Enough is Enough

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who expressed her fear that she wasn’t “doing enough.” As a twenty-something also navigating the pressures of career changes, familial expectations, and uncertainty over the future and my role in this big wide world, I knew the exact feeling she was talking about. Deep rooted anxiety over not accomplishing “enough,” having “enough,” and being “enough,” have plagued me since I was a child. As soon as I felt like I was finally on the right level, I’d let something (or someone) diminish my accomplishments. After years of this, I realized that no matter what I did,I would always feel this way if I judged success solely by actions. 

Living in the “gind” generation, most of us define our worth in terms of work. She’s successful because she runs her own company; he isn’t successful because he’s a waiter. He’s worthy because he’s an engineer; she isn’t worthy because she’s a sales associate. This hierarchy or worth doesn’t lead us upwards to happiness or satisfaction. More often than not, it takes us down a never-ending ladder of hopelessness, exacerbated by our constant judging of everyone else’s placement on the ladder in relation to our own. 

As I  talked my friend off the ladder with reassurance that she was already enough, I remembered being in her position not so long ago–and if I’m being honest with myself, I have a tendency to teeter on that ladder whenever my ego feels belittled, especially when I see someone else doing “better” than me. “I should be doing that,” I tell myself, turning off my intuition and turning on that stubborn little voice of fear and comparison. Eventually, a hike in the woods taught me how to silence those voices. 

Taking in the beauty of the trees–the moss that covered the trunks, the splintered bark blanketing the body, the sunlight glistening through the cracks of the limbs–I felt the contentment and simplicity of that tree. It wasn’t doing anything–it was just existing. And that existence looked so peaceful, so euphoric. As I continued my way up the mountain, I allowed myself to exist the same way that tree did, not thinking about my steps but just experiencing the journey. At the top, my spirit basked in the warmth of the sun and sang with the songs of the birds. It was one of the most profound feelings I had experienced, and the first time I realized that feeling is just as important as doing

It wasn’t the physical act of climbing the mountain that I remembered–I didn’t say, “Wow, those were some great steps I took!” It was the feeling behind those steps that stuck out. That isn’t to say that the physicality of the journey wasn’t important, because it was–but would I say it was more important than the sensation of the hike? Absolutely not. And the same goes for our everyday life–what’s the point of doing something if we’re not feeling anything? As Kerouac once said, “In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Go climb that goddamn mountain.” 

It breaks my heart that my friend doesn’t think she’s enough–that she needs to do more in order to be valued, to be successful. But success isn’t just about what we’ve accomplished; life isn’t a to-do list. If the spiritual experience behind the action isn’t bringing awareness or love–do we need to do it? And how can we shift our focus from the physical results of action to the emotional ones?  

I Contain Multitudes

One of my favorite Whitman quotes from Song of Myself goes like this: 

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well then, I contradict myself, 

(I am large, I contain multitudes) 

When I first read this in high-school, I remember feeling a little flutter in my chest as if my heart was bouncing up and down and singing “Yes, yes yes!” You know that feeling when the sunrise hits the dew on the grass just the right way and what was once another lifeless lawn in a row of suburban monotony becomes a forest of sparkles? Or when the sky turns that creamsicle orange at sunset? That’s the feeling I had reading this poem. I couldn’t name it– and that made it all the more special. All I knew was I felt everything; I could feel my whole soul in between those parentheses.

Whitman’s bold declaration of contradicting himself is something few of us have the courage to do. Most of us hate being wrong; we hate having our inconsistencies pointed out; we hate contradictions because we hate opposition. Opposition is viewed as inherently “bad.” In order for something to be “good,” we think it should be consistent. It should be logical, linear, and coherent. Even though we live in this winding multiverse of space and time, our brains are so hardwired to think chronologically that we can’t fathom any disruption to this false sense of symmetry we’ve confined the universe to. 

If we acknowledge that the world around us is multidimensional then, we, as the inhabitants of this cosmic playground, are also multidimensional–so why try to contain ourselves to one way of being throughout our existence? If we contain multitudes, as Whitman says, then shouldn’t it make sense that our very being is filled with what we perceive as contradictions? We don’t question why winter turns to spring or why the moon wanes and waxes. We know there’s a reason for these transformations and that life as we know it wouldn’t exist without such. We also know that there is plenty we don’t know–why is the expansion of the universe accelerating? And why does it exist in the first place? Each new discovery leads us down an infinite rabbit hole of questions and each question forces us to reevaluate our previous answer. For us humans, life is nothing but a series of paradoxes and contradictions. The minute we think we have it figured out, we’re thrown a curveball; and since we’ve been programmed for linearity, we call it foul-play. We think we’ve struck out. 

