you will need other people. or, why I'm not good at being an island.
I like belonging to things. I like rewards clubs and memberships and points and being on mailing lists and 90% of the reason why I finally broke down and got the J. Crew credit card is that it made me feel a little less insecure at the checkout with the stylish checkout ladies. Oh, she has the J. Crew card. She belongs here. She’s one of us. And the rewards points don’t suck. Or the part where I could ask them open the store at 6am and give me a personal shopper. Will write that down for if I ever become a millionaire.
“Would you like an IKEA Family Card?”
Why yes, yes I would. Even though I’ve been here twice in my life and all this will really do is get me $1 off of hot dogs, which I don’t even like.
Tupelo Honey even has one, and the term “Shoo Fly” is in the name somewhere.
Waitress, how did you know I wanted to be in a club called that?!
Here's the thing: it's a crutch. It's my insecurity manifesting itself in my life. Do I feel like more of a legitimate and connected-to-things person because of all this? Yes. What that says about me, well, I'm not sure if I like it. I thought about it the other day, and part of it has to do with belonging. Being a part of things. That’s what I’m really craving beneath all this. Feeling connected to other people. And that’s curious because I used to structure my life on purpose so that I wouldn’t need other people.
I have this little “Q&A A Day” journal (which is actually one of my favorite things because it asks you the same question every day for five years, and how fun will that be later?!), and one of the questions the other week was, ‘What do you regret?’
Regret. That’s a heavy word. I think I usually associate it with shame in one way or another. Like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that, I regret it, I feel ashamed.” And I don’t think I believe in shame. For me. I mean, I get that it’s a real thing, and that people experience it, and that it can just happen, and that it can be a life-ruiner. And I know all that because I let it ruin my life for several years. I let shame trick me into thinking that I was really messed up, and that my messy parts meant that I needed to keep people at an arm’s length. I think my favorite line in Silver Linings Playbook is when Jennifer Lawrence’s character says something about how there are parts of her that are messy, but she loves those parts just like she loves all the other parts of herself.
Yes. I can get behind that. Sign me up. I love all the parts of me.
And all the parts of you, too. And of everyone. All the parts. Yes.
And so now, I’ve resolved to inflict it upon myself as little as possible.
I translated the question, instead, to be, “What do you wish you could have done better?” No shame in wanting a re-do. I wish I hadn’t eaten nothing but sugar cookies and biscuits yesterday, but that’s what happened, and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it since I’m still on broken-foot-so-no-you-cannot-exercise HOUSE ARREST and it is driving me crazy. No shame. I’ll just do better next time and eat actual meals, or maybe I won’t. Either way, no shame. There’s no point. Breaks my “never make anyone feel like crap about anything” policy.
“Anyone” includes yourself.
But there are things I wish I had done better when I look back on other seasons of my life. The most prominent of which is that I wish I had let people into my life more during college. For a lot of reasons related to depression and that whole bag of fun, I was actually convinced that people just didn’t like me, or didn’t want to be around me, or whatever. And that if they said they wanted to be around me, they were just being nice because they were scared of my messy parts. And that everyone thought I was crazy when I got back from my medical leave. I was convinced. And I was unable to fight that off as a lie for reasons totally beyond my control at the time. I was doing the best I could, what I thought was best for myself and everyone else, and that meant staying shut up in my room, away from people. I missed out on a lot because of that. A lot of friendships, a lot of experiences, a lot of connection. A new friend of mine told me that she wished we’d been friends while we were actually at Wofford together, and I told her that it was fine and she didn’t miss a whole lot because I wasn’t so good at friendships and had the relational capacity of a rock. And I’m sorry for that, and I didn’t realize how much of a detriment that was until recently.
What I see now is that it was just a blind spot, not something to be ashamed of. The other day, Elizabeth Gilbert tweeted that the definition of a blind spot is that you can’t see through it or around it.
“Don’t blame yourself for what you couldn’t learn before you were ready.”
Okay, Elizabeth. I wasn’t ready. That helps. Okay. I won’t.
