots, and equally easy to compare those to other photos, it’s also nice to view the less celebrated work of an artist – sort of like stumbling upon a private treasure I might’ve overlooked.
Maybe it’s easy to think about good and best in the context of something artistic, or even something tangible like a photograph, but what about in ourselves?
As you know, I’ve been on a quest to deconstruct and better understand my own perfectionist tendencies and learn how to self-love.
It’s exceedingly difficult, as a perfectionist, to accept anything that seems remotely, even slightly, less than “the ideal.” And if I’m forced into some situation or state in which “the ideal” is simply unachievable – well, I can become very distraught, angry and stubborn. I will fight for a perfect state even when it is unachievable, and bypass all the good, in pursuit. If a superwoman cape isn’t at the ready, well then by God, I will create one out of whatever I can find.
But the question is not, “why can’t I be perfect?”
It’s: “what about the good?”
What about all those days when I accomplish the major tasks on my miles long to-do list?
All the moments when I am emotionally available/accessible to the ones I love?
All the times when I nail a dance pattern?
All the yoga positions I can do without modifications?
All the papers, reports, surveys and projects I’ve completed with thoughtfulness and accuracy?
This reminds me – did I ever tell you what grade I’m the most proud of? It’s my C in Integral Calculus from undergrad.
It’s actually the first of three C’s I’ve ever received in my entire academic career (thus far). The other two C’s were for Managerial and Financial Accounting, and I wouldn’t say I was proud of those C’s, I was more grateful (my brain, for better or worse, was just not designed for the vexation which is Accounting). I just wanted to get through Accounting and move on with my Business coursework.
But that C in Integral Calculus – man, I worked my tail off for that grade. When the semester started I had my sights set on an A, but I’ve always found math a bit less intuitive. So while I had the (albeit, lofty) goal of perfection, I wasn’t unrealistic either. I completed all the assignments, stayed after class with the professor at least twice a week, did all the readings, and even went through the online quiz questions. I didn’t just want to “get through” Integral Calc, I wanted to understand it. And you know, by the end of the semester, I did understand it. Maybe not with ease, I still had to work through problems in detail and take my time, but the major concepts had started to click.
On my transcript, those C’s stand out amongst lots of A’s and B’s. In grad school, one professor who reviewed my undergrad transcripts immediately noticed those “lower grades,” as she called them. But I did not hang my head in shame, I smiled at her. Because there’s a story behind those C’s (the mental hell that was Accounting, and the intense learning process that was Integral Calc), and I am who, and where, I am today, due to those experiences.
I guess that is what acknowledging the best, while noticing the good, is all about.
Best and good don’t have to be enemies. Sometimes good (or technically “average” in the case of a C grade) can be your best.
And while I can always conjure the ideal, the best – maybe there is something even better to be found in the good.
It started with a simple dirty sock…or two…
I put a load of laundry in the dryer and walked back to the apartment. I glanced up at one of my neighbor’s cars that reminds me of Dan’s car. I then remembered how happy Dan is when he dances, when we take a dance class together, like the Blues class we took together last week – so near that I could walk to it. And then I realized that I’m able to dance, and I’m able to walk, and I’m able to do lots of things.
And suddenly, I started to cry.
Because I finally allowed myself to feel proud of myself.
Proud of learning to walk again, proud of finishing my grad degree while in recovery, proud of leaving a relationship that pummeled my essence, proud of reestablishing myself as an independent adult, proud of learning and growing in a new line of work and professional inquiry, proud of finding and fostering a new relationship with someone wonderful, proud of maintaining the friendships and connections that help me thrive, proud of allowing myself to rediscover dance, art, and creative expression, proud of applying to grad schools even if I didn’t get in…
And so damn proud of myself for getting to this very moment – this point in time.
I sign the lawsuit settlement paperwork this week. And while doing so only precipitates a host of new decisions, at least now the decisions are on my terms.
Somehow, I made it. I did it.
Of course, I would not be where I am today but for the thoughtful, patient, helpful, loving, encouraging, and generous people in my life. My family, my wonderful partner and close friends, my mentors and colleagues, my lawyers, my doctors, my care givers and health providers. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am eternally grateful.