What I love most about Whitman here is his acute self-realization. To study one’s self is daunting, precisely because it leads to these so-called contradictions. But getting caught in these mysterious webs of identity and existence can actually be freeing. To swing from rope to rope is much easier (and enjoyable)  than walking across the tightrope: we tip-toe anxiously from point A to point B struggling to maintain balance. Baby step after baby step, we stare down at our feet, scared to look up; we think falling is fatal because we don’t know what lies beneath us– and there’s nothing we resist more than the unknown.  So while our eyes are focused on what’s below, trying to make our movements precise and almost robotic, we miss the outstretched hand in front of us. We miss the comforting beauty that envelopes us like a warm embrace. We spend our whole lives scared to fall, scared to change, and never realize that there’s a net at the bottom waiting to catch us when we fall. 

We’re allowed to be contradictions. We’re allowed to change like the leaves and tide. Every moment in time is different and our failure to recognize this leaves us feeling stuck on that tightrope. If we are truly present, we can embrace that uniqueness of each moment, meaning we can exist as we should according to the here and now. If others don’t understand, simply say, “I contain multitudes.”

Amazon.com: I Exist as I am, That is Enough Walt Whitman Song of Myself  Poem (18 x 24, Parchment): Posters & Prints

Chutes, Ladders, and Loans: Playing the Game of Life

Working in childcare has completely changed how I view adulthood. Being around these tiny humans is exhausting, invigorating, frustrating, humorous, and rewarding, all at once. To see the world from a six-year-old’s eyes is to see it through a kaleidoscope of vivid colors, imagination, and, more than anything–endless fun. As I listened to my students’ stories from our writing class in all their incoherent and bizarre glory (The Potato King’s tragic bludgeoning-to-death by a jealous watermelon, leaving him in a puddle of mashed potatoes and gravy may be my favorite), I was amazed at how easy it was for them to have fun, how unabashedly silly and strange they were. Even the most mundane tasks could be turned into something playful. How can I be like that again? I wondered. How can I get back to seeing life as something meant to be fun? And at what point did I stop seeing it that way?

We teach kids to learn about life through games, but we don’t do the same for adults despite the fact that life is essentially one giant board game. You move back two spaces when you draw the wrong card, you roll a dice and move forward according to the number—and all the while, you laugh. Maybe you win, maybe you lose; either way, you enjoy the game. You lost your Monopoly money? Oh well. Better luck next time. But for now, you are so absorbed in the game that nothing outside of it matters. And while it may seem like the other players are opponents, you become closer to them through this shared experience of play. 

But something happens to the game if you take it too seriously. It’s no longer enjoyable—you can’t wait for it to be over already. You’re either obsessed with winning or completely apathetic. The more I thought about it, I realized this is what’s happened to not only me, but a majority of people who call themselves “adults,” a label I’ve been reluctant to give myself. And why have I been so hesitant to call myself an adult? Because I’ve been taught that being an adult isn’t fun. It’s supposed to suck. It’s hard, thankless, and above all—it’s painfully serious. 

We come into the world as curious and playful beings, but seeds of shame and inadequacy are planted in our heads at a young age until they grow into Venus Fly Traps, devouring moments of simplicity and turning them into complex problems. We torture ourselves by creating problems out of what is nothing more than a game; and instead of playing the game, we see it as something that needs be “solved.” We grow frustrated and disheartened when we can’t find the solution because we’re incapable of accepting that there is no “solution”—nothing needs to be fixed; it simply needs to be experienced. Life has given us an invitation to participate in this universally connected game, and instead of accepting the invitation as we should, we dismiss it as unimportant.

Limited Edition Alan Watts Poster

With each passing year, we shed our childish behaviors to become mature and adult-like; “stop acting like a child,” we tell our partners or colleagues, the connotation being that behaving in a childish manner is unacceptable. So while we lock our toys in their chest and bury our dreams and interests in the sandbox, we strive to distance our “adult” selves from our former selves in the name of “growth”— but are we really growing? After all, plenty of adults cling to the negative mental and emotional patterns of their youth that have gone unresolved and are deemed as upstanding adults by societal standards. In this attempt to “grow up,” we think we must forsake that innate desire for fun and play. Bills need to be paid, mouths must be fed, beds need to be made…these are all “serious” things and therefore we must treat them as such; and because of this, we come to despise the cards we’ve been dealt. It isn’t fair I got this one while she got an ace. It isn’t right I got this piece of the puzzle, it’s too hard to find where it fits. We grow resentful of the game and say, “This isn’t fun anymore!” when the reality is that we’re the ones who stripped it of fun by constantly trying to control where the dice lands. But what if we accepted it? What if we stopped judging ourselves for our place on the gameboard with the understanding that we land exactly where we need to? So what’s the point in rushing? Maybe you lose a round but say, “Alright, I lost this time, but I had fun. Let’s play again.” And maybe you have to do that over and over—but it never gets boring because there are countless ways to play, countless outcomes, countless possibilities. You start at zero with a few fellow players, but some fall behind and some bounce ahead. Maybe you catch up to them later, maybe you outpace them. If the game has taught you anything, it’s that nothing is permanent—you can go back to square one in the blink of an eye and you can land on a bonus square just as quickly. The game wouldn’t be fun if you reached the end straight away. Easy may be quick, but it’s boring.

