We’re all equipped with a Through Line; something we’re wonderful at and are meant to give to the world. While some people might suggest mantras or affirmations to learn a new internal language, it’s my FIRM belief that you can’t shift your self-talk without finding your Through Line first.
Learn how to define your Through Line: an important building block when it comes to tackling your negative self-talk. Today on the WANTcast, the #1 tool we’ve got on Women Against Negative Talk:
I had an odd experience this morning. It’s the first Sunday in a while I’ve not only been by myself (Jeremy is in San Diego), but I’ve had a few hours TO myself. No meetings till later, no appointments to rush to, no classes to teach. I take my time making myself a coffee carafe for one. I turn on Destiny’s Child radio on our Pandora because I’m here alone and J isn’t about that Beyoncé life and who doesn’t love a little Bug-A-Boo to start their day.
I open Instagram (when will I learn??).
I glimpse a statistic about eating disorders in women.
And I think:
What the FUCK have I been doing the last two months to help the epidemic of negative self-talk that leads to these kinds of numbers??
Empaths like me – like US – have this problem. We’re told to take time for ourselves because we spend so much in the shoes of others – but when we see a statistic or snapshot, we go down that constricting rabbit hole of guilt, thinking of all the time we “wasted focusing on ourselves” with regret and guilt. And so we don’t. We don’t take time for ourselves, because we know where THAT leads. Guilt. Remorse. Regret. Stuff we stuff down boils back up, and then there we are, once again caught in the negative self-talk loop we’re so trying to avoid. Because it’s way easier to focus on tearing ourselves down than addressing the real problem.
I sat with this guilt for a second. Sat with the feeling of “WTF Have I Been Doing To Help The World.”
And what freaked me out more (whoops) after I did is this: I’ve spent so much time in the last two months making sure life around me stays firmly attached at the seams, that I’m unraveling in the places that matter most. I think I’m keeping it together because I’m showing everyone else I can juggle and not drop the ball. But underneath, where only I can see, I’m scrambling to hold on.
In my mind, no one needed to see those parts. So somehow, at some point, I convinced myself that they weren’t important.
Longer post for another day, but big life-stage-transitions feel like a table flip. You know in movies when a character gets angry or overwhelmed and oh look there’s a nice and neat table so OH SHIT they take their anger out on it and FLIP the mothereffer onto its side? Instead of resolving the conflict, they take all the chaos around them and channel it into wrecking something that was perfectly fine and organized in the first place.
My table flip moments have manifested themselves not in chaos, but in the illusion of control. The amount of change in my life right now is overwhelming to me – a GOOD overwhelm, but overwhelm nonetheless – so instead of letting IT overwhelm ME, I have been narrowly focusing in on the stuff others can see and neglecting the stuff that keeps ME feeling grounded and in control.
Surprise surprise, that plan is backfiring. And instead of the THINGS overwhelming me, I’ve now ended up overwhelming myself.
I’m now six days out from my wedding and I find myself regretting the way I’ve handled the last month, which brings up all kinds of pangs of guilt. I should have journaled every day to document this moment. I should have taken more time off work to fly to LA and help plan. I should have been firmer delegating tasks to others instead of assuming they’d know what to do and avoiding any glimmer of seeming “controlling.” We’re taught in our society that this is (supposed to be) a once-in-a-lifetime kind of day – should I have amped it up more like I see other couples do leading up to THEIR wedding?
If I dig deeper, however, I realize that I THOUGHT things would look different in my life as I approached this transition. I thought I’d be (and feel) super successful, which (to me) means not just making a difference in ways I can see, but that those visible markers of success flow through my days naturally and with ease. I hate to admit it, but up until now a part of what success has always looked like to me has been: you’re on SUCH a roll that logistics take care of themselves.
I am nowhere near that. Moreover, this time in my life requires all. the. logistics. In the last month or so, I havent felt like I can soften my gaze on the Whats and focus on the Whys, because the Whats feel like I’m starting from scratch. New life stage, new career stage, new new new newnew. It’s an exciting feeling when you’re in it. And also terrifying. Really terrifying.
Good news, or so it seems, is that when the exciting-terrifying-ness gets to be too much, you can just tune them out, and do the work. I’ve been tuning them out and doing the work.
But guess what?
Strong feelings like excitement and fear don’t disappear – they just hide and grow. And grow. And grow. Until one day you wake up with a Sunday to yourself, turn on some 1998 Beyoncé, look down at the table you’ve flipped over, and realize the mess you’ve made.
