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Swallowed Up Whole

I have major self-fears right now that sound crazy when I say them out loud or write them down but make perfect logical sense when I am telling them to myself in my own head. They are as follows:

1.) I am lazy and am wasting time and mental space on things other than the work I should be doing in order to be successful and awesome.

2.) Being exhausted and sick and focusing only on going to work and coming home and not throwing up and eating the foods I should eat and walking when I can walk is not good enough. The successful people are the ones who feel all of these things through lots of different personal struggles and make it happen anyway.

3.) Because I can’t always make it happen anyway, I am therefore doomed to never be successful (whatever that means in my own head) and will only end up being mildly mediocre, which will be extra disappointing because I will have known that I failed only because I didn’t have enough guts to fucking do it already. Or maybe guts isn’t the right word. Focus? Energy? Ability to follow through?

I believe there are a handful of things I could be really great at in my creative, career-y, self-fulfilling world… but so much of the time I have no idea how to go about getting them. Sometimes I feel like I am on this path, and the path I am on is parallel to the path I really want to be on, and all of the interesting, creative, great things are zooming past me on the other path that I can’t figure out how to get to. I can see the great things (the opportunities, the connections, the job offers), I watch other people running for them, snatching them up and being awesome. I don’t understand how they got there, especially if on paper we all look so similar.

Does everyone seem so successful to you? Everyone seems so successful to me. Whether it’s in their own happiness, or their delightful side projects, or in their family, or in their job. I have this strange sense that everyone is going somewhere. They are all a half a step ahead of me, just to the point where I can see them clearly and sometimes it seems we are all on the same pace, but then I never can quite catch up. The feeling of almost, but not quite is making me choke with fear. I know I should be pushing harder, but for whatever reason I can’t. Why? Saying it’s because I want nothing more than to sleep on the train after work, that making dinner takes all of my energy reserves, that doing laundry is something I need a pep talk to accomplish – saying all of those truths is not a good enough answer to why. And the reason that’s not good enough, the fact that Christy Tyler pointed out “You’ve been sick for months!” and miss Jen of @pinchofthis backed her up with “MONTHS!!”, and it’s STILL not good enough… that is also a question I don’t have an answer for.

So, I wrote this instead. Because the first step is admitting, right? Hello… My name is Lauren… and I often feel like a failure. And sometimes it swallows me up on all sides so that for a little while I can’t see above it.

42 Comments

  1. Um, yes. I have recently started a new job, a job that I actually like and other people like the sound of and is fulfilling and seems like a ‘proper’ grown-up job. The 3 years before this job? Full of constant worry that I was the only one who was failing, that all of my friends were doing so much better than I was. I was trying so, so hard, but it was never enough.

    For a long time I would say to my friends that the trick is to be content with what you have, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t do it – I still wanted to achieve more, I thought I could do better. But the constant job rejections was telling me that maybe I couldn’t.

    It genuinely is different in your situation. Maybe you just need to stay still for a little while longer (to get those maternity benefits and, er, feel healthy!) and then find the energy to push yourself again. You’re obviously not one of those people who can put up and shut up, you need stimulation, and if people tell you that you’re doing really well but you don’t feel it, well, that’s hard.

    If it helps, I think you’re doing great.

  2. Wow… don’t be so harsh on yourself. I think you are accomplishing a lot of things. Right now, obviously, your body is spending all its energy on your baby :) so it is normal that everyday tasks are “harder”.
    Anyhow… this post reminded me of what the Red Queen said to Alice: “you have to keep on running in order to stay in the same place”.
    I think if you start comparing yourself to others, you are only going to make yourself unhappy. I know… cause I do it all the time. The other day I read this post: https://thewildlove.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/my-own-path-a-guest-post-by-fiona/

    and it somehow made me feel better. I do often feel like I am failing as well… 3 years since I graduated and not a job in my area, with on top of that, the fact that my body does not feel like cooperating and things that should be easy aren’t.

    Hugs…. and I hope you feel better, you are an inspiration to lots of us… and I am sure you will make it happen.