And more importantly, I finally, finally, let myself feel glad, and feel proud.
Oh, how good it is to let the feelings touch you; to let them inside.
This must be a kind of freedom; a personal self-realignment when you realize it’s okay to let in the light.
And I’m so glad to be here in this moment. The start of a new beginning.
Once the final t is crossed on the settlement paperwork, I will write more about the lawsuit I’ve been going through – the back story (not intended as a pun, though it could be), my experiences, etc.
But for now I wanted to return to the topic of decision making, as the lawsuit has provided an ample proving ground for testing my own decision strategies.
In an earlier post, I wrote about your gut and some of the ideas surrounding the decisions we as humans make purely from an intuitive sense, if you want to call it that. In fact, Dan and I have been discussing thought processes recently, and he offered this interesting article on Dual Process Thinking.
The article discusses two “systems” of thinking; two processes or approaches, to making decisions. “System 1” as its described are thought processes “heavily influenced by context, biology and past experience, aid humans in mapping and assimilating newly acquired stimuli into preexisting knowledge structures, and are self-evidently valid (experience alone is enough for belief)”). “System 1” is referred to as an “experiential thinking style.” Essentially what I’ve been referring to as “intuition” or a sort of internal meta-analysis of all sorts of inputs. “System 2” is more of a willful analysis that “requires justification via logic and evidence”, and called a “rational thinking style” (Kaufman & Singer).
The article goes on to discuss the use of each thinking system, how creativity is fostered via interplay between them, and how the research seems to support the idea that to be effective, one must switch between each of these systems as the situation/context warrants.
This makes sense.
In the context of a lawsuit, should you ever find yourself in one, you will need to make many decisions. In fact, I could write an entire series of posts purely dedicated to the litany of decisions I’ve been required to make in the last 2.5 years since the lawsuit began. But for now, I’ll start at the beginning with perhaps the first, and most obvious decision: whether to file suit and hire a lawyer in the first place.
The situation which precipitated my lawsuit occurred in Manhattan, and specifically was related to a vehicle accident. At the time (2009), personal injury attorneys were willing to meet with you simply to review your circumstances and provide an initial assessment, as well as their fee structure, should you decide to hire them.
This seems straightforward, right? You’ve been wronged in some way, you (assuming you’re not a lawyer, as I am not) are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the legal system where you live (or where your situation occurred), and you want to hire someone with the expertise you lack to help you sort things out.
Well here’s the rub…
– I spent a few days in the hospital; my life had turned upside-down on a second’s notice and physically, emotionally, mentally I felt completely off kilter and out of my element – I was in a lot of pain, stressed, and exhausted
– While in the hospital, I’d had countless visits from social workers, one from a policeman, and others, who were telling me there were things I needed to take care of immediately (e.g., filing an accident report, submitting forms for insurance claims, potentially starting a lawsuit), when my mind was trying to focus on something other than the excruciating pain and whether I’d be able to walk again
– At the time, I truthfully did not know what had actually happened to me on the street that day (I was struck from behind), I just knew it involved a car or two
– I had lived in NYC for a little over a year and did not know the state laws or processes regarding vehicle accidents
– I had no prior experience with attorneys of any kind, or lawsuits, or personal injury situations
To try to make any kind of decision, but especially to choose a personal injury attorney, under those circumstances is challenging to say the least.
So, what did I do?
The very first response was panic. I was still reeling from the accident itself, and well, intense physical pain can blur out many a mental process/function.
Then, I took some time to consider whether I wanted to hire a lawyer in the first place. Although I didn’t know the details of the accident itself at the time, I knew it was an accident. Unless I’d made a vicious enemy overnight (I hadn’t), or I’d become part of a complex series of events linking me to an underground web of sought after influential business people, spies, ninjas or otherwise (I hadn’t), I felt safe in assuming that the driver (or drivers, as I found out), did not willfully hit me. As the name implies, it was purely an accident, a mistake. I thought about how it might feel to be the driver- to know that the person I hit had spent time in the hospital, and was seriously hurt. I imagined that neither of us really wanted to experience an accident or a lawsuit.
