Updated on June 15, 2017
Words have not come easily to me this past year. A rough copy of this post has sat open on my computer for the past few months and, after rewrite upon rewrite, I’m still not sure if I’ve come any closer to finishing.
While I’ve yet to fully process all I hope to say, I know it’s finally time to let go of this post, if only to put an end to the incessant self-reflection followed by waves of anxiety that is not good for the soul. Indeed, when the thing that should bring joy instead brings shame, something’s definitely wrong. And unfortunately, many times that something is the sandy foundation upon which you’ve built your entire being.
What I mean to say in these words I’m not saying very clearly at all is this: I messed up. I set myself up for failure…for heartbreak…for tears.
* * *
Since I was a child, I’ve been too afraid to dream for the things I felt I didn’t deserve.
That which began as a seemingly harmless defense against cripplingly low self-esteem, led to my descent into a world of black and white. A world where, more than anything else, the fear I was “nothing” (i.e. a social outcast) drove me to be “something” (i.e. a good student) at any cost.
Throughout high school, I became preoccupied with earning the highest marks, taking advanced classes, and attending a college known for its intellectual rigor. My sense of worth became inextricably linked to how I felt I was perceived on an academic level.
My obsession soon distorted my love of learning; anxiety left me worried I would never be “good enough,” and depression kept me from achieving all that I could. In college, rather than devoting extra time to studying and visiting professors during office hours, I lay in bed as I lost myself in a trance of white walls and self pity. Despite such behavior, I repeatedly cast judgment on those who didn’t earn degrees written in latin from highly ranked institutions with even higher price tags.
In the three years since graduating college, I have felt completely and totally out of my element, the result of intentionally removing myself from any sort of academic environment. Unfortunately, three years wasn’t enough to fully distance myself from my beloved idol. Although my desire to prove myself in such a way had remained temporarily dormant, it was too easily awakened the minute I decided to pursue a graduate school education. Once again, I became so single-mindedly focused on my goal that life became less about living and more about achieving.
And achieving I did. I studied for months, successfully mastered the content of the required standardized test, and composed polished and passionate essays, all with the single intent of getting into one of those fancy schools. You know, the kind of school that causes people to look at you differently, as if you suddenly were some sort of demigod…as if you were “something.”
And about those sandy foundations? Well, they’re not very supportive…
* * *
It both pains and relieves me to admit this: April came and went and I got into grad schools, just not any of those bastions of privilege I felt would make me something.
Life-shattering. I spent the month afflicted by a laundry list of mysterious illnesses, caused not only by the loss of what could have been, but also by what was. With hope for one of the only things I’d ever dreamed of annihilated (pardon the drama, but it pretty accurately describes my state of mind), I couldn’t help but turn my thoughts to all the things I was too afraid to dream for over the years:
Feeling a part of something…
Feeling a whole lot of things…each somehow reflective of my relationship (or more appropriately, the lack thereof) with the dreaded “social world.”
While I had previously contemplated opening myself to such feelings a little over two years ago, my “need to be something” trumped any desire I had to change. However, now, with the hope of becoming all that I once had prided myself in extinguished, I’ve slowly begun to see my idol as what it is: a lie.
In it’s place, I’m learning to accept the truth that’s sometimes only evident in the wake of trial. The truth that’s unearthed the lie of a single path to success. It reminds me of the great divide between the attributes others most admire in me and those which I’ve misattributed as the source of my worth.
Although at times I’m still tempted to resurrect my idol and postpone graduate school as I wait another year and apply yet again to “better” schools, I’m finally able to recognize the differences between running towards and running away.
As I move forward, I want my passions to overpower any need I may still have to prove myself. I want to shatter my world of black and white. I want to once again entertain big dreams for things that once felt like merely cruel taunts.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would, regardless of whether you dared to dream or were too paralyzed to even entertain such a thought.
Will you continue to run from your past, or will you finally run toward your future? The choice is yours.