I find it strange that we spend most of our childhood playing and then abandon it by the time we reach a certain age. Shouldn’t we continue playing the game, but this time better? Shouldn’t the game become more fun as it gets more challenging? Sure, it’s not Candyland, but would you really want it to be? We tend to think childhood was better because it was easier. We long for a return to the “simple days,” but maybe childhood was better for some of us simply because we approached it with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. Why do we see play as inextricably tied to childhood but not adulthood? And how can we hang on to that spark inside of us that sees the magic in this game of life?

Late Bloomer

I’ve always felt behind–in work, in school, in relationships…my life seemed to move in slow motion while everyone around me moved at a breakneck speed. I was that kid who finished the mandatory school mile last (ironically I just finished my first half-marathon in pretty good timing, if I do say so myself.) I hit puberty when most of my peers were already halfway through that hormonal rollercoaster of acne and braces –I grew an inch in college and didn’t lose my baby fat until a year ago, although I was recently told by a bartender that he thought I was sixteen (I’m twenty-three.) While my friends were entering relationships with soon to be ex-boyfriends, I was still collecting American Girl Dolls and pretending to be a Revolutionary War hero with my gal pal Felicity. I remember lying about having my first kiss during a round of truth or dare when I was fifteen because admitting I was a kissing virigin would be social suicide. I might as well become a nun, I told myself. Time was running out. 

The older I get, the more I worry about being “behind.” Looking around and seeing my friends or other people my age get engaged or land their dream job set off some internal timer that led me to fast-forward certain parts of my life so I could feel “caught up.” How can she already have all that while I have nothing? I found myself asking after stalking some Instagram influencer who just bought a house after travelling the world. Rather than letting her achievement inspire me, I succumbed to a discouraging spell of internal doom. It’s too late for me, I sighed in my millennial melodramatic fashion. The distance from where I am to where I want to be seems terrifyingly long and the time to get there feels impossibly short. All the could’ves and should’ves and maybes and what if’s hounded me like the Grecian furies as I lie awake at night asking the same questions:

  1. “Why is everyone else so far ahead of me?”
  2. “Is it too late to completely start over?”
  3. “How can I get to where I want to be as quickly as possible?”

Eventually I started looking for shortcuts. I did things carelessly and apathetically because I was in a rush, only to find that it set me back to the starting line. Ever head the saying “there are no shortcuts to any place worth going?” Wise words. The older I get, the more I actually start to believe them. We want everything fast and we want it instantly–dating apps promise us quick relationships, detox teas magically give us flat stomachs, same-day delivery gives us everything we want at the press of a button. Much to my surprise, life isn’t like Amazon Prime and I do not get what I want in guaranteed two-day delivery. Bummer.

I’m still learning to accept that time is not the enemy, that there are no expiration dates on my dreams, that half the fun of the destination is in the journey. But that’s really hard when you compare your story to everyone else’s. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Furtick is “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” We see the beautiful mansion but we don’t see the work that went into laying every brick. Maybe some people can lay bricks faster than me, and that’s ok–it doesn’t make me any less valid or successful. I remember the first time I drove up a steep mountain in Wilma. Wilma is my little Acura TSX and let’s just say that, with almost 300,000 miles on her, she’s not as fast as she once was and I certainly don’t feel comfortable slamming the gas while making sharp turns on the edge of a mountain. While I was moving at a pace that I felt was safe and normal, a truck ran up on me and started tailing me. I grew anxious and even embarrassed–I sped up dramatically to keep him off my ass, but knew I would be reckless to keep going that speed. I slowed down and reminded myself that there’s no need to rush, we’re both going to get where we’re headed, and better yet, we’ll get there alive. Eventually I found an overlook to pull over at and let the truck pass. All my insecurities and fears about time feel like that truck pushing me into things that I know aren’t good for me–decisions that may be reckless or sloppy, things that I may not be ready for yet but will be eventually. 

