When was the Last Time You Felt Like a Failure?

Mental Health

piril-osmanoglu-1144314-unsplash

I never answer the door. I never answer the phone. Why? Because I never know what to expect on the other end. I don’t like surprises. Surprises are for people with a false sense of security because they have never suffered a real tragedy their entire lives.

But, unfortunately for me, my front door has an oval glass center, which allows anyone on my front porch to see directly inside and to the exact spot where I am usually sitting on the couch watching Bravo. If I’m caught in this sacred spot when the doorbell rings, I really have no choice but to get up and answer. I don’t want to be rude, after all.

Six months ago the doorbell rang. An elderly man and I made eye contact through the glass. I opened the door.

It turned out he’d already been by and this was his second attempt because our address had been randomly selected to participate in the U.S. census survey. Now, normally I would decline to participate in things like this because I’m a millennial and do not like to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced and I sure as heck don’t like having strangers in my home. But I had also spent that morning block-walking for Beto O’Rourke’s senate campaign and the sting of having doors slammed in my face was still fresh.

So I let him inside.

He asked some preliminary questions to see whether I or my boyfriend would be chosen for the survey. It was me, of course.

At first, the questions were pretty generic, but the surveyor said they would adjust based on my answers. Boy did they. Once we got into the section on medical care the questions got really real, really fast.

In the last six months have you forgone medical care due to cost? Yes.

In the last six months have you forgone mental health care due to cost? Yes.

In the last six months have you needed to see a therapist but did not go due to cost? Yes.

On a scale of all the time, most of the time, some of the time, or never, how often do you feel anxious? Most of the time.

When was the last time you felt like a failure?

Yes, that was an actual census question generated by my previous responses. I looked across the table at my boyfriend. His eyes crinkled. He wanted to laugh. So did I. But I also wanted to cry.

See, just that week I had been in the midst of an existential crisis. I felt uncertain about my future, about my purpose, about my goals and dreams and whether or not all of my hard work would ever amount to anything. I was feeling lost. I was feeling scared. I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I feel like a failure.”

We commiserated about approaching thirty while still feeling so clueless about life. So clueless about everything. I think we may even have pulled up some of those depressing videos about space and the impossible size of the universe. You know the ones that zoom out to show the infinite number of galaxies neighboring us and as a result also show how pointless this all is; how alone we really are.

Feeling like a “failure” was strange because I didn’t even really know what that meant. What measuring stick was I using exactly? Because by all accounts, I’ve been adulting for over ten years and actually have a lot to show for it. I have my own home, a fairly new and working vehicle, a meaningful job with a steady paycheck, health insurance, an Emergency fund, a dog.

But…I don’t want to measure my life in stuff. In markers of adulthood that someone else told me were important. I want to measure my life in meaning. All of those awesome things that are the result of my hard work and determination, what do they all mean?

What do I mean? What does anything mean?

I was spiraling.

But there was also some good news. The good news was that, all those nights when I lay awake, on the verge of tears, thinking about whether or not I mattered, I wasn’t wrestling with the darkness alone. The Universe was listening. The little old man who asked me when was the last time I’d felt like a failure was proof.

These feelings, these questions tend to come and go. Every 2-3 years they come hurtling at me like a train. But the collision isn’t to knock me off course. It’s to wake me up. To help me see that going through the motions is not living. That every moment of every day I can be intentional about how I’m spending my time and with who, that I can be intentional about choosing joy, or at least curiosity on days when joy is too far away. I can be intentional about what I create and consume. I can make choices in a split second that will plunge me deeper into my own fears or liberate me from them.

I can live in the questions, be crushed under their weight, or I can stop waiting for someone else to give me the answers and give them to myself. I can give meaning to my life in ways big and small. I can decide that I matter. I matter. I matter.

Advertisements

Your Heart’s Desire

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

adrian-161201-unsplash

About four years ago I was working in a public library, earning $12 an hour, all while cultivating this secret online identity as a self-published author. I was writing and creating constantly but something didn’t feel right.

Writing books was challenging but it had been a long time since I’d experienced a creative growth spurt and the itch to stretch myself, to learn, to grow became agonizing. So I did the only thing I knew how to do and I went back to school.

That’s the place where you learn new things, right?

I enrolled in a graduate program, stupidly took out student loans, and studied my ass off thinking that by graduation day I’d feel like a new me. A better me.

And it worked. At least for a little while. I completed my courses, survived student teaching, and got my first teaching job. That first year was a whirlwind. Every day, I showed up an hour early and stayed an hour late. I worked in the evenings and on weekends. I truly did stretch myself, learning so much about my content area, language learners, and the public education system.

Year two was also difficult. I was never short on challenges, on opportunities to grow.

Year three and the itch returned.

