Real talk: why do we do what we do?

I haven’t felt at ease for awhile now.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and (because I’m a practiced embellisher) I can make most of these reasons sound inevitable and out of my control; I’ve even convinced myself of their inevitability. In retrospect, I’ve found that these excuses boil down to one truth: I got lost.

back story

Six months ago, I had my nose to the grindstone; graduate degree in figurative hand, still collecting a salary plus benefits for a job I’m allowed to perform anywhere in the world (#DigitalNomad), two projects I loved, and people in my life who were excited about my upcoming travels.

But as I traveled, collected frequent flyer miles and honed my packing skills, I slowly lost all the things that previously defined me. Without realizing what was happening, I became just me. Unattached from my past accomplishments, undefined by the opinions of my family, friends and acquaintances, and disconnected from anything that smelled, sounded, looked or acted familiar, I felt like a life raft tossing around the sea, an un-tethered object floating aimlessly in outer-space, naked and slightly chilled in the middle of a nowhere.

who is “just me”?

“Just me” was someone I didn’t know, someone I don’t know if I’d ever known. For my entire life, I had seen and thought of myself through the filter of what I had done before and what other people thought of me. I had been shrouded by the visages of how others defined me, a paper doll perfectly sized and postured to let clothing I never really wore fold over and dress me. My thoughts, goals and actions were guided by this visage. And moving to Chicago against my parents’ initial wishes to work a lousy-paying temp job in the publishing industry—the defining, independent action of my earlier twenties—still fits that paper doll model; I was moving for work, I was working three jobs, I was doing something everyone could understand and easily expect of me.

But quitting my Chicago apartment, putting my life mostly into storage and exchanging rent bills for plane tickets was different. It contrasted the normal just enough to knock my world off its axis. I am not quite the person I thought I was; I discovered that I didn’t want the things I thought I did.

I discovered that I don’t really know what I want.

start asking why

With my world spinning at a different angle, I began asking myself questions beginning with “Why.”

  • Like, why am I stressing myself out over these projects if the people I’m working for don’t hold me to the tight expectation I hold myself?
  • Or why do I feel that I have to overcompensate for not being in the office?
  • Why do I want to have a travel blog; is it because everyone assumes their writer-friend who is now traveling would of course have a travel blog?
  • Why do I try so hard for the things I think I ought to want when what I really want at this moment is the ability to shamelessly watch Netflix and sleep in?

Then, the questions got comically specific. 

  • Why wear blue jeans when they hurt my stomach, give me a muffin top and take up too much space in a suitcase?
  • Why do I shave my legs when I hate shaving my legs, I always wear ankle-length yoga pants and I’m not anticipating any random coitus with the perfect stranger anytime soon? Is shaving your legs in the cold months as a perpetually single woman just wishful thinking?
  • Why do I shave my armpits for that matter, when armpit stubble is the worst and I don’t frequently hold my arms over my head; why don’t I let it grow wild and free?
  • Why do I drink alcohol after a frustrating day, does it help or has Hollywood conditioned me to think that its the thing to do when you want to appear stressed but dealing with it?
  • Why am I so repellent against telling people I live with my parents when I do… kinda?
  • Why do I continually sign up for dating apps only to delete my account hours/ days later when I rather spend my time reading the book I’ve been in since December than avoiding embarrassing hook-up lines and formulating the cool-girl responses to, “What are you looking for on here?”

i’m not a paper doll

As the practiced embellisher I’ve already claimed to be, the best way to discover the truth to these questions was to stop; stop stressing, overcompensating, sharing my thoughts on travel, wearing blue jeans, shaving, drinking, hiding from the fact that I live at home (kinda) and signing up for dating apps. I resolved to stop doing all the things I was doing without knowing why and to not start up again until I had a satisfying answer that I—not society, not my mother, not my friends, not a potential someone special, etc—wanted to do these things.

I am not taking automatic steps; I am trying to take purposefully steps and, well let’s be honest, aimless steps. But they are movement that break the size and posture of a paper doll.

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