When I was 16, I found a quote somewhere that seemed revolutionary to me: If you love something, don’t hide and suffocate it for the sake of holding on. Set it free. Anything meant to be always comes back.
This obviously isn’t original or unique – hello, every self-help book ever written – but at the time it blew my mind. You mean I don’t need to worry about the stuff that’s MEANT to happen? You mean I don’t need to pour myself into every single person, place, and thing 24/7 to ensure it sticks around? You mean I don’t need to worry?
The things I’m worried about in this moment – they’re things I know aren’t going away. My sweet friends. My beloved routine. Our WANT community. The change I AM meant to make in the world. NONE OF THIS IS GOING AWAY. But, but.. I can feel myself holding on and suffocating it all because I’m so scared that if I loosen my grip it’ll all fall away.
Is that fear of loss rational? No. It’s a concrete thought conjured by a vague emotion that’s trying to make sense of transition and life recalibration.
So here I am. Practicing what I preach – but not in the pretty and zen way we read about. Doing the hard fucking work of sitting with my thoughts and asking WHY. Why I feel the way I feel – why I REALLY feel the way I feel – and then asking: so what are you going to do about it?
What’s the answer, then? If I am feeling overwhelmed, if I’m feeling angry with myself…but REALLY I am feeling a lack of a softer focus and wider lens, and REALLY I am feeling the confusion and slight panic of life feeling like it’s going faster than I can keep up with…then what am I really going to do about it??
I will be for the most part completely offline for the next two weeks enjoying every bit of our wedding’s before-during-after – and, moreover, every single moment of the first step in our new chapter. It’s a first we’ll never get back, and I want to be fully present.
I am stepping back and taking a break and not pretending otherwise.
I am pressing pause on the subjective deadlines I’m in control of (created by my mind) so I can make the objective ones I’m not in control of (created by LIFE) worth every single second.
I’m putting aside the pressure to make a difference in someone else’s life…and turning back inward to make a difference in my own.
I’m trusting that I am EXACTLY where I need to be to feel the way I want to feel.
And I hope that, when life hands you a table-flip moment, you will step back and do the same.
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We wake up early, we go to bed late, we regulate early bedtimes to make those early mornings more manageable and push those late nights so the mornings start fresh. Half the time we’re autonomous and half the time we’re reporting to others. Our finances. Our whereabouts. Our missteps. Our intentions on how to make a life out of an existence.
I remember telling a friend once, in the midst of a trajectory shift, that I wanted to move forward in my career. But, secretly, I told her – my twenty-four year old self thinking she was revealing something unique – I loved the fact that I had no one to report to but myself once I was off the clock.
Yeah, she guffawed (ps, is there any better onomatopoea than “guffaw?”). Enjoy that while it lasts.
And I thought, is that what it is to be an adult?
To lose yourself to others?
While environment and company certainly come into play, we’re inherently born as who we are. And so the idea of adulthood is somewhat of a fallacy. Same being, different experience. And what I find fascinating is that the more people I talk to, the more people I find feel as if they’re just “faking” this adult thing. We’re all just trying to make sure we seem cool-calm-collected to everyone else. Accountable. Responsible. “Adult.”
But really, we’re all in the same boat.
My years have always been muddled in my mind. My age has always been permeable. I vividly remember thinking with a mind I did not feel my body was grown into, and specifically remember instances of holding back communication because I did not feel my peers would understand. Half the time I feel I am eternally seven and the other half I feel eternally seventy two. The latter is my soul. The former is my spirit. The reality is somewhere in between.
I still love fairies and mermaids, and my heart melts a little when I see a stuffed animal on the shelf. I talk to three year olds like they are thirty and seventy year olds like they are twenty seven. I refuse to judge anyone based on their age, a vow I made to myself when I was eight years old and felt the patronizing effects of those who talked to me as if I was a child.
To believe that “adulthood” comes with legal status is grasping for certainty. Because the fact is, a LACK of certainty is one of the hallmarks of adulthood.
Being an adult doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Being an adult means you’ve made peace with the fact that you don’t.
So where do we go from here, adults? If we know what we know and we know what we don’t know, and we’re fine with it all, does it mean we stop searching? Does making peace mean complacency? Is that why, ultimately, we are so resistant to reversing triggers and shifting trauma and changing our self-talk for the better? Is it to fabricate drama, because we’re so worried that without it, we’re left without something to chase?
