Doing the Work: If Most of the Time You Don’t Because It’s not “Good Enough”

FeaturedDoing the Work: If Most of the Time You Don’t Because It’s not “Good Enough”

I am a solid millennial.

When people complain and complain about the millennial generation I know if they’re being accurate based on just how much shame I am feeling about the topic at hand. I’m not on the border. I’m not kind of an x-er or really of a different category. I fit the bill. Guilty.

Oh, also I own a house, have 3 kids, and paid off my student debt years ago. Not that you have to have done those things to be a millennial, I’m just pointing out a place where the stereotype doesn’t hold up.

It doesn’t. Because I am solidly a millennial, I promise you. I love avocado toast. For reals. I mean have you HAD avocado toast?

But more than the avocado toast, I grew up thinking several things.

1. It was imperative that I be happy in whatever I was doing.
2. The world is broken and it is legitimately a thing I need to be directly fixing in my actual life.
3. I personally need to change the world in some way to have mattered.
4. I tend not to have automatic respect for my elders. I mean if it seems earned ok. But if I think I’m more skilled, I’m not good at waiting in line. So as far as those “kids these days” lines go, that one is true for me.
5. If all of the above did not make it clear, my expectations for life are a tad unrealistic.

But I was so sure I could be the one to actually do it! And unfortunately, I did well enough in school that my ego was not particularly deflated by the time that I left HS.

In college, I did just as well! But when I approached the finish line and no one was handing me the reigns to the world or even a job and the economy collapse of 2008 was not promising and turns out I am on occasion too shy for most people to take seriously as a leader of anything unless it is turning in assignments and understanding the minimum work required to get an A without any wasted effort–I started to look around me and all I saw was Illinois.

Whoops.

I spent the last year of my college career in therapy trying to understand where it all went wrong and being pretty sure I had been far too immature to get married and it turns out they don’t test you before they let you do it. (12 Years later we figured things out on the go but it’s a little like laying down tracks in front of a moving train).

So when my husband said he had a potential job offer in Saudi Arabia I laughed and said “You can apply if you know we’re not going.” And then I said with a do not cross me look on my face “because no way on earth are we going to Saudi Arabia.”

And about 3 months later after urine samples and pooping in cups and promising not to convert Muslims and having all our earthly possessions boxed up and shipped the wrong way before finally being shipped the right one we landed in in Jeddah Airport where I felt like I needed to wrap myself up for modesty because though my clothes were modest they were also hot pink and white and it turns out that the dress code for women is pretty strictly BLACK. (Did I mention I like to dress in clothes so bright they might burn your eyes out, especially if you’re one of those people who prefers blacks and neutrals?)

Because it turns out Saudi was hiring and paying when a lot of places in the world simply weren’t. It seemed patriotic at the time to make a lot of money in a Middle Eastern country and then take it all back home to pay off student debt and buy a house, so that’s what we did. And I became something known as a trailing spouse which meant it was actually illegal for me to be employed in our new home and my only job was to hang out while my husband worked.

And after about two weeks of thinking about going nowhere in my career for the next however many jobs I got an illegal job writing copy for the University PR department and they let me name a whole bunch of streets in our new city (they’re still there, the 60 or so names I picked out on bright green signs at the intersections of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). Of course, after a few Saudis got wise that I was being allowed to do things basically everything else I did was black-balled from then on out and I attempted (and failed) to start social media for the University and attempted to write a University newspaper and failed (4 times mind you) and I attempted (and failed) a great number of other things before I crashed and burned into a hopeless pile of I don’t think I’m going to be changing the world anytime soon and I would settle at this point just to be allowed to change the heading on one stupid article.

So I quit. I quit that job in a flaming hailstorm so boisterous (which involved me crying like a baby in my boss’s office that I had no idea what I was doing in my life and by the way no one has paid me in months and since I’m an illegal immigrant employee complaining about it hasn’t gotten me very far) that 3 other people quit at the same time and invited me to a party to celebrate which is where I finally learned how to get a hair cut in Saudi (they HIDE the salons) and turned down smoking shi sha because it turns out I am still obsessed with that part of me that wants to be SO SO SO good and change the world.

