I’ve hit this paradox where I can imagine my life in 20 years but I can’t really imagine me living the next four.
I can imagine myself in the future, graduated with two degrees, perhaps working as a full-time social scientist, researcher, or maybe a lawyer, living as an activist, archivist, writer, or maybe all three. I can dream up stability, I can dream up security, I can dream up satisfaction; I can see happiness. I’ve never really been unsure of these things. I just assumed they’d happen in their own time. But for the life of me, I can’t imagine approaching the next couple years and what I want to do with my life now, in this moment.
I brought this paradox up to a friend and, after a long discussion and period of reflection, realized some things. Most of the time when I think of my future, I’m only able to think of myself and who I want to be later in my life. I don’t take into account my abilities and what I’m able to do now, or what I may or may not be able to do in the future.
This is a general pattern in my life. I’m able to set up expectations but not look at reality. I tend to be idealistic and dream rather than make the choice to be honest or even realistic.
Capitalism, High Expectations and Self-Identity
Unconsciously, concepts of production and capitalism have become a big part of my identity. I think this is in part because of how I’ve experienced capitalism. I’ve always been taught that in life what is central is our jobs, what is of value is what we create, what we leave behind after we are gone, physical and tangible. This is success. This is the basis for how we are identified, but this is also capitalism.
In capitalism we are taught to see ourselves, see our abilities, then create our identity. It becomes an equation: self + ability= identity. In calculating this equation I continuously subconsciously decide to skip the ability part and jump to self = identity filling in the ability part with aspirations. This was partially because ability is a changeable fluid thing that was hard to pin down. When I reflect honestly however it was ultimately because if I decided to factor my current abilities into the equation, it would change my outcome. I would not meet my aspirations in the way that I wanted to, and in my mind facing that was not only painful but unacceptable. Not factoring in my ability has consequences though. I bite off more than I can chew and I don’t tend to give myself the support or resources I need in order to have a fighting chance. Possibly worst of all, I end up being haunted by my unrealistic expectations. The perfectionism and identity I want to achieve can lead me to constantly being dissatisfied with what I produce. There’s always been a cloud of stress, anxiety and worry that has followed me because no matter how much I don’t want to fit ability into the equation, it is still important whether I recognize it or not.
This combination of anxiety, expectations and perfectionism have over time built up to make me miserable.
My unrealistically high expectations have pushed me to live in a constant state of panic, stress and dissatisfaction Because of the nature of capitalism some form of stress and high demand will probably be present for the rest my life, but this does not mean I have to internalize it. I realized that in order to survive for now, I must tolerate the external pressure and try and live the best that I can and be as fair to myself as possible. I was and still am not always fair to myself. After watching myself continuously succumb to a constant cycle of anxiety and expectation, for the first time in my life I am asking myself: What it would it be like if I actually was able to answer this equation in the context of my ability? Would others be able to accept me and love me without trying to be exceptional, without achieving the identity persona and result I set out to achieve? Would I be able to love and accept myself regardless of what standard I set out for myself and enjoy my life for what it is at this moment? I have begun to realize that my own happiness and survival depends on me being honest about my abilities lest I burn myself out completely.
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Loving My Body in the Face of Capitalism
In order to come to terms with my abilities, and love my body for what it is, as it is, I have to actually figure out what those abilities are. I’m realizing that I’ve become far too used to crossing that line, pushing myself too hard, violating my own boundaries in order to satisfy whatever level of production that I want to hit. Understanding this I’ve become more mindful of my body and my brain, of when they’re exhausted, overwhelmed or simply on empty. Balancing the demands of my environment as well as the demands of my own body is difficult. Capitalism isn’t sympathetic or designed for comfort. Instead of pushing for the exceptional, neglecting to acknowledge and make accommodations for my inabilities, and feeling too ashamed to ask for help and accommodations, I am learning that loving my body means actively working to acknowledge it and take care of it. This means asking for help when I don’t want to and starting projects much earlier instead of pretending like I don’t need the extra time. It means learning when my body is yelling because I’ve crossed a boundary rather than when it’s uncomfortable because I’m pushing to extend my own boundaries. I’m learning that mastery takes time, that learning how to respectfully operate my body takes work, and that although there will always be tension between the external world’s demands and the attention and care my body deserves that most often when my survival does not depend on the external work, I should chose my body and my needs first, and take the best care of it.
With the things that I can’t do I’m working my best to change. As I learn to accept and acknowledge what my body is capable of at the given moment, I’m also learning to align my own goals and values to my current abilities. I am working to be radically honest with myself about things that I don’t necessarily like about myself but can’t change. While looking at myself realistically, I’m also trying to dream about what I’m capable of in the context of where I am currently as well where I want to be with respect to what I’m currently capable of and what are the more concrete steps I can achieve. Eventually my dream is to hit a point where my expectations are more in alignment with my circumstances.
I am working to look at things for what they are in the moment and accept and embrace things for what they are without trying to idealize or catastrophize. At times I will be and am angry, depressed and fearful for my body but there are also times when I’m happy, content and even amazed by it. I’m working to hold both experiences equally. In changing into a perspective that’s more honest, it’s becoming easier to like myself. I’m learning that I can be free to fall in love with my body as is with all the experiences I’ve had and all the things I’ve contributed to that which I find purpose in.
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I still don’t particularly know what my life looks like when I factor in my current abilities. I don’t really know who I am or what I look like without overcompensating and idealizing. I haven’t figured out what my answer is to the equation. What my identity is or what kind of identity or status I can have within the context of capitalism. Eventually I’ll have to be able to answer that question in order to survive. But for now I don’t particularly want to and I’m privileged enough now I don’t have to. At the moment I’ve settled on just being, maintaining and I’m content with that. I’m taking the opportunity to invest in my own self care and explore what I can do that makes me happy. Now that I’ve come to see myself more honestly I’ve become more curious to find things that don’t make me miserable or push me past my boundaries and instead bring me joy. I’m relearning how to approach tasks in my daily life in a way that is more respectful and realistic of myself. I’m committed to finding better ways to love my body for what it is and I’m excited to see what I find.
[Featured Image: A photo of a person’s face. They are wearing a dark pink scarf on their head. Source: pexels.com]