Love Letter #2: Decisions
I’m listening to Bennie and the Jets on repeat and rereading the compatibility star chart that cost me $0.99. I wish I could explain these things in a way that would make me sound less millennial-cat-lady-with-no-cats and more cool-girl-with-interesitng-quirks, but who am I kidding. I am quickly becoming your favorite aunt who you only see at Christmas but will send you inspiring notes on locally made paper when you need them. Imagine this text is written in scented purple ink. (And tell Aunt Carol that we are still on for the outlet mall.)
When I decided to move to New York, I fielded questions for months about my move. People asked about jobs, apartments, U-Hauls, money, etc. The inquiries were good-hearted but they usually ended the same. The person would shake their head in disbelief and say, “I could never do that.”
This assessment made me feel like a dumb ten-year-old choosing a life path based on Monopoly rules. These people I knew and loved, people who knew me, couldn’t possibly imagine making the same decision. They questioned the reasons for my decision and found them lacking. They stoked a fear inside me that I shouldn’t be the one making this decision.
This thinking began long before I decided to move. My entire life I’d relied on a kind of consensus model of decision making. I tried to take stock of what my family, friends, enemies, teachers, boyfriends would do in any given situation. I’d choose the thing that seemed like it would garner the most approval across the board. I applied for safe colleges. I got a safe job. I began a safe life built on the approval of others. But ignoring my own aspirations, feelings, and desires didn’t make them go away. They brewed there in a deep part of my belly for years before finally ripping my life at the seams.
I made the decision to move to New York on a gut feeling. It wasn’t based on any kind rational reason. I didn’t have a job lined up. I didn’t know anything about finding an apartment. I’d never even been to New York. On the outside, it was impulsive. But it was based on a feeling so strong that it swept me up like a wave and carried me to the point of no return. Suddenly I faced the subtle disapproval of the counsel I’d diligently followed my entire life.
Between heaving sobs, I told my therapist my fears. If people said I could never, did that mean I couldn’t either? Did that mean I shouldn’t? Did that mean they disapproved? Was I making a huge mistake?
When I finally had to pause to breathe, she handed me a third tissue and said, “you are the most qualified person to make decisions about your life.”
I laughed out loud.
Qualified? I’m barely qualified to rent a car! I’m still in shock that people let me eat and drink whatever I want! Last night I ate a 2-minute mug brownie for dinner! FOR DINNER. At best, I’m pretending to be an adult!
I quietly discredited her statement as bullshit and ate my weekly post-therapy burrito thinking instead about how much I hated everyone.
But the next time I talked to someone whose well-intentioned questions felt like an attempt to poke holes in my sail, I thought about all the ways I knew me better than they knew me.
It became easier to discern which comments were about me and which ones were about the person commenting. I was able to read “I could never” at face value instead of some veiled disapproval. Their alarm at my moving without a job was easily countered by my excitement about seeing what was out there. Their disgust at my chosen city’s trash or crime or lack of Walmarts was easily mitigated by my interest in a different kind of life. Their I could never’s were quietly countered with a yeah, but I can.
The sentiment has become a mantra to me. As I move through this life making big and small, smart and dumb, lasting and temporary decisions, I know that I am the best person to do so. Friends, therapists, parents, partners do know me and I still highly value what they see. They help me see sides of myself that are in blind spots. They can bring me back from the dark parts of my psyche. But in the end they can never have the same knowledge I have from living my entire life as me.
When I start to doubt or think that someone else’s advice has more weight than what I think or want, I return to the list of things that are wholly my own, things that, no matter how hard I try, can’t be explained or understood by another person. The journals filled with words that only I’ve read. The long afternoons of my childhood. The way the smell of Ivory soap makes me feel both comforted and nostalgic. The irrepressible and acute sadness (read: angst) of my 15 year old self.
Others know individual parts of me but I am the only one who knows the sum of all of these parts. I am the only one on earth who can discern what it means to be me. I am the most qualified person to make decisions about my life.
And so are you.
Listen to yourself. You know what you’re talking about.
all. is. on.