“How can I come to terms with the fact that I can’t do it all?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Kate Scelsa Says:
Okay, I am going to give both of us this advice at the same time because I am guessing that you and I have a lot in common. I’m going to go ahead and assume that you are an overachiever who is excited about many things and is overloading your schedule and making lists and giving yourself a really specific timeline for when you want to have reached certain achievements.
It’s like I’m talking to myself already.
I’m a writer, but I also have a podcast with my DJ dad (see, you’re talking to the right multi-tasker here). We recently had the cool task of listening to an old interview that my dad got to do with David Bowie (!) in which Bowie said something that I found to be so helpful. He was talking about how, when he was young, he felt all of this urgency to get as much work out as he could as quickly as possible. And that, as he got older, he realized that life was long. “You realize that you have all the time in the world,” said David Bowie.
David Bowie was right! Not everything has to happen RIGHT NOW. Some things can wait. They’ll still be there if you want to come back to them later. The most important thing is to fully commit yourself to what you’re doing in the moment. Maybe even try to (gasp) enjoy it! If you’re doing one thing, but thinking about getting to another thing, or wondering if you’re missing out on a third, you’re not bringing your full self to the beautiful moment of the thing that you’re actually doing!
A really important part of this is actually honoring the fact that you are a person that has a lot of interests and things that you’re enthusiastic about. That is awesome! Some people don’t want to do ANYTHING! And you want to do ALL THE THINGS! It is a beautiful thing to have enthusiasm, to care about things, and to want to experience life in a lot of different ways.
But (and now I’m going to get a little mystical on you here) everything you do isn’t actually about the things you’re doing at all. It’s about you. It’s about the You that you are bringing to it. The experience that you make of it. WHAT you do is less important than THE YOU that’s doing it.
We live in a world of choice, and this can be overwhelming to ALL of us. And it can be paralyzing. It’s not your job to make The Best Choice—because there is no Best Choice to make. It’s your job to stay curious, and to learn about yourself and what makes you tick and how you can best serve that thing. And, if you’re paying attention and bringing your whole heart to the moment, then you are going to learn something about yourself no matter what you’re doing.
If we honor each thing as it comes, and the people who come into our lives and the opportunities that we are given, we can exist in the kind of flow that will bring us to exactly where we’re supposed to be in each moment, where things can happen that we actually couldn’t have even planned. And I promise you that that’s when life gets really interesting.
"What should you do when you say a shitty thing to someone? I am generally careful about my words, but I made a joke that was actually not very nice to someone I care about. I have recognised what I did wrong, apologised to the person whose feelings I hurt, and respected their need to be distant from me for now. But now, all I want to do is fall into a spiral of self-hatred and never leave my house again for fear of doing something shitty again, which doesn't feel healthy or productive."
-Question submitted by Anonymous
I want to start by telling you that, given the context of this question, you have already done two incredibly wonderful things: First, you’ve recognized that your misstep affects two people – yourself, and the person you care about. Second, and most importantly, you’ve prioritized the needs of the person you care about by recognizing, apologizing, and respecting their space. The importance of those actions cannot be overstated. So, so many people who are in a similar position to you, Anonymous, get so wrapped up in that self-hatred part of the equation (and we are gonna get there, hang tight), that they do not prioritize the overarching respect that is so critically important to the person who has been hurt by their actions or words.
I want you to begin by acknowledging the respect you are giving to the person who you’ve hurt. That is a productive, positive action that you have taken and are continuing to take.
Now listen to me: you are not defined by one moment, one action, one utterance. What defines any person is the way that they respond, learn, and adjust after they do something that has hurt another person (or a group of people). Yes, of course, it would be just lovely if no one ever said words that hurt others, never took actions that caused harm… but that just isn’t possible. We do not live in a utopia, we live on a planet that is riddled with misinformation, complicated and troubling messages, and a whole butt-ton of inter-personal feelings. The truest path on this little planet to a place of healing and growth is found by learning from the moments where we all, inevitably, misspeak or misstep.