So, instead of blaming myself, instead of beating myself up and regretting that, I’m trying to learn from it and do better next time. It seems, though, whenever I am on the threshold of “next time,” I panic and regress to my old instinct, which is to stay shut up in my room with a book and not talk to people. When I’m acting like that, you know that I’m in the throes of a transition. Usually, when a transition comes, I’ll freak out and try to disconnect from the people around me that I’m about to leave. I did it at the close of every year at Wofford, and both times I was a Young Life camp summer intern. My logic was that since I was about to be removed from those people, I needed to unplug from them completely so that it wouldn’t be such a shock when I got to Point B and they weren’t there. I tried really hard not to need people, at all, ever.
Old habits really do die hard. When I got to Boone last year, I initially didn’t really even want to plug into anyone. (Read: I was scared.) "Grad school," I thought at the time, "won't even last that long." A year and a half.
“Don’t need people for a year-and-a-half-long season! No man is an island – except me! I am an island. I can do the island thing even if nobody else can!”
And I held my ground on that for a while.
It wasn’t pretty. Didn’t go well.
(Am not a good island.)
Turns out that trying to do life by yourself for a year and a half feels something like trying to hold your breath for like an hour and a half. I was cold and insensitive and rude, and I think that happened because being a lone wolf isn’t really who I am on the inside. It’s not my nature. I became a version of myself that I didn't really like. Lone wolf girl. She was never who I really was. She didn't last long. I realized that I needed people, even in a season this short. I eventually did start to let people in, and started having coffee with people, and going to lunch after class, and just getting to know people and letting them get to know me. And then I started throwing dinner parties. And that’s when the fog cleared, and I came into a version of myself that I actually did like. It all changed with the first dinner party, I tell ya. God bless Italian parmesan chicken and roasted potatoes, and heat-in-the-oven premade rolls, because that’s what it took for me to realize that I wasn’t supposed to be trying to live this season shut up in my room, away from people. I was supposed to be around the table with folks, actually sharing a slice of life with them, letting them in, and letting them do the same for me. It was, more or less, that simple. The people around the table – they were my people and they were here and I needed them and they needed me, too. Life got a lot better here when I realized that and decided to show up and be present and with people.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in Panera eating soup with a friend of mine who’s in sort of a similar situation – realizing that this is a hard season, but a short season, and so maybe she can try out the island thing for a while. And I told her what I wished someone had told me on my first day in grad school. And that is that the island thing is not such a great plan. “You will need other people. The people around you, right here, are your people, and they actually really do want to be your people because they need you to be their person, too.” The truth is, we can’t do seasons of life by ourselves, and especially not the hard ones. We weren’t designed to. And I don’t think that keeping people at an arm’s length actually protects anyone. Life is messy. That’s how we are. And we have things that we think are too messy for people. But we need people, even if we think we're in a transitional season. Everything is a transitional season, if you think about it.
I don’t need to try and be island girl or lone wolf girl.
What I do really, really need other people.
To let them in, and see the messy parts of me, because the truth is...those are my favorite parts of me.
And, well, I think I’m doing that. I'm getting better.
I move to Greenville later this month. New chapter. But I’m making myself hold off on joining the Junior League. And jumping back into Young Life or helping with RUF or tracking down the campus ministers at Furman and asking them to plug me in somewhere. Not yet. That will all be there later. Right now, I need to focus on finding other people instead of finding more clubs and membership cards and leadership roles that will trick me back into island life. Those are all great ways to find people and be around people and get to know people, but I need people to love
You need other people.
I don’t think it matters how long or short the season is; you will need other people.
This is maybe not true for everybody all the time, but I feel pretty good about saying that it's pretty generally accurate. Or something. Or at least a good idea. Or an idea that worked in a study, sample population = me.
If it’s a blind spot, that’s okay. Get there when you're ready to get there.
You’ll need other people to let you in, and other people will need you to let them in, and I just don’t think life is as rich if you try to only pick one or forego both. I think what we all want in life is to hear that we’re okay, and that we’re wanted.
You belong. You’re one of us.
It's so much better when it's coming from PEOPLE and not the J. Crew counter.
That’s the good stuff. You need it. I need it.