I saw a freelance writing opportunity this past week on Instagram that seemed AMAZING, and eagerly checked out the application requirements. I also looked at the comments on the post itself, and without thinking, started looking at the accounts of the people tagged by friends with notes like "You should do this!" Or "You'd be a perfect writer for them!"
And then, my energy and excitement about this chance to write for a site I admired slowly dissolved into a familiar comparison trap full of fear.
I don't have as many followers as her.
Wow, her photos are good.
This woman has an actual business; I can't compete with that.
She's already been published at X, Y and Z.
5 story pitches?! BUT I DON'T HAVE ANY IDEAS.
My writing isn't as great as I want it to be. I won't get the spot. I shouldn't even apply.
And the big one: I'm not good enough.
I sat at my computer on a Friday at 5 p.m. I had zero plans that evening, which was intentional; I had mentally planned on simply relaxing: doing a little reading, watching some tv, hanging out on the couch in my sweatpants, eating takeout.
Instead, I sat there, and felt kind of... itchy, emotionally. Bored. Annoyed. Frustrated.
Thoughts of "This is lame, it's the weekend!" and "I should call someone" and "I need to go DO something" started to float into my mind. I had a whole night of personal, free, "me" time carved out -- what I claim I never have enough time for -- and instead of embracing or enjoying it, I only wanted to fill up the space as quickly as possible.
Being alone with myself felt lonely and scary.
Luckily, I've learned how to get out of my own way when this happens, and my approach aligns quite nicely with four elements of any yoga pose that I recently heard described by a friend and fellow yoga teacher. It's often slow. It's usually hard. However, it typically works.
In yoga, this occurs when you literally pay attention to where your feet are. But when you're confronted with feelings of inadequacy, or all of a sudden your whole being seems unsettled, it can help to do the exact same thing.
It can mean taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that you're right here in this moment, and you're not in danger, and most of what your brain is telling you is probably a lie. You can even say out loud, "I'm sitting in this chair. My feet are on the ground. I'm in my house/apartment/car. I'm alive and I'm okay." (Note: different variations of this strategy are actually wrapped up in research regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and talk therapy treatment approaches to trauma in general.)
When my mind started shouting that I shouldn't apply for the writing gig, that I should go and make some plans on a Friday night, I had to shut off my computer and put my phone away out of sight. I just sat there for a few minutes in both instances and acknowledged that I felt totally off track right then.
With any yoga posture, this moment occurs when you tune into your body and mind. You notice that your thighs are shaking, your back is a little tight, your breath has become shallow, your eyes are on the person across the room, etc. You pay attention to yourself, ideally without judgement (Ha.)
For me, outside of yoga, this is when I do a mini self-evaluation and ask myself: are any of the things I just thought or said true? Like, do I really think that I suck at writing and shouldn't even TRY to apply for freelance work? No. Do I really consider myself a boring person for staying home on a weekend? No -- especially because it's what I said I wanted! With both situations, I reached out to a loved one and told them how I was feeling, and just acknowledged that all the bad feelings were happening.
TAKE UP SPACE
Part of a yoga practice involves a more significant awareness of your physical body. Stretch out your arms. Bend your knees. Stand tall. Sink low. In a yoga class, you're continually invited to use up your whole mat, at least, and expand as much as possible.
Everyone benefits from this type of exercise, but women are especially conditioned to take up as little space as possible. We avoid speaking in meetings. We try not to ruffle feathers. We hold our bags close on public transit. We smile. We nod yes. We eat small portions. We watch the number on the scale or the clothing tag. And so on.
One radical thing I try to do when I'm faced with self-doubt or the challenges of keeping my own company is offer myself a new, bigger story, one that tends to be the exact opposite of what I'm struggling with. Instead of assuming "I'm not good enough to apply," I suggested to myself, kindly -- that actually my writing has improved a ton over the past year and I should let them decide to give me a no and it doesn't hurt to send over my best ideas and essays just to see how it plays out. Instead of telling myself, "I'm bored and boring and wahhhh," I experiment with -- Hey, I might feel better if I cleaned out the bathroom drawers like I've been meaning to (relying on another theory that outer order brings inner calm).
LET IT GO
In my yoga practice, this typically translates to: stop taking it so fucking seriously. Breathe. There's a new pose around the corner. You're not perfect and you're not supposed to be.
I applied for the freelance job and haven't thought about it since. The ball isn't in my court anymore -- my job was to do the creative work and send my stuff in, and their job is to make a decision on the best fit. If it doesn't work out, oh well! I will be disappointed but I won't die; there will be more opportunities in the future. Let it go.
That Friday night, I took a hot shower, and felt a little better. I put on my coziest pajamas. I watched part of a documentary on Netflix. I caught up with one of my best friends via text message. I ate leftovers. I went to bed early. And on Saturday, I woke up refreshed and recharged -- which would not have happened if I had let my anxiety get the better of me. I waited it out until I could let it go.
Keeping your own company and making space for yourself -- why are these things so hard? Probably because they require us to be kind to ourselves, and man, sometimes I really suck at that.
Oriah, a writer and poet from Canada, writes, "I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments." (The full poem, "The Invitation," is beautiful and one of my favorites; you can read the whole thing here.)
To do either, you must believe that you matter because you say you do, not because somebody else thinks so. You have to trust that you're valuable because you exist, rather than base your worth on the type or quantity of work you produce. When you look in the mirror, when you see your own reflection, you need to feel like you respect, trust and love that person looking back at you. And that means being nice to yourself and taking the time to get to know yourself.
It's a long road and it requires practice, like anything else. So I do the work, again and again.