I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of this #Quest2015 thing. The reason it works better than New Year’s resolutions? It’s freakin’ hard work. But I’m starting to learn, and I’m already beginning to see how this process has the very real potential to change my new year. Sitting down with these prompts is difficult. It requires not only thought, but deep introspection, a titanic grappling with the parts of myself that skitter away from the light into dusty corners. Soul-cockroaches. Now there’s an attractive image.
Visionary Todd Kashdan’s prompt has proved especially challenging for me on many levels. He asks us to consider “the upside of your Dark Side”:
Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out?
How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?
It rarely feels good right before we do something courageous, but these moments are the most meaningful and treasured.
This isn’t something I get the giggles thinking about on a good day, let alone during the bleak midwinter when my kids and dog have been tag-teaming me with about every illness short of the Black Death. But here I am, staring down the barrel of this loaded question, and realizing that I can’t just keep ignoring it.
The first difficulty I face in cobbling together an answer is that there are so many answers–so many emotions that trigger feelings of guilt for me. I feel guilty about pride, envy, jealousy, wrath, fear. As I start to tick off the emotions that cause me trouble, I realize I’m practically writing a laundry list of the seven deadly sins, plus about fifty other less-deadly but still troublesome ones. But if I had to choose just one…..oh, so difficult to choose between one’s wretched little darlings…..
My gut response is envy. It’s hard to admit it, but I suppose that’s the point of this. Recently, I read somewhere in one of the magical rabbit holes of the interwebs that we need to examine our judgment of others, because this examination ultimately leads us to a better understanding of ourselves–to things that may not be pretty, to things that we need to work on, to things we actually want for ourselves but haven’t really made a true effort to pursue. I immediately thought of the public persona I love to hate–a wildly successful published writer who’s brilliant at self-promotion and anything but humble. I’ve read much of her writing; it’s good. But her constant self-aggrandizement annoys me to no end. I envy her her success, and wonder why I haven’t “made it” yet. I tell myself that when I “make it,” I’ll be humble and generous and self-effacing. I won’t bombard my doting fans with proclamations of my awesomeness.
But the thing is, there’s a part of me that wants to be her. That wants to seem not to care about what other people think or say. That wants to have the value of my words appreciated. That wants to be adored. That wants to not worry about the checking account and how we’ll afford the vet bills. That wants someone else to stay home and raise the kids and clean up after Cancer-Dog and do the laundry and run the errands and cook the meals so that I can do the stuff I love, so that I can be wildly creative with every breath.
She irks the crap out of me because I want my life to be like that. Minus the frequent public shout-outs to myself, of course. Because I would never, never do that. Ahem.
As I think about it, I can begin to understand her a little better. She’s accomplished something few people ever do. She’s living her dream. And why shouldn’t she shout about it? If she were a man, would I be less inclined to find fault with her self-promotion? Is part of my discomfort with her the fact that she’s a woman succeeding in the male-dominated world in which I would also like to succeed? Am I afraid that this is what success has to look like–that in order to be as successful as her, I’d have to become someone I’m not? Lots of questions. No answers. But it feels important, at least, to finally be able to formulate the questions. That’s a step in the right direction.
It’s not just this writer, though. It’s so many people, a veritable panoply of them. There’s Fakebook, where I have to constantly remind myself that I’m only getting the highlights of people’s lives and none of the outtakes. Even so, I find myself getting sucked into the envy-vortex. Everyone else’s life looks easier and prettier and shinier than mine. Nobody posts pictures of what it looked like after the dog threw up while they were medicating the toddler and putting the big kid in time out for the five thousandth time. I have to fight the envy that all forms of media, social and otherwise, are constantly trying to cultivate in me, to keep me focused on the small and petty so that I’ll keep buying things to try to fill the endless void and not, instead, put things into the universe–music, art, stories, beauty and wonder of all kinds.
Admitting this, speaking my Dark Side, is the emotionally draining part. The mentally draining part is what to do about this. How could I spend this year trying to be more open to the emotional window that allows me to be more courageous?
I DON’T WANNA.
[throws things. stomps feet]
This is HARD.
I need to ‘fess up. I need to face the ugliness head-on and deal with it. I need to get some perspective, learn to deal realistically with social media. I need to not deal with this in the isolation of an empty room, staring at an uncaring screen. And [gulp] I need to sit with my envy and figure it out. Why am I feeling this way? And then I need to work through it. Am I envious because there’s something I want? If so, I need to decide if I really want it, if it will add real value to my life. If it will, then I need to do something about it instead of complaining.
This is hard, y’all.
I think it will help if I focus more on gratitude–on what I have. On the unique and quirky beauty in my own life. On the ones who matter.
So that’s my plan. That’s how I can make something good out of the Dark Side.
And maybe, above all, I need to stop getting all up in my own grill. I need to cut myself a little slack. It’s okay to have a Dark Side. And it’s okay to admit it. It’s even okay if my Dark Side is something dumb and petty like envy and not something sleek and cool and Darth Vader-y, or something dark and sexy and vampire-y. I have to confess that just writing about this stuff makes me want to go take a shower and brush my teeth. But I am not alone. That’s the great lie of social media, isn’t it–that we’re all connected? But that we’re all constantly in some kind of weird competition with each other? And that despite our tenuous online connections, we’re still just a bunch of individuals, sitting alone in empty rooms, staring at glowing screens?
So, in the new year, I need to be more mindful about not only how I use social media, but how I interpret what I see there. Most importantly, though, I need to face the envy head on, whether, in the end, I vanquish it, or just learn to coexist.