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Dear Izzy,

I’ve had it with these motivational positivism pieces of advice! Don’t be afraid to dream big? Make it happen? Have faith? You can do it? What shitty pieces of advice. Tell me, Izzy: What I should do when I just can’t make it happen? Or rather: When the universe won’t let me have it? How do I deal with a universe that dangles the bait and last minute, gives me a big fat no? How do I deal with failure? I’m not talking about unrequited love. I’m talking about life goals. My heart is shredded into pieces, my self-esteem lower than a grave. I’m so tired. Help.

Tired Timmy

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Dear TT,

I can’t remember a time when I’d actually feel better with platitudes. They would aggravate me because they’d usually come parceled with shitty calligraphy and an even shittier, heavily saturated photo of the Northern Lights. Fuck that.

I can remember though the first time I looked up the word “platitude.” My computer’s dictionary defines it as: “a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful”

Do you hear that? With enough repetition, anything with good intentions can easily be rendered meaningless.

The thing with these feel good quotes is that they’re often regurgitated over and over again without any context. You’re demanding to know something people have been wrestling for thousands of years: Is there such a thing as fate? Am I in control or is my life already predetermined by God, Allah, the creator, the universe?
Should I keep working my ass off or should I go with the flow? (Answer: Yes)

This is an important question that many of us spend our entire lives trying to figure out. Entire religions and philosophies have sprung up out of this. Knowing that, how can something so immense be reduced into a series of pretty pastel feel good phrases?

The Bad News: If you feel like motivational pieces of advice are shit, they are. Stop reading them. They’re only good for confirmation bias. The Good News: What you’re feeling is the human condition. Congratulations.

I have no idea what is going on with you. The only hint I have is this mention of life goals. I don’t know how old you are or how present circumstances have beaten you down. I don’t know if you’re still living at home, if you’re supporting other people, or fresh out of college. All I can offer you is the reassurance that there comes a time in everyone’s life where we figure out the role of failure in our narrative.

Mine happened very early on in the game. My first memory of school was of abuse and humiliation. I was shy and daydreamed a lot. This meant that I had a difficult time following tasks or holding my own attention. My preschool teacher relished in pointing out how stupid I was in front of everybody. She’d pinch my ears when I was being impetuous and show everyone work sheets I flubbed up.

There was even a time when the class was celebrating someone’s birthday party and I asked when my turn would be. She said my parents didn’t care about me.

I was three years old. My parents didn’t know what was going on because I was too scared to say anything. I’m sure there are many reasons why I hate authority now, but I can trace my earliest trauma to this moment in my life. I have a hard time remembering any point in my childhood where I wasn’t insecure. If you live your life under a tyranny of self-doubt, eventually you start asking if you want to continue feeling that way. It fucking sucks to feel like you’re worthless and incompetent.

I was always a fearful and angry kid. I was creative though and I channeled my emotions into drawing. The release and escape it afforded me was so calming that I didn’t give a damn if the output was ugly. There were times that the drawings were beautiful and I started getting awards in school for artwork. That was just the bonus.

Replace drawing with other things like reading or listening to music, and you’ll have a picture of how I coped with the void. This wasn’t mere escapism. I didn’t know it then, but these became exercises in not becoming attached to outcomes and just enjoying things for what they are.

If you’re expecting me to wrap this up and saying that I found fulfillment as an artist and I lived happily ever after, I didn’t.

I’m very grateful for my life, though. I make my living doing something creative, I’m able to put food on the table, and I get to come home to my husband and toddler. There’s both joy and sorrow here. It’s not a constant stretch of wins.

Things become tricky when I start measuring my life in terms of successes and failures. For every success, there will always be some failure lurking.

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The same goes for failure. You’re just happening to go through a series of them not and for all I know, they’re all happening at the same time. Failure will always be a fixture in your life and it’s up to you to delegate a role for it. You can allow it to mark you or you can use it as an impetus to pick yourself up. You still have a choice.

As for the other things in your life where you feel powerless, start grounding yourself. Facing the unknown requires tremendous amounts of faith and you can use this time to figure out where to draw yours from.

For me, it began with creating, as opposed to consuming. Consuming things—buying stuff, traveling, binge eating, drinking, watching media—feel great but will never fill up a bottomless void. Making things without caring about the end result allows you to figure out what you’re thinking and feeling.

Creating stills you and gets you in touch with your intuition. Intuition is the voice of the divine infinite. Intuition is that part of you that knows you are worthy. It’s a voice that will always love and accept you. It is not arrogant, hateful, or delusional. This encouraging voice is right there in you. Take it out for a spin.

If creation doesn’t do it for you, there’s also altruism and community. This all hinges in letting go of expected outcomes. Do something nice just because it’s needed. Sometimes selfless acts are the kindest things you can do for yourself. Spend time with family and friends—ask them about what failure does to them and what they still hope for. Sometimes connecting to other people on a deeper level is all it takes for you to remember that you don’t have to carry all this weight on your own.

I can’t promise all your life goals coming true. I can’t even guarantee you’ll come out serene and blissed out. But face failure enough times with enough grit, you won’t even dignify its presence the next time you choose to begin again. That’s the reward.

I know you’re tired. It’s alright. Take some time to rest and regroup. When you’re up for it again, rewrite your narrative and maybe the Northern Lights will even stop looking corny.

You’re alive and you’re loved.

Izzy

Illustration: Madel Crudo

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