November 8, 2020

There’s No Trophy for doing Life in the Hardest Way Possible.


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I see you trying to muscle through.

Thinking you can’t ask for help. That you should be able to do it all on your own—whatever it is.

For example, this: your desire to control your depression, anxiety, and ADHD on your own. To master these issues “naturally.”

You’ve been nearsighted since fifth grade. When the optometrist discovered you were straining to see, you didn’t put up a fight about wearing glasses. You didn’t say, “Oh, I’ll just train myself to see better, naturally!” Especially once you realized how helpful your glasses were, how they turned the smeared edges of words and trees and clouds crisp.

Years from now, you’ll come across a meme that reads: If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is fine. You’ll smile with recognition when you read it, you’ll whisper thank you. After decades of trial and error, I can tell you with certainty that store-bought is totally fine. Accepting help doesn’t make you weak or lazy or less-than.

Even with the “crutch” of those store-bought neurotransmitters—or maybe even because of them— you will still learn to take exquisite care of yourself. You will still find that exercise and meditation and writing and therapy are tools that help you feel better. And when you feel better, you’re able to offer more to the world.

Nobody is handing out trophies to the people who don’t take meds, who don’t accept help from others, who put on a brave face when they’re actually crumbling. Sainthood is not achieved by tackling life in the hardest way possible.

In several years, you will buy a bigger family home. The house will include a large, intricate oval garden in the center of the lawn where your kids play. Roses and irises and hostas, oh my. The couple you purchase the house from will be empty nesters, retirees. The woman loves gardening; she spends hours plucking weeds and dripping water into the thirsty soil, coaxing small, curved buds from the earth, sweeping crumbs of dirt from her knees.

For the first few years that you live there, you will occasionally, half-heartedly weed the garden. “We could take it out,” you and your husband will sometimes say. But some part of you believes you must master the garden—after all, it’s there; it’s your garden now. Though you have two young kids and a scorching desire to write and a to-do list a mile long. Still, you’ll continue to tend to someone else’s garden. It’ll be one more task on the lengthy scroll that hangs in your mind, the list of all the things you think you’re failing at.

You will sometimes even envision the former owner driving by, shaking her head with disappointment at what her garden has become, at what you have allowed it to become. You will feel a bone-deep shame when you envision this, like a scolded child.

Sweet girl, this is not your garden. You didn’t ask for a garden. This garden doesn’t bring you alive, doesn’t bring you joy—it exhausts you. Rip the f*cker out like you would an old, crusty carpet. This is not your garden. Your garden is words. You make space for them, tend to them, water them. You weed out the excess, allowing what was already coiled deep, to bloom.

What I’m trying to say is, if you keep trying to power through, here’s what you’ll end up with: blurry vision. Someone else’s weed-strewn garden. A stack of regrets. The knowledge that all those words that burned in you remained inside, wilting in the dark.

No one, at the end of their day, says, “Gee, I’m so glad I made things harder for myself. I’m super stoked that I spent all that time tending to some other woman’s garden. Pulling weeds was a really fantastic use of my precious time.”

I don’t know where we got the idea that there is value in doing things the hardest way possible, in tensing our tendons and steaming through on sheer stubbornness. It always leads to burnout. Exhaustion. Defeat.

It’s okay to take a pill. To hire a housekeeper or a babysitter. It’s okay to rip out that garden. To set down the tasks that can be outsourced, like manufacturing neurotransmitters. No one will confiscate your crunchy badge. You can be crunchy and take meds. You can be a dedicated mother and need a lot of breaks. You can be a hard worker and pay someone else to remove a garden. You can be your sweet, stubborn, complicated self without explanation, without excuses.

Here’s the thing. Life is f*cking brutal. It just is. Even with the vast privilege you possess. Yes, you will always be able to point to people who face more daunting challenges than you. But making your own life harder doesn’t actually help them. It doesn’t help anyone.

Here’s what they actually sometimes hand out trophies for—for doing the thing you are uniquely meant to do. For pouring your energy into your passions and culling out all the rest.

And even if there’s no trophy, there’s still this: the feeling of lightness, of relief, of alignment with your purpose. The unclouded vision. The hum of energy that arrives when we stop burning fuel on things that don’t matter. When we plant the garden of our choosing and refuse to accept the one we inherited.


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