The Empty Vessels We Fill: How To Be Enough
I want to preamble this post by saying that I’m no expert on happiness. I don’t have all the research & I have not studied the subject in full. I’m neither a philosopher nor am I a psychologist.
I am just a human, living and thinking. These are my only qualifications.
I’m not forging new research or theories.
I provide a perspective, that’s all.
I have two goals with this post:
- To convince you that you are enough;
- To remind you with an analogy about how you can reverse your state, whether you are 15 or 55.
I know that a lot of people must feel like they are not enough, sometimes or perhaps quite often.
They must feel like they are reaching and failing, never fulfilling what they expect to fulfil.
Being “not enough” made me think of an analogy: what do we say “not enough” about? It occurred to me that we could say that about liquids in vessels (my Russian ancestry shines through here).
Whatever we are — it’s not enough of us to go into those vessels. We are the contents in this scenario.
These vessels are like models of life or self. The problem is that they are at once vague and concrete. They are unwritten, yet very visible.
They are also discrete. It must be why most people fall in and out of the feeling of happiness, but never tend to experience it on a spectrum, or for a very long period of time.
In your particular example, one vessel could be “mom” or “dad”. If you’re an entrepreneur, it could be “Steve Jobs”, “Elon Musk”. It could be “Kim Kardashian”, “Rihanna”, or just your friend who’s got her life together.
There’s never one vessel; they overlap, change over time; new ones appear. This is why it starts to feel confusing at times, as you lose your identity by having too many identities.
(Now that we have social media, this is a very acute problem. Your potential vessel = every other Instagram or Twitter account.)
The key insight is that we feel like we haven’t filled this or that vessel, yet we always fill some vessel — whatever it may be.
Life happens, regardless.
You may expect to marry a guy that you’re dating. He leaves you, and now you’re sad and lonely. You had a vessel = “great happy, model life”, but the vessel is not there.
And it never really was, because you weren’t in it in the first place. You just saw it on the shelf and wanted it.
Now you’ve filled a different one: a vessel of a person who is sad and lonely, who stays at home to watch Netflix while drinking wine.
What if something happened to you: from the death of a relative to toothache to cancer. Imagine if you looked at yourself in the mirror and said, “I’m good! This is exactly how I wanted to feel!”
You’re reading this and thinking how weird that would be if you did that.
But it’s essential to try. Your toothache won’t pass now; your relative will not come back from the dead; cancer won’t just go away.
You, on the other hand — whatever constitutes you — is here right now.
What is a midlife crisis if not you looking at a shelf of vessels you thought you had wanted/was supposed to fill, and realising that you hadn’t?
And how easy is it to forget that you’re still alive? That you have filled other vessels in the meantime? Yes, this is you now. Look at you. To live with who you are, there is no better option than to like what you see, accept it and go on cheerfully.
We live with the concept of time. It is a punishing, unyielding concept.
It’s one of the most sacred and mysterious properties of our reality. We are continuously journeying through time.
Every second, we set our feet in motion, to be somewhere when the future gets there. And when we’re there, we don’t notice it.
So this is our basic strategy — we want to align our existence with one of the most fundamental things in the world. We make plans, we make projections in the same direction that this fundamental essence flows.
As estimates & standards, we use other people. They are vague, not specific to us; they are outward. This is your shelf of vessels through which you pour the life that you live.
But all that life cascades down into the real vessels and you should look more often at them.
“If my aim is to prove I am ‘enough’, the project goes on to infinity — because the battle was already lost on the day I conceded the issue was debatable.” — Nathaniel Branden
Have I convinced you? Maybe not.
If I did convince you for a moment, as I convinced myself once, then all I can say is that you should revisit this article again in the future. Save it in your calendar, or print it and post it on your fridge.