I should have just smoked the freaking Shi Sha.

After that I immediately started sleeping basically all day and staying up all night to play video games and spiraling into an existential tailspin wondering what had become of me. Meanwhile, my husband had undramatically held down a steady good job THIS ENTIRE TIME GUYS. So I started running until I could run a half-marathon. I took kick boxing so I could beat the heck out of whatever I thought was standing in the way of my hopes and dreams. I traveled to Istanbul alone. I got lost in Istanbul alone. I managed to find someone in Istanbul I knew who had a map and found my way to a hostel alone where luckily a very capable friend was waiting so I was no longer alone. I took a road trip in the United States by myself and realized it was the most independent thing I’d ever ever done and wasn’t that sad and wasn’t it awesome anyway? And I took Arabic 3 times a week for two hours until I could speak about as well as a preschooler and at least tell the cabbies confidently to PLEASE SLOW DOWN BEFORE YOU KILL US ALL and then I got a new job which wasn’t as glamorous but at least they let me do things kind of and I could come in at noon and leave at 3 and no one cared so I did.

And then I started having mini panick attacks about how I was basically checking NONE of the to do items on my life list and so I got pregnant with my first kid because at least START A FAMILY was doable for me.

And that is how I had my first child as a result of a way-too-early midlife crisis because I was supposed to be changing the world and I WAS NOT even though from Saudi it was sure easy to let people believe that–because it turns out people start to think a lot of you if you go somewhere they see as dangerous even if where you went is really just full of restaurants and movie theaters and doing just as little as you ever did before but at least you can take the occasional scuba trip and get some nice pictures even though the truth is that your scuba buddy didn’t want to partner up with you anymore than those kids in 5th grade wanted you on their kick ball team and you had to learn what it was like to cry underwater because he went far lower than your license actually allowed you to go and you are still too much of a rule follower and also afraid of popping a lung to follow him.

Weird. It’s really weird. The crying underwater I mean. Probably everything else too, but especially the crying.

So had one kid two kids three kids and then I started this blog and giving people advice not so much because I have so much experience or wisdom but mostly it turns out because I like to give advice. It’s really quite fun but also be really careful who you take advice from–it turns out a lot of us do not know what we are doing. (Have you ever seen the movie 8th grade? Oh my goodness that girl and her video advice.)

And then before I knew it I found myself in a pandemic trying to remote teach (whatever that means) two children while entertaining the other career still un-started with no assurances that there will even be a career TO start before the whole world burns itself down. And murder hornets.

Also, ash is falling from the sky and then snow, and then ash again because apparently my town is stuck between the biggest wildfire Colorado has ever seen and the earliest blizzard Colorado has ever seen and the former is too hot to be put out by the latter.

I’m a millennial. I shot really really high. And every time I’m not happy I am tempted to think that I failed. Even with the paying off my debt and traveling the world and house and kid having. I’m always afraid that I failed. Or maybe that I am still supposed to somehow change the world with my three kids trailing behind and that is EXHAUSTING.

But.

I am changing the world. It’s a fact. I know that about every single person I meet. I see their individual place in the world so easily. I always have. I know just how the puzzle would break without a single person. But I can’t ever seem to look down and see myself. All I ever see is mess and what has to be the MOST exhausting person of life because I won’t stop trying and I won’t stop crying.

Hey, that rhymes.

But that has to apply to me too. And I know, deep down, that raising three boys to become three good men is a world changing thing. And who else could do that but a crazed, crying, trying, street naming, world traveling mom who likes to list of random facts like hamsters eat their young and everyone gets to be an entirely new person every 7 years at the cellular level. It’s a fact.

Maybe if this person doesn’t change the world, the next one will. Or maybe my kids will. Or maybe my stories.

Or maybe, my job was always just to be a normal person living the best life I can and I am not so much an amazing writer or advice giver as someone who adores telling the truth in whatever messy fashion it exists.