  3. Hello, Lauren. My name is Melanie and I often feel like a failure. I feel like other people are constantly holding up a measuring tape and I never quite measure up. I have three degrees and a great job, but I have massive student loan. I have an apartment I love, but, ooh, it’s not a house we own. I have the most amazing husband and we love our life, but we can’t have biological children (yet. I’m still working on it.).

    It sounds silly, but it boils down to the question of whether or not the glass is half empty or half full. I prefer my glass half full. I also prefer it to be half full of frozen margarita or an awesome cider, but that’s beside the point. Count your blessings. I bet they outnumber the bad.

    *hugs*

  4. The reason that I stopped reading almost all other blogs and kept reading yours is because I feel like you. I don’t have picnics in meadows or a wildly successful etsy store and perfectly styled parties. But I do splash butter all over myself after “softening” it in the microwave.
    Think of someone you completely respect (grandparents come to mind). I’ll bet they had moments of feeling lost and probably even failed at some things. But they came through and life kept going and they might even be glad it happened that way. Maybe life is trying to tell you to give yourself a break and enjoy this growing-a-person time. Let yourself watch every episode of 30 Rock on Netflix with your happy husband and know that you’ll get back on top of everything else later.

  5. The more I talk to people, I mean *really* talk to them, the more I realize that most people are faking it. They pretend that they are more self confident, more knowledgeable, more with-it. And that’s comforting, because it means that all the time that I’ve spent faking it, people have believed it. And the more willing I am to act like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going with my life, the more *I* believe it too. No one really knows 100% what they want to do; no one believes 100% that every decision they’ve made and the career path they’re on is exactly the right one. You just take a deep breath and go for it.

    And honestly? If all you can do is make it into work and back? Congratulations, you’re a functioning human being! I know it’s what you, personally, consider to be a low bar, but honey? You seriously have been sick for MONTHS. I would have thrown in the towel so fast, and you didn’t. You kept your sense of humor, you stayed engaged in your life as best you could, and eff anyone who looks down on you for not being superwoman. Those people don’t exist.

  6. Don’t know the context of this quote, but it came to mind while reading this post:

    “The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.” -Anais Nin

    More later (work now).

  7. amen, sister. i feel similar much of the time. only for me, it’s the personal life ‘sucks to suck’ moments that get me down. i am rocking my professional life — but it’s swallowing and consuming every bit of the rest of my existence. all around me are engagements, marriages, babies, houses…forward movement in people’s personal lives! and here i am – a crappy dog-mom and partner who can’t get my act together enough to buy groceries or go on a hike. i want ALL THE SNACKS and ALL THE INTERNETS and ALL THE SLEEPS when i get home at 10pm (mainly because that’s all my body can handle after 8+ hours literally on my feet running the store). i looked at a calendar last night and realized my last real non-planned out with travel or visitors weekend off was in june…and it was the weekend i threw a surprise party for M. before that it was mid-may. yikes. this weekend i’m letting myself give in to the snacks and sleeps…and hoping it recharges me so i can get my groove back. and i’m pretty sure that you’ll also have your groove back in no time. until then, you’re so not alone and the ‘faking it’ idea from caitlin’s comment is worth it’s weight in gold to keep the questions at bay until you feel like you’re back in action according to your (high like mine) standards.

  8. This reminds me so much of that Ira Glass interview where he talked about how having good taste is what holds back a lot of new creatives from getting to where they want to be. Their own good taste, that thing that helps them identify what they want to be making also stops them from putting in the work because they see just how much their own work isn’t that good yet. How this relates to you is – you see where you want to go. You SEE the opportunities. That’s actually a really amazing thing! Lots of people don’t have or don’t see those and you can’t get what you can’t see (most of the time). So remember, one day you won’t be sick all the time. One day you will be in a better position to take advantage of the things you want and you will KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT. In the meantime, try not to let it get you down too much. I feel like this a lot too and I’m not even making a person :)

  9. In academia, these fears of not being successful as others are given a name: “Impostor syndrome.” Granted this might be not exactly what you are feeling, but the idea that that everyone else is killing it, and you are not – and someday someone will call you out for the fraud that you are.

    The reason I bring it up is that *I* think you sound like such a great and successful person – but often we can’t see that about ourselves, and everyone else looks bright and shiny (and we, knowing our private flaws, appear even less shiny in comparison).

