the hell yes of never no

When I first moved to the Bay Area, my “plan”–if I had one–was to go to school out here; get my therapy degree; and start private practice. I felt like the Bay Area had a lot of prestigious schools. Surely, getting a degree from a college here would set me up for life. I’m not sure what I was trying to do, exactly, with that–but I suspect a lot of it had to do with me always feeling like I had something to prove–like I wasn’t good enough–like I was incapable of things plenty of other mediocre humans do. I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome for much of my life–always doubting that I was actually valued–always worried people would find out I’m not as great as I appear to be. And I guess that was a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy because it led me to choose situations where I knew I’d be miserable–convincing myself each and every time that it was a good situation. There was never really a time in my life–other than getting into TFA when I felt I actually fulfilled the potential everyone always thought I had. I was never an underachiever. I was the opposite, actually: a woman with umpteen degrees who never failed at any job, but who always felt undervalued, underused, and under seen. Someone who was terrified of making any mistakes–who tortuously played it safe because stability was worth any cost–and who never felt like herself in her work.

Work was always this place to suffer–where I often felt like a naughty child getting away with something or teacher’s pet–becoming the standard for whatever. Moving here started a big chain of events that sort of forced me to see who I’ve always been. Part of that was I was sort of in this outsider world–like this satellite orbiting reality. In this land where overachieving was ordinary, I wasn’t anything all that special–even with my umpteen degrees and impressive track record. It all felt hollow, and there was nowhere to hide. I guess that’s when things started cracking–when the identity of achiever that I’d always had started disintegrating. I don’t think I’d ever felt more lost or clueless than that time.

I slowly started reclaiming something–some thing I don’t think I ever actually had, really, but something I remember being, once…when I was really little…before everything was my fault and my responsibility…when I was just a little girl who hated frilly dresses–that little girl who stood up in her stroller as Mama carted us across Broadway–that girl that wasn’t going to be contained by damn near anything–the girl who owned her space and let you know she was here.

At some point, in the last few years, I realized I actually know what I’m doing. I’m actually wise, in all kinds of ways, and the things I’ve thought of–the things I’ve labeled as stupid were actually not acts of massive stupidity, but acts of generosity. Perhaps, I was generous with the wrong people and things, but I wasn’t stupid for that. Maybe I miscalculated the true costs, but there was nothing timid about that. My only real fault was that I wasn’t ever thinking about myself. It was always a thought about someone else–about my impact. Never about me. And really, at the time, I was just doing what anyone else my age would have done, if they’d never been taught that something else was possible.

As I started realizing my value–because that’s what that journey actually was–that realizing I knew something thing–I started getting angry. And sad. But mostly angry. Mostly at myself. But eventually, I got angry at the people who took advantage of who I always felt I had to be. Yes–that was my choice to be that person–but it was also their choice to take advantage of it and use it to the full extent they could. The rage I felt was absorbed violence that had been inflicted on me from their abusive behavior. The violence I just accepted as mine because I didn’t know what else to do with violence except accept it. But it was also the violence of my own self-abuse in accepting it. Eventually, the violence you accept becomes violence against yourself. And eventually the violence you accept for yourself needs a place to go. Either you become what you know everyone else to be, or you hurt yourself.

When I was a kid, I used to spontaneously start bawling my eyes out over nothing. Like literally, I’d wake up in this mood–and there would be tears. I was always this kid that never bothered anyone, so these outbursts were not a little bit disturbing to adults. And embarrassing. Because there had to be something wrong with me. They were never really addressed except I eventually learned how to contain them. Writing helped. Punching things helped. Escaping to a fantasy land of my own making–flat out rejecting goddamn reality–helped, too.

A year and a half ago, it all culminated in me not taking the shit anymore. In an instant, my life was completely different–in a scary way–and it was so clear that this was right–no matter how terrifying it was. And it just sort of worked out. I had no idea what was going to happen or how it would work out, but I just sort of knew it would. And I was able to pivot so fast–in a way that felt fine.

Things were getting harder at the beginning of the year, so I pivoted again–and again–where things had been hard–it was easy. I found myself with two offers–one basically what was the epitome of all that I had wanted to achieve when I moved here. I went with that one. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be–but despite that–it’s shown me a LOT about who I am. It’s been sort of a crash course lesson in reality and boundaries. And while it’s been a lot of great things, it taught me exactly who I am…and who I am not.

A few weeks ago, some opportunities fell in my lap. Things came easily, but I found myself agonizing over the choices–to the point that any choice felt like a mistake–and was a massive burden. I had nightmares. I asked for more time, even though I’d made a decision. I doubted it and reexamined it. I kept going back and forth. Then I went on a drive to get coffee, and it was suddenly so clear. I had noted how I wasn’t even excited about the offer. How I wasn’t even trying to convince myself of the goodness. I was just trying to get through it–like a traumatic event. I noticed that what I felt was the same feeling of disassociation I had as a child. That feeling of none of it being mine. I started thinking about what I needed–like why was I even doing this work? And it was so clear. I was doing this work so I could stop doing this work. Because this job had just confirmed that no matter what I did–no matter how valued and well-paid I was–this work was just not mine–no matter how good I was or how much I knew. I was never going to wake up overjoyed to do it. I would always value a day off more than a day there. The only reason any of it mattered or was worth anything at all was that it would fuel me being able to do the things that came easy–that meant more–that felt like mine. So what did I need to make that happen? And it became very clear. And I thought–well, maybe I should hold out for that. And the next morning, I opened my email and that something was in my inbox.

A while ago, I read something that said, “If it isn’t a Hell yes, it’s a no.” I think it was Derek Sivers who said that. It really resonated with me. I don’t mind working hard. But if everything is suffering. If nothing is clear? That’s your answer. I thought about it and all the things I’ve ever done that were ever good things–things that mattered or that I felt grateful about–were things that always felt like yes. The only times I felt wishy washy were when they were things I should have avoided. And yea–there are lots of lessons to be gained from the things that you accept that should have been NOs, but sometimes, maybe the no would’ve been better.

And that made me think of something else–something really big, actually. The whole thing about me leaving TFA years ago–the decision to leave was never a question. The hesitation was putting myself first. My decision to not choose to be a writer or a zoologist? Taking the route I took was exactly the right choice. My entire life has not been one massive mistake. I was not stupid or wrong. It just wasn’t a yes. Just like those men I loved last year weren’t yes. No matter how many times they reinsert themselves into this life. No matter how much I wanted them to be yes. The fact that deciding was so hard was the answer. Because anything that’s mine couldn’t possibly ever be a no.

Ice cream is never a no. Ripe peaches are never a no. Cold, dreary coastal drives with redwood forests on one side and ocean on the other? Never a goddamn no. Colorado sunsets and sunrises? Never a no. Doing whatever it takes for Fogg? Never a damn no. Showing up for my best friend whenever she needs me? Never a damn no.

It’s important to pay attention to the things that require no effort–that are as simple and clear as breathing.

But all of that is also to say that the simple truth about something sometimes means that a path that is a clear no might have components of yes, and those things are also worth paying attention to.

Will kissing that guy with the sad eyes before I knew he was a NO a bad idea? If it was, it never would have happened. And sometimes you need to try on the dress before you know the waist is too small or that it’s itchy. The totality of something is not the same as the path you take to know the something.

So I will wait till I find my never NOs, but I will still try on my sometimes Yes and will figure out why they’re a Yes–because maybe that’s a clue of the path I need to follow.

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