Once, at a speaking event that I did years ago in Tennessee, a student expressed concern, and hurt, during the Q&A. With the room full of hundreds of students, she said to me, “during your talk you said that people were either LGBTQ or straight. I am a trans woman and I identify as straight, and that really made me feel erased.” My eyes likely got as big as dinner plates as I realized what I had done – I had used my words in a way that not only caused this person to feel erased, but that had potentially misguided a room full of people! I felt horrible, but I also immediately realized that this person speaking to me deserved an immediate apology, recognition, and a promise for change. And, that is what happened. I apologized. We had a long, incredible conversation about gender, sexuality, and erasure while the audience listened, and I changed that part of the event forevermore so that I wouldn’t ever misinform anyone else on that false dichotomy.
Now, that doesn’t mean I never misspoke again, Anonymous. It does mean, though, that I never misspoke in that way again, and that I became even more vigilant about choosing my language and constantly, consistently educating myself. You will leave the house again (you must! you’ll at least need some gummy bears from time to time), and it is completely, 100% possible (and even likely!) that when you do you might hurt another person through your words or your actions. You are not a perfect person. You do not know all the things about all the people or even all the things about your own language!! No one is, and no one does. What I can promise you, though, is that you have learned something from this experience, and you can use that knowledge to help you make better choices and choose better words in the future!!
So. When you feel that pang of “what the fuck did I do,” turn it on its head and make it productive. That’s how you escape from a self-hate that will always, only be unproductive! In the morning, when the moment flashes through your brain and you wince and start to spiral, find a quiet spot and meditate. Clear your brain. Help your emotions to find a place of balance, because that balance will better guide you and your words next time. In the afternoon, when you think “what the hell is WRONG with me, how could I have done that,” find a book, an article, a video, a podcast that has informative, balanced content so that you can be better informed and educated. That education will help you to understand the world around you in even more complicated and nuanced ways, and that will also help to guide you next time. In the evening when you start to sink into a deep, desperate longing that it had never happened… remember that it did happen, and that you are learning from it, and that is the way that the world changes. Keep working on yourself, continue to respect the needs of those around you, and please, please leave your house. That courage, Anonymous, is what will help change things for yourself, and for a whole lot of others.
“This past year I’ve had a run of hard things. My friends have been super supportive, but I can tell they’re getting drained and I hate feeling needy. What do you do when you still need extra support but you feel like you’ve exhausted your support system?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Kate Scelsa Says:
Let me just say right off the bat that man oh man I have BEEN THERE. There is nothing worse than needing help and on top of that feeling guilty about needing that help and then beating yourself up about feeling guilty and then not being able to just have nice, relaxing time with your friends (which could potentially really help) because you’re too busy being a bundle of “how can I make myself feel worse about this entire situation???”
The very very short answer to your question is, simply, therapy. A therapist’s job is to be a person who is not your friend who listens to anything you need to talk about, and supports you in working through what you need to work through. And because it is this person’s JOB to do this, you are released completely from feeling like a burden to them.
If you can afford therapy, if you have insurance that covers therapy, or if you have access to free or subsidized therapy (at school, at a community center, as part of a support group) TRY IT. It might take a couple tries to find someone you like (or a group that you feel comfortable in), but once you do, even just knowing that there is a time each week set aside for you to talk about what’s going on with you in which you don’t have to worry that you are bothering a friend is HUGE.
If you have an aversion to therapy—if, for example, you tried it once and had a bad experience, or maybe there’s a stigma in your family or in your community around going to a therapist—I really urge you to just give it a try. Your situation is exactly what therapy is meant for. And if it’s overwhelming to you to figure out how to find a therapist (or a group) that you’ll be comfortable with, try asking one of those friends who you’re worried you’ve been too needy with to help you with this one last big thing. They will probably be really happy to know that you’re seeking out this extra support, and you might be able to find someone through a personal recommendation.