My mother used to call me a late bloomer, a label I scorned for most of my life because it only inflamed my insecurity. Now I wear that label proudly and playfully as I laugh while finishing last place. I’m learning to appreciate my own journey, the ebb and flow of it in all its setbacks and victories, the slow momentum of change from baby steps to miles. A song called “Late Bloomer” by the Secret Sisters came on my Spotify shuffle the other day and it’s become an anthem of mine. The ending line of the chorus goes, “It doesn’t matter when you bloom, it matters that you do.” I know I will, someday. 

Keeping track and counting down again, I’m overdue

Watching everyone around get there before I do

Looking in the mirror at this body that we trace

But looking out the window, late bloomers on parade

-Secret Sisters

What Are Your Bumper Stickers?

I was having dinner with friends when the conversation quickly turned to politics. As a motley crew of differing experiences and opinions, it didn’t take long for a passionate argument to break out (especially after a few drinks had given some of us false courage). I sat back and listened to my friends loudly exchange views, observing how the energy of the entire table shifted from jovial to defensive. Every disagreement was taken as a personal attack. Feelings got hurt and the somber silence that pierced the room after the last shots were fired sobered us all up. 

As I drove home that night, I wondered why we were all unable to talk about important things without becoming angry. Our egos were so attached to certain labels and ideas that we couldn’t separate our identities from it.  Deeply wounded, our egos tried to protect and defend themselves through negative reactions like yelling, crying, or retreating. As I passed a car completely covered with bumper stickers like “My cat is a Democrat!” and “Yale Dad,” I couldn’t help but wonder if all these labels we stick on ourselves are really just cover-ups for who we actually are. 

Political labels are just one of the many bumper stickers we plaster on ourselves, but it got me thinking about what other things I falsely identify with. When I got home that night, I made a list of all the words I use to define myself. I didn’t realize that I had spent nearly an hour coming up with over a hundred words scribbled frantically across multiple pages of my notebook–words like “ Environmentalist, Runner, Writer, Vegetarian, Feminist, American.” Then there were names and places and past experiences that I still heavily identified with, some positive and some extremely negative. I realized I was still carrying the weight of past relationships, mistakes, and pain that I had subconsciously attached myself to. The list went on and on until I felt like there was nothing more to write about myself. At the same time, I knew something huge was missing. These words didn’t seem to accurately capture who I was. As I read them out loud, they sounded empty and superficial. I felt like that minivan covered with bumper stickers and wondered if that’s how other people saw me–as someone hiding under an ambush of labels. 

We live in a society that constantly tries to label and compartmentalize everything. That isn’t to say that all labels are inherently bad–being able to name certain things can be very empowering and help us realize we are not alone. Words can be powerful tools for understanding our personality and behavioral patterns, but they are in no way representative of our inner being. The problem now is that we’re more concerned with defining than being. As a writer, my initial instinct is to give a name to everything–every thought, emotion, experience, I want to describe through words. When I can’t find the right ones, I grow frustrated and disappointed. As I tried to capture my true essence, I couldn’t think of a single noun or adjective that accurately described me because there isn’t one. I am not a noun or an adjective. I’m not an -ist. I can’t fit into an Instagram bio or dating profile. My inner state cannot be defined, it is only something that can be felt.  Every now and then I get brief, beautiful glimpses of that perfect state through meditation. Sometimes when I’m in nature I feel it; sometimes it comes just from listening to a certain song. We’ve all had those encounters where we meet ourselves and experience the joy of simply existing, but worldly distractions pull us away from that state. Leaning to disassociate from these distractions is challenging, especially in today’s world of social media, political upheaval, and consumerism. If we stopped buying into these distractions, society as we know it could not exist.

Whenever I grow defensive, I ask myself why I am reacting that way. It’s usually because my ego feels threatened and desperately needs to prove that it’s right. I’ve damaged many relationships this way and I’m guessing some of you also have. Telling my ego to take a backseat has not been easy, but it has made my life a lot less stressful. Our minds have tricked us into believing that we are our ego, which is why we feel the constant need to identify with the outside world. The more we remind ourselves that we are not bumper stickers, the more we can connect with our true and eternal Self. 

What labels do you falsely identify with? What do you look like when you take them away? How do you untangle yourself from the ego’s webs?

Atlantis

A permanent hangnail,

a loose tooth my tongue can’t stop poking—

the question tickles the back of my brain until I scratch so hard it bleeds.

I laugh at myself for trying to measure infinity in teaspoons,

for enslaving myself to words like 

“daughter” or “American” or “Pisces.” 

I became my own shadow,

a shape-shifting silhouette in a hurry to read the last page of an unwritten book. 

In drunkenness I find clarity

that is perhaps too obvious to see—

a child’s laughter as ice cream drips down his chin,

dewdrops on the baseball field before sunrise,

the homeless man who feeds pigeons in the park…

Scientists don’t know why Venus spins backwards 

(does she even know?) 

I remind myself to stop searching for Atlantis.