I graduated high school exactly 10 years ago today.
I had a very specific plan for myself back then.
- Go to VCU, study advertising.
- Stay for my master’s at the Brandcenter.
- Move to New York, work in advertising and become a creative director.
And in following these plans, in doing The Good Things, The Right Things, I would finally be Happy. I would finally be Whole.
It did not go that way at all. It went the opposite of that way.
I crashed and burned and put my life on pause while I watched my friends and peers do and be All The Things I thought were in store for me.
I sat in doctors’ offices waiting rooms and took online classes and had daily panic attacks and prayed and cried and hoped and waited—there was so much waiting. There is still a lot of waiting. There will likely always be waiting. But my younger self longed for relief and understanding and doubted it would ever arrive. I felt empty and there were days I was convinced that if you sliced me open, you’d find out there was nothing left inside.
It all worked out eventually—with the remission from depression, the POTS diagnosis, the getting the job, the moving out, the this, the that—but to this day I still can’t shake that feeling of,
“I should be more.”
It hangs over my head every minute. I’m having trouble believing that millennials can’t afford to buy houses because every damn day a person I know buys a house and gets engaged and finishes grad school and has a baby and what have I done?
I should make more money, I should be skinnier, I should be in a serious relationship, I should be more successful in my career, I should be prettier, I should have better clothes, I should be financially independent—
I know the real answer to these shoulds is in the way my therapist looks at me—with this all-knowing, soft smile of compassion and a light in her eyes. She tilts her head to the side and down at me and gently says, “now, what do you think I’m going to say to you?” which lately means, “look at the data in front of you.” Look at how far you’ve come, look at what you do have, look at how loved you are, look at your successes. She said to me last week that she wants me to have a “fuller notion” of my life’s story, to give more credence to the goodness of my life’s story, because there is so much good. I can loosen the emphasis on the painful parts, it’s the perfect time to give myself that gift.
It’s something I have been a lot better at doing. But I need more practice.
Practice is the answer to the shoulds.
Practice telling myself, data suggests that you’re very well liked and have a lot going for you when the intrusive thoughts invade.
Practice telling myself, you made new plans and they turned out great.
Practice telling myself, you deserve the goodness of the world.
I’m moving to Chicago this fall. I absolutely cannot wait. I’m giving myself the gift of something new and something scary and something exciting and I can’t wait to be there.
10 years later, my life looks nothing like the one I planned for myself as an 18-year-old.
But I turned out pretty alright.