“I must achieve high. Gain the greatest influence. Be something great. I must do the most to be the best to get ahead.” This thought loop has been cycling along every one of my neurological orifices for most of my 23 years.
It’s only been about a year since I’ve stopped measuring my worth by my GPA, what internship I held, and what my career goals were. It’s taken a lot of work (read: therapy) to detach this seemingly calculable view of myself from a more grounded one. I haven’t fully shaken it.
Constantly, I’m finding myself struggling to find expectations that I can meet and exceed with every task that comes my way. Work, life, love – it doesn’t matter in what realm I’m operating in, I just want to succeed in the right way.
The life I live and everything that must be started and finished is no longer a multiple choice test. Instead, the questions to which I seek answers don’t have a singular solution. I work in the business of people, factors with such severe variability you simply can’t enter it into any standard formula. I have to remind myself that this is actually why I like my work. To meet and learn and grow because of others.
The recognition of my programmed setting and the slow process of working to reset it is absolutely terrifying because I feel constantly at risk if experiencing more failure. Yet somehow, I’m also exponentially increasing my potential for success. It is hard to wrap my brain fully around all of it. But something has happened in the past few months that has made me pause and then propel myself forward in rewiring my approach to work and life. And it is this:
The world has stopped. We’re stuck in a moment, and life as we knew it in late February and early March here in the states, has been burned down. There are glimmers of the heinous system that once stood a little taller; racial inequalities, injustices and brutalities that stand as one pandemic next to another; the virus that some individuals still think they are immune to despite the millions sick around them. There’s an overwhelming sense of individuality despite the desperate need for community right now.
And I’m left with just one thought. That nothing really matters anymore. Let me be very clear. This apathy is certainly not directed toward political or social beliefs actually quite the opposite.
All this personal nonsense and the privilege of even being concerned with having a career that could hold status is and has always been utterly worthless at its core. With the crumbles of what I once perceived as success now at my feet, I realize that it fell so easily because none of it was built out of care or passion for the actual thing itself. It was all fluff and distraction from what was really there.
I’ve been speaking with so much vague existentialist, borderline philosophy so I want to make this tangible.
What I have found before me are these brilliant orbs that when they were dropped didn’t break but just got a bit of dust on them. One stood for my work in food and beverage. The desire to create equal opportunity for others despite race, citizenship, class, gender or sexuality. To tell stories behind the food. To make people care about food and the inequities it often produces. The opportunity to build something from scratch. To make a mark. This orb is on fire.
And then there’s another orb that is just for stories and words. Ones that I want to share. I knew it existed. There are people who consume these words and stories. They devour and understand appreciate them. And it doesn’t matter how many of these people there are. It just matters that they exist.
Now I see that these two profound objects I have in front of me never had to exist in relation to wealth or status or esteem of any kind. It doesn’t need to be measured by the size of audience or monetary value.
It’s freeing to be able to hold these things really lightly and gently. They’re guiding principles that let me move forward. The path forward is now loose and not a linear trail as I once saw it. A + B no longer equals C. All that’s left is mostly intuition, frightfully so. And because what I now hold are truthfully such vague images of a fuller life, it simply can’t be measured by any expectation. Oh! What a relief.
I most certainly know that I will inevitably try to create some sort of measure. It always feels deceivingly safer to go back to the known. But I am conscious that for the real success, to create these images that are blurry but so clear, I cannot put such measurable value on every step. Instead, I’ll know I’ll have arrived somewhere when the picture starts to burn a little brighter.
From On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong –
“But why can’t the language for creativity be the language of regeneration?
You killed that poem, we say. You’re a killer. You came in to that novel guns blazing. I am hammering this paragraph, I am banging them out, we say. I owned that workshop. I shut it down. I crushed them. We smashed the competition. I’m wrestling with the muse. The state, where people live, is a battleground state. The audience a target audience. “Good for you, man,” a man once said to me at a party, “you’re making a killing with poetry. You’re knockin’ em dead.”
High Fidelity and The Great on Hulu.
Finding so much unexpected joy in The Babysitter’s Club on Netflix.
To Dr. Fauci’s words, always.