I frequently feel like a lot of things that are supposed to be encouraging and inspiring end up feeling kind of hollow; sometimes just the suggestion to love myself/my body/chase my dreams/whatever is enough to get me back to thinking I can handle things, but more often than not, it doesn’t resonate with me unless it has more substance than just that I should be doing these things. It can feel cheesy or fake, so I thought I’d take some time to share the things that actually help me keep my head up that I feel are a little more useful than being told:
give up on having a timeline
It’s tempting to think your life has to be in a certain place by a certain time, especially in thinking like “I’ll have everything together by the time I’m 25” or whatever, but that’s really unhelpful when it comes down to it. Be suspicious of the temptation to set arbitrary deadlines for yourself, especially when they’re defined by vague criteria. Having long term goals can be good, but even when they take longer than expected, they’re not completely invalidated. This is especially relevant when it comes to feeling perceived social pressure about achieving something by a certain time, like career success, marriage, whatever. The rules are all made up anyway! Fuck it!
Women especially are fed this line that our value as people (as friends, as employees, as fuckable partners) decreases with age; it’s a trap to feel like we have to be desirable from 18-25 and nothing afterwards, especially when this is one of the most vulnerable periods of our lives. Skills, maturity, ambition, insight, your side-hustle-passion, whatever, all benefit from time to develop, and the idea that success must be immediate (while you’re still pretty) is designed to deny women the opportunity to reach milestones that they deserve.
remember your successes
When it feels like you don’t have your shit together, it can be helpful to look back on things you’ve accomplished and remember your positive traits. This doesn’t necessarily have to be things that are huge or that you think other people would be impressed by…you’re kind, or you’re funny, or you’re good in a crisis, or whatever. You made something really cool, or you made it through a period of time where things seemed so bad you didn’t know if you would make it through. Keep these things in your back pocket.
ignore everybody else
Literally though! I don’t mean pay attention to what people are doing and try not to care, I mean straight up ignore them. Don’t peek at other people’s tests when they’re handed back, don’t go checking follower counts or other types of stats. Pretend it doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t make a difference to your life, and it’s wasted energy (whether it makes you feel better or worse) because it distracts you from focusing on what you’re trying to do.
give up on the idea of “intrinsic” talent and commit to being persistent
There are so many reasons why people succeed, but people mostly attribute things to someone having naturally “good” qualities. Artistic talent and academic intelligence are some examples of this; people seem to have generally agreed that these are things that you either have or you don’t, and they’re the biggest factors as to whether or not you’ll succeed in school or make it as an artist or whatever. (You can extend this out to whatever area of interest you want.)
I think this can be a really damaging way to look at things; first of all, there are so many circumstances that can get in the way of someone who is otherwise competent reaching their goals (discrimination, lack of access to resources or opportunity, etc.) that the very American Dream myth of a system where anyone can succeed if they’re capable/smart/whatever is straight up just fucked. It’s nowhere near the vicinity of an accurate way to describe the world, so if you’re not reaching your goal or whatever, there’s a tendency to think something like “well it’s just that I’m stupid, I can’t do it now and I’ll never be able to,” instead of that a lot of things are set up to block people from succeeding and that they also take tons of time and work.
I was gonna write this long boring personal blurb in here about how hard engineering school is, and how every dude there thinks he’s a damn genius and professors give exams where the class average is 40% and they’re proud of that because it means they’re exclusive or some shit, but I’ll just leave it as the shortened boring personal blurb and say that eventually I just had to say fuck it, give up on wondering whether I was “smart enough” (or even smart at all) and commit to just keep trying until the administration got so sick of me they’d give me a degree just to go away. Natural talent or skills can get you somewhere, but they also don’t guarantee anything, so it’s more productive to focus on the things you are in control of, which can be putting extra time in, the way you interact with people, or any one of a number of things that can matter just as much as how fast you can do math.
Another approach to take when you feel like you don’t have the edge from being naturally good at something is to use what you are strong in. (For example, creativity, the ability to be calm in a crisis, or being good at reading people.)
do the self care you can
There is a laundry list of things we’re all supposed to be doing to take care of our shit, and quite frankly, it can be overwhelming. eat right exercise but not too much never procrastinate have a perfect sleep schedule even though sometimes you toss and turn for hours always keep your cool and why the fuck aren’t you meditating love your body even though you’ve been conditioned to hate it or you’re a bad feminist keep your place clean because it’ll make you calmer even though having to clean a lot stresses you out don’t you want to be happy After a certain point, it’s more trouble than it’s supposed to be worth.
I really think that the best way to use self care to make your life better is to just be kind to yourself and try to know your limits, and that’s going to vary from person to person. Do the things that genuinely make you feel better and that are manageable for you; this could be avoiding someone who makes you feel shitty, eating something tasty, or knowing what food/exercise/sleep habits give you the energy you need, and do those things for yourself instead of because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.