If you’ve suffered from the curse of comparing yourself to your peers to the point of near sickness, then this article is for you. If you know that the dictionary defines inadequacy as feeling “insufficient for a purpose,” then read on, though I could never define your purpose for you. Purpose is as individual as it is integral.
But read this anyway.
Read this if you’ve found yourself seized by apathy. Read this if you’ve fallen into the habit of forgetting to feed your own needs and to nourish your own soul. Read this if you’ve ever felt alone in a crowded room, if you’ve felt the pang of loneliness even with your partner next to bed in you at night. Read this if you look around you and feel resentment bubbling in the pit of your stomach at the thought of all the pretty, happy people. Read this if you’d rather swap bodies with someone, anyone.
Read this if you’d rather not be on your own.
But my life is not clear. Neither is yours. We drive, it seems, with a steady layer of ash on our windshields. It’s a wonder our respective licenses haven’t been taken away. We’ve swerved to avoid a porcupine, or a pothole. A tree. The deer in the road. The people and the places which have governed our names and, by extension, how we view ourselves.
We graduate: To clear skies and open streets. Or so it would seem. But the battle rages on in your brain, unnoticed by your friends, your family, your neighbors, your colleagues, your peers—the very same people you’ve silently rallied against, the very same folks who’ve carved out the nexus of your every self-condemning thought. You punish yourself for feeling this way. But you punish yourself when, on one of your good days, you find yourself possessed by a motivation long since foreign, and look back on all the time you “could have” done this and “should have” done that, think of Jenny from high school or Matt from Psych 101 and their nearly identical paths from college to internships to the career of their dreams, and think to yourself, “Nothing I do is enough,” and in an instant, you feel insufficient for a purpose.
I write this for you, whoever you may be.
I write this on a crisp November day. This is the time of year when the cold blooms and wedges itself into the marrow of your bones.
This is the hardest time of year in which to face your self doubt because the holidays (not to mention the gatherings so quintessential to them) are right around the corner. These gatherings will be marked by faces you’ve missed (and probably some that you haven’t) and the pressure to demonstrate an ingrained sense of poise is tantamount to the unease you feel when your ruthless self-criticism leaves you with everything but poise, let alone grace. You look around, all the while stuffing yourself with turkey and mashed potatoes and all the trimmings of the annual holiday meal and resent the prodding, invasive questions—“How’s work?” “How’s that book coming along?” “Did you know I’m going to be studying abroad this spring?” “Hi, we haven’t really met before, but what is it that you do?”—all the while thinking how sad it is that you could know someone your whole life but see so little of them that every year that you see them for X number of hours during the holiday gathering is an exercise in how to make another great first impression. And it pains you.
You are reading this because you want to know you are not alone. I am here to tell you, to implore you to not cast aside something with the potential to lift you from the stench of the rot you’ve accustomed yourself with. I do not ask much of you. I am patient and I am kind. Although it may sound like I’m tooting my own horn, I let it ring to spite certain scorn that I’ve accustomed myself with.
I want you to spite it.
Ask yourself: What am I good at?
I want you to fight it.
Tell yourself: There are people who appreciate me, even love me, even when I feel I am at my lowest.
And if there aren’t any, if there truly aren’t any, if you’ve been so unfortunate, then I want you to know that I see you and that I am sorry.
But you are not alone.
You have this article.
Tell yourself: I am worthy. I owe everyone, particularly myself, most of all myself, the best of myself, not the most functional version of myself.
Because you aren’t merely comparing yourself to other people in the hopes of molding yourself to their narrative of success. You are also comparing yourself to the version of yourself which has attained all that you chastise yourself for not having, whether it’s money, a nicer home, a better career and connections or simply the company of more dependable family and friends. You do this, all the while forgetting that this version of yourself has succeeded despite every unrealistic expectation you’ve thrown its way. It is simultaneously who you want to be and who you can’t be. And you do this, all the while ignorant of the complicated system of privileges and happenstance which has contributed to each individual’s narrative. You do this, all the while losing sight of yourself in the process.
But as creatures of habit, we must carry on. We have self awareness. That awareness increases the possibility of happiness on an exponential level. And to exercise that awareness is a habit in itself.
Do something every day. Do something that you like. Do something that you love. Do something that reminds you that you are more than your job, your vocation, or lack of one. Do this no matter your station in life. Do this to absorb the past, the hours badly spent. Do this to remember that you have value.
Read this knowing it will not make you feel sufficient.
Read this knowing these words are not a pill you can take, or a regimen to undergo to remove yourself from the nagging of that little voice in your head. Read this and know you need to reflect.
But read this and know that it’s a start. Read this and know that that’s better than nothing.