"I Feel Like You're Thriving"
I seem to hear these words at the beginning of every catch up session with my friends. It’s sweet. The people I love are watching my new life in Washington DC through their instagram feeds; it looks like I’ve got it together. When they hear about the meetings and informational interviews that I have weekly on Capitol Hill, they seem to think I’m important. When I describe my internship as ‘busy’ and ‘stressed’ it translates to ‘having fun’ and ‘essential.’ But the reality is, from where I’m sitting, my life doesn’t look put together at all. It’s a lot less thriving and more of a struggle to survive.
My metric of success is completely different from yours. Your barometer of success is most likely very different from mine. When people who love and support us and are proud of us attach a success value to our work that feels undeserved because it doesn’t match the level of success that we are striving for, it can compound an already oppressive sense of failure. Though they don’t mean to, my friends and family tell me how proud they are of my work, and it feels like a reminder of how little pride I take in where I am.
Now, it goes without saying that we should ALL be giving ourselves more grace, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how grateful I am to have such a supportive community, but there’s also nothing wrong with having high expectations for ourselves. I always say that I’m not a competitive person, but in reality, I feel like I’m constantly competing with myself.
How can I push higher?
Bring more creativity to my current project?
Maximize my time?
Impact the most people?
So how do we, as people who expect excellence from ourselves and who truly want to continue innovating and pushing forward, manage these feelings of failure in a world that sees us as successful?
For myself, I’ve been starting with a lot of deep breaths (no seriously, I believe that there are a lot of things in life that would be easier if we could just breathe our way through it). Next, I try and verbalize –without oversharing- how I really feel.
“Actually, these meetings have been really frustrating for me. I feel like I’ve worked incredibly hard to get here, and yet with every meeting, I feel like I’m reminded of how far I still have to go.”
“I feel insecure about my place in the company. I’ve been given a lot of responsibility and opportunity, but because of my limited contract and the fact that I’m not paid, I feel as if there isn’t a level of mutual investment.”
Or (most frequently)…
“I really don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year. That’s really scary for me.”
And gratitude. I always try and come back to gratitude.
“Thank you for checking in on me and thank you for saying that you’re proud. It is a good reminder that even if I don’t always feel successful or important in my life here, it’s nice to know that I am important to you.”
I’ve found that the only thing worse that feeling like you are getting undeserved praise, is feeling like you’re lying to people you love. That’s how it feels when I act like everything is great here.
It does make me feel a bit like I’m a Debbie Downer to shine some reality and talk through what I’m really feeling. And it’s a lot more exhausting to explain myself instead of just saying “Yeah everything’s awesome!!!” but I’ve also found that I’m able to connect with those closest to me when I risk that vulnerability.
My father shared stories of his own post grad confusion.
My mother reminded me that even though I’m on the other side of the country, she will come and get me if I need it (sometimes you just need your mom to come pick you up from school lol).
My best friend opened up about the failures she’s been feeling in her life.
Not only has sharing the reality of my experience brought me closer to the people I care about, but it has also helped to lighten the weight of expectations that I seem to self impose. When I’m not carrying around that expectation of having to be successful right in this moment, it allows me to keep raising the bar and set higher goals that push me closer to the person I know I can be. Right now, I’m overall feeling like a big ‘fail,’ but these brief glimpses of growth definitely help me feel like I’ll ‘pass’ overall.
Meg Spencer doesn’t really know how to answer ‘where are you from?’ so she usually just says ‘all over!’ Most recently she has been living in Washington DC and working as a multimedia journalist. She is passionate about trails, travel, women running for office, and advocating to make the Dixie Chicks mainstream again. You can find her on instagram @megspencers!