My life is a far cry from perfect like most Thought Catalog consumers. However, on paper, I have a full life. Recently promoted with a raise, and surrounded by supporting romantic, platonic and familial partners, my life has finally started to resemble what I envisioned as a child dreaming up adulthood.
But behind the smoke and mirrors, some emotional baggage still looms.
One day, as I walked past my newly-minted moniker, feeling unsatisfied (I call it an ‘emotional itch’), I started planning a vacation exclaiming that I’ve always wanted to go to (insert destination). And then that pesky, little voice (voiced by Morgan Freeman) echoed through my entire hallow head, “Is this what you really want or are you escaping?”
I soon started applying this question to many aspects of my life. Aspects where I felt that emotional itch. Without noticing, with every answer and discovery, that itch subsided, and I began realizing just some (because there are plenty) of the things I was trying to escape from.
Sure, on a level, I absolutely have chosen to spend whole paychecks on airfare and tours because I wanted to be educated, to see beautiful images, and to be able to lie on my death bed with one less regret. And those are all valid and fine reasons. I am also pushed to leave my city because on a subconscious level, I think I will leave my skin and life in the process. Just as someone who is intoxicated with alcohol, I consume myself with wanderlust to mask pain, and to run from it and its effects. I’ve noticed a pattern in my behavior over the years; something bad happens, book a ticket somewhere. The vacations are nice, but I always return home to the same problems and wake up in the same skin. I need to exchange that plane ticket for a reality check: you can play hide-and-seek with your demons, but eventually you will have to come out, come out wherever you are.
I must acknowledge that it’s OKAY to be a work-in-progress, and to work through a process of emotions. (Plus, apologizing for past mistakes, taking responsibility for my actions, and working towards being a person I am proud of is way less expensive and way more rewarding than running away.)
Class isn’t something as intriguing, heated or discussed as race or gender equality (and arguably, it shouldn’t be) but class is a major part of one’s identity. In fact, it has caused a personal identity confliction for me as I am a black woman but was presented with just as much nepotism, wealth, and opportunity as my white peers. (But the whole “acting white/Oreo/’Blask-ish’” conversation is a think piece for another day.) With class, particularly when upper-middle class, there is a stigma of ignorance, navel-gazing, oblivion and consumption. I hate it. But I understand it. And so, I try to fight it. Sometimes, I find myself overcompensating (er, escaping) to great lengths to dissolve any association with any of those words. My schedule; past, present and future, is booked with philanthropic events and volunteer work. My inbox is congested with “Thank You for Your Donation” subject lines. I attempt to be eco-friendly, and am rarely caught wearing designer labels. While some charities and organizations (dealing with cancer and sexual assault) are personal and extraordinarily close to my heart, I know that some of this social responsibility and consciousness is really an effort to spit the silver spoon out of my mouth and disband the road to being a trophy wife or another “unaware, privileged suburban kid.”
Trying to change a community is admirable; trying to change my heritage is impossible (and silly.) Sticking with the organizations and work close to my heart is fine, but if I am just writing particular checks just to prove a point or serve an ego, I am no better than the housewife who volunteers solely for the recognition or successful business that donates just for the tax break.
My father recently asked me, “What are you most proud of?” He was soon met with a beauty pageant answer that would satisfy his inquiry, but I later pondered the question and only looked up from a short list. Things like graduating college, achieving promotions, securing leadership positions in organizations, learning new trades were things mostly ignited from social pressures and the neuroticism of what it meant if I didn’t accomplish those things. I was escaping the possibility of disappointment and not “using my full potential.”
Frankly, I am most proud when I finish a Netflix series, perfect a new baking recipe, and make it through a workout class or read a classic novel I merely Spark-noted in high school. Those things, the things I truly want, are so simple; stripped of pressures, absent of pain, and things not worth boasting about on social media. (Though I do Instagram my baking successes. I have no shame in being that girl.)
So, hey, I know the internal man vs. himself battle of ‘Who am I living for?’ is no groundbreaking revelation. (Nor is a twenty-something trying to ‘escape’ stigma, demons or societal pressures.) It’s something that every person, millennial or not, experiences on a daily level. Hell, it’s the very synopsis of most “GIRLS” episodes. Some can easily answer this question with “Myself,” and I envy those people. I believe these people to be the happiest people and most at peace. I am currently, though steadily, making strides to becoming that person. One way is by asking the simple question, “Do I actually want this or am I just escaping that?”
Sometimes the answer surprises me. And I’m taking it from there….