My friends and family said, “of course you’ll file a lawsuit,” and “maybe it was an accident but these are the consequences; these things happen.” The medical bills began to surface from the hospital, and I’d already experienced complications procuring a specially fitted orthopedic brace, so I knew the financial burden of the situation was far from resolved. I was also in the middle of finishing my Masters degree and I wasn’t sure how that would be taken care of. I can’t quite remember the exact moment when I decided to pursue the lawsuit, but I know I weighed the financial costs, I worried about my health, and I decided that even if hitting me was an accident, that it happened nonetheless, and I needed help. A lawsuit seemed a reasonable option, because my circumstances warranted resources, and the system was set up to provide them via the legal channels.
Once I decided to pursue a lawsuit, (note: we’re at about day 6 or so after the date of the accident itself), I looked for advice.
Neither of my parents (who were living on the West Coast), nor any of my friends or colleagues in the area, had any experience with personal injury attorneys in NYC. My Dad did some Internet research to try and find law firms to contact, but every website had similar testimonials and case results – every lawyer was “well qualified” and “on my side.”
But how would I know which attorney would represent me the way I wanted to be represented? How would I know whether my lawyer was in fact competent? How would I know whether I was making the “right” choice?
To be honest, I did not know. I had no clue.
But a lawyer from a law firm we contacted offered to come to my apartment and discuss my situation. He was young (under 35), eager, and curious. From a supine position in my back brace on my twin bed in the tiny room of a 3rd floor walk up in Harlem, I described to him what I’d experienced in the last week and my current status. He, perched on the edge of my swivel desk chair in a suit with a manicured appearance and padfolio balanced on one knee, listened, asked me questions, and described the retainer agreement he and his firm could offer.
In that collection of moments, I felt like I had been blindfolded, set on a treadmill operating at a random speed, and handed scissors with the point turned inward inches from my chest. I had no idea what I was doing, no concept of what would happen next, and a very limited body of knowledge on which to base decisions on.
But I knew I needed to decide as quickly as possible, and I knew I couldn’t face the legal system on my own.
So I agreed to hire the lawyer and his firm. I signed the agreement, he left my apartment, and soon after I received semi-regular calls from his office, and emails, asking for receipts, hospital bills, paperwork, status updates, etc.
Initially, I felt relieved. Someone more qualified than I could take care of all the little details that I didn’t know how to handle, and also really could not take care of due to my physical limitations. I could finally focus on my recovery and rearranging my life. From that point onward my situation/circumstance/life event became a case, a suit.
Well, fast forward to a year later, and I ultimately ended up switching law firms for a variety of reasons, (with the main one being that my initial attorney and I did not appear to agree on the most important attributes of my case – philosophical differences, if you will). But when I made the decision to switch counsel (which could be another post on its own), I then had a year of experience under my belt (and a strong sense of intuition).
But the point being – in order to determine whether to begin a lawsuit and whether to hire an attorney, I had to make a decision (technically, many smaller decisions) based on an amalgamation of information from a variety of sources. In this particular example, I had to rely on System 1. I did not have the facility or ability to attend law school, become well versed in personal injury law and figure out the best law firms serving the City. It wasn’t possible for me to apply System 2, I just did not have a sufficient logical backing nor evidence, to really indicate my decision was sound. I just had to go for what felt right at the time in an attempt to satisfy my goals (start a lawsuit, get someone to file the necessary claims and paperwork, etc.).
Now granted, I did end up switching attorneys after a year (at which time I employed both System 1 and System 2). So while that may seem as though my initial System 1 approach failed, I would say that System 1 carried me forward for as long as it could until I had updated information and the need for a new decision arose. Plus, the initial lawyer did accomplish all the immediate tasks, such as filing all the necessary paperwork with the police department, the courts, the insurance companies and the hospitals/doctors, and began the negotiation process with the defendants. He essentially laid the groundwork for the second attorney, and my experiences over that first year helped me refine my judgment and decision making going forward.