    No quick fix, but for me, just knowing that everyone else is just as random and confused is reassuring. Mostly.

    • I love this imposter syndrome business. I feel like that is me to a T. A capital T. If you would like to tell me more things about this I would love to hear. In the mean time I’m going to the google! :)

      • Yes, impostor syndrome is what I had in my fancy-schmancy grad school. Essentially, I felt like the admissions office made a mistake when they accepted me, and everyone else was so much smarter than me, and I was drowning. It turned out, though, that everyone at that school felt the exact same way at some point.

        So all those people that seem to you like they have it made? I bet they don’t see themselves that way.

    • Yes! Imposter syndrome. I have it.

  10. You compare yourself to others you feel are more ‘successful’ but did you ever think that people think of you as successful? Because I do! You have an amazing husband with a baby on the way, a great apartment, a 9-5 that allows you to play on the weekends (when your feeling better that is), a creative outlet (the blog) that even strangers read, you’ve traveled to foreign countries (besides Canada)! I could go on and on but I hope I made my point.

  11. I really, honestly, truly feel like so many people feel this way.

    I read this recently and thought it might be helpful: http://joythebaker.com/2012/08/notes-to-self-part-four/
    Joy has a super successful blog, she just published a book and she still feels this way. I think it is a thorn in the side of the successful.

    It is really hard to cut yourself some slack or not spiral into a whirlpool of pity/self-doubt/general negative self talk. And while I’m positive you did not mean this to become a “pep Lauren up!” post, I want you to know you are a wonderful friend that has been so thoughtful and caring to me while I had a pretty sucky summer. So even if you can’t do ALL the things, know that the things you are doing are meaningful.

    • That’s exactly it – as much as I super appreciate everyone’s kind words, I definitely didn’t write it to get the crowd applause. I think this is an interesting phenomenon… how do people who I think are leaps and bounds ahead of me in the creative-career-land ever feel like they are effing it all up? But I bet they do. I know that on paper I’m doing alright. I realize that I have things that other people want, we all have things that other people want. The grass is greener, except it’s probably just a different shade.

      For example:
      - I would love to live for an extended period of time in Europe, and some of you have or do. But I also know that I live and work in the Bay Area and a lot of people probably think that is exciting and awesome and would love to live here.
      - I would love to have the guts to ride my bike in the city. But I don’t like speed and I lack bike confidence, but I totally root all of the weekend and on-the-way-to-work cyclists.
      - There are people who are lucky enough to write all day long about topics they choose. I marvel at this ability. But, for all I know, they feel stressed or inadequate or are waiting for the next big thing to drop.

      But maybe saying it out loud – that I feel like I should be working SO MUCH HARDER and I am blaming myself for not knowing the secret magic formula – is better than having these feelings in secret, where know one else knows but me. Maybe if we were all honest about our own fears and said them out loud they would team up and go start their own fear colony and leave us alone. Or something.

      • “But I also know that I live and work in the Bay Area and a lot of people probably think that is exciting and awesome and would love to live here.”

        Yes. LIKE ME.

        ;)

      • Oh I love this!! Hey fears, get out! go form your own colony :)

      • Yes to this, “But maybe saying it out loud – that I feel like I should be working SO MUCH HARDER and I am blaming myself for not knowing the secret magic formula – is better than having these feelings in secret, where know one else knows but me. Maybe if we were all honest about our own fears and said them out loud they would team up and go start their own fear colony and leave us alone.”

        When we share our fears and own them, they have less power.

      • “I totally root all of the weekend and on-the-way-to-work cyclists” This made me snigger because “root” in Australia does not mean “cheer” (which is what I think you mean) haha. Sometimes I think I’m still 15 ;)

        • oh my! Does it mean something fabulously dirty? Because that would be excellent.

          • root = have sex with hahaha

  12. YES. Oh my goodness, yes. These thoughts run through my mind a few times a day (or many hundreds, depending on the day). Here’s the thing I’m learning though. We think that there is a “get there” kind of thing and then once we’ve arrived everything falls into place. At least I have thought this many, many times. But I just keep learning it doesn’t happen that way. I landed a great postdoctoral position. I was SO excited to be here and then the first day I realized I’m one of 77 postdocs who are successful have more of this and that than I do (and probably not one of them took as long as I did in graduate school or had to re-write their defense document). I came home and just cried. Why am I here? What if I can’t do it?