What am I doing here? I mean really doing? I’m not making an impact. I’m not even making a dent. The public education system is so broken. It’s so broken that no matter who you are–teacher, student, admin–no one enters this system and comes out unscathed. We are all hurt by it. Broken in ways we can’t even see.

I was starting to feel it. The weight of all of those systemic problems I would never be able to solve. The guilt and regret of allowing fear to choose this career for me. The work I do is meaningful and I’m grateful for this experience. But I’ve learned something about this feeling–this itch for something more. It doesn’t go away just because we want it to. Just because we’re living a life that is socially acceptable, adulting on a level comparable to our peers.

That feeling doesn’t go away until we ask in earnest: who am I and why am I here? And we open ourselves up to the reality, to the truth that the answers will be much bigger and much scarier than we want them to be.

But we don’t get to choose. The second we slipped into this skin we made an agreement to have the human experience.

This is the human experience–a million acts of bravery in the direction of our soul’s desire. And maybe we don’t get to decide that either–what our soul wants. But we can’t ignore that it wants. And it will continue to want, that desire beating, throbbing like a second pulse, until we give in and listen. Then follow.

And if we don’t, that spiritual nagging doesn’t just intensify. It hurts. In the places where we are supposed to be growing and changing we will begin to atrophy. We will begin to disappear.

I don’t want to disappear.

So I’m not just seeking out opportunities to be brave. I’m creating them. That means committing to a half-baked idea on a massive scale, telling people about my plans so they can hold me accountable, and creating my own curriculum for artistic growth. I’m acknowledging old fear-based patterns and disrupting them every chance I get. I’m speaking my mind more but also listening and I’m throwing money at opportunities I don’t yet feel good enough or worthy of taking advantage of.

I am following this ache like a siren song.

But even though I’m still not certain of where it leads, I must let it lead. Because the destination is my heart’s desire. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even know what that is yet. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think I deserve it yet. All I need to know is that it is mine.

Mine.

True North

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

alexander-andrews-636454-unsplash

When I think about those two big scary questions–Who am I? Why am I here?–clarity usually comes to me in flashes; in fragments I try to force together like puzzle pieces. Sometimes the burst is so bright, everything illuminated, that I feel a sense of purpose and conviction so supernatural in its potency that I know for a fact God is speaking to me. Other times, the glimpse is so brief that I feel more lost and alone than before.

Which has led me to ponder new questions: How do I find my North Star? How do I keep it in my sights through the storms, the darkness, and the doubt that follows?

For the past month these questions have consumed me and I’ve let them. Even though I’d committed to daily blogging, as long as these questions were on my mind, I felt like I didn’t know what to say. Even though I desperately wanted to finish my current WIP, as long as these questions were on my mind, the act felt useless.

Because I need to know the why.

Why was I telling this story and all the others that have been fighting for my attention lately? Why are these characters so important to me? What do I want my readers to know and feel about them? What do I want them to do with those revelations? Are there other ways I can spread my message? Am I really even clear on what that is?

Some people just want to be writers, putting out a book as often as they can, whether that’s once a year, once every two years, once every ten. Pen to page, day after day. For them, that is the work. And that is beautiful. That is admirable.

But I’ve been feeling this pull lately, this stretching of my spirit to do something…more. Not something else. Not something that isn’t still storytelling. But something more. Bigger. Greater.

For months, I’ve thought that it was my fears that were getting in the way, that my anxiety was the distraction, that my problems were caused by a lack of stamina and focus. Instead, what was getting in the way was this other voice. So faint I didn’t even realize it was there.

Maybe it wasn’t even a voice. Not in the beginning. Maybe it was more like a nudge. Move. Grow. Change. It’s okay. I am with you.

But I wasn’t listening. Because I thought I already knew the answers to those big, scary questions.

Who are you?

A writer.

Why are you here?

To tell stories.

Those answers are beautiful. They are admirable. But they are also wrong. Because they are incomplete.

Usually, when we think about our life’s purpose, we start at the macro level. We approach it with giant expectations and then we crush ourselves beneath the weight of never meeting them. If we’re a writer, we might think that we have to write a book as influential as Harry Potter. Something that cultivates the values and beliefs of an entire generation. Something that reaches the far ends of the earth. That makes us rich and famous.

But what if the key to unlocking our potential is thinking much, much smaller? Not thinking that our potential is small. Not thinking that our gifts are small. But small in the sense that we are snowflakes. That the pattern of purpose alive in me is different from the purpose that’s alive in you. That it’s the subtleties and nuance of our nature that allows us to have the greatest impact because that’s what allows us to connect with the specific people who need our gifts the most.

