What child is afraid of swing sets? This child was, that’s who.
I was afraid of the swings, I was afraid of the Big Slide, I didn’t venture into the “deep end” until I was seven years old. I stayed the fck away from the monkey bars, and I sure as hell wouldn’t play double-dutch jump rope because I knew without a DOUBT I’d be whipped in the face.
It’s not the failure per se, but the loss of control that frightened me. It was the idea of being suspended in the air, in the water, no top, no bottom, nothing holding me up but sheer momentum and no control of grounding.
Being caught in space. Indefinitely.
Control was my first frenemy. The first one who made me believe I was lost without her, when in fact I was most lost when in her smothering embrace.
When I had control, I looked for cracks in the surface.
Threats everywhere. I look for those out to do me wrong.
And when I had no control…when I was uncertain…I made up stories.
I see the fall. I see drowning. I see the spiral downward.
And I look for someone to save me.
Validation is what we crave when we’re unsure: of a moment, of our place, of ourselves. And seeking it out works in exactly the opposite way we want it to.
We plead for Yesses and get bogged down in our Tryings. We become so afraid, so unsure, SO self-conscious, that we hinder ourselves from moving forward, simply because we’re so scared of falling back. And so we do.
It’s frustrating as hell, but honestly, is it at all surprising? If our fear of falling short is the energy that we put out into the universe, why is it any wonder that we’re always feeling two steps behind?
Let’s not kid ourselves: it helps to be validated. Positive reinforcement…who wouldn’t eat that up? We want to know that we’re worthwhile; that we’re okay.
But when we actively seek validation, we’re being reactive instead of proactive. Our actions become an external comeback instead of an internal process.
We so desire to be loved and told we’re worthwhile, because at the heart of the matter, to feel ineffective is a frightening thing. And when we don’t receive validation – or receive the exact opposite, criticism – we start to tell ourselves stories in order to exert control. We say we’re doing things all wrong, we start to feel as if we have something to prove.
My question is this: Prove what?
We are alive. Here. In existence.
We are proven simply by existing.
We don’t need validation in order to be fully and wholly ourselves. That’s OUR job, not anyone else’s. It’s the stories that trap us. The stories of the flailing, the drowning, the stuck-ness in space. Will anyone love me if I fall? Will I be good enough even if no one else says it out loud? If I can’t see it, is it even real?
Untangle the trap. Recognize when you’re telling yourself stories by flipping the narrative. Instead of acting and reacting out of FEAR and NEED, be proactive and productive out of LOVE and WANT. Will you get some kind words or praise along the way? I mean, probably. Productive and Proactive are infectious. Everyone wants a little of whatever the most self-assured and got-it-together person in the room is having, and that will most likely get you a nice potpourri mix of extremes; both validation and judgement. The trick is to not let either guide your actions. And if you’re like me and you’re thinking, “But wait. I’m not that self-assured and DEFINITELY don’t got-it-together at ALL” …it makes no difference. Proactive and Productive read as self-assured and got-it-together from the outside. That’s their story to tell. Not yours.
I still tell myself wild stories that I am caught without grounding in space, that I am thought ill of, that I am screwing up and that someone is onto me. That someone else is more qualified, more talented, more beautiful, more special and well-liked. Just More.
And when I tell myself these stories I take the drama, I take the romanticized truths in my head and I ask WHY. Turns out that the story I tell is usually rationally improbable. And that much of my story is actually rooted in a need to be validated; a surface-level reaction. A premonition that I might have something to be sorry about, just by being me. When the truth is that “being me” is the greatest asset I could ever have.
So swing high and dive deep. Take a stand and give yourself the credit you deserve.
Trust your actions. Trust your intuition. Because we have everything we need, right here, right now.
Your validation is that your life is happening For you. To you. With you.
Your validation – it’s in your existence.
And so you keep going.
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The woman who walks through life with open arms. The one who laughs the loudest, focuses the feelings, who looks you in the eye like you’re the only one that matters.
You know her. She’s the steady rock on the shaky ground. She’s the shaky hand with the steady gaze. She’s the one who breaks first and shows you her wounds, then also shows you how to repair them – and then later when you’re hurting, you remember the one who showed you how to move through it all instead of around it.
She’s the inclusive woman.
Inclusive is infectious.
