I have failed. But I will rebuild.
Do you ever feel like you can’t tell the difference between what you want to do and what you’re supposed to do? I never can. I think that, for those of us who have spent our whole lives receiving validation for being good at the things we are supposed to do, it’s sometimes hard to know what we actually want to do. It’s hard to know what you like and what brings you joy when, throughout your life, you’ve predicated your happiness and self-worth off of other people’s approval.
And the sayings are nice. The ones that say, “Dance like nobody is watching” or “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” But it’s hard to dance when you don’t know kind of music you like. And the second question is even harder when, if you’re like me, you don’t fail.
I don’t really know what failure - in the very traditional sense of trying something and not having it work out - feels like. I’ve carefully and steadfastly curated my life to only include things that I will do well in. I make tremendous effort to surround myself only with people who I know like me or love me and approve of me. If I ever do screw up, I either fix it or cry my way out of it. I’ve never had to sit with failure. If I didn’t succeed at something, it was because I didn’t give it my all, which was probably because I was scared of failing so I would make sure to have the excuse handy, “Well, I didn’t really try that hard.” I’ve never experienced giving something my all and not being pleased with the outcome (or at least not being pleased with my ability to be able to make it look like a success from the outside). I’ve spent my entire life learning and internalizing the formula for approval from a specific crowd, and I have been (and still am) so scared of rejecting that formula from my life because, well, once it’s gone…what will be left? Who will I be? But the truth is, that although my failure isn’t apparent from the outside, I feel like a constant failure on the inside. Like 24/7-I-am-a-total-screw-up-waste-of-space-failure.
Despite all my apparent successes, I have been overwhelmingly plagued by sadness. And I’m beginning to put two and two together and understand that this empty feeling comes building my entire self-worth on top of a foundation of other people’s opinions. “Look at her. She’s so successful. She’s so smart. She’s so hard-working”. She’s……wow, she’s actually a mess. She comes up with an excuse for not trying anything that she isn’t already somewhat good at. She doesn’t allow people into her circle that might criticize her to her face. She’s desperate to get out in nature but comes up with excuses about time and money. She wants to learn how to cook, but has the excuse that she “can’t stand” the food waste that comes with trial and error. She wants to build things and use her hands, but she doesn’t have enough room in her apartment. She wants to get fit, but oh, her back hurts and her knees are funny and her hip clicks when she does that move. She is…I am…full of excuses.
So, Space For Anything has undergone some construction (at least in the way I’m viewing it) in hopes that I can use it as a tool to transform my life (and if you can relate, maybe we could do it together). I’m going to write because I need to. I’m going to write because I’m determined to try to fix my spirit. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried this many times before and yet I consistently wind up back where I started (so, look at that, I guess maybe I actually do know failure). Why? Because approval feels good. It feels safe. It’s an easy trap to fall back into. And the saying is stuck in my head, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, I might not look broke to you. But I am so broken. I am so tired of living in this shell of a soul that is built off of other people telling me I’m a good person or I’m smart or I’m funny. I’m tired of being fueled by the highs that come from a client telling me I’m a great model, or a professor thinking I’m smart, or my mom thinking I’m kind, or my husband thinking I’m beautiful…and then crashing hard when I don’t receive those validations for some reason. What about what I think of myself?! I think I’m tired. And I’m taking a sledgehammer to this house I’ve built and going in search of the bricks that will build me a home - a place that I will feel safe, just me, myself, and I. Visitors will be welcome, but their approval of my home is not needed.
My plan is to start trying things out to see how they feel. Why, yes, thank you XYZ Furniture Company, I will try that couch (read: dance or pottery class) out in my new home for a few weeks to see if I like it. And if I don’t, I will have no shame sending it right back to your warehouse (read: moving on to something new). Just because it looked pretty in that magazine I bought if from (read: that person I saw doing it), or my neighbor told me it looks nice in my living room, doesn’t mean it will feel right in my home. To me.
Now, to you, whoever is reading this (if anyone is reading this), you may not understand my house or furniture analogy. You may be reading this thinking, “Well doesn’t she think she’s hot shit.” But, I’m sorry (not sorry) to tell you that I no longer care. I’m sorry (not sorry) to tell you that I’m no longer here for anyone’s approval. Now, I know this sounds kind of aggressive at first, but I don’t mean it in that way. See, the reason I have to stop caring is that, as Gustavo Razzeti says in this medium post,
“External expectations are a moving target…By trying to please everyone, we end pleasing no one — ourselves included.”
I know this isn’t ground breaking information. But I’m going to do my absolute best to finally try to internalize it. I’m also here to tell you that I’m terrified. That right now I feel very afraid this will not work and I’m very afraid that you’ll judge me. But there have been many things in my life that I was terrified by, and I always managed to do them anyways. And if you need to judge me, that will have to be ok. I will have to let it wash over me and I will have to sit in it and maybe cry about it but, then, do you know what will happen after? I will open my eyes and I will still be alive. Judgement cannot kill me. In fact, if I practice enough, I think I might be able to make it so judgement doesn’t even harm me. So, again, I’m here to say that I’m not not scared…but I’m here to put in the work and try anyways. I’m starting by taking a little solo trip out into nature tomorrow. I don’t know what to expect, I don’t know if anything will happen at all. The “me” I’m disposing of would call this trip a failure if I didn’t have some aha(!) life-changing moment, but the me I’m welcoming in will be happy with just trying.
PS - I’m hoping to continue to use this space to document the things I try out. If that’s interesting to you, I hope you’ll subscribe and join along. My plan is to post to the site regularly but to send less frequent emails to my subscribers that sort of recap what’s been going on. If you’ve had any sort of experience with this, I’d love it if you’d share below (including any tips you might have!). If this isn’t interesting to you at all, no hard feelings. Nothing can be interesting to everyone. :)