That’s not a thing everyone even CAN do let alone WANTS to do, you know. I’m going to write even when it’s not pretty, popular, and my Mom is the only person who ever comments (which is often true, but at least MY MAMA APPRECIATES ME).

And I’m going to be proud of that even if lots of people never wanted to know this much about me. Or maybe only a few people ever read it. Even if I retell the stories a hundred times from a hundred different angles only so that someone else will KNOW without a doubt that their own story isn’t so abnormally messy or weird or broken after all.

You are a piece of the puzzle whether you live to rule kingdoms or just to make sure people get their groceries every day.

It’s a plain fact. If one piece is missing, it almost doesn’t matter what the whole picture is–that piece will dominate your thinking until you’ve looked under every rug and every table and every foot and inside every household register and even behind the bookshelf where it COULD NOT POSSIBLY be (but somehow was).

We need you. I need you. And it’s ok if we’re not happy or even if we’re swimming in anxiety and kids and pandemics and protests and mistakes up to our eyeballs. One person matters forever and always.

That means me. That means you.

So the next 7 years of me I am going to trust that my place matters in the world whether I find the next job, the next adventure, the next world crisis, the next beautiful thought, or just my next good book to read. And so does yours.

I promise.

If You Might Want to Lose Weight, but Also You Hate the People Who Want You To Lose Weight: You Heard Me

If You Might Want to Lose Weight, but Also You Hate the People Who Want You To Lose Weight: You Heard Me

I had a dream once. After I had done therapy. After I had lost all the weight and started running seriously up to a half-marathon. After I had done everything to get away from who I use to be. I dreamed about seeing myself at a distance. Fat, high-school me laughing and talking to friends under a gazebo. And I realized something.

I loved that girl so much, and I had not been fair to her.

Being thinner didn’t make me better. Traveling the world didn’t really change who I was. Achieving this that or the other did not make me superior to that girl.

In many ways she was a better friend, a better dreamer, more honest, and a lot less full of crap. And the fact that she was fatter didn’t matter at all. In pursuit of being a new person, I’d killed a lot of things about myself that were actually the best bits. And I needed to go back for that girl to apologize to her for so many things.
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Hate is such a strong word, and yet, I would be lying if hate wasn’t the way I felt about many of the people I have met in my life who commented on my weight. Maybe not the entirety of each person, but definitely the part of them that decided they needed to fix me or comment. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

Whoever decided school weigh-ins were a good idea. Hate them.

To anyone who ever told me that I would need to lose weight to get a date or a job. Hate whatever in you thought that was a thing you should say.

To anyone who compared me to someone thin and used that as means to show me how successful I could be–yup. Hate that. Trying hard to not hate you. Hate you a little.

To anyone who looked at all the success I did in fact have in my life and then hinted that I should still lose weight for it to count. Hate oh I hate that.

I hate the entire cultural dialogue around weight. Hate it hate it hate it.

And to me, the person who has absorbed and accepted those comments, or over-interpretted those comments into a thin layer of pain coating my skin at every moment, I hate me a little too.

My weight, or abundance of it, or IMAGINED abundance of it, was at the epicenter of so many weird choices I made in life.

I didn’t wear things that looked pretty or take care of myself because being fat made it seem pointless.

I didn’t assert myself in things I wanted to do or accomplish, because I thought I was too fat.

I couldn’t walk into a single room without checking to see if I was the fattest girl there, and thereby reduced every other woman I knew to fat/not fat (becoming, myself, one of the people I hated).

Here’s the weird thing–I KNOW how to lose weight and I’m good at it. But sometimes I’m vengefully fat. I’m fat so I don’t get flirted with by random strangers when I just wanted to be left alone. I’m fat so I get evaluated as harmless instead of competition by other women. I’m fat as proof that my intelligence and ability can stand on their own thank-you-very-much and I never needed to be thin to succeed, get a job, get a date, or have a life.