Inclusive is knowing loneliness and instead of putting up walls to protect yourself from hurt, plowing them down to make sure you feel WITH people, not AT them. That’s what walls always end up doing, anyway. Breaking the WITH, driving the AT. Handball courts. River dams. The red rubber ball bounces back even harder; the water smacks the sides and breaks up the otherwise steady current. Or worse, stops it altogether, so all you see is glassy nothingness. A mirage that folds over itself as if to say, Nothing to see here. Forget what’s under the surface, that flow never mattered anyway.
To be inclusive is to let go of the cynical crutches that are so easy to lean on when we’re scared or unsure. It’s to invite people in with a hug and a smile, to keep your wits about you but give everyone a chance. It’s to banish the “prove,” disarm the doubt, and raise that second eyebrow to meet the other and turn judgement into joy.
The exclusive has standards to be met and hoops to jump through. The exclusive asks you to “earn” their time, their trust, their attention. The exclusive is the fabulous in-crowd and the fabricated Instagram captions; the stuff that makes you FOMO and fear that you’re just not welcome there. Somehow, though, you still feel you should try.
And yet underneath the exclusive facade of wild self confidence and sky-high standards is a person who just longs to be loved. They have forgotten that the way to get love is to give love, the way to belong is to invite in the world, and the way to be seen is to look inside yourself for validation. The exclusive creates cliques and mocks others and has checkboxes to be filled before giving the green light.
Living in the exclusive is no way to live. Because when you only let in some, you really let in none. When you censor yourself for most, you limit yourself for all. You’re looking to protect yourself and you’re looking to be safe, but in the process you’re telling yourself to always stay on the lookout for the enemy. Exclusive is where judgement breeds, where rifts are dug, and where even true love can turn sour.
And yet INCLUSIVE can sting, too. It can claw at your skin and slap you in the face. The more accepting you get, the more truth you see. The more truth you see, the more accepting you’re challenged to be. It’s like the universe or whatever is haunting and heckling you. Ya think you’re so altruistic huh? Ya think you’re sooooo empathetic? Well try THIS on for size, why dontcha?! (and yes, the universe sounds like a 1920s mobster in this scenario.)
Inclusive can feel like walking on fresh-polished marble wearing brand new socks, each mini-step feeling slipperier than the last. Fighting for control is useless and will keep you in one place. The only way to move forward is to make each step deliberate, strong, grounded, and sure.
But the tradeoff to resisting the fight and strengthening your step is that life opens up when you open up to it. And people open up when you open up to them. Not always, but most times. Not immediately, but eventually. And as they come around, they’ll bring others along with them. And so on, and so on. We say we’re sick and tired of seeing people display tropes of the human experience instead of experiencing the experience itself – but it’s got to start somewhere.
And so the only question really is, how bad do you want it? Enough to open?Enough to let go?
The way to banish the exclusive is to be the inclusive. The way to open what’s closed is to turn your own key. We’re all just looking to do our very best with this life we’ve been handed – and your “very best” only floods in when your dams have been blown open and washed away.
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My first big meltdown when I moved to New York City two years ago wasn’t upon touchdown or our first night in an empty apartment. It wasn’t because someone was rude to me, or I lost my way, or I missed a subway stop or four.
Nope. It was in the gym locker room.
I remember that first week so clearly: the champagne buzz I felt from the newness, the novelty of being able to get anything.you.want.at.all. delivered to your apartment instead of having to lug it home in bags that cut off circulation in your fingertips. The way you could be walking, skipping, singing, sobbing down the street and people accepted you like whatever you were doing was a part of the flow. The waking up early just because we were so excited to experience the morning. I remember so clearly. It was love at first footstep.
And then I lost it. I mean, I knew it was coming at some point – I definitely cried my second night, mostly out of sheer exhaustion – but I didn’t expect that my anticipated feelings of shock, overwhelm, and longing would show their sad faces in the women’s locker room on Greenwich Avenue after I made a corny joke to a stranger thrice my age and she genuinely giggled back.
My gym had been my safe haven in LA, and LA had been my safe haven in my life. Having grown up visiting the City That Never Sleeps on a regular basis but living in the City That Sleeps In Then Goes On A Hike my entire life, I was very familiar with New York but not enveloped in her. It wasn’t just my immediate neighborhood that I felt protected by in LA; it was EVERYTHING. The street signs, the off-ramps. The familiar faces and the predictable reactions. The sunrises, the sunsets, and the days the ocean-fog took over the whole sky so you couldn’t tell when one finished and one began. I knew LA from birth. She WAS me.
I tried my best to recognize this when I lived there, but just like so many things, there is always some little important bit of a-ha that happens when you no longer have that thing you loved. For me, that a-ha came in a locker room when I realized how alone and unfamiliar I felt within my surroundings. How, while I valued anonymity, I also valued (and took for granted) my ability to CHOOSE it.
