Establishing a sense of self, I viewed myself as a negative integer– like I began at a deficit and everything I ever did was meant to compensate for that. I wanted to be special because I didn’t believe my very existence qualified me to be that. I’m addicted to beating myself up. I am my most frequent abuser. My self-talk is the Spanish inquisition, makes Tudor torture look humane. Even after I quit cutting, I pick at my skin and pull out my eyebrows hair by hair. My relationship with myself is one where I don’t know how to be, only how to continue subtracting from a woman who can only be whole. This has been me my whole life.
Anxiety became my rocket fuel. Rather than holding me hostage, I forced myself to do everything and anything. I set my standards sky high, and even with a blue ribbon, I felt that I can up short. My ambition is a selfish beast who resents all competing interests. My ambition is the key ingredient in all my pursuits– the special sauce, the change agent from 211 degrees Fahrenheit to 212. I’m just like everyone else. I’m not special. That isn’t intended to be self-deprecating. What I’m saying that my breadth of resources, skill sets, and talents isn’t super human in any way. I’m just nutty. I push myself past my limits. When it pays off, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t it’s disastrous.
It has paid off. I’ve always been a high achiever. I can’t discuss my achievement without my carnivorous drive. It is bloodthirsty and intense and never believes I am enough. My drive is rocket fuel to the disastrous times. I set fire to my whole head space. I rip myself in two before failure even cracks me. Achievement is the Faberge egg we hold when holding space four ourselves feels like too much. Achievement is what the insecure rely on for their mattering. I say this as someone who has done it enough to know. But here’s the thing: no one cares about your SAT score or your GPA or your degrees or how fast you can run or your engagement portfolio. No one will spout a eulogy that includes, “Jan’s triumphant moment was developing a new metric for evaluating tax engagements.” A lot of things we are told matter, don’t matter as much as we thought. My life changed a little when I realized I didn’t need to be the prettiest, the smartest, the best, the skinniest, the most athletic, as much as I just needed to be myself.
In the past year or two, I’ve eased up on myself (ever so slightly and not all the time). I began to ask myself who I am without the armor of accolades. I stopped telling myself that my name sounds like my CV, and my spine is built on salary. I dared to ask myself, “If I don’t become who I thought I would be, will I be ok?”
My first thought was, “do I even want to be all the things I thought I wanted to be?” As an insecure teenager, I thought that in order for my life to be worthwhile, I needed to be famous. I needed to be wealthy. I needed a flashy job and prestigious education and an established man to qualify the worth of my life. I kept this ambitions quiet, but the silence amplified them. Life took a lot of weird turns. This might surprise you, but I am not, in fact, rich. While employed, my job is not terribly glamorous. PLOT TWIST: I am in a committed relationship with a woman (if you’ve been reading for a while, you know I date men and women). My joy has in no way been contingent upon the arbitrary expectations I set for myself at 14.
Almost 12 years later, I’m not wiser, just more flavorful. I’m constantly waiting for my “real life”. But this IS my real life. Right now, right here. I cannot continue to rest the mattering of my life on things that might never be, and even if they are realized, they’re hollow when I hold them. There will always be an inconvenience, an annoyance, and imperfection pertruding from this life. I’m still learning how to acknowledge that without allowing it to rob me of my joy.
Why do I want to be wealthy? To avoid worry. Captialism is a bitch, my friends. We never have enough money, never enough time. What I want is comfort. Comfort is not stuff. Comfort is quality over quantity. Comfort is experiences over materials. Comfort is allowing things to be. Wealth is not needed for that. Wealth opens opportunities, but networking and hard work can also do that.
Why did I want fame/ acknowledgement? I wanted to be seen. I wanted to matter. I am seen. I’ve shown you the best, worse, and messiest of me. You’re still reading this essay! We’re all an assortment of highlights and hidings, hoping someone will love all of it. I already have that. I don’t need exaltation to achieve that.
Why do I want a fancier job title? Because I still kinda define myself by what I am paid to do. But what I do as a person, my unpaid labor is what I am: a sister, a daughter, a mentor, an activist, a writer, a dancer, a loud-mouth broad, a sweet tooth, a riot of softness. My bills are paid. I can afford food on the table. Who cares what title brought that to me?
Who do I want to be outside of what the world told me I had to be? I want to be someone who gives a shit. Apathy is for the birds. Emotion can be polarizing and offputting, but I’m tired of putting off what I feel. I hope I’m somebody who makes everybody feel like somebody. I want to be bold enough to make the first move– in my career, in my friendships, in my love life. I want to be the woman who showed up for people, but mainly, I want to show up for myself consistently. I want to be the author of my own rules– ones where growth is marked by eraser marks and inserts and all these symbols of change. I want to be a woman all the women I’ve been before look at with pride. I don’t want to be a lady. I don’t want to be cool. I’m too fond of the earth and your eyes to ever want a pedestal. I don’t want to be distant or in the in crowd.
You can sit with me. You can sit with us. You do belong here. You’ve always belonged here. I want my example to be one that people look at and understand all the power they have. We reserve the right to remain weird, to write our stories with all of the rules we’ve broken. Even when it seems like the whole wide world is morally bankrupt, there’s emotional satisfaction in staying true to our values. The only control we have in this life is what we focus our attention on. So, I feel the bad. I feel it in my bone marrow, but my field of vision knows to return to the good. This is my real life, and it’s really good. It’s better than I could have fathomed, even if that also means it’s harder than I imagined.
Somewhere in my breathless hustle, life assembled for me. It was so much work. There have been times when all I had were my values, and that was the loneliest place to rest my head. But I stayed where I felt solid. My ambition is still the most ravenous of creatures, but she lives in an ecosystem of gratitude. I am poorer, fatter, less accomplished, less educated, and more bisexual than I thought I’d be at almost 26. That’s ok. That doesn’t require a qualifier. That doesn’t require a subsequent statement to make my readers feel better.
Who am I if I am not rich? Who am I if I’m not famous? Who am I if I never receive another degree? I am Marisa. I am not a negative integer, a problem to be solved, a equation to be balanced. I will likely never be “balanced”. I am, however, always whole. I’m not working toward a set goal or endpoint but adding up all the good shit as I go and releasing the dead weight that no longer serves me. There’s no completion here, no “good enough”. Just me. Miles and miles of me.