    Before this postdoc I was at an internship. Before that at a research assistant job and before that at another research assistant job (where I had to work overnights). I tell you this because all of that time I spent in jobs I thought were boring or not advancing me fast enough, I was thinking, “once I get to postdoc, I’ll feel awesome. and like I’ve arrived.” hahahaha. I laugh at myself now. Nope, nope, nope.

    If you look, there are ALWAYS people who seem to work harder, work more, are smarter, more ambitious, more wealthy, have a better house, etc. ALWAYS. I think the only thing we can do is keep on our path and TRUST that we are right here and now for a reason. (As silly as that sounds, but what else do we have other than this day?)

    Also? As much as I have indulged in my self-critical rants, it never gets me anywhere, except maybe feeling worse? Your energy is sucked dry and you’re doing the best you can with the resources you have. You are more than enough as is, I promise.

  13. You. Are. Fabulous. and strong, and compassionate, and honest and talented. For really reals. I love reading your blog because you lay it all out there for the world to see, and leave yourself open to being judged. But instead of people pointing fingers and agreeing with you, you get this outpouring of love and support. Don’t punish yourself for not being able to do All THE THINGS!!! Especially with those awful being swallowed alive by fear feelings. You’re growing a baby – and that scares the crap out of me…that’s pretty successful if you ask me.

    I say put on your favorite outfit, toss on some sassy lipstick (or whatever makes you feel sassy) add something sparkly on your neck or ears and have a wonderful afternoon feelinf fabulous. Even if it’s spent on your couch watching your favorite movie, or eating day old leftovers. Sometimes going out of the way to make yourself feel fabulous can do a world of good :)

  14. I wonder if our lives ever align perfectly, where every single aspect (personal, social, professional) is just where we want it to be… As you well know, I’ve never felt more like a failure than in the past 6 months. But what is strange is that my personal life and my social life are wonderful- just where they should be (barring a few long-term goals that I’m overly eager to reach), but its the professional failure that just drags me down. I think sometimes it is hard to look past what we don’t have (or aren’t achieving) to focus on what we do have, and what we are achieving.

    So, I will take it upon myself to remind you that you are achieving great things right now- and that there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to maintain close to what you are doing on top of being sick and exhausted. And I hope that when the self-doubt and self-criticism fades, you are left with that reminder and are proud of yourself :)

    • Not that I put *much* weight in the gospel of SATC but it does remind me of Carrie’s comment about needing two out of the following three to fit well for happiness: love, work, apartment.

  15. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to let go and enjoy what’s happening now. Instead of getting down on yourself because you didn’t do the laundry Thursday, make it your friday goal. And CELEBRATE when it’s done! It’s the small feats (especially when you are struggling!) that matter. Pregnancy is hard and many people don’t understand but it’s still pretty awesome that you are growing a human. Be excited for that little person growing inside you and worry about the future a little later (maybe when you aren’t sick or completely tapped out!)

  16. Lauren! I wish I could say it better than all the other commentators…..but they said it beautifully! There will ALWAYS be “the grass is greener” mentality. And it can literally suck the life out of you (me, I know this, all about it!). We will always have the tendency to think “People have more stuff, better apartments, or cooler lives” – but it’s just not true. I’m digging this imposter syndrome – its the perfect balance of sense of humor with also the compassion to realize that we are all trying. Trying and doing and being. That is all you can do. And its funny, bc even if we think we are “imposters” – we are the ONLY ones who see us that way. So then the trying and the being and the doing are actually what people admire, not something we have to overcome.

    ps: you are making a person, greatest feat that there ever was, so there!

  17. It sometimes helps me to remember that it’s a lot easier to look like you’re “going somewhere” than to actually be on your way. I think it takes a lot of strength to be as honest as you are about the hard parts of life, and for what it’s worth, I think you’re awesome for pushing yourself to do something with your creative talents beyond the job you have now — it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there!