Of course not. The search never stops. Quite the opposite, really. When we know we’ll never know, we can begin our quest for what else is out there. When we’re at peace with not being able to solve the puzzle, we can get to creating our own beautiful jigsaw. When we’ve accepted what isn’t, we can truly start looking for what IS. Complacency isn’t an acquiescence into adulthood, it’s the death of the human spirit.
Laying sprawled out on my couch the other evening after dinner, half watching Top Chef and half getting lost in my own head, I looked around the room and marveled out loud at life. I don’t think twenty-four year old me could have ever envisioned this. I don’t think she could have ever conceptualized life like it is right now.
Because twenty-four year old me thought that adulthood meant grasping to make things work. Twenty-four year old me thought adulthood was what happened when you turned yourself over to the world to be its caretaker. Twenty-four year old me thought adulthood was a time in which you knew exactly what you wanted and those things matched up perfectly to everyone else’s Wants. Twenty-four year old me though adulthood was losing yourself and calling it “finding yourself.”
But I know better now. Or should I say, I don’t know, and that makes me know a whole lot better. I’m confident in what I know and confident in what I don’t know. I have 70% of my shit together but the other 30% is flailing in the wind like one of those Wobble Men at the car wash (which I just Googled btw and are actually called “Air Dancers” which definitely seems like a much more adult name than Wobble Men).
And I think I like it best that way. Conscious knowing and unknowing. Constant grounded flailing. A sense of community, but also distinct uncertainty and loneliness that no longer shakes you like it once did. They’re all normal; the high highs and low lows and everything in between. And whereas I once thought adulthood was reporting to others and losing yourself, I now know that what I once thought of as reporting myself to others was really assimilating to fit a mold that didn’t even exist.
To be adult is to know you don’t know. To be an adult is to forego societal assimilation in favor of radical self-acceptance. And to be an adult – it’s to flail gracefully, and in the flailing notice how you’re catching air.
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I’m not gonna lie: the last few weeks have felt really, really tough. The kind of tough that’s hard to explain to people. The kind of tough that makes it hard to motivate yourself to write. The kind of tough that puts off tasks and escews social plans because there’s a rager going on inside your head 24/7. The kind of tough that make you question…well, not everything, but a whole damn lot.
I don’t know if it’s because we’re nine months into the year and still dealing with SO much of the same BS (you know what I’m talking about.), or because it feels like I’ve been doing double duty looking after both others AND myself and the load has just felt really heavy lately, or because the seasons here in NYC are starting to shift a bit early and I’m caught off-guard by a change I wasn’t ready for, or because the brainspace that is usually reserved for “future growth” in both the personal and professional sense has been hijacked by wedding/marriage prep.
((Or maybe it’s just because I’ve been listening to the new Phantogram album on loop and it’s making me feel things that have probably been repressed for a really long time.))
In any case – I’m not a stranger to this feeling of heaviness and toughness, which is why I think I’m not too crazily overwhelmed by it. I know it well. I used to get really scared that it was my default state. That I was destined for a lifetime of being in conflict with the way I was inside vs the way I was perceived by others: glass-half-full to everyone else, is-that-glass-even-able-to-hold-that-much-water-without-tipping-over to myself inside my head. It wasn’t that I was overly optimistic and constantly disappointed, OR overly pessimistic and cynical about the world. I just felt feelings about everything. Hence the heaviness.
And then I dated someone who was like this way more often than I was. He was one of the most creative, intuitive, empathetic people I knew – and most emotional, besides myself. I saw his highest highs and lowest lows, and he always seemed to bounce back to neutral eventually.
How did he navigate his tough spots so gracefully?
With a catchphrase I soon adpoted as my own: The emotions of the situation are not the reality of the situation.
This doesn’t mean your emotions are wrong. It just means they’re not an accurate picture of what’s going on OUTSIDE your head. You are allowed to feel exactly how you feel, and feel it about exactly what you feel it about.
So while, say, these last few weeks have felt really heavy and really tough, I know now that this is my emotional response to a set of situations at hand. And emotions are ever in flux. This is just an ebb in my flow.
The solution, for me, is to just start do-ing.
To do one small, small thing that sets off a chain reaction in my head and heart that tells me I’m okay.
That I’m capable of moving forward even if I don’t feel like I am.
