Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. – C.P. Cavafy
Do you ever get the feeling that you should be farther along your path than you are? Do you ever get frustrated by set backs? Do you tire of hearing yourself talk about starting over, again? Yeah? So do I.
As I sit writing this, it is “Blue Monday.” I am looking out at a black night. Neither of these however, is the source of my malaise. I feel depressed and down due to the sisyphus condition I find myself in. The near constant roundabout of a little progress followed by a big backslide, has started to wear me down. Just like in the Greek myth, I am beginning to wonder if I am destined to carry the same load up hill for all eternity.
I am not writing this because I want to host my own pity party. Or to elicit sympathy from my readers. Instead, I write because I promised you and myself, almost exactly three years ago, that I would always be authentic. It is extremely tempting to show only the highlights. To invite you in, only when my house is tidy and everything is in order. However to do that, would be to fail to honour the relationship we have built. The trust you show me, each time you turn up to read my words.
Late last year, I was invited to resign from my job. I watched a career that I had spent over a decade building crumble in the space of a single conversation. The words “you’re not right for the job,” have echoed in my mind many times since then. Reverberating and repeating. Their message clear, you are not enough.
I had always known that a lot of my self worth was tied up with my job. I am a natural striver, always obsessed with the next thing. An upward career trajectory was good way for me to channel this. What I had not known, was that when the label of accountant, professional and general good girl was taken away from me, I would struggle to recognise myself.
I wish I could tell you that this was limited to my professional life, but sadly that is not the case. I am routinely plagued by the curse of more. If I am fit, I want to be fitter. If I am thin, I want to lose more weight. When I fail it is all my fault and when I succeed it has nothing to do with me.
Lately I been doing some writing for another blog. A couple of weeks back, I did an interview with an up and coming athlete. My editor messaged me the day after it was published to let me know it had been the most read interview on the site. As a writer this should have thrilled me. Instead I immediately started to catalogue all of the possible explanations for the article’s popularity that didn’t involve its author. Conversely, when we publish an article of mine that doesn’t do so well, I am crushed. My inner demons launch into a chorus of “you’re not good enough, why would you even try?”
I have a small library of personal development literature at home. I have just finished Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Rarely has a book so profoundly affected me. I was literally moved to tears as I listened to her telling her stories. Her struggle to connect with vulnerability seemed to mirror my own almost exactly.
In her book, she asks so many important questions. But the one that struck me the hardest was this; In a world where enough is never enough, how can we cultivate a sense of worthiness? How can we learn to feel loved and lovable in a culture that values exhaustion and burn out over communication and connection?
I remember as a child and even into adulthood challenging both of my parents. I distinctly recall screaming at them “Why can’t you just be proud of me!” They would always assure me that they were. As I look back, I can see that was the truth. The chronic need for achievement came from inside me. Any words of support and encouragement they gave me were at best, a temporary balm.
As I have gone through life, the need for approval, the desire to be seen has remained. However, now it is not just my parents that I seek it from. The need to be relevant, to feel like I am enough, has brought me to some dark and dangerous places. I am caught in the vicious cycle of “I will be happy when… ” When my blog is a success. It won an award and still I wasn’t soothed. When the podcast reaches more listeners. How many will it take? When I am doing well at work. I am now a finance manager, and “successful” by any objective measure, but still nothing.
It is slowly dawning on me, with the help of those supporting me, that the feeling of being enough will never come from outside. It will not come from being athletic. It will not come packaged in skinny jeans. A good hair day, an orgasm, or a promotion will not conjure it. It can only come from within me. A truly terrifying prospect.
As I draft this post, the words of an Alanis Morissette song have been going through my head.
I’d be productive and still it would not come
I’d be celebrated still it would not come
I’d be the hero and still it would not come
I’d renunciate and still it would not come
I take comfort from knowing that if someone as wealthy, talented and accomplished as she can have these same sentiments, perhaps it is merely part of the human condition? Maybe we all have demons to slay. Perhaps the hardest thing is to set down the need for pleasing and perfecting, to just allow ourselves to be.
I know that I have a lot more work to do in this area. I have enlisted the help of a therapist as I set about unlearning the habits of a lifetime. Over the past few years I have driven myself to the point of exhaustion several times. The “not enough” feeling is impossible to out run. The only solution is to try to meet it head on.
I am committed to dealing with the shame that losing my job brought. To shining a big, bright light on it. Because shame loves the dark. It delights in festering in unlit corners, gaining strength and power. As I try to shed the pounds I gained when I was eating my feelings and too depressed to exercise, I am determined not to allow my self worth to depend on this.
At various stages of my life I have weighed less than 50kgs and over 80kg. I was not happy with my body at any stage. I am going to turn that narrative on its head. If my weight can’t make me happy, why should I let it make me unhappy? Brene Brown tells us that when we own our story, we get to write the ending. That fills me with great hope.
I am imperfect. I have flaws beyond counting. But yet, I am worthy. I am capable of giving love and receiving it in return. I have gifts to offer this world. I will enter the arena and fight. Overcoming these demons may turn out to be my life’s work. I will learn to be okay with that. I will not hurry the journey at all. Be well xxx