  18. Echoing all the sentiments here! I see so many women (and I’m sure guys too, but I mostly notice it in other women) feeling this way. I wonder if it’s always been that way for everybody, or if it’s more of a modern phenomenon. Like say, facebook: great for keeping in touch, and absolutely better than nothing (in my opinion), but then—you’re constantly seeing the pieces of other people’s lives that they specifically want you to see, which can get to a person after a while. (“God, ANOTHER former classmate is saving orphans in Bangladesh now??”)

    Something that’s been really hard for me as well is that pesky “defining what success means to you” business. Slowly I’ve been coming to the conclusion that maybe in my case it’s: “make enough money to eat semi-fancily at a job that’s moderately fun and/or take care of our impending kid, keep posting drawings on the internet, and eventually live in a place where I can be surrounded by plants and animals.” I’m still a little nervous that that definition doesn’t involve owning a business or wielding a lot of influence or inventing something… however, it’s slowly but surely feeling more comfortable to own that.

    Also, 1.) ohmygod I get Imposter Syndrome at work ALL THE TIME, and 2.) making dinner totally takes all of my energy reserves these days.

  19. i have nothing to add but: YES.

    You are so not alone in this.

  20. I don’t have much to add to the outpouring of “you rock, Lauren!” and “me, too!” except that, well, you rock, Lauren, and me, too. And also, ugh, because your post rings so true for me, and I know the feeling you’re feeling is a truly shitty one. I like to call it life-envy and for me it’s really exacerbated by social media. I’m one of those lucky people who’s doing pretty well career-wise, so I end up comparing myself to people who appear to be successful in other ways that I’m not (or that I’m afraid I’m not or that I’m afraid I won’t be): like, when I have kids, how will I ever be as happy as those women who have dreamy jobs that let them work part time from home and take care of their babies; like, how will I ever be as happy as those couples that travel all over the world together unencumbered, when I have a husband who likes things like stability, and heavy furniture, and leases; like, how will ever be as happy as those people who get to live close to their families, when my job is thousands of miles away from my hometown? Nevermind that I want to work when I have kids, that I also like stability and having an apartment, and that I hate my hometown. This is a lousy comment because I have no insight, nothing to offer. I’m in the middle of this shit, too, and I hate it.

  21. I’ve been thinking about this feeling since you mentioned it on Twitter last night and while I’ve been having a lot of feelings about it all, I mostly wanted to say this:

    I love you for having a dream and saying that where you are right now is not good enough.

    Because, yes. As happy as I am with my life and relationship and apartment and friendships and tasty dinners, I have bigger dreams that are going to take a lot more work to accomplish. So where I am isn’t good enough, either, and sometimes there is just no way around how much that sucks.

    • This pretty much made me tear up at work. :)

  22. First of all, you’re growing a human being inside you, so that automatically makes you way cooler than half the population (do males make up half of the population? I have no idea. Whatever, it sounds good).

    Second, I think many, many people feel this way. I know I do. I have actually looked at it very similarly to you – I always think of myself as puttering along on the little service roads that are right next to big highways. I’m driving along on the freaking dirt road with bugs hitting my windshield and trees brushing my car, and I can see the nice, paved highway with lots of people over there, but I can’t freaking find a way through.

    But I digress. I really think that it has gotten even worse recently with the massive influx of lifestyle/mommy/DIY/whatever blogs. And Pinterest. You know what I mean – people showing these picture-perfect lives that make us feel shabby and un-inspiring and blah. It’s easy to get wrapped up in comparing yourself with others because SO MANY other people put their entire lives (or what they want you to think of their lives) on display. We are getting so much more exposure to people now than ever before, which makes it easy to see how we are “measuring up” with them in every teensy way. If that makes sense?

    Sorry, that was a bit of a rambly comment with no real point. I guess that 1) you are normal for feeling this way, and 2) you shouldn’t BE NORMAL for feeling this way. It’s ridiculous how much pressure we’re putting on ourselves these days to be perfect. Is this really feminism? Feeling like we have to do it all?

    Anyway, hope you can settle into a comfortable rhythm with where you are right now :) You’re not a failure. You are a freaking rockstar. I suggest a cupcake and a long bath to help realize that, lady.

