Here comes the age old question: “Will I ever be good enough?”
Everyone ruminates about it. We all think about it at some point. If you’re human, you have your complexes, insecurities and vulnerabilities like every generation before you. We spend our lives working to overcome the self-defeatism, the hollow and loaded voices, and the disconnect between what we’ve internalized about ourselves verses how intricately remarkable we are. We work daily towards experiencing a clearer, noise-free mind free of negativity. It requires constant practiced discipline to break away from unhealthy behaviors and toxic thoughts. These are actions I have to be aware of and constantly hone, since I haven’t mastered the art of self yet.
When I was a young girl, my brain was constantly wired. If you could see the neurons in our brains colliding and making love in a colorful explosion, mine would be lit as bright as the fireworks on the 4th of July, but on repeat, for 24 hours of a day. That deafening eruption and the flashes of light caused my mind to become muddled and confused with an excess of thoughts. It became difficult to distinguish the essential from the non-essential. The tyrannic voices of the majority would silence the quiet but resilient thoughts of brilliance and confidence.
“Will I ever be able to fulfill my vision and create my legacy in this world? You can’t do it. Who are you kidding?”
“I’m not skinny enough.” “I don’t look beautiful today.”
“What are people thinking about me? What are they saying?”
Self-doubt is the slyest of operators and he will connive and scheme to bring you down to self-sabotage and self-destruct yourself.
A product of an Asian upbringing that valued excellence and self-critical standards, I was a perfectionist. Everything had to be in order. If my bed was creased after I had carefully made it, I couldn’t walk away from it. I simply had to go back to smooth the duvet out until my mind was at ease. The same applied to how I viewed achievement and success in life. I couldn’t just let myself stop, take a breather and savor a personal milestone. It was always about forging forward instead of reflecting on how important the small victories were and what they meant for my journey. In the process of forgetting to be kind to myself, I also developed a skewed perspective on what I was doing in my life and how impactful it was to my own self-growth and the lives of others.
In my teens, year after year, when I won a seat on my highschool’s student council, I would lie in bed, wide awake, anxious about how I would strategize for a win in the following year, before the school year was even finished. For several consecutive days of a month, I would be in bed, bundled like a burrito enveloped in darkness while my thoughts whirred around in the quiet space. As my family was asleep in the dead of the night, I was thinking of campaign slogans for the school year to come. At some point, it all became rather unsustainable and I consciously acknowledged that in practical terms, my anxieties were ridiculous. Yet, they were so real in my mind that they manifested into something real. I wanted to do so much, but it was impossible for me to progress when I was competing against an invisible force rather than acknowledging that the most important facet was that I was competing against myself: my willpower, my mental strength, and my own ambition.
Ambition is a beautifully misunderstood concept. People who overachieve or who dream to achieve can become consumed by the promises of something more, something grander, something bigger than what we know or can even imagine is possible knowing in this reality. That’s the earth-shattering gorgeousness of this life. It’s so limitless and unknown that sometimes even stars implode when they shine too bright. As I moved from my teens into my twenties, I watched as several ambitious, kind, and intellectually strung women who had all initially belonged to a similar community as I did began to retreat from the trajectories and lives that they were socially pre-determined to walk down. Prestigious scholarships and cookie-cutter perfection were abandoned on the curbside. Good girl stereotypes and niceness were traded in for voices of dissension and strong-minded opinions that came from struggle and personal battles. The rebellion had started and it was so utterly stunning.
When I started listening to myself and stopped comparing myself to convention, things took their natural course. I had been swimming against a tumultuous tide, only to discover that I could go so much further by swimming with the current. I realized that the sea of black suits on Wall Street that many in my circle held as the pinnacle of intellectual achievement and career success for women was not my calling. I decided to start putting time into projects and people who made my heart swell from joy. I bought a sewing machine and taught myself how to sew. I spent hours pouring over ripped seams, svelte suedes and bags of the most divine fabrics. When I went in for my first real job interview, I was wearing a fuchsia pink blazer and a chic beige dress. I had ombré hair and I hid no part of myself. My interviewers and I talked about Heels & Soul (it was on my resume), my Vietnamese background, why I moved to the United States, my travels and things that made me laugh. A few weeks later, I signed my first full-time contract at Google, slated to join their Mountain View office in California.
Even though I had landed a job before graduation at a fantastic company that I had always respected, I was so self-critical at the time that I didn’t even have the opportunity to realize how blessed I was and how hard I had worked to come this far. When you are so hard on yourself, you can rob yourself of truly understanding how privileged you are to stand where you stand and the amount of work you have invested into an outcome. You don’t have the full experience of gratefulness because you are too preoccupied with yourself. I have the pre-programmed reflex to always say “No” or to deny any compliment or warm words anyone gives me. For the longest time, I thought it was a form of modesty and humility. Now, I’ve decided to change my mind and say “Thank you.” Acknowledge the significance you add to this world. There are already a myriad of forces working against us. Giving yourself love and accepting love is all part of making a better world. Being at peace with yourself is an important step towards bringing peace into this world.
Lastly, the most liberating thing you should hear – I wish someone had told me when I was 13 and impressionable – is , “No one cares.” Of course, people care about causes, the feelings of others, about work and about how they are going to pay their credit bills amongst other pressing real life concerns. With all the constant motion of life, people have too many things to occupy their minds with. The more quickly I absorbed this concept, the happier I was in my life. Humans are often so wrapped up in the bubbles and microcosms that are their realities that they don’t have time to be paying attention to what you perceive to be major mistakes or moments that are difficult to recover from. Let me pull a line from Dr. Seuss here for you that will always resonate with me: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Once you acknowledge that you have the freedom to just be, without pretense, you will be free. Free yourself! Your life is your own, and it is a gift to grow up with choice. Don’t waste it.
I thought this message was especially pertinent since we are starting a new year, which many people equate to as a new beginning. If you’re reading this, I am sending you love and thanks for following my rambles and musings. You’re the best!
Let it go. Stop trying to control so many things. Trade in self-doubt for self-knowledge. You are enough. I promise you this.
Illustration: My talented friend Grace Zhang