2019 and 2020 were tremendous years of growth and self-discovery, but as beautiful and profound as that sounds, there were many moments where I’ve questioned my direction in life, faced soul-crushing alienation from everyone I knew (and felt truly alone in a way that was more painful than being a stereotypical nerdy shy teenager), and been most brutal to myself in spite of being objectively better than I was in the past decade.
These years were times of emotional intensity, of questioning everything I was taught to believe about self-worth, and of breaking myself down in order to build myself back up with the courage to share my words, which I know are wholly flawed, dark, sardonic, pensive, rough around the edges, and a bit too much for some people, but at least they are mine.
The longer I’ve been observing the blogosphere, the more I can conclude that everyone is prone to feeling inadequate in this increasingly highlight-reel-based culture. And as sad as it is to claim this, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to how authenticity has turned into a marketing gimmick as opposed to something raw, intense, and passionately felt.
But my feelings of inadequacy has been deeply ingrained within me decades prior to the rise of having access to people’s lives online and thoughts on how people “should” prove themselves worthy and reverse-engineer the habits and processes of those that our generation puts on a pedestal.
Because I’ve experienced a childhood of emotional neglect, being exposed to such toxic rage at a young age, and a shame-based upbringing, I sought to earn my worth (which translates into earning admiration) from not only my parents, but from my peers as well.
If only I could get perfect grades and be a top student at every subject, I won’t ever be called stupid or lazy again. I have to be the most intelligent and hardworking person in my peer group in order to gain their respect. If not, I am nothing.
If only I could be a multi-talented triple threat in writing, music, and the visual arts, then people would think I’m cool enough to be associated with.
If I can just be the best at as much as I can possibly do, then nobody would hate me or judge me as inferior or weak.
But here was the result of that, which hit me at age 22 — I only had one friend and got the sense that nobody else really liked me. I ended up not doing as well in college as I did in high school. I struggled with not taking rejection personally.
Was shame really that effective and a catalyst to success as I thought it was?
Was beating myself up in order to become impossibly great counterproductive all along?
Or was I simply not good enough and nothing I did could make up for my inherent stupidity?
The older I got, the more (not less) obsessed I became with earning my worth. Due to many college and post-grad setbacks, I had a delayed start in entering the writing world (much of it was psychological with chronic depression left untreated for years and it took a while to get over my fear of not writing a near perfect piece right off the bat), but I still had this insatiable desire to prove that I had what it takes to “catch up” with those who had started five to seven years earlier than I did.
If you’re thinking this sounds insane, you are absolutely right.
And even as an adult, that childhood fear of not ever measuring up has never truly gone away and only recently, it’s grown more apparent in my personal writings, in which I go on metacognitive tangents on what could possibly hindering my progress that makes me so slow, all the ways I’ve been self-sabotaging on a mental level, and my critiques on how hustle culture is counterproductive to genuinely creative artistry.
Yet the ironic thing is that I still heavily impose the same toxic mindset on myself that I try so hard to fight against — that I am not worth anything unless I have demonstrated this rabid desire to prove myself and follow through on bigger goals in order to exemplify everything I aspire to be so that nobody would judge me as not productive enough, not profound enough, not creative enough, not worthy to exist unless I have something incredibly special to show the world.
Even today, my dark side is chasing after proof (in the form of external validation) that I am not just good enough but exceptional, even if my body is screaming at me for rest because I am sacrificing a lot to get there.
My dark, broken, and lacking side is still trying to prove that I do have raw talent and can do more, even if my mind is screaming at me to slow down so that I can have more mindful thoughts and properly deal with unprocessed traumas before I proceed to tackle bigger challenges.
And I still repeatedly kick myself when I’m down, even if my soul is crying out for an overflow of mercy and the ultimate truth — that nothing in this world could make up for the lack I feel inside.
But though I recognize this truth, I brutalize myself for not achieving things faster, even if my heart is pleading with agony, “Why can’t you just love me for once?”
The root of it all is this persistent pressure to tie your own worth with productivity at whatever cost — like you *have to* get aggressively fast and if you naturally aren’t (in spite of my ambitiousness and desire to surpass my peers as a child, I’ve been a Type B person at heart with a longing for a slower and more mindful pace of life that’s not tied to external results), you are automatically lazy and should be shamed for it.
A lot of good has come from people pushing themselves to build bigger and better dreams, I will not deny this.
But what many of us don’t like to ask directly is this — if you have to beat yourself up for being too inadequate to be deserving of going after a bigger dream, is it worth it? If your intense dissatisfaction and lofty expectations to achieve almost superhuman feats to earn the approval and admiration of the crowd puts you in a constant state of anxiety to the point of self-torture, is it worth it?
That’s the question that’s unsettled me for the past two years since I started to do something out of my comfort zone — write for potentially anyone in the world to see instead of keeping my words to myself. I knew there would be struggles along the way, but I didn’t foresee that mental resistance would be so incredibly difficult to conquer due to how externally-driven that even creative work was.
