When I was a little girl, I never for a moment envisioned myself as a grown woman. I’m not sure how many kids actually picture themselves as grow ups, so maybe this isn’t that strange. I could easily imagine myself as a teenager, but not any form of an adult – not a working woman, not a mother, not anything other than an awkward child.
Maybe if I had some vision for myself as an adult, this all wouldn’t be so hard. If I had grown up watching a mother put on a suit each morning and go into the office, coming home with stories about her own boss and sharing her tactics for handling adult life. My mother, like many mothers of babies born in the 1980s, was a stay-at-home mother.
She was a helicopter mother because she didn’t have anything better to do. Her entire life consisted of bragging about the accomplishments of her children. Every tiny win was a huge victory the world needed to know about. Every struggle was ignored. Emotions outside of anger and anxiety were not allowed in the household. No one knew how to handle such an emotional, insecure child. I never learned how to handle myself.
This weekend, I saw the movie Birdman, which is a film about a man who has basically lost his shit because life didn’t turn out quite the way he expected. While his psychological illness is one of delusion, I could relate to the feeling of hopelessness and angst surrounding all aspects of life not particularly epic. Perhaps it was the two-drink brunch and stresses of my work that brought me to tears through the film, along with my own compulsive self obsession, but I felt as if I were drowning. The film tossed many personally uncomfortable themes together – regarding life, parental misguidance, and the need to be not just loved but admired.
Gasping for air as I shoved a bag of drunkenly purchased move theater candy into my mouth, I didn’t want my friends who were also at the movie to my right to notice that I was having a minor emotional meltdown. I escaped to the woman’s restroom once the credits began to roll and muffled my overly dramatic tears with a few fraudulent flushes.
I’m far too sensitive. Both my boyfriend and a friend have said this in a different combination of words and looks of concern. Despite getting myself into professional situations where I take the brunt of deprecation, it is my own fault for allowing others actions to push me down so quickly and so hard. My boyfriend, like my last therapist, reminds me that so much of ones mental state has to do with their own internal monologues. He says that I need to actually believe that. I believe that if I believed whatever it was I was saying to myself – but just switching the talk track in my mind from “god I am so terrible at this” to “I tried my best and I think what I provided was actually good” is not going to change the fact that I believe I am so terrible at it.
Or, I have no ability to gauge what good enough is, since the only good I’ve ever learned is the one which can be paraded about for the neighborhood to see. It was artwork which wasn’t extraordinary but pretty good for a teenager. It was performing a solo at the school talent show despite being partially done deaf, and all of the photos which could come from the occasion. When one is not rewarded for being average or being just as good as the next person, it can effect a child in different ways. For some, they work harder, always feeling better than everyone else, but never quite being fulfilled. For me, I lost the tastebuds for the modicum of success that one must survive on in adult life.
The advice I received is not to let things said to me at work effect me at such a deep level. If my boss is not going to be happy with the work I produce, then either I figure out how to produce better work, acknowledge no amount of work will every satisfy him and do my best, or I look for another job. There is no point in just wallowing in self hatred because despite how much effort I put into my job I feel like I can’t produce what is needed for success. And, while I rarely discuss my emotional turmoil with those I know outside of those who read this blog, I can’t let myself slip into the land of suicidal ideation. Even though I’d never actually kill myself, it’s not at all productive to spend the remaining minutes of my life when I’m not at work or doing work fantasizing about the beauty of just being done with the world, since that’s the end result of all this anyway.
While I never pictured myself as an adult, today the picture I have of myself as the adult I hope to become has nothing to do with professional success. Today, my only sense of satisfaction comes from seeing my networth increase towards my annual goal. I do not find happiness or satisfaction in anything else, except perhaps exceeding my clearly quantifiable quarterly goals at work. Since when did I become so boring? I can’t make small talk because I have no hobbies. I don’t have time for hobbies beyond occasionally pouring my heart out in an anonymous psychological illness journal disguised as a personal finance blog. I tried to sign up for a club in the evening during the week after work but then my boss required me to meet in the evening and so I was unable to go to the club. So much for trying to build some sort of non-professional “life” for myself.
I fully acknowledge that I’m getting paid extremely well at this point in my life and I don’t want to fuck it up. I’m learning a lot and even though each day brings its meltdowns and takes weeks off of my life due to the stress that I let build up in my chest, I am in a very good place for many reasons. If I screw this up, I don’t know if I’ll ever have such a good opportunity again. I keep reminding myself this is not a forever thing, this is a focus and just move mountains now thing so I can open doors for the rest of my life and have options thing. I know I’m so fortunate to be in this place, yet I seek to find some resolution to the emptiness, the wanderlust for the epic, the acknowledgement that after all these years of thinking life was more exciting on the other side of the great youth-adult divide, the reality is that life is just a series of repetitions until our bodies fail to reboot for yet another go at it.
Is it so horribly wrong to want my parents to be impressed with my accomplishments? My father constantly reminds me that I can’t hold down a job, even though I’ve informed him time and again that spending 2-4 years in one company is completely normal for my industry. There are days when I just want to tell him exactly how much money I’m making because perhaps that would be enough to impress him, but that would open up a whole new can of worms. I’d forever regret having explained to him how I’m making the same if not more than most MBA graduates my age, despite having only an undergraduate degree in something unrelated to business — it would turn into some guilt session about how I should buy them nicer gifts, or how I should be purchasing a house now instead of renting. Worse yet, when the day comes that I leave this role, and if I was to decide to pursue something that pays less, which would be likely, I’d never hear the end of it. So I keep my mouth shut. I think to myself, every time I receive a paycheck, how proud they’d be if they only knew how far I’ve come.
Then I think to myself, damn, it’s sad that your parents aren’t proud of you for, you know, being in a stable relationship, or being “happy,” or having a job in the first place, or that you even care so much about what they think, even though you’re now a living specimen of a grown woman.
The whole overly dramatic depressed rambles aren’t very productive, but they’re what goes on in my mind day in and day out, nonetheless. I wish I could turn all of this energy into something useful. I think of all the great authors who have suffered with their own inner demons, who feel deeply enough to express the intricacies of human joy and suffering, yet create fiction with lessons for humanity that far outlive their demons. It is wrong to romanticized the disturbed creative mind, but it is at least calming to acknowledge that most of the world’s greatest poets, painters, and writers would probably feel just as tortured attempting to neatly fit into the box of corporate executive #280258019.
For all my incapacity for embracing the lull of routine, I’ve managed to force myself into a box in which I clearly do not fit. Every morning of everyday I roll out of bed, wipe my eyes wide open, and fold myself into myself until I look halfway presentable as some grown up woman going about her day. And I fight through my life with the hope that maybe someday, somehow, I’ll no longer feel so far removed from the world around me, that I’ll wake up and know what it’s like to be “normal,” and not waste so many precious seconds drawing out a romantic fantasies where either I’m some great savior or gone.