The one thing empowers me in an oh-so-small-but-oh-so-big way to do one other thing, and then another, and then another. It’s like picking loose change up off the ground…eventually you have enough coins to make a full dollar. And you have to pick up every single coin to get there. Sometimes you luck out and find a quarter. Sometimes you’re relegated to pennies. But both make you at least one cent richer than you were the second before.
Ever caught yourself saying, “Eh, it won’t matter anyway”…or, “It’s not enough”…or, “It’s too small to count”….??? Welp, one step is better than no step. And you can’t move anywhere if you don’t take one step after the other. Send the email. Return the call. Write the thing. Write a LINE in the thing. Get your shoes ON. Heck, make the bed!!! When the world seems the most overwhelming the best thing we can do is just take life choice to choice. No choice is too tiny. No change is too small. No decision is insignificant.
I’ve started to work through my feelings of heaviness by doing small acts at the very beginning (or middle, or end) of the day that make a HUGE difference. I’ve learned that when everything feels tough, nothing feels doable. I tend to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll get to things once I feel “better.”
But – and this is something I need to KEEP reminding myself over and over – once I start doing *A* thing, whether or not it’s *THE* thing, then I start to feel two percent accomplished and two percent more likely to do another thing, and another, and another, and then eventually everything feels a lot lighter and a lot more manageable. And eventually, I’m back to writing again. And it’s like the toughness never happened.
Except the body remembers.
And the body takes with it the good stuff if you let it.
So accomplishing one small thing after another in the midst of tough times helps develop resilience and PROOF that the toughness is not your default state. It’s one part of the amazing, multifaceted person you are.
And that’s the reality of the situation.
Need some ideas? Here are some things to do when literally just getting out the door seems like a feat in and of itself, your heart is feeling either understandibly or inexplicably heavy, and you don’t feel like doing anything:
Make your bed.
Exfoliate and/or put on a face mask.
Brew yourself coffee.
Send ONE email you’ve been meaning to send (this is my own personal go-to).
Text a friend and tell them how much you love them.
Clip your toenails.
Read three pages of a book.
Lace up whatever shoes you exercise in and tell yourself that if you still don’t want to work out after 10 minutes, you can stop.
Blow dry your hair.
Take 10 slow, long, loud breaths.
Update your resumé, press kit, LinkedIn, or social media accounts.
Do your laundry, then – plot twist! – fold your clothes after (instead of leaving them on the ottoman what do you mean i never do this…).
Make or buy organizational tools for your drawers and closets so you know where things are when you need them – and then organize those things.
Make or buy yourself a healthy meal – or pack your lunch for the next day.
If you use a calendar app on your phone, set a reminder at a specific time (every day, if you’d like) to plan your next day or just to take a standing break.
Drink a full glass of water – it’s amazing how much simple hydration can do.
Hug someone. PS – a puppy is definitely “someone.”
Now I’d love to hear from you! What is something you do to help yourself get back on track when you don’t feel like doing anything? Leave a comment and tell me your go-to.
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WHEN I WAS 12, I read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. A sort of Brave New World for the tween set, it’s about a confined society in which everything is Just So all the time. It’s a society that’s been converted to “sameness” – a plan that has eradicated pain and strife. Everyone is identical. No one feels. No one judges. No one’s flawed. No experience, no emotion, no hunger for life. Just…predictability.
I think that most of my classmates empathized with the times the main character, Jonas, felt weird for being different (how much more tweeny can you get?). I, however, empathized with how angry Jonah felt when he started to see – really see – how phoney Sameness really was.
Perfection is a hoax. The allure of being perfect is the greatest con, the greatest scheme ever devised. Forget about the Photoshop, the glossy pages, the television even. Perfection is a stagnant ideal and a consummation of all we find unsatisfactory. It’s an artifice to fool ourselves into believing that there’s an excuse or that we’re failing. That is perfect, They are perfect is internalized and morphs into This is not perfect. I am not perfect. Perfection is conditional love. It’s an invisible benchmark and a thick glass ceiling. It’s the expectation and the idealization of the absolutely monotonous. It’s a lonely, one-dimensional load of crap we think we need in order to feel special.
Perfection is a pile of you-know-what from both ends of the spectrum; doesn’t matter how you look at it. We live in a world where the sweetest apples are discarded for a touch of brown, where we inject plastic into the lines we’ve earned from reading novels late into the night, where we over-sterilize and under-appreciate.