As the Kaufman & Singer article describes, System 1 can often get a bad rep. Societally (perhaps culturally, in some contexts?) we value evidenciary based action and behavior – we want a President that chooses a new policy based on facts; we want our investments to be put towards companies with stable financials proven over time; we want to buy a new house based on the factors contributing to a rise in property value overtime – and we should, but as the article states, sometimes System 1 is just better suited to the job, or furthermore, can work with System 2 to make sure we’re considering all possible inputs.
So if you’re at the crossroads of a big decision, something potentially life altering or significant to your future, maybe you’ll have the resources to employ System 2, and System 2 will be the better strategy. Or maybe you’ll use System 1, or maybe both. But hopefully you’ll choose wisely and have the flexibility (and possibly courage?) to experiment with different thought processes in order to make the best decision for you.
Thanks for reading, S
The lawsuit reached a settlement!
More to come soon.
As I was driving home from therapy today, the DJ on my SiriusXM radio rephrased a quote she heard recently and the gist of it was: “when you fear something you should run towards it because there will be something even brighter on the other side.” And per the usual, this got me thinking…
What happens when you let those damaged, fragmented parts of yourself drop a veil over your vision?
I suppose it’s a slightly different perspective for each person, but for me, the veil acts like a shield.
Negative feedback comes in, positive feedback is kept out. Not just casually, but vigorously. Somehow my drawbridge was re-wired. I let it up for the fire breathing dragon or maniacal sorcerer, but send it down in front of Prince Charming and the kindly soothsayer from across the fiefdom.
And sadly, there comes a point in time when you let in one two many Trojan Horses and the internal cavity of your being becomes overrun by imposters.
And you can’t tell right from wrong. Or rather, you know what should be right and what should be wrong, but your knights of the roundtable aren’t convinced. They’ve been hoodwinked, but then again, they’ve let in the very influences and messages they should have kept out.
I’ll end the medieval metaphor here, but suffice it to say, I’m being bombarded by negativity right now, and I’m having a hard time letting in the positive (or believing the positive).
Here are the examples of negativity I’m dealing with:
– a personal injury lawsuit in which real human issues are arbitrary assigned a case file, some paperwork, some medical charts, a jury and a court date, and somehow come out the other side as a numerical value (a dollar value, specifically)
– a job where I analyze data and create reports on consumer trends but those trends are seen industry wide and reported to huge companies with bureaucratic decision makers who may, or may not, ever see my pin point-sized blip of informative feedback in the mass sea of research
– a bunch of graduate school rejection letters where I’m told that I can’t pass Go and collect $200 by way of that University’s car, but more importantly, that I can’t ask why because the sheer volume of people like me makes it nearly impossible to provide any feedback
And so the message I keep hearing: you’re not important. You’re just another case file, another researcher, another school candidate.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that I am one of an enormous race of human beings, and I’m not trying to revolt against the “world order”, as it were. It’s just that, well, when I keep getting this message of being treated like one of millions, in particular when my life (and future years) are being assigned a numerical value, I feel like crap inside.
And as I said above, somewhere deep inside of me, I’m not convinced I truly am important. (This goes down to some of the things I talked about in my earlier post on self love, but also back to self-image issues I’ve had since I was a child.) I know that I should be important – I know that I’m strong as a person, as a female, and as a (fill in the blank) – but I don’t quite believe it. So recent events only serve to further my feelings of self smallness.
Furthermore, because I’m used to the idea that I’m unimportant, I let in continued evidence that supports that claim because I’m somehow willing to…it feels, more familiar, almost safe.
Because what if, I was suddenly important?
-I’d have to defend myself against these sources that say things to the contrary; and I don’t like conflict
-I’d have to readjust my self-image; and accept things that bother me (because remember, I want to be perfect)
-I’d have to actively, cognitively train myself to squelch the unimportant murmurs and heighten awareness of the important feedback; and that’s also hard
-I’d have to admit that being important means I might have to change in some (or many) ways – I might have to let go of the past, stop feeding my fears, and maybe don new behaviors
-I have to allow myself to feel what important feels like; self-love
But being important is, well, important.
And I don’t want to stay in this rut of ick.