Humans are pack animals; we’re tribal. We’re not meant to wander the hills alone until we find a mate and then go back off again to raise and let go of our kin. Our brains are hard-wired for connection, and even the most introverted of us need to feel a sense of togetherness to truly thrive. It’s been proven by sciency people who are book-smarter than I am: loneliness leads to depression and is a huge indicator of how long you will live.
I’ve been watching and reading a lot of Brené Brown lately (you should be, too!), especially the interviews and articles surrounding her newest book, Braving The Wilderness. The book is all about belonging, and (no, this isn’t a spoiler) how “fitting in” is actually the exact OPPOSITE of belonging.
When I moved here, I wasn’t looking to fit in – I wasn’t interested in molding myself to fit the shape of someone or something else – but I was struck by how shaken my sense of belonging had become. And moreover, how much I tied my sense of belonging to other people RECEIVING me.
That’s why the older woman laughing at my lame-o offhand comment got me so choked up. That’s why I started to panic as I became new eyes on centuries-old surroundings. I felt unfamiliar. I felt routine-less. And the smallest things like seeing the same parking lot attendant I only thank-you’d and have-a-nice-day’d and gym members I never even spoke to and just silently awkward-nodded to while we grabbed adjacent dumbbells were things I didn’t expect to crave. I thought I was autonomous in LA and above all that neediness, but boy did I have myself fooled. I was dependent on other people to validate my experience.
The last couple years have brought more change to me than I thought possible: two apartments, two neighborhoods, a new job, multiple events, brand new soul-friends, marriage. And as I contemplate where I go from here, as I head closer and closer toward my thirty-second year, which I have ALWAYS felt in my gut holds something major for me (micro- or macro- major, who knows at this point), I think about how my sense of belonging has changed too – or maybe how it hasn’t. I am on the precipice of something big, but for the first time in a while I’m hesitant to take a much-needed step to fall and build my wings on the way down.
Brené says that we belong everywhere when we belong to ourselves. So if I belong everywhere, then why is it that I’m so tied to THIS sense of place? Maybe it’s for the same reason people stay in relationships that are fine but not GREAT, or stay in jobs that earn enough to live but don’t add enough to LIFE. Because I “know” this sense of belonging is secure IF I just do all the right things, and check off all the to-do boxes, and it’s a very external and define-able belonging. Predictability and ease. Mother-effers.
When I moved here, I felt placeless. I remember telling my friend Sarra that I felt freaked out by the amount of places I could go where I knew no one and no thing (Soak it in while you can, she said). I belonged to no one and no thing. I was trying to see where I fit, and tried on a lot for size. I don’t think I really knew how to belong to myself yet. That’s the cool thing about New York, though: it FORCES your identity out of you. The people who try to fight the force are the ones who have it hardest in life, but especially life in this city. But once you stop trying to fight your emerging identity – which is tough, because trying to fight it can sometimes FEEL like trying to find it – everything is magic.
I don’t think everyone is able to belong – or rather, find a sense of belonging – in NYC. You’ve got to be a little wild, a little crazy, and very comfortable getting uncomfortable, to even catch the first glimmers of it. That process and this city will kick your ass before you realize that your recovery is a part of your becoming. It will spook you, but your challenge is to never let it SCARE you. You’ve got to be next-level brave to become and belong – everywhere, but especially in this city that could care less whether you walk around anonymously and disconnected or full and enmeshed.
And now, I’ve found my way, and I’ve found my spaces. I have a “place.” Of course, I know that’s just a feeling and an illusion. And I wonder: is my newfound sense of place, coupled with my acute memory of what it’s like to NOT have one, keeping me in a new loop that doesn’t serve me? I think so; maybe. I’ve been here before, so I can recognize when I am here again.
The great thing, though, is that I know that I am my own and no one else’s, and that an external sense of place is fab but an internal one is fabber. If I know I’ll be okay no matter what, and I know I will be mine no matter what, then maybe, just maybe, I can start to take those steps that lead me to places I don’t know yet.
Two years ago I woke up for the first time as an NYC resident. I know it’s only been two years but I honestly can’t imagine waking up anywhere else.
Brené Brown says that true belonging only comes when you belong to yourself and yourself only, everywhere and nowhere.
Living here, I finally feel like I’ve found where I belong.
“I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘Well, I’m still in New York. Thank you, God.” ― Ed Koch
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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: