Updated: Apr 26
One of the newest things I realized is that I take life awfully seriously and without a lot of grace. The combination is suffocating. I am not saying that we shouldn’t measure the choices we are faced with. But, thinking of each one as gravely important is an awful lot of pressure and removes any sense of humanness. I say that I want to talk about the messy human experience but much of me still wants things tied up with a neat bow with little room for error.
The reality is that error seems to be a kind of death—finality. There is no flexibility. For instance, l sit thinking I should feel jubilant and inspired and instead, my anxiety is coming like a freight train screeching that I need to get writing. Then the self-doubt kicks in that this won’t be good let alone inspiring. Now, some of this is simply the frustration of the writing process (the stops and starts and more stops) but much of the anxious energy surrounding this entry is that I won’t get it right the first time and that I will feel a sense of shame for publishing indulgent, senseless babble. Like with many aspects of life, I am acting like my life depended upon this one action.
Since I was young, I have been told I take things too seriously or that I need to “chill out and calm down”. I still really struggle with this. I realize that my reaction is outsized for what is happening but don’t always know how to “calm it down” and put things in perspective. The thing is that I was raised in an environment that prized hard work and doing well. I am glad that my parents pushed my sister and I to do better and want more than the country life that surrounded us. The truth is that I wouldn’t have done well with that life. I like the buzz of new places and the largeness of city life. But, with the push for doing well and going above and beyond, there wasn’t a lot of space to mess up nor grace when one did. There always felt like there was an air of doom if mistakes were made.
I will say that my parents are immensely proud of my sister and me and they have since mellowed a bit on the strictures about messing up (the equalizing force of adulthood). But it is my responsibility to take that early coding and change it. I don’t want to look at every choice as life or death. I want to try my best and let myself even enjoy the outcome. And, if it does go awry, I want to be mature enough to take responsibility, make the necessary adjustments, and move on, embracing that this is what being fully human, and living is.
Nick Cave recently wrote about the connection of self-doubt and taking life too seriously. (An aside: In addition to his music, writing, and directing, Cave writes a lovely newsletter called the Red Hand Files. It is filled with inspiration and oddities and is one of the most beautiful examples of connecting to others’ humanity that I have come across). Self-doubt is part of the human condition. Some of it may be humbling and equalizing but often, it’s a sign that we are taking things too seriously and might be forgetting that the world can be a humorous and joyous place. Too much self-doubt and seriousness cause us to fold into ourselves and remain in a little box. It might seem safe but it’s really stultifying.
I’m not advocating for throwing care to the wind. We should be cautious at times. We should care how our decisions affect our futures and those that we share this life with. Living is life and will eventually, for us all, be death. There is no reason to intentionally live our lives small and overly calculated, sucking the delight out of our time here for some “right answer or way”. We should dive into being human, cleaning up our messes and catching light when we can.