Get out of your own way

I started writing on this site in undergrad, after years of online blogging across Xanga, Blogspot, Blogger, Tumblr, and finally deciding that I should invest in my own domain and make a home for all my musings on various intellectual pursuits, commentary on society’s relationship to technology, and my ongoing exploration of personal and professional identity. Occasionally when I sit to write, I’ll scroll through the scores of drafts I have from the last eight years of writing here. Some, more akin to journal entries than any objective writing, make me cringe. Others become helpful fodder for encouraging me to revisit a topic that I see with new perspectives.

Here is a quote from an old draft on vices from 2013: “What I know is that I am a people pleaser by nature, and that…has proven to be both a blessing and a vice. [It’s] inspired me to develop empathy and compassion…[but it can also drive me to fulfill a] sycophantic need to please others [at the expense] of my own happiness.” This got me thinking about how my relationship to others have evolved since then. More importantly, it highlighted how much I’ve evolved over the years.

One belief that radically helped me gain greater confidence personally and professionally was to internalize that no one is paying attention to me as much as I think. I was the type that would ruminate for hours after feeling like I interjected at the wrong time in a conversation or wished I had said something smarter, more clever, more memorable. Those scenes would loop over and over in my head, and the reality was that barely anyone would have noticed nor have perceived it as big of an issue as I did in my mind. Instead, I could and should have taken that self-imposed stress and channeled it toward a more productive activity.

As I grow in my personal and professional life, I will occasionally fall into the trap of (over) worrying about what others think of me. I want those I respect to think well of me, which isn’t an inherently bad desire. However, being able to balance it with stronger judgement on when to pursue my own independent beliefs, goals, ambitions is gratifying. It’s how I decided to no longer pursue playing the violin, despite having spent a decade of my life competing and dedicated to it, in the hopes of devoting that time to other academic interests. It also helped when I decided to leave New York, the city of my dreams and the place I still consider home, for San Francisco, despite many question marks from well intended friends and family members. I recall being worried that I would let people down because I wouldn’t be able to see them as often or just be there for them. It felt selfish at the time to pursue decisions that fulfilled what I wanted and no one else’s. But of course, in doing right by me, I also did right by those I care about and respect.

So if I could go back and reiterate something to my younger, people pleasing self, I’d remind her this: “Get out of your own way, and stop worrying about what others may or may not think. Frankly, no one is paying attention to you as much as you think. Embrace that freedom, and use the knowledge to pursue what you want and not what you believe others want of you. Your life will be richer for it.” I still remain a work-in-progress when it comes to getting out of my own way, but skimming an old draft written by past me was a sweet way to reflect and quietly celebrate my progress.

The Pursuit of Pretty

I attend a university where a vast majority of the student population is unnervingly attractive. Despite a respectable sense of self-worth, my inner self-critic can’t help but face insecurity when surrounded by beautiful, put-together men and women. Society’s standard of physical perfection seems to rise year after year, but it’s even harder to maintain satisfaction with your reflection when real, tangible people around you seem to fulfill all the physical attributes society deems ideal.

For women in particular, the pursuit of pretty can be an endless addiction. From an early age, we are reminded of the importance of being presentable and looking attractive. This idea is reinforced by the the bombardment of countless images showing stunning, long-limbed models in various states of airbrushed perfection. Everyone’s New Year resolution usually involves one intention that deals with carbs (or lack thereof). Ads detailing the many ways a revolutionary serum can reduce fine lines or reverse aging convey the implicit societal view that pretty belongs to the youthful. With all that scrutiny on our exteriors, it’s no wonder that more and more people suffer from eating disorders with each year.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a consumer of fashion and beauty, and I love dressing up and looking pretty. However, I also recognize that our looks fade with time and that basing our self-worth on our appearances can lead us down a dangerous path. It’s an ongoing struggle to look into a mirror without criticizing or wanting to change some part of me, but taking the brave step to invest in inner beauty produces the greatest return that no make-up can provide.

Feeding our inner beauty results in an inner radiance that spills over to enhance our outer beauty. Whether that means we partake in a new dance class, engage in healthier eating habits, or read an interesting novel, these actions make us more beautiful. They build confidence which fosters a newfound self-worth that can’t be faked like being pretty can. Pretty isn’t sustainable, and endeavoring to be pretty will only provide finite gratification. So in lieu of looking at our reflections and figuring out ways to look prettier, let’s focus on what makes us beautiful. Let’s identify the things that bring us joy, the experiences that fulfill us, and make choices to feed our inner beauty.