  23. Lady, you are growing a person. Successfully. That there is not failure. I spent months feeling like a failure because my body couldn’t accomplish that. So while you may not feel successful career wise at the moment, remember that part of that is because almost all of your energy is (involuntarily) focused on growing a friggin person and this is awesome.

    But I know exactly what you mean and I’ve been mulling over a similar, still unwritten, blog post. I feel like everyone else has goals and ambitions and a career that they are passionate about getting into and I … don’t. I think I might look successful to others on paper but the reality is that I don’t know if I want to be doing what I do for the next 10, 20, 30 years but if I’m not doing this then I have NO IDEA what I want to do or what I’d be good at. I don’t want to progress further in this career, really, I’m ok with where I am right now but I feel like I should be striving for more but don’t know what I should be aiming for.

  24. I have a feeling that most people who appear successful from the outside are either just putting on a front or really just don’t care about anyone else’s definitions of success. For me, I only started feeling successful at life when I realized that my life was not and could not be measured in traditional terms of career success and allowed myself to stop caring about that. I’m the sort of person for whom the job is the thing that pays the bills, but the time away from my job is what I spend on doing the things I care about and am passionate about.

    But, if I were still reaching for a big career goal that was going to spend years reaching for, I’d probably feel either like a failure or like I was still so far from success. Sometimes I feel that way about the areas of my life where I place my priorities.

  25. Yep. I’m starting on a second career. I just turned 28, and I’m in community college for another year, then transferring to a 4 year for another 2-3 years for a second bachelors, then grad school/PhD program. I will be at least 35 before I’m ready to actually start working. And I want to get married and have a kid by 36. Wheeee!
    I mean, I love what I’m learning, I’m excited about this path. I just really wished I’d decided on it 5 years ago. I’m not old by any means, but I feel like I’m behind and time is against me.

  26. Yes! I know exactly what you mean. Thank you for writing this, it’s always good to find out you’re not the only one.

  27. Distracting yourself with everything but the work you should really be doing is, like, my favorite pastime. I’m sorry it’s got a hold of you, lady.

  28. Though I do believe what I told you on Twitter, that you are who you need to be right now and that is perfectly enough, just because *harumph – arrogant – snoot* I like you quite well the way you are thank-ye-kindly ma’am! ;) I do really understand.

    I have these feelings too: that I never checked off one darned thing from my mental To Do By 30 list that I had created when I was 13-17.

    Seriously, I’m sitting here and can’t think of a thing on there that I’ve achieved. So there are days where it’s easy to fall prey to the “I have done *nothing* of value in my life and I have not accomplished *anything* like anyone else!” And I compare myself to people half again my age sometimes. Or people my age, or less. And always, I come out less shiny.

    Thing is, imposter syndrome always wins if it plays.

    Because I think we know that there were extenuating circumstances. Life is not a list. Life is other things, people and messy. But it doesn’t feel like that when the swamping edges of the inadequacy comes in.

    And that’s why, as much as possible, I let my Lazy, Easy, Simple Method rule the day instead.

    The name’s tongue in cheek, of course, because that’s not actually how I operate in life and I completely tend to overthink always. So if I force myself to Zen, if we “let” ourselves just live our lives, appreciating what we have and drive for the goals we can love and enjoy, step by step, this could actually be a good thing.

    And who couldn’t use a good thing? :)

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Who the hell is she?


Lauren

I am a writer living in Seattle and I believe that life is a grand adventure and only boring if you believe it to be. Plus! You don't need money to have fun.

I live with my husband, a photographer by education and a maker-of-video-games by trade, and a baby named gabe in an apartment on the hill.

I am romantic about most things and I cry... about almost anything. I tell stories to entertain you, I spread stories to keep you in the loop. I am not a grammar freak, but I do know how to spell it. I am exceedingly proud of my scrambled eggs and I really could eat an entire pan of cupcakes. If I met me, I would be my best friend. I tend to be irreverent.

If you would like to chat with me or see what else I'm up to you can follow me on Twitter (betterinrealife), on facebook, or email me at betterinrealife at gmail.


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