And then there are the people who seem to be constantly extolled for their beauty, their wisdom, or their achievements. Their existence is idolized, their lives an exercise in perfection maintenance. And that…that is a huge burden to carry, too. It’s immense, unreasonable pressure to stay at a certain age, look, job and caliber indefinitely. Because what if – no, when – we don’t? What happens when we falter – or maybe just aren’t astonishingly mind-blowing every single second?
Will we still be loved?
The word “perfect” has haunted me my entire life. When I was in middle school, I would be called perfect as a taunt. I didn’t have braces. I liked to color-coordinate. I got good grades. My awkward stage was mild. Sounds great, huh? Yeah. Not really. I felt detached and alone. I felt I could not be myself; God forbid I spoke out of turn or mismatched a sock. Just like Jonas in The Giver, I saw how fabricated the idea of perfection was, but didn’t know how to convince people otherwise. There was an immense discomfort in knowing I was looked at as someone who had everything together, and that that was both desired AND detested. Trying to convince people I wasn’t always backfired, since perfection was so ingrained in my identity to others. It was weird for me to be perfect but wrong for me to be flawed.
But the most uncomfortable thing for me was that my biggest taunts were also my highest praise. I was told I was pretty, I was told I was smart, I was told I was sweet, and I was told I was talented. I wasn’t ever forced to be those things – no stage parents in my household – but it was obvious the value they had. Plus, the alternative was scary. When you grow up in a culture that puts people down for fun and thrives off ofcasual negativity to get through the day, how does anything but perfect seem like a viable option? There was currency in perfection…as well as immunity. I felt that.
Balance was virtually impossible.
How was it that the very thing I equated with love and worth from my family and mentors was the thing I equated with loneliness and weirdness when it came to my friends and peers?
Some would have rebelled. But no – I didn’t want to rebel. I just wanted to relate. So I downplayed my assets and kept them locked away. At the root of it, I feared loss. I wanted to guarantee love, but at the same time wanted to be the full range of myself – which included the dark and messy parts. Please let me be normal, I’d silently beg. Do not love me for my light, because it sometimes gets dark in here and I can’t bear the loss when you realize that.
What was the most interesting is when I started to focus on feeling special instead of focusing on the whether or not others THOUGHT I was special. I let my guard down in front of people. I took myself very seriously but took the world a whole lot less so. I cried over boys and told people who hurt me the way that I felt. I opened up about being melancholy for what seemed like no reason and realized there were way more people like me than there were not. My dark and messy wasn’t all so dark and messy after all. I was just, asGlennon Doyle says, “a feely person in a messy world.” I began to realize that only I could determine my value, and only I could know what was my rightest right. I stopped using the word “perfect” to describe people and things and started to call them “perfect-for-me.” I stopped feeding off “perfect” and living on purpose.
I am wary of perfection. The ones who make it their life’s mission to be perfect, I’m onto them. There is something deeper there, there is something hiding and some voice inside that once told them that the only way to be is to be flawless. Because big voices and unique souls and feely people are risky to a messy world that likes to put things in cramped little boxes that are easy to define and file away. Nothing is intriguing when you fit into Sameness.
Whenever I see these people, I want to take them aside and hug them and tell them just to Be. Just BE. Be on purpose. Be a contradiction. Be extreme! Whatever you are and whoever you are, be extremely YOU. At the end of the day, what else is there left? The people who know how to live are absolutely flawless in their quirks and extremes. They’re certainly not afraid to mismatch their socks or disagree with the world.
The idea that perfection gets you a prize is a big fat lie, and the thing is that we ALL KNOW IT deep down. Because those beautiful on-purpose souls, who are extremely and unquestionably themselves, those are the people we’re all ultimately drawn to in the long run. Not the ones who homogenize their lives to be Just So. Because this is not sameness. This is life. In all its extremities and nuances.
What makes you special isn’t someone else’s declaration that you’re special. What makes you special are the exact things that end up making you feel as if you’re living with the entirety of yourself. Find those tiny details and idiosyncrasies that make you you, and use them to support and enhance the extreme You-ness of the way you Be. It isn’t about “perfection” or “flawed” or whatever’s the opposite. It’s about being unquestionably yourself.
Forget about the Sameness, forget about utopia. There is no better person to be, no better place to live, than Oh-So-On-Purpose.
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