I think I’m starting to figure out my true gifts, and more importantly, who needs them the most. In other words, I am inching towards the real answers to those big, scary questions and as the answers loom on the horizon, I can already sense that they will be much bigger and much scarier than anything I could have ever imagined. But big and scary doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes big and scary means joy. Sometimes big and scary means freedom.

Big Scary Questions

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

olga-filonenko-29172-unsplash

There are two questions we must pursue at every stage, every crossroads, and every pain point of our lives.

Who am I? Why am I here?

These are big, scary questions, not because of the possibility that we may never find answers to them but because of the possibility that we may find answers that are just as big and scary. We are terrified of finding out we are powerful beyond our wildest dreams. Because somewhere, deep down, we already know it, and our fears, our pain, every ounce of our suffering surrounding our identities comes from regret. Our regrets about snuffing out our own greatness, of running from our destinies, of secretly wanting to be small because that’s where we think we’re most safe.

If the purpose of life was to stay safe then the Universe wouldn’t have zipped us into these flesh pockets that can be cut open and crushed, broken and bruised, burned and diseased. Instead, the Universe would have fashioned us out of something indestructible.

But walking that fine line between life and death is too important. It’s the predator lurking in the trees that makes our heart race, that spurs us forward, that forces us to run, run, run. Into the unknown. Into those big scary answers to all of our big scary questions.

Over the past month, I have been asking a lot of questions.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is that special gift that only I have and that the world so desperately needs? Why am I making art? Who am I making it for? What does my audience need? How can I use my unique skills and talents to solve their problems, to show them I care, to make the world a better place?

What I’ve discovered about myself and my meditative practice is that I love the big, scary questions. Do they terrify me? Absolutely. But rather than making me feel inadequate or insignificant, mulling over these questions has reminded me that I am neither of these things.

I am powerful. I am purposeful.

The daydreamer in me loves to ponder these things. To imagine all of the awesome ways I can use my gifts to help others. The daydreamer in me loves to visualize every detail of this potential. The daydreamer in me loves to distract me with these daydreams instead of pushing me to use them as fuel.

So, while the daydreamer in me is essential to helping me answer the big, scary questions, she is also my enemy when it comes to using those answers to take action. To live out those revelations in the here and now.

It’s not entirely her fault. My brain is an endless, awesome playground where I can easily get lost in my own ideas and innovations. It can also be a black hole of despair, the skies overhead darkening so fast that I don’t even realize there’s a storm until I’m drenched. It is a place to imagine, sure. To experiment. To test ideas. To ask those questions I want my work to help people answer. But it is not a place for building. There is no solid ground on which to construct anything real.

It’s not enough to find answers to those two big, scary questions: Who am I? Why am I here?

We must manifest the answers in the real world. We must take action and create in a tangible way that impacts people. We must live out the promises that have been planted in us, sowing the seeds of our gifts in places where those flowers can actually bloom.

Sewing the Perfect Safety Net

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

kendrew-schexnider-1124060-unsplash

Leaps of faith into the great unknown are necessary. But that doesn’t mean we don’t anticipate the leap or prepare for that moment in advance. It sounds good, in theory, to proceed with reckless abandon. Like the lead in a Hollywood blockbuster who tosses a grenade into their old life and then steps out of the wreckage shiny and new.

Unfortunately, real life is different. And if you suffer from anxiety like I do, real life isn’t just different, it’s also much more terrifying.

When Twitter exploded with commentary on this topic a few weeks ago, I felt incredibly validated by all of the working writers who basically said, “you don’t have to leap without a parachute to be brave.”

I’d been grappling with this notion for a few months. While I want to be stronger in my convictions and braver in the pursuit of my dreams, I also don’t want to put myself in emotional or psychological danger.

So, here’s what I’ve decided–I will leap. When my 18 months are up on this invisible contract I have made with the Universe, I will leap. I will trust. I will try at this thing in earnest and I won’t give up when things get hard. But in the meantime, I will do whatever I can to create a safety net for this proverbial leap. I will pay off my debt. I will save up a 6-month emergency fund. I will finish several books. I will take care of my physical and mental health.

In other words, I will work to mitigate as much risk as possible, not because I think all risk is bad. But because I know how too much risk affects my body. It makes me worry, which makes me sick, and when I’m in that state of mind I can’t create. Which totally negates the goal of being a full-time creative.

Mitigating as much risk as possible does not make me any less committed or any less brave. It doesn’t lessen my chances of success. In fact, it bolsters them. Because when you have a plan, a map, a step-by-step guide leading to your destination, you’re much more likely to actually get there.

Sure, we may take a few detours, get lost a few times along the way. But the path doesn’t disappear just because we wander off of it. Especially, if we’re the ones who laid the track in the first place. When we lay the track it becomes ingrained in us and when a thing is ingrained in us we can always find our way back to it.