As it turns out, there’s a very fine line between striving for your best and perfectionism, between pushing yourself and being hard on yourself.
I’ve spent most of my twenties walking that line, often finding myself on the wrong side of it.
Have you felt that dogged determination to succeed? Has it brought you good things? For me it has, at times. If you’re just settling for the easily attainable, how can you soar to unexpected heights?
More often though, it’s left me afraid. Stripped to some base layer of anxiety, too nervous of falling short that I won’t even participate. I see things in black and white: opt out or succeed. Be the fastest, strongest, smartest, most capable, or don’t even try.
But I’m finally learning that there is something in between sitting still and high speed ahead. Do you already live that way? Have you already found out that 0 to 60 in an instant is a fruitless endeavor? I’ll need to remind myself of that again and again in the coming years. I’ll whisper out loud, “Stay a comfortable 30 MPH. You’re still driving somewhere.”
And that gold star for being the smartest? At the end of the day, the person you’re pleasing is yourself. Any measure of success -- awards, recognition, a million Instagram likes – really only matters if it makes you feel more at peace with yourself in those quiet moments alone.
Maybe we’re just all moving, at different paces, towards this realization: Your life is yours alone. What lights you up? What makes you sleep peacefully at night? What makes you break out in a smile? Find that. Stick with it, even when it’s hard.
Maybe it will change for you, and you’ll have to pay attention to the shifting tides of your happiness. Maybe you’ll fall in love with wine tasting. Discover that you’re really good at knitting. Start reading Mary Oliver’s poetry and wonder why you haven’t felt your soul stir this way before.
Me? These days I like hot sweaty Bikram yoga classes, even though I swore I never would. I like mushrooms. I never did before. I like a glass of Prosecco at night, every night, even though it’s a silly waste of bubbles sometimes (dear wine industry, make single bottles of good-quality sparkling wine, please and thank you). I like cooking, even though it can stress me out and I’m not nearly as confident at the stove as I am baking.
But I practice the things I like. I pay attention to what feels good at the end of the day.
When I think I want to order in, or eat crackers and cheddar cheese for dinner, I try to take a breath and make something simple instead (NB: this does not always work; oh hi hello Wheat Thins, my old friend).
I sauté mushrooms in brown butter until golden and crisped on the sides. I crack three eggs into a bowl, add milk, and whisk it aggressively. I turn down the heat on my pan and pour in my eggs. I sprinkle salt and coarse black pepper over the top. Using my very favorite gray silicone spatula (everyone should have a favorite spatula), I stir my eggs meditatively in a constant figure eight.
I add diced avocado and baby spinach. When they’re creamy and set, I flip them onto a plate.
I sit cross-legged on the couch with a new-to-me novel, a recent gift from my mom, that transports me to a high seas world of pirates and fantastical sword fights and magical cuisine (it’s called Cinnamon and Gunpowder and you should read it!).
I unfold a napkin. I take a bite. I breathe in and out: Another day gone. A little bit of a life well-lived.