So while I’m currently feeling overwhelmed and barraged by all the demons I’ve let into my courtyard, I’m going to start taking baby steps to reign in the evil. I can’t rid the world of it, but I don’t have to give it so much space in my life. And secondly, I’m going to start looking for the positivity, and allowing Prince Charming in – even to the messiest, darkest parts of the castle, because I can’t beat back the dragons on my own.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about happiness lately and just wanted to share a few brief ideas.
I’ve come to realize that my perspective is largely my own doing rather than something I entrust to others/ the external world, to provide (see an earlier post on Taking Back Happiness).
I also watched this recent clip from the Ellen Show where Ellen interviews Colin Farrell. While they talk about a bunch of things (yoga, his girlfriend search, etc.) they also discuss how he has been sober for 7 years and he talks about how he feared sobriety because he “was terrified that whatever my capacity as an actor was beforehand would disappear.” He then went on to say that he used to subscribe to the idea that “to express yourself artistically you have to live in perpetual pain – that’s nonsense…there’s enough pain in the world that you don’t have to live it to represent it in an artistic way.” This commentary really struck me, because I think I too, have thought that nurturing a wound would help me be more creative/expressive/ a better writer, etc., but that it would also somehow help me better empathize with others. Plus, nurturing wounds certainly provides ample fuel to the internal victimology fire, and well, there can be power in being a victim. It’s actually a bit liberating to realize that you don’t have to continually hold yourself to a negative state of being in order to find inspiration, relate to others, and just be. I can be free to be happy in my day to day AND still acknowledge and empathize with the struggle, pain and hardship that exists.
Then a friend recently sent me a post to this article on 15 Things To Give Up to Be Happy, and wow it struck a chord with many of the topics I’ve been considering, as well as many of the items I’ve discussed herein. Not surprisingly, almost every item on that list is something I need to work on, particularly: giving up control, self-defeating self talk, limiting beliefs, fears, the past, attachments and other’s expectations. Letting go in and of itself is scary, there’s no road map and of course there’s fear that things could go awry. It’s hard to tame the inner mind and psyche that want so badly to maintain the status quo – however potentially harmful that status quo might be.
I remember as a kid being told that without struggle/pain, one could not appreciate the joy in life. If all we knew was happiness, then we’d take it for granted.
I will say that going through a tough time does help one appreciate the lighter moments, BUT similarly to what Colin Farrell mentioned, I do not think that therefore means that one must experience significant struggle in life in order to “be grateful” for the happier times. I’m not suggesting a hedonistic lifestyle, I’m simply offering that I think it’s possible to be happy, live an enjoyable life AND appreciate and revel in the great moments and memories. I don’t think I have to “put in my time” in the doldrums in order to know joy.
That’s all for now, but I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this topic going forward. (Not to mention all the empirical research on happiness that I’ve been perusing. In fact, here’s a quick TED talk by professor Dan Gilbert, on the topic.)
It’s great to know that I’ll find happiness no matter what, and even better to know that I don’t have to nurture sorrow in order to appreciate elation.
Thanks for reading, S
I wasn’t sure how to write about this, or whether to write about it, but I think it’s better for me to be as authentic as I can. So, here goes…
I can be neurotic, and jealous.
Neuroticism, widely known as one of the factors comprising the Five Factor Model (FFM, or Big Five) of personality, is also referred to as emotional stability. This scholarly article by McCrae and John (don’t worry, the article is in the public domain; you can read it 🙂 ) presents a nice, broad overview of the FFM, but in short, Neuroticism as the article describes:
“represents individual differences in the tendency to experience distress, and in the cognitive and behavioral styles that follow from this tendency. High N scorers experience chronic negative affects…recurrent nervous tension, depression, frustration, guilt, and self-consciousness that such individuals feel is often associated with irrational thinking, low self esteem, poor control of impulses and cravings, somatic complaints and ineffective coping. Individuals low in N are not necessarily high in positive mental health…they are simply calm, relaxed, even-tempered, unflappable.” (McCrae & John, 1991)
Now given recent life events (re: escalating stress and future uncertainty), it’s not surprising that lately I’ve found myself gravitating more towards the, shall we say, less socially desirable, N- related traits. I’ve been moody, depressed, frustrated, self-conscious and irrational.
