Life Isn’t a Goddamn TED Talk

As I write this, I’m lying on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, still sniffling and rubbing my eyes. I’m just coming out of a bit of a breakdown. By breakdown I mean episode 495,029,384 of me freaking out about how I don’t know what I want. How I don’t know what I want, and I don’t even know how to start figuring it out. How I can’t start figuring it out because I don’t know where to start because I don’t know what I want. And crying. Lots of crying. On Scott’s shoulder. He sits there and listens and consoles and rubs my back and laughs at my funny crying face (in a very nice way) and tries to reassure me. His advice this time: “It’s okay to be in limbo” and “I don’t know where this voice is coming from that is telling you that you have to know something by a certain time, but it’s wrong” and “Just explore for a while.”

Me: “But, there are all these people out there, that have figured their shit out. These people I want to be like: coaches, writers, speakers, etc. They all talk about this big transformation they’ve gone through and now they have a personal brand, they are about X, they are doing Y, and they know they want Z.”

Him: “Anna, that’s all bullshit. They’re trying to sell you something. It’s never that easy.”

He’s right. I live in Silicon Valley in California. The mecca of “going out on your own” to do a startup or start a business or “find yourself.” The peer pressure to “reach for your full potential” and “follow your dreams” is suffocating. It’s debilitating if you listen to it (I do). The number of people throwing advice at you about what steps to follow to find your purpose or follow your passion is overwhelming to say the least. But what really pisses me off is that it’s GROSSLY oversimplified. Life isn’t a goddamn TED talk.

I have spent way too long enamored by this concept of “finding yourself” and thinking that it’s some sort of magic place you get to through any number of means: backpacking solo across Europe, quitting your job and starting a blog, moving to Indonesia and volunteering in an orphanage. From what you read, it’s hard to not believe that the answer to everything is on the other side of doing something that isn’t what you’re doing now. That it only comes from a drastic up-ending of everything you know. As they always say, “You can’t find yourself until you lose yourself”…isn’t that how it is?

NO. Fucking wrong. You never “find yourself.” You only get to know yourself. Slowly. You uncover things on a second-by-second basis that slowly paints the picture of who you are. And it’s never complete. Traveling the world for a year won’t give you all the answers. It’ll tell you what you’re capable of maybe, but not who you are. That knowledge doesn’t come from doing something, it only comes from being.

What I’ve come to believe is that the definition of who you are actually comes from the outside. The world is so complex that this complexity leads people to define you for you. Everyone gets boxed in somehow. You’re this kind of author, this kind of actor, this kind of speaker, this kind of professional, this kind of parent, this kind of person. People can’t help it. They are trying to represent you, to honor you, but they only see what you put out there, and most people don’t put all of their messiness out there. Others don’t see all of the grey area “stuff” that you live most of your life in. You become “something defined” to people and that something is only a small part of who you really are.

My problem is that I need to see what’s behind it all. I have to know that it’s okay to not be boxed in and if you are, that it’s okay to not only be what’s defined by that box. Otherwise I will keep refusing to pursue paths that I think will “label” me the wrong thing or keep me from doing something else I want to do. I need to SEE that “finding yourself” is actually a process. I need to SEE that it’s not about what’s on the other side, it’s about the struggle on the way there — what you went through, what you’ve gotten over, what you’ve discovered along the way. That’s what makes up the grey area of life. And that’s how we actually define ourselves. So, please, stop hiding and let us see you.

Originally published at