“I Guess I Just Feel Like…”

An ode to John Mayer’s new song and some thoughts about the emotional elephant in the room.

Photo by Olya P on Unsplash
“So I sat down and I wrote a song. It’s called ‘I Guess I Just Feel Like,’ and it’s this really honest confrontation with how it feels. ‘I guess I just feel like good things are gone. I guess I just feel like nobody’s honest, nobody’s true, and everyone’s lying just to make it through. I guess I just feel like I’m the same way, too.’” — John Mayer

I could listen to John Mayer talk all day about literally anything and everything. There are certain people equipped with such unique perspectives on life, dissecting the simple to the complex and existential, they’re simply captivating to have around and listen to. John is one of those people.

Described in 2017 by the New York Times as a “master conversationalist prone to verbal solos, noodling in impressionistic bursts about his nature and career, weaving in therapy-speak, potential stand-up bits and a barrage of mixed metaphors as if he’s writing this story himself,” John Mayer is well established as an especially talented raconteur.

But the thing about John is that he also has something important to say.

His latest song, “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” debuted live at an iHeartRadio performance on October 24th, 2018. Described in his interview with Complex Magazine as being the “emotional elephant in the room,” John wrote this song in an effort to get to the heart of his emotion and not simply write for the radio.

“There’s nothing hit-like about it,” explains John, “but sometimes you’ve just got to tell the truth with a guitar and then you can get back to playing some hit songs.”

Though I could write a novel about my admiration for John Mayer’s inner workings, that’s not what I intend to do here.

After listening to the song itself and understanding the sentiment behind it, I wanted to write my own list of things that “I guess I just feel like” are happening, things I think are worth paying attention to that we don’t necessarily talk about. To be totally honest, the fact that he termed the song as the “emotional elephant in the room” hooked me from the get-go, because the elephant in the room is one of my favorite terms to use.

And despite my own introversion, I’m well known by my family and close friends as having a proclivity for heavy conversation. (Aka: I talk, and I talk a lot, about a lot of things, a lot of the time.) Unsurprisingly, I very much respect others bestowed with the gift of intellectual gab.

Of course, by no means is this list exhaustive or “the truth”, it’s just a neat summary of things I’ve been chewing on lately. So, without further adieu, here’s what I came up with:

I guess I just feel like:

Everyone’s just looking to escape from themselves.

Is the worst thing in the world really to be alone with your mind? I’m not saying a little distraction or adventure now and then isn’t fun or productive; to be fair, I’d argue these things help you run into new parts of yourself. But it seems like at every turn, we’re looking for an excuse to become intoxicated by something or someone, and escape our lives for a little while.

These things mask themselves as having a few beers after work, getting high on weekends, engaging in retail therapy, or serial Tinder-swiping. Harmless, right? But what happens when these become our reliable habits and life gets hard? Our hairline recedes, our pants get tight, our kids talk back to us and money’s tight — but these are the habits we’re still relying on to help us feel better…

Nobody knows how to disentangle their self-worth from their job title.

We can’t stand being idle or unproductive, and we can’t help but feel like we’re failing when we compare our lives to those of our peers. The lavish trips, the perfect bodies, the elaborate weddings — we rationalize that if only we were more successful, we’d be able to afford the luxuries that other people have.

But there’s a difference between having a job and living in a role. It’s not what we do that necessarily defines us; if it were, we’d be nothing without our job titles. It’s in the skills we harness, the energy we put into our work, and the resilience we foster when we put in the time. It’s about knowing we could be successful in many different roles because success isn’t something we find, it’s something we build.

We’re all just trying to fill a void.

Our consumerist culture tells us we should want more, more, more — buy more, do more, be more. But how much of that is simply trying to fill an existential void? Maybe the answer isn’t to want more, but to need less?

So I ask, do we take ourselves too seriously? Or maybe it’s not about us at all, but rather about everyone else? Maybe we feel as though something is wrong with us in comparison to others, and we’re looking for a salve. In which case, maybe we don’t take ourselves seriously enough?

Because if we only have one life to live, is it worth berating ourselves for not being enough? Is it worth heeding to what society tells us to, instead of doing what we really feel compelled to do? And why is it that we don’t have the option just to leave the void be, as though it’s not simply meant to be there in the first place?

Integrity and follow-through are nearly extinct virtues.

I can’t get over the fact that if I’m not doing my job and everyone else’s, it seems that nothing gets done correctly. People don’t show up on time, and everyone feels comfortable canceling last minute. How many times have I received an email saying “I’ll call you at this time,” and the phone never rings?

Even when I ask people specifically to do just their jobs (and nothing more), that still seems too large a request. Genuine, honest work is hard to come by in this era, and yet I still give it and expect it from others. Maybe I’m errant for this one, or maybe our standards as a society are far too low. I don’t know.

People don’t ask us how we’re doing; they just tell us what we should be doing.

Everyone can be an expert in themselves, but that doesn’t mean they’re an expert in us. Those who are genuinely at peace with their decisions recognize that they can’t impose them onto others. Firstly, because people are worthy regardless of the weight they do/don’t lose, the diets they do/don’t adopt, the relationships they do/don’t leave, the jobs they do/don’t take.

But they also recognize that everyone is on their own journey and that it’s precisely this journey that leads to the lessons that each individual person needs. We can’t tell someone else how to do it, they have to decide what feels right for their lives and suffer the consequences, both positive and negative, of all their decisions.

So the next time we may be tempted to offer our unique blend of advice (aka “what worked for us”), perhaps we should ask people how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, and how we can best support them?

We’re all afraid to ask for help, yet we expect people to swoop in and save us.

People can put so much pressure on themselves to resist asking for help, fearing it’ll allude to an inherent weakness or flaw in their character. And yet they get upset and resentful when no one steps in. But people are flawed by nature, and it’s more than okay to need help from another fellow human being.

In fact, I’d argue that it’s to be expected. Better to ask for help and get back on track, than to let fear or shame hold you back and never get there.

And we too soon forget that people who love us actually want to help us out. Do you know what it feels like to watch someone you care about self-destructing before your eyes and having had absolutely no idea it was coming? To have wished that someone would have reached out to you before it was too late for them?

I personally stand by the fact that trusting someone enough to ask them for help is one of the most sacred acts of love and self-respect. But remember: most people can’t read our minds.

“I think I remember this dream that I had.
This love’s gonna save us from a world that’s gone mad.
I guess I just feel like, what happened to that?”
— John Mayer

Shannon Leigh is a writer, letterer & curious cat. To learn more, visit her site. If you enjoyed this article, then you might also enjoy these: