A thought that has often haunted me is some combination of “you are a failure”, “you are failing”, or “you are not reaching your potential”. When these thoughts drift into my mind, they feel like ironclad truth, and they drown out any other thoughts that want space inside my head. Even though I know I should “love myself”, when I feel like a failure, loving myself is just another thing I’m failing at. At times, I would get stuck in thoughts like this for days, making it very difficult to move forward with all of the projects I held dear.
For a long time I thought the reason I felt like a failure is because I spent too much time comparing myself to others. Everyone seemed to have it just a little more figured out than me, and I felt like a failure no matter what I was doing. Over time, I was able to let go of comparing myself to others and my attachment to an external timeline of how my life ‘should’ go. When the thoughts would appear in my mind, I would name them as illusions, and try to seek the deeper feeling that rested underneath. Over time, I’ve come to better own my personal accomplishments and in turn feel happy for those around me.
And yet, the feeling of being a failure didn’t entirely go away. The thoughts still come, sometimes even stronger than before. Often, I feel confused and ashamed of myself. Why can’t I stop being so self-hating? I know it’s not cute, but I don’t know how to stop.
I think one of the reasons these shaming thoughts are so powerful is because a part of me has always known there is such a thing as ‘my true self’. At times, I can feel it in my stomach and in my heart and in the back of my throat—-I get visions of it and flashes of it and there have been moments in my life when I have actually felt it, like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, being who I really was, manifesting myself in the world in a way that felt so..right. And in fact, I’ve noticed as these moments have increased, I’ve become even more anxious and depressed in their absence, I think because I can tell the difference much more sharply. I now wince when I deny or avoid my true self, putting other’s needs over my own out of a sense of duty or fear that if I don’t, I will end up alone.
I realize now that the deepest place I can feel inside of ‘feeling like a failure’ is when I can feel how I have failed myself. Failed to listen to what my heart knows is true, failed to say what I needed to say. Even though this is painful to recognize, it is also very empowering.
Now when these thoughts come, I try to tune into my deepest desires in the moment. I try to discern, Am I attached to an external ‘should’ or do I have a desire–to speak–to create–to be alone–that needs to be met?
Through this practice I have been able to reduce the shaming voices of failure into a low whisper—especially if I am able to recognize a specific desire or need. But that clarity is not always available, and my desires are often complex, muddled, or contradictory.
The truth is, the whole project is scary. To try live our truth, with all of its depth and contradictions and intricacies in a world that is constantly trying to collapse us into neat and specific boxes is to ache, everyday. To be honest is not usually approved of. To make a mistake—to let others down—to be messy and destructive and creative and alive—these are the risks our deepest desires ask us to take, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to yet.
Even in writing this piece, I feel my ambivalence over committing to this change as I waver between past and present tense. When I began writing this, it was a day where I felt like I had finally conquered these voices, as I end it here, I find myself deep in the haze of another late afternoon where I don’t feel like I have accomplished enough, don’t know what else to do, and fear I’ll never manifest the visions in my head of what my life could be.
So I do something I know how to do. I pray.
I pray that I can reach the place where the binary of failure or success is no longer so relevant or potent to me, one where each given moment, if felt fully, or even just attempted, is enough. I pray for the strength to know that if I just do my very best to be, be with myself, be for myself, be fully and be honest and live with integrity—then that is enough. I pray for the courage to allow my being to unfold untethered by the threads of my own projections about the future or convictions about the past. And I pray for the ease and comfort in my heart to relish in all of that, not because if I do I am then successful, but simply because if I do, then I have been myself, which is all I ever wanted after all.