And not just metaphorically. This is not *that* kind of blog, but today...it is.
I’d like to tell you a story. Once upon a time—that’s how these usually start, right?—a fair-ish, young-ish maiden (matron?) dreamed big dreams. At six, she declared to all those who would listen her intention to become a multimillionaire. At ten, “Mom. Mom. MOM. Mooooooommm. Did you know that I’m gonna be a CEO when I grow up?”
Instead, twenty years and one mental breakdown later, I’m staring, paralyzed and alarmed, as my knee slams into the wall of a minuscule bathroom stall and the faulty door latch comes undone, baring all my bits for any potential coworkers with a full bladder. Instead of CEO, I’m Donald Duck-ing it for strangers on my second day of work. Cool, cool, cool. My wildest dreams come true.
Thankfully, no one was outside my stall because I would’ve literally quit my job and maybe also burned down the building? Who knows. Let’s just all be grateful we won’t find out. In an effort to calm my nerves and slow my heart rate, I reminded myself that at least I don’t have to cut someone open today—for surgery, just to clarify. Not like, for funsies. This is the bar against which I’m measuring my experience. It is low.
So here’s the thing: what if I’m not equipped for my dreams? I thought—I felt—that I was ready for this new adventure. I’d prepared. I’d done the work and the research. I’d built up my confidence and stoked my excitement. But the truth is, I had escaped into that bathroom because I was drowning at my desk. All the preparation I’ve done hasn’t prepared me at all, and all I really wanted—or needed rather—in that moment was to be away.
I don’t know what I’ll be doing. Or with whom I’ll be doing it. Real talk: I’m scared shitless. I am scared of failing for, what seems at this point, the one trillionth time. I’m scared of looking foolish. I’m scared of my own ignorance and my ingrained biases, many of which I’m not even aware. I am scared that the person I think I am—I’ve become—is a bold faced lie.
It’s a funny place to live, this purgatory. On the one hand, this change is thrilling. New, challenging, different. On the other hand, it’s terrifying. New, challenging, different. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not as smart or as a capable or as adaptable as I’ve talked myself up to be? As I’ve told myself that I am? What if I am just as stupid and as lazy and as worthless as my anxiety says that I am? What if I’m not just broken now, but broken forever? Who will I be then? Because the narrative I’ve built for myself—around myself—is one of redemption. A fortress of perseverance, a bastion of courage. The fair maiden’s fierce castle. But what if its walls are mere paper, turned pulpy at the softest summer rain?
Sitting in that stall—half naked, exposed—was simply a cruel and ironic external manifestation of my internal dialogue. I am exposed in my discomfort. I am half naked in my ignorance. It is deeply uneasy, and the most I can do is sit in it, paralyzed and alarmed.
“It seems like things are finally turning around,” I said to Kyle on Sunday, “like it’s finally our turn to breathe for a little while.” The hubris is laughable. How vast I still am in my foolishness. Because before I can breathe, it appears I must suffocate. I must gasp and claw and fight and burn until the edges of my vision blacken and the light becomes a mere pinpoint, an infinite speck in the distance. I thought that, maybe for a just a minute, I was done burning. This year, I have burned so brightly and for so long, that only a smoldering pile of embers remains, glowing hot before blowing away.
I have learned that it’s much easier to explain away failure if you never really let yourself believe you could have what you want. If you never invest yourself fully, you can pretend you were never invested at all. But I am invested. I am so vested, I’m practically ready to retire.
So how does my fairytale end? Or is it a fairytale at all? Does the broken, middle-aged matron live happily ever after? Because for now, I feel more like the ugly stepsister than Cinderella, cutting off my toes for a shoe that doesn’t fit. I have grown arrogant in my confidence, and I needed this reminder that there are no true happy endings until life ends. No pauses. No hard stops. Sometimes, we must sit utterly helpless in our discomfort and in our anxiety and turn the page, waiting—burning—for the next chapter to start.