But there’s always this little girl inside of me that hates being fat. That girl also hates that there’s probably about a half a pound of acceptability before the people who label you as fat suddenly label you as “too thin.”  (Actually, it’s probably optimistic to assume there’s a half pound like that at all). That little girl has been a mad, self-hating, people who are obsessed with fatness hating, ball of rage for a very long time.

I’ve lost some weight again, post baby. I’m back on that special part of my brain that seems to be good at it, and with no future children planned, this time it has a chance to stick forever. I’ve felt it click. I could do this for a long time. And again I’m confronted with what always surprises me: my absolute fear of losing weight. What if I’m thin and still fail? What if I’m thin but actually still a miserable self-hating person? Or far, far WORSE, what if I’m thin and it really is the only thing anyone cared about and everything gets easier?

When I want to lose weight, really want to–It’s not to change how I look or please people.

It’s because I want to run faster.
It’s because I don’t want to get so tired playing soccer with my sons.
It’s because I actually love fashion and I’m more excited about it when I feel better.
It’s because I like it when I can sit up without having to fight my belly for permission.
It’s because when I eat what I know I should, my brain doesn’t feel like pea soup.

I don’t hate fat me. I just like the hobbies of thin me a bit more. But sometimes fat me is better at keeping it real and I need to remember that and keep her in my head for the ride. I need to remember just how small the part of the story is where I am this size or that one.

When you spend a lifetime of anger and hate trying to get people to validate you, to give you permission to exist, to tell you that you finally did it, that you crossed some line where finally you don’t have to earn love or approval anymore…it never comes.

You know that as well as I do. We all know it. We all keep testing to see if it’s really true.

It’s really true.

When I spent time traveling the world, I packed less and less with every trip that I took. And when I had less to carry, the adventure got better. More natural. Easier to move around. The kind where you run down ships and jump off the dock over water to catch them before they leave. The kind where you let a cat in Turkey hop on your back-pack for a ride. The kind where you smell because you haven’t showered in days and you’ve never ever been happier or cared less about something like that. When you have less to carry, you go places you never would have before. You DO things you never would have before.

I don’t want to carry all this anymore. I carried it for my babies. I carried it for spite. I carried it for comfort and refuge–and that was the weight. The toxic negativity weighed more, and I have no excuse for it. I don’t want to carry it anymore.

I want to move. I want to run. I want to travel lighter.

And all those people who will feel like my life will be better mostly because I LOOK better  or because somehow I’m not good enough fat can kiss my A….pples. KISS. MY. APPLES. (I’m sorry, writer Andi wrote that in ALL CAPS exactly the way I felt it and meant it. Andi who knows her father’s congregants read this sometimes always deletes words that others may find too truthful to handle. THAT’S RIGHT I SAID TRUTHFUL).

I need to be angry and I need to acknowledge that I have hated, because it’s time that I forgive. People were never really capable of holding me back and hurting me. I did all that. I let all that in. I took what people said as truth instead of their own compulsions out of their own hurt.

I forgive all the people who thought they could or should shame me, either out of concern or stupidity. Because the hatred weighs a whole lot more than I ever did. I forgive you. I forgive myself for letting it define me.

May we all be rid of anything that weighs us down, in our minds or in reality. And may we all for the love of spaghetti stop treating the word “fat” like a swear word or the worst possible thing someone could be.

Because visible imperfection is the best kind. It’s the kind you absolutely must deal with, get in the ring with, be honest about and make decisions on. I’ve seen enough of people’s secrets to know visible sin and imperfection is very truly the least dangerous kind.

And people who comment on it usually are the ones with the most invisible sin and brokenness.

And that *stuff* lays dormant for years. Sometimes for ever.

The problem is less that other people thought I was fat, and more that I did. And less that I did, and more that I let it define me. The problem is we don’t know how to validate and value ourselves well enough to know what shape or size we even want to come in, totally outside of the opinions of others.

I’m still not totally sure what size I want to come in. Do souls have shape or size? That seems more important.

Let’s put it all down. The judgments. The secrets. The brokenness. The self-hatred. The shamer hatred. Whatever would hinder us from our own beautiful races we have yet to finish. Whether it involves actual weight or not.

