Turn on any TV, go to any website, and you'll see dozens of advertisements telling you about all the things that are wrong with you, all the things you don't have, all the experiences you could be having. Go to Instagram or Facebook, everyone is posting about their accomplishments, their wonderful friends and family, all the places they are traveling. And there you are, just sitting behind your computer or phone, feeling small.
During times of high stress, I find myself spending so much mental energy apologizing to myself for not having all these things, not fitting this image. I get swept up in all of the shame, drowning in a sea of "I should have..." and "If only I could…" and "Why didn't I…" until even my proudest moments seem painfully insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I think of all the impressive things my friends and family members have done and I put them on a pedestal while I kick myself down.
For one, I'm not a superstar student. Never have been, and probably never will be. I went to a competitive high school, I frequently lied about my grades and standardized test scores to my peers. Even in college, I've gotten caught up in feelings of inadequacy. But you know what? College is tough. Sure, you have lots of fun, but the weight on your shoulders can be at times overwhelming. Have you ever stepped back and thought about the fact that maybe telling young adults they have 4-5 years to plan the rest of their life and if things don't go smoothly they'll wind up a failure for life, regretting all their mistakes until the day they die? Yeah, it's pretty bonkers, especially considering that some of our society's most successful individuals took very non-traditional paths.
If school is your strong suit, that's friggin' awesome. I know you have worked hard and have an extremely bright future. I just want to help myself and others realize that academics are one particular skill, not a test to see who is going to succeed in life and who won't. People with all levels of education, whether they dropped out of high school or got a Ph.D., go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives on their own terms. I spend more time volunteering than studying for exams, I have a large network of amazing friends, and I took some risks in my love life which led to my first real romantic relationships. Guess what? These are achievements too! Personally, I do intend to go to grad school, but I have come to realize I am gaining so much more from my college experience than letter grades and letters of recommendation.
A couple weeks ago, I really screwed up. I was on a committee of an organization I'm a part of. I didn't give it my all, I didn't discipline myself to show up to all the meetings and follow through with the commitments I made. In the end, I was told I could no longer serve on the committee. I was heartbroken. I cried for an hour when I saw the email. "This isn't who you are, you could've done so much better!" I told myself repeatedly. But the truth I came to was that, actually, that is who I was, it showed how my imperfections led me to make a mistake. Does this mean I am a horrible person? Absolutely not. It was a committee, I wasn't in trouble with the law or causing anyone serious harm. If I am honest with myself about what went wrong and take it as a learning experience to grow and improve; this turn of events that brought me so much shame can be transformed into a life lesson I will one day be grateful for. Just like how I lost my first relationship due to letting gossip get the best of me, and I promised myself from then on that I wouldn't allow myself to repeat my mistake. Two years later? I am much more careful when it comes to gossip. That pain I felt back then made me stronger and wiser.
I've come to learn, and I am still learning every day, that there is nothing more courageous than to wear your imperfections and failures on your sleeve. People who focus on nothing but success and live in fear and denial of their shortcomings are closing themselves off to true fulfillment. When you try to bury those shameful moments away, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to grow and to form a connection with others through common experiences. When you show empathy for others, you show empathy for yourself.
To err is human.
To be proud of it is badass.