“Am I doing enough? Am I enough?”
I sat curled up in a chair with those questions in my head, watching the sunlight fall exhaustedly between the buildings at days’ end as I looked out over the water. All of New York City stared back at me contemplatively from across the river. I sat there for hours, tucked away in a corner with my thoughts on a high floor of my neighborhood’s library. It was one of those rare moments where I actually took the time I needed to check in with myself.
Sometimes I would go to the library and climb to the highest floors just to be alone. New York City is constantly buzzing with people. Every corner is saturated with light and chaos and noise. I love this city. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But sometimes, you need space to think. The first and second floors of my neighborhood’s library are busy study areas. As you make your way to the higher floors, the books get dustier and the people fade into the background until it is completely empty and quiet.
I would wander through the shelves, passing mostly thick, dark green hard cover research books and look out the window as the waves broke against the docks below and the sunlight bounced off of the water, turning the sky into something like fireworks.
I didn’t love New York right away. I moved here after college. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I thought I was ready for a challenge. What I wasn’t ready for was the frequency with which I found myself curled up in my bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering how in the world no one else seems to feel this way.
I had moved through the motions seamlessly, received my diploma, took a job in New York, packed everything and moved away from home for the first time. For the first few months, it felt great to walk around my apartment and see the bills on the table knowing that I, somehow, was affording this all on my own. It was freeing to walk into my job in the city every morning and run through my neighborhood each night, thinking of how I created this new chapter of life for myself.
I envisioned life after college filled with late nights, laughing with friends over cocktails, making memories, climbing ladders at work and feeling more settled in who I am. I think I spent the first two years living in New York crying most nights.
Friends who had lived in the city for much longer encouraged me to stick it out.
“The first couple of years are the hardest,” they would say. “But the more you stay, the less you’ll want to leave.”
“That’s not true,” I thought. “I’ll never fit in here.”
I think the problem was that I rarely stopped to let myself figure out how I fit in, to give myself grace to try new things, make mistakes and discover who I am in New York City. Or at least who I wanted to be. As an introvert who is in my own head a lot, it’s not hard for me to compartmentalize certain emotions I don’t want to feel. It’s easier that way. So I pushed them aside and kept going.
But sitting in the library, I thought back to the previous year when I returned to my hometown for a short visit. My sister and I set out to find a good place to get dinner and talk. After every restaurant was too crowded, we decided to walk to the lake near my old elementary school and sit on a dock.
We talked for hours, listening to the crickets chirping and the water lapping against the rocks. It was the first time I opened up about the anxiety I felt after moving to New York. Every time I came back to visit, my hometown felt less like home and more like just the place where I grew up. I felt guilty about that for so long. When I finally started to accept New York as my new home, I felt guilty about that too.
There was a strange conflict between actually liking who I was becoming and the life I was building yet still feeling like I wasn’t accomplishing enough at my age. I felt like everyone had expectations of me, and I was letting them down. I felt like I had expectations too, and I was letting myself down. I felt like I didn’t have enough of a plan.
If I talked to anyone about how I felt, I expected to be met with the same dialogue I heard so often – that you need to move on. You need to grow up and make a plan. I realized I had internalized this anxiety for so long because I was convinced I needed to prove that I was in control of my life, and that meant relying on no one besides myself. But without giving in to relationships, my self-doubt only grew more isolating.
My sister listened as I talked and then said, “I’ve always been so proud of you.”
For me, that one sentence was instantly louder than all of the noise of a city that never sleeps.
The thing that’s great about love is it follows you outside of your routine. You can feel it in the warm sun on your face, in conversations with friends who challenge you, curled up in a chair on the top floor of a dusty library surrounded by books and research or sitting by the lake at midnight with your sister. There are reminders of beauty everywhere you turn.
The fact that someone could love me just the way I am and even be proud of me, and their love doesn’t hang on my accomplishments or failures, is so hard for me to understand.
I am enough. Those words mean so much to me in the rare moments I allow myself to believe them. As a perfectionist, this is a hard concept for me to grasp. I am always trying to achieve and portray the best image because I think that’s how I’ll get others to love and accept me.
I think this is partially because anxiety is good at convincing you no one will understand. That talking to someone about the difficult things, admitting you need a friend to lean on, means you’ve lost all willpower. That you’re not in control of your life anymore.
But it’s the opposite. Conversation, the realization you’re not alone, or something to break the isolation can go exponentially far in teaching you what being in control really is. It’s taking your life back from what has had a tight grasp on it for too long. It’s not letting these doubts thrive anymore in silence. It’s reaching out. Talking to someone. Sharing a story. Starting a conversation. That’s control.
This can simply mean letting yourself feel what you’re feeling, too. Sometimes that’s enough – that you allowed yourself to feel something and didn’t push it aside.
I think about that conversation with my sister often, and I remind myself it’s okay to take as much time as I need. It’s okay to stay still for a while. I don’t have all the answers, and some days are easier than others. But I do know that you shouldn’t be afraid to lean on someone when things get difficult. Love won’t put you back together as if you were never broken, but it can smooth the edges so they’re a little less jagged the next time you fall apart.
Who knows? Maybe someone has stood right where you are. Maybe they know how to brush the dust from your shoes and can show you where to take your first step. Maybe they can’t do either of those things, but they can point to the strength within yourself.
And maybe that will be enough to convince you it’s okay to take your time and feel the things you’re feeling. That control has a different definition. That perfection doesn’t need to be earned.
You’re already surrounded by it in the hearts of those who love you, and even in your weakest moments, their love will continue to whisper, “I’m proud of you. You are enough.”