Around 1:00pm today, I found myself pondering a fairly existential question. Well, technically, I found myself jayjogging (jaywalking, but like you've got somewhere to be) across a four lane street in downtown Dayton to stand on the edge of the road and snap an iPhone photograph of a building, after which I would ponder the following existential question while jogging back to my car where I would become too distracted to spend more time on the following question until later that nigh aka right now:
When does the work you're doing become valuable?
In recent weeks, I’ve had two professional connections reach out to say my photos would be printed on a storefront and a billboard. Each time I got the news, I felt a swell of excitement and belonging in my chest.
Then, each time, I remembered how just a year or so ago, I wouldn’t have let myself feel excited or I’d have been too ashamed to acknowledge myself.
That shame I felt was being dealt to me by the shadow of my perfectionist self and my eating disorder self. It came from a former belief system that said “you’ll never be good enough, because you CANT be good enough.” It was the same shame that used to creep up when I'd crave an afternoon on the couch after a long work week and that sent me back to the gym as my muscles felt thick and spent, and called for a day of healing. It was a hulking, nagging companion to my younger years that fed on the fear the being simply ENOUGH would make me lazy, or apathetic, or stuck.
Over time this fear and shame attached threads to my skins and puppeteered my every move. It dubbed my speech to deflect compliments and disparage my efforts. It propagated my negative thoughts, encouraging them to grow and to linger in the forefront of my consciousness as if to be my reality. As the idea that acknowledgement, pride, and satisfaction were dangerous grew, I think i also started to believe, somewhere deep down, that they were impossible, out of reach, and undeserved.
One of the things I hate the most about both perfectionism and diet culture is that it sets an unattainable, unyielding standard for “success.” As has been thoroughly discussed and dissected in the "pages" of this blog over the last three years, I spent a fair chunk of my teenage years and early twenties subscribing to these schools of thought and self-sabotage.
The more I bought into the idea that there was one way to do everything, the bigger the cloud of doubt and self-limitation that was my Imposter Syndrome would grow. The longer I let myself live under the belief that my body and it’s fuel had to fit someone else’s size and system, the further and further I’d fall away from loving who I was. I was caught in a constant cycle of never-enough.
To say that simply "acknowledging my work" solved all of my food and body problems and eased my anxiety and perfectionism to a point that my quality of life has notably improved would be a lie. It would also be to the discredit of a lot of that very work I did, and the work that my therapist has done, and my loved ones have done through support and patience. However, if you comb back through this blog you'll find that acknowledgement IS one of the most consistent themes of my mental health and recovery writing. Sometimes it sounded like "facing your food fears" or talking back to fear and other times it was more about figuring out what comes after acknowledging the work but what is clear to me here and now is this:
The value won't come with certain amount of money. It won't feel like enough to earn blue check mark next to your Twitter handle or a collection of letters next to your nam. Reaching that certain number on a scale won't satisfy that feeling you've got nagging at your soul.
So what will work? What will finally start to feel like success?
Maybe it'll be when you do your damndest to do what you said you were going to do and call it your best shot. Maybe it will be when you accomplish something you never thought you could or would do, because you chose to be brave enough to try. Maybe, just maybe, it will be when you start to value the work you're doing today.
One of the healthiest, kindest things we can do for ourselves is acknowledge the work we are doing, even before it's done. Be it personal, professional, emotional, physical, or other: the work we are doing deserves to be looked at, celebrated, and examined. At times that might mean staring up at a window-sized print of your photography hanging over Third Street or accepting a compliment someone throws your way, but most of the time it probably won't be that shiny. A lot of the time it's going to look like asking a client for more money because your effort and time is valuable NOW, leaving something on your to-do list for tomorrow because ten hours IS enough, taking a nap, even though you haven't found a new job yet, because being unemployed DOESN'T affect your worth, or sharing a picture of the new recipe you tried because little growth COUNTS.
Take a moment, look at it, let be enough for a moment, let it be good.