I won’t hate you anymore. I won’t hate me anymore.

Run with me.

If You Feel No Guilt Whatsoever for Being a Slob (But You Think You Should)

If You Feel No Guilt Whatsoever for Being a Slob (But You Think You Should)

Wash the plate, Not because it is Dirty, not because you are told, but because you LOVE the person who will use it next- Mother Theresa

I make it a rule now that I’m not allowed to own fish. I killed somewhere around 10 in very rapid succession in my early college days. And not really knowing why, I just decided fish were not for me and the heartbreak was too much for me or the fish.

In the world of love languages acts of service doesn’t even show up on my radar. If you do something for me I assume you thought it needed doing. If I do something it’s because I thought it needed doing. Love doesn’t even enter my mind. I may even feel judged or intruded upon. I do not even remotely associate cleanliness or chore doing with morality. Only need or pride.

I have so many historical personal reasons for this. Of people who did so much around me or for me but out of duty or self-righteousness or resentment. But not love. (But these are probably just in my list of excuses and desperately trying to pass the blame).

And I’m trying to catch up. I’m trying to force myself to see doing tasks as anything other than a necessary part of life that has nothing to do with love. I always thought love was putting down the dishes and spending time together. When my Mother talks about trying to train me to be a good person by teaching me to make my bed or do my chores it is so hard to wrap my mind around.
And guys, it’s like trying to learn Chinese for me. But harder. I’m sure on the other end of it are people who participate in something beautiful, but maybe not something I can ever truly understand.

And sometimes I wonder. Is it worth it? Should I really spend any effort on something that comes with such pain to me?

I read blog post after blog post about how “the dishes can wait for another day” or “the piles of laundry aren’t anything compared to the memories you could make,” and I think “Done! I’m already not worried about those things! Can I have my award for successful living now please?”

Now if you walk into my house, don’t expect it to look like it is owned by someone on “Hoarders.” I understand the need of chores. Laundry eventually gets done, dishes are actually reluctantly done on a daily basis, tripping hazards are eventually seen to. I’m just not trying to win any prizes. I’m happily surviving in this part of my life most of the time. My ambitions involve thriving at friendship, community, creative works, but not order, tidiness, or general management of physical stuffs. I get by and I don’t look back. If I clean for guests it’s to prevent their discomfort, not to win their good judgment. And really, it’s only done to the point I think it must be to function.

I promise you that my mother tried very very hard. That woman organizes her used tin foil by size. But I got to be a little bit in love with my messy self. I saw it as creative, and definitely easier. And from my perspective, fathoms, eons, decades, miles, and every other measurement I can think of happier. But it wasn’t always that way.

In college, I thought that all my suspicions of what was actually necessary were confirmed. I wasn’t one of those girls who lost sleep trying to make myself look like something I wasn’t in the morning with hours of hair care and makeup. I never thought twice about walking across the parking lot in my jammies with bed head if I needed something. I was never terrified to present a less than perfect image because I was so very very content with my less than perfect self.

I felt fortunate to not be running in that race. I tended to look on the girls overwrought with insecurity about their looks, their planners, their reputation, and every thing a person could look at with…pity.

The tricky part is, I never could understand why people seemed to have a bad impression of me a great deal of the time (yes, please feel free to make a confused face or spit out whatever drink was in your mouth here). I didn’t totally abandon my physical responsibilities. (Ok, I didn’t after somewhere Senior year of high school. Before that please don’t look up my yearbook photos). I had a basic makeup routine. Basic clothes that I usually selected by picking out outfits on mannequins in the store (please tell me I’m not the only one laissez faire enough to do this), some shoes and jewelry to throw in now and then, and a five minute hair routine that got me out the door with mostly dry hair.

It’s funny how someone can be totally unaware of the water they’re swimming in or that it even exists.

Before all of that, I have this memory: early on in my Freshman year of college, I was feeling totally overwhelmed and lonely in a way that made no sense to me. I made a meeting with my RD to talk about it.