Of course, sometimes these feelings are a vicious cycle. You start feeling moody, and then when a tiny path of light appears and you feel a moment of rational clarity thus realizing that you are in fact moody and perpetuating that state, you feel this odd mix of realization and further frustration because you should be able to cognitively acknowledge your moodiness and then deliberately set out to change it for the better. Sometimes it’s as though the mind fights itself in search of clarity.
My recent state of heightened N-relatedness has made me challenging (and that may even be an understatement) to deal with. Seemingly small things can trigger avalanches of emotion, and it’s as though I’m my very own version of Jekyl at the drop of a hat.
Now granted, I have always been a very sensitive, emotionally attuned person. While generally pleasant and content, I was well at home on an overcast day swimming in self-reflection and deep thinking, and to this day I just can’t handle injustice, extreme pain, violence, exploitation or discomfort in others. Thus explaining why I no longer watch or read the daily news (never mind how pessimistic it can seem, but I actually feel ill seeing children being abused, or watching POW footage, or seeing violent uprisings), and why I haven’t read the latter books in the Harry Potter series. As a little kid, I didn’t like to go fishing because I felt so awful putting the worms on the hooks (I actually ended up “saving” many a worm and keeping them as pets).
And in this last year or so, I’ve just felt a bit more emotionally volatile than usual.
The thing is, I can definitely attribute some of my more recently pronounced N-ness to current events (re: graduate school application process, impending lawsuit, professional self-searching, physical health variances).
But some of it is rooted in some very personal, internal issues that I really need to face head on.
Of course, the best way (though possibly not the best way) to really “see” yourself, is through romantic relationships. I could go off on a mini tangent here about how we’re often attracted to individuals who have weathered similar emotional storms and early life experiences to us, and even those who remind us of our families, but the point is that, a romantic partnership requires vast amounts of deeply personal disclosure and a look into the most coveted parts of oneself that even me, myself and I don’t want to confront on a regular, or semi-regular basis.
Romantic relationships have this way of taking the mirror and turning it towards the inner-self.
So what Dan has shown me in the Sarah mirror of late, is how damaged my identity is right now.
Physically, I move from normal to abnormal in a matter of moments. Prior to my accident, I had experienced medical maladies (re: broken finger, tonsillitis, born prematurely), but never had anything been detrimentally permanent. It can be completely frustrating to have difficulty climbing a flight of stairs, or sitting in a chair at the movies or a restaurant. The irony to this, is that were you to see me on the street, you would not guess I deal with the chronic effects of a back injury. I walk, I talk, I move, and I do not use a cane or shuffle. But inside I am feeling fatigued, stiff, and frustrated – and sometimes it’s nice that you can’t sense that because I can go about my day to day blending into the background – just picking up groceries at the store, or just buying a book at Half Price Books. But sometimes it’s more difficult that you can’t see how I feel because I just seem like a typical twenty-something, and “why is she gripping the handrail like that? why can’t she walk through that art exhibit?” And while I want you to understand why I’m not the typical twenty-something, I don’t want to explain the intricacies of my experience. I want a little privacy, but for it, I often suffer in solitude.
Intellectually, I’m not sure what to invest in. I used to pour myself into my professional ambitions. 135% went into my work and my goals. But recently I wasn’t admitted to the graduate schools I applied to, and while my current job is pretty good, it doesn’t fulfill me beyond the present. And frankly, I’m not the person I was a few years ago – I don’t want to commit 135% to my working self. I want to spend some of that energy on nurturing my relationships, traveling and experiencing new things, bettering my health, and well, sometimes I want to relax and not feel guilty about it. But without this hard-driving professional ambition, I am feeling a bit emotionally wayward.
Surprisingly, I actually feel a little bit lighter, freer, without the chains of a PhD program confining me to a particular path, but now the uncertainty of which path to take is, well, a bit exciting and lots of overwhelming.
