What do you measure yourself by? Your bank account? Your job? Your “stuff”? The number of people you know and/or know you? Your accomplishments? Whether you’re meeting and checking the timeline and timetable of society’s social requirements for who you should be? All of the above?
It’s hard not to feel like life is some sort of race. After all, if there is one thing all of us can agree is a limited resource, it’s time. And because of our uncertain relationship with how much time we have, we can feel that what we want, what we aspire to do or own or be, can only be achieved within the frame of this limited resource – time.
There’s a pressure in being cognizant of time. A pressure that causes us to look at ourselves and compare our lives to others’ – even with limited information. A pressure that at times makes us resent our circumstances, present or past. A pressure that can feel crippling and infuriating and unjust. And sometimes it can feel that no matter how hard we try, how hard we fight, how much we work, and how badly we want it – we’re just not there.
There is a place, that though mostly is a figment of our imagination, it feels as real as anything tangible. There is the place that we dream of, the place we tell ourselves that our happiness and desires can finally be realized. There is the place, we think, we will be satisfied and full and accomplished.
The reality of there, however, is that it always seems to change. The more success you have, the more you’ll likely want. The closer you are to the life of your fantasies, the greater those fantasies become. It’s human nature but it’s also simple economics: human wants are insatiable. And especially when you’re young and privileged and bright and have been told the world is at your feet, you work for and hope for and want all those things the world said you could be.
But experience hits you. The reality of what it takes to be those things in spite of your talent or hard work or circumstance, hits you. And it hits you over and over again, each time chipping away at those dreams and desires. But you resist, after all you’re young, and you’re resilient. Still, no matter how much hope you hold onto, you question: Can I really do this? Is it really worth it? Am I just not good enough?
That question can be crippling – “Am I just not good enough?” But I wonder, good enough for what? Good enough for the societal standards we are all meant to live by? Good enough for the aspirations you have set your heart on? Good enough to be the person that you’d always said you were meant to become?
The truth is maybe you are and maybe you aren’t. Especially when it comes to society’s arbitrary rules on who you should be and what you should want, and how your dreams fit into all of this. It’s difficult to know whether to call it quits and find a new dream, or whether to keep fighting the good fight. It’s difficult when you know the odds are against you, or that “the rules” are designed to make winners and losers, or that luck exists, or that life is unfair and unevenly cruel. It’s difficult, in spite of the words of poets and artists and intellectuals, to believe that your dreams can really come true. Instead it feels more than anything else, that all dreams have done, is made you crippled with anxiety and dissatisfied with life. What does one do in these moments?
One thing that helps me in such moments is to focus on the task at hand. I’ve learned to focus on what I can do today every time I feel crippled by fear and anxiety and the unrelenting desire to be more than I am. Because the truth is that we must put in the work, but we must never be so pompous as to believe that the work in and of itself is enough to get us where we want to be. We are not in charge of it all, and that’s not superstition, that’s fact. We might need someone to take a chance on us, someone to believe in us, a stroke of luck, or the intervention of divine providence. And knowing this can be freeing, it can be the liberty you need to do your very best, while knowing that the world too must do its part.
Above all, the thing I find the most helpful when I feel defeated is to remember the previous time I felt like this. The last time I thought I wasn’t good enough, the last time I felt crippled by fear and anxiety of not being good enough – did I not survive it? Is it just not a temporary feeling like anything else? Indeed it was, indeed it is.
Chances are, as I realized in those times, when you think of time and there and experience, and the reality of how much is in your hands, and how much is not, you need to remember that even in those moments of what feels like crippling defeat or failure or the feeling that you are not enough – you’re probably doing much better than you think. And should you ever forget that, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of yourself breathing; that reminder of your life force. My dear friend, that is hope, and as long as that remains, you are enough.