“I just feel like I can’t do it all. I think of everything to do and I feel like I’m going to fail.”

She gave me advice about planners and lists, and in five minutes finished a little speech that ended with a smile that clearly said “I think I’ve just solved all of your problems and given you brand new wonderful information you lucky girl you.”

But I said, “Yeah, I’ve used planners. I’ve made lists. Usually I lose them or forget to bring them with me. I’ve tried…well kind of everything.”

She looked suddenly totally uncomfortable. “So what kind of grades do you get? What are you hoping to do in college?”

“Oh,” I said. “I get A’s. I was the top of my class in high school. I’m pretty sure I’ll get mostly A’s again.”

She looked even more uncomfortable. “Then what on earth is the problem?!”

I looked down at my hands in my lap. “I don’t know. It’s just that none of it feels good. It feels like everyone else knows something I don’t. I still feel like I’m failing.”

She gave me an awkward pat. Then an awkward hug. (Awkward because I didn’t want either). And then she said something about another appointment and left.

I don’t think we ever spoke again after that day.

Really successful ambitious people do not understand a “successful” person who still thinks there’s a problem and would rather have something else.

So from then on I decided to just go with it. Whatever “it” was. I let there be a mess. I kept piles of papers and confusing computer files and jumped out of bed 15 minutes before class, showered and ran with wet hair to class, and just kept the faith. I believed with all of my heart that if I’d proved I could succeed like this, all I needed to do was to stop worrying about it. All I needed was to decide the mess was ok. The key to happiness wasn’t to stop being a mess. It was just to decide to be happy whether I ever fixed it or not. And I came equipped with a good attitude and a lot of apologies (and don’t forget tears and excuses!) to fill in the gaps whenever faith wasn’t enough.

And my dirty secret was that I had to say “no” to a lot. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t hang out with new friends. I didn’t join everything I wanted to. I never signed up to be a leader of anything. I quietly often hated how out of control I felt, and how unambitious. And I woke up each new day, took a breath, and decided that it was the best I could do so I needed to get over it. My day of doing was probably going to hurt some. It was going to feel not as good as it could. I just needed to believe that it was.

But you know what happens when someone who is very good at being a mess all by themselves lives life as well as they can?

They eventually want to share their life with someone who feels quite differently about the mess. Burdened by it.

And they eventually have children that maybe they’d like to teach how not to be a mess, and maybe to not see being a mess as normal.

And the sadness that you’ve let out of your mess (whatever it is, literal or not), starts to creep back in. Because it was so so much easier when the only person you ever hurt was yourself (or at least it was far, far easier to tell yourself that). And you realize the self-confidence and pity for the put-together was more of a lie to cover up for feeling deficient but not knowing how to deal with it. All that “success” was good grades, a handful of memberships in clubs, and oceans of neglected friendships, missed opportunities, and very little meaningful creativity actually put into the world.
I heard a very good message this week about David the murderous adulterer and how he mourned over his huge and horrible sins when he was shown them for what they were. He didn’t shy away from his sins at all, but acknowledged them fully.

It’s funny, because when you are a basically “good” kid who followed all of the rules (mostly) in a very conservative upbringing, it can be hard to relate to a story like David’s.

But then, maybe, like me, you realize that your biggest, hugest, and ugliest sins involve all of the things you don’t do.

Always expecting other people to pick up the slack.
Never taking a risk where you might make a mistake.
Never reaching out to help because rejection is possible.
Never going to the thing because maybe you’re not wanted.
Never learning the skill because maybe you can’t do it.
Never having the conversation because maybe they’ll never talk to you again.
Never admitting fault.
Never admitting weakness.
Never learning how to really do the dishes out of love.
And never saving the poor fish by paying attention to small needs and dirty tanks.

All of my fish died because of the things I didn’t do for them. Neglect is often far worse than mistakes. What else am I killing in my life this way?

I’m a little broken this week sitting in my own shadow.

So I feel the need to issue some sort of happy ending or call to action. But I may need to make a part two in a bit to give myself time to get back there.

For now…please save the fish.