I, too, ended up getting stuck in the vicious cycle of beating myself up for not being appealing enough to this image-conscious digital world and also for not even writing as profoundly as I’d like to be writing. It’s a trap that I am still learning to get out of today because it’s not a problem with writing or pushing myself to do more, it’s a problem with my relationship with self-worth and all the mental blockage that prevents my creativity from flowing gracefully.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love to write and I’ve had bigger dreams about being published — well, not just published, but having a powerful, distinctly individualistic style that is different from what’s popular at the moment. I’ve always been an observer of what does well and what doesn’t, but I knew deep down that in order to earn my place, I have to find out what’s solely missing in today’s market and find ways I could fill in the gaps.
I love to create thoughtful pieces, and I don’t shy away from internal difficulties because ignoring them will only make problems worse. I love heavily introspective material that analyzes the ins and outs of the human psyche.
I’ve been writing ever since I became inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Words have always been deeply ingrained in my soul and it brings me great joy to express feelings with utmost sincerity, to excavate the darkest layers of my mind in order to bring to light what isn’t commonly expressed enough, and deliver them in a way that just flows effortlessly.
But in order to get myself back to my roots as a creator and a writer, I have to put a stop to these toxic, limiting beliefs about self-worth in relation to how the world may perceive the pursuit of my passion, which I’ve recognized as hindrances to not only my output quantitatively, but to the healing of my soul:
- If you don’t go viral early on or have at least 10,000 followers on social media, you are lazy, unattractive, unsuccessful, and not competitive enough to make it as a writer.
- You have to write at least four blog posts a day to catch up with other successful writers who have been in the game for five years. If you don’t, you are not a real writer.
- You need to be incredibly special and find a special way to prove it. Or else nobody will pay attention to you or think you’re worth reading.
- If you dare to rest or do any soul-searching that takes time away from trying to push yourself to be the best, then you are lazy and entitled.
- People ultimately don’t like you as you are, so to earn their admiration, you have to show them that you are hyper-competitive and exceptionally talented, but if you naturally aren’t, you have to beat the flaws out of you to make yourself become that.
You can list your own limiting beliefs, depending on what your biggest goals in life are. Even though I have plenty of other goals (and limiting beliefs that stop me from achieving them) in other areas of life (career, relationships, spiritual, etc.), writing is the biggest dream of mine and being in the thick of it (instead of just casually doing it for fun), has made me increasingly aware of my deepest insecurities, my broken mental state, and every toxic belief that puts me in a hyper-competitive state that ultimately makes me super critical of myself, which I wrongfully associated with brute mental strength and toughness.
I thought that being incredibly harsh with myself and shaming myself for not being enough would motivate me to push through faster so that I can actually get good enough.
And I was also afraid of being judged as naïve and delusional, so I allowed the beast of jadedness to infiltrate my thoughts — I thought that nobody would like me unless I could become extraordinary in a few years. I thought that unspoken rules of what’s acceptable in society and what isn’t were preventing me from flourishing as I am.
I thought that being brutal and having a more pessimistic worldview would shield me from criticism and from being called delusional. That it’d make me stronger and tougher than those who believe in the best. How wrong I was.
Deep down, I am not jaded or super pessimistic — I really want to believe that I am capable of achieving good things and that I don’t have to beat myself up to get there, but out of the fear of judgment, I lapsed into angry, skeptical thinking to “protect” myself from being judged as “not being realistic enough.”
But here’s the truth — beating yourself down into the ground will only make it excruciatingly more difficult to get back up.
Trying to catch up with other people who are faster than you will only push you further away from where you actually want to be (and not everyone can be super extraordinary geniuses that are at the top, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your own version of an attainable dream and not being famous or extremely prolific shouldn’t make you feel too worthless to try what you are curious and passionate about).
Punishing yourself with imagined horrors of the worst possible outcome won’t actually equip you with the tools to build a better future — in fact, it’ll only keep you stuck in a vicious mental trap that distracts and demotivates you so much that you’ll ironically delay your own progress.
It is courageous, not delusional, to stand up for yourself and keep going, even when the naysayers and skeptics say that you have no potential whatsoever.
Believing in the worst is petty and weak.
And the point of daring to push yourself to greater heights as an artist is to share your soul and all the intricate layers within, not to earn the approval of people or compensate for your own lack of self-worth. Even if the world is harsh to you, it doesn’t mean you have to break yourself down to appease it or to show that it is right.
Because it isn’t right. You deserve to take a chance on yourself and do more without breaking yourself down if you don’t meet external results as quickly as you’d like — because that’s what crushes the genuine, soulful spirit that is far better than any worldly, superficial measure of worth that neglects what’s beautiful within.
Sure, be realistic and have a healthy dose of skepticism — to a point — but never lose that fire that drives you to believe in better, more abundant possibilities. Because in the end, that’s what will help you evolve in a healthier way, flourish beautifully, and show what more can be possible if you treat yourself with grace and dignity and have faith in who you are without expecting anything in return, even when rarely anything else external to you is supporting it.