I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been advised to “not take life so seriously” when I divulge my fixation around a personal, career or fitness goal. And these well-intentioned friends make sense. They see my distress and rumination and assert that I can’t let myself get rattled to such degrees. I usually half-heartedly and agree, say that yes, I need to find some balance and "relax".
Recently, all this was put to the test. A professional opportunity, let’s call it a project, one that I had been chasing for nearly two years, one that had almost been realized a few times but not quite, one that felt like the proverbial carrot dangling right in front of my nose, reared its head again. It’s one that meant a whole lot to me. And this time, I was sure that this was it. This time it would result in success.
Without getting into specifics, this was the kind of achievement that would validate me in the most meaningful way. I jumped on it. I gave it 110%. While working on this project, I experienced love and joy and flow. I did all the right things, and I sent it in. The outcome, should have been concluded within a week. It wasn’t. I waited another week. Not yet. The week after. Again, it wasn’t. The longer it got delayed, especially as I was so ready to feel that much-needed sense of self-actualization, the more I fell into despair.
Using meticulously written hyper-polite emails, I chased, and heard nothing back. I then chased with some more emotional, desperate-sounding emails, and again, heard nothing back. I felt insignificant, and in my head, I dramatized the shit out of the situation. I started to imagine that the entire fashion industry was conspiring against me. Despite what people think about it, I have always consciously chosen to see the industry in the best possible light, but during this waiting period, I started to focus on the worst. Seeing others achieve similar goals made me feel resentment, anger, and inadequacy. It made me feel insecure and this feeling spread to other areas of my life while I saw everything through this lens of not-good-enough-ness. I picked terrible fights with my partner. I was short and highly irritable. I felt a little dead inside. Nothing made sense. My life energy was just gone. Everything was a struggle and basic tasks took up so much energy. Replying to clients, my day-to-day work, and on the worst days, even getting ready to leave the house.
Four months of this internal hell went by. After four months and a half, still not having heard a yay or nay from the person in question, I started to realize that I had to let go. I knew that clenching and grasping on to an outcome so tightly is never good so I started telling myself that this need shouldn't become bigger than who I am as a person. Then something shifted a bit. I didn’t stop caring, I still lay awake at night thinking about the injustice of it all, but I decided that I would refuse to keep feeling like my whole self-worth is contingent upon achieving this, however badly I wanted it. I refocused on other goals that I had on the back-burner until “the thing” happened. I was no longer going to keep my professional life on hold.
And then of course, one evening, a few weeks later, when I was least expecting it, it happened. Thanks to a horrendous migraine, a missing UberEats order, and my boyfriend noisily setting up a new TV, it was the furthest thing from my mind. After I hung up on Uber's customer support team, I saw the email confirming that it was a go.
I was ecstatic of course, and in the days that followed, I started to feel a bit remorseful when I thought of the past 4.5 months. I didn’t need to put myself through all of that drama, and I vowed never to let goal-chasing de-stable me so much. Fast forward a few days more and a friend, one who I had been very open and vulnerable with about this little struggle, congratulated me and then made a point to say that "the next thing I needed to work on is not letting my obsessive goal-chasing and anxieties run me like they did". And I agreed. And yet, deep down, I didn’t.
Here’s why. I really and truly believe that apart from my passion and love for what I do, it's most importantly my intensity that allowed me to preserve, and chase, and make myself so vulnerable, and chase again when perhaps most would have taken it as a sure sign to give up. It’s the intensity that got me the outcome I wanted.
People love to criticize “control-freaks” and will often say that you can still be driven and goal-oriented and successful while being accepting and detached and carefree, but I just don’t buy it. Maybe I am not evolved enough yet, and have yet to learn this so-called art of balance, but I believe it’s precisely because I care so much about these things, because I “take life so seriously” that I manage to get things done when most of the time, I don’t really feel like doing them. It’s why I force myself to take the next step, even when I feel painfully discouraged.
This is just the nature of polarity. The negative feelings around this thing were part and parcel of the intense positive feelings I had around it. You can’t have it both ways. Next time, I will try and be less extreme for my sake, and for the sake of those around me, but looking back, I don’t actually think the last 4.5 months could have gone any differently.
The truest thing I heard about balance was from philosopher Alain de Botton, who says that there is no such thing as work-life balance – and that “everything worth having unbalances your life”. This here, rings most true. The big love. The dream job. Even having a really enlightened mind, it all takes a lot of discipline to attain. So throw yourself into whatever it is that you want. Forget about balance for a second and allow yourself to fully feel your feelings. Take life seriously. You have only one after all.