Emotionally, I’m on uneven ground. I have grown up with some issues surrounding self-worth and self-esteem – there are definitely times when I feel unworthy of the relationships I have and the life I truly want. I don’t think I’m scum, I just feel insecure about my internal self and what I can really offer to this world. I know I have potential, but I’m struggling with the me I used to be, and the me I am today, and relatedly – with the me of tomorrow. I have high personal expectations and wonder if I’ll ever be able to be kind enough to myself to allow myself to be human (re: make mistakes, fall short of expectations) while simultaneously pushing myself to launch forward in a big way.
So lately, in all three areas: physical, intellectual and emotional – I am feeling largely inadequate. I’m not confident in what I have to offer, and I’m not confident in what I can deliver. This leads me to a wave of irrationality, worry, discontent, and internal disharmony – and sometimes jealousy.
As you know from prior entries, Dan and I are ballroom dancers. I’ve really enjoyed ballroom dancing, mainly because I enjoy dancing in general and I naturally move to music in all settings (re: grocery store, at my desk, in the car, etc.).
But ballroom dancing has forced me to constantly confront what I’m most struggling with. Class after class, practice after practice, I am forced to accept that my physical limitations are a part of me. Maybe a few years ago, I used to be able to stand straighter, bend backwards, or wear heels for longer than an hour or so, but I just can’t anymore. And of course, we dance with folks of all ages with all manner of health issues (I really applaud the older folks, 60+, who are getting out there and enjoying themselves), but again, on the outside I look like just another twenty-something, and the teachers implore me to move as I look I can on the surface. So naturally, you can see where I’d spend a moment or two sitting and watching the women in my age cohort (and even those up to their 40s) twirling and arching and doing all sorts of things I’ll just never be able to do. It’s at once simultaneously maddening, frustrating and saddening.
Similarly, class after class, practice after practice, Dan and I both dance with other partners. Generally this doesn’t bother me – we’ve come to know most of the dancers we see on a regular basis and many social dancing venues are like going to a dinner party with friends. But every now and then my neurotic side can flare up. I’ll watch Dan dance with another partner and she’s just so physically adept that all of my physical inadequacies are triggered and watching them is tough. On the one hand, I’m grateful for these other dancers because they allow Dan to experience dancing in a way that I’ll never be able to provide and it’s great seeing him happy and enjoying himself, but on the other hand it’s torture seeing someone else effortlessly execute moves I know I’ll never be able to enjoy with Dan.
That second part sometimes goes on to leap frog across my synapses and occasionally activate my other insecurities and I start thinking along the lines of “maybe Dan would be better with someone like that lady because she probably doesn’t have a chronic physical issue, she has a life plan/goal, she’s got a sense of her career path, she knows her self-worth and is more secure, etc. etc.” This can occasionally turn into twinges of jealousy when my brain then starts morphing these other women into pristine examples of the ideal woman that I’ll never be able to emulate. And then, because prior boyfriends have cheated on me in the past, I start to worry that Dan will leave me for one of these women. And well…as you can see, it’s only a short step further and I descend down, down, down into the dark and wily black hole of neuroticism and jealousy.
Not a pretty picture, I know.
Sometimes I’ve gotten upset and explained my feelings to Dan and my closest friends. To their credit, they all patiently reassure me, and for that I am most grateful. But as I’m starting to realize, my experiences with Dan continue to provide that mirror which stands as an ever present reminder that I have to look within for the answers.
In the wake of those crazed moments, when I’m finally able to resurface out of the doldrums of anxiety and self-consciousness, I realize that every time I let my insecurities get the better of me, I’m operating on irrational assumptions from past hurts that I have yet to reconcile. And the longer I live with these assumptions and unresolved past hurts, the longer I am stealing valuable time from the present and limiting the love I can provide both to the current me, and others. As has been said many a time before, to love others you must love yourself.
For me, self-loathing is so much easier than self-loving. I have long perfected my inner narrative of self-criticism and exploited the channels of inadequacy and fear. It’s going to take me a lot of courage to break these patterns and attempt to accept and love myself for who I am today. Thankfully I am not completely alone in this journey, Dan, my close friends and my therapist will be there, but only I can consciously make the changes and choose to stop the tape recorder of doubt. There is hope.
Thanks for reading, S