The other half of my answer to your question is that, in addition to therapy, there’s a lot of work that you can do to build up your ability to be self sufficient in nurturing yourself and soothing yourself. This is a skill that needs to be actively worked on, and it improves with time. And you might be doing certain things already that help.
Do you need to take a bath every night with candlelight and a comic book? Do you need to write long, indulgent descriptions of your dreams as soon as you wake up every morning? Or does it help to do morning pages from the great creativity book “The Artist’s Way?” Does reading self-help books make you feel less alone? Do you feel better whenever you go roller skating? Does being around animals help you? Nature? What does your most Quiet and Alone Self need?
For me the secret is writing. I don’t always think that I want to do it, but it always makes me feel better. It’s almost as if I can feel all of the stuck stuff inside of me draining out onto the page (sorry, that’s gross). When I write regularly, I feel like I’m taking care of myself. And when I haven’t written for a while, all my neediness comes back. It’s like my brain is calling out for a way to process my life.
What you want to avoid is turning to harmful behaviors to self soothe. TV, junk food (or, um, late night cheese-eating parties aka “Night Cheese”), alcohol, and drugs might all temporarily stop the inner monologue in some ways, but they don’t help it. The way to help it is to use these self-soothing techniques that you’re going to develop as ways to tell yourself “I’m okay.” Because you are.
Once you figure out how to self-nurture even in little ways, you can start to do these things for yourself without anyone else’s permission. This will teach you that your needs are not unreasonable. When we have needs and we turn to other people to meet them and for whatever reason that person isn’t able to meet that need, we tend to judge the need and judge ourselves. We believe that we asked too much, and that needing what we needed in the first place was wrong or bad or “too much.”
The most empowering thing that you can do is realize that you are not “too much.” Nothing about you is too much.
Being alone with our needs is scary, because when bad things happen to us we feel depleted. We feel incapable of controlling anything. We feel that the universe is being ungenerous with us, so we don’t trust it to point us in the right direction.
Let yourself listen to the part of you that knows what these little things are that might help, and visualize this self-soothing work as simultaneously filtering old, stuck emotions and building up self-love resources.
Your friends who love you will still be there for you. And all of this will allow you to be there for them too. It sounds like they’ve given a lot to you, so see if you can find little ways to thank them. A silly gift. An “I love you” text. Share with them the ways in which you are learning to self soothe. Maybe they would like to go roller skating too. It will feel great to know that you can tell them how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate their support through this rough patch.
This road back to feeling okay isn’t always easy. But I promise you that it’s so worth it.
Kate Scelsa is the author of the young adult novel “Fans of the Impossible Life” (HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray). She grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Sarah Lawrence College, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats. Kate also performs with theater company Elevator Repair Service and is half of The Kate and Vin Scelsa Podcast, available on iTunes. Follow her on Twitter. Help support our contributors here on Patreon!
Allow yourself to fail, don’t put shit on the back burner, ask for help, & keep dreaming. Here’s what we mean:
(1) Allow yourself to fail, because it happens. No one just comes up with a dream and then flies into the sky on a giant dog muppet and gets everything they want. It takes a ton of hard work, a bunch of mistakes you’ve got to learn from, and a crap load of pulling-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps. But you can do it.
(2) Don’t put shit on the back burner. It’ll be so easy to take a shitty job that pays a little more, but doesn’t allow you the time to do what you love. SO EASY. Don’t do that. Work the shitty low-paying job that gives you a flexible schedule and supports you following your dreams. Money is not more important than your happiness. Dannielle’s dad always says, “If you like making money now, just wait until you’re making it doin’ what you love.”
(3) Ask for help. People want to help you, they just don’t know how. Ask your friends to help you with a project. Ask your family to help support your newest venture. Ask your co-workers to help loosen up your schedule so you can take the time you need. Ask your old professor how they got started. Ask for help. You can not do it alone.
(4) Don’t. Fucking. Stop. Dreaming. We don’t care how many goals you’ve achieved… don’t ever stop dreaming bigger. Dream the biggest shit you can possibly dream. You can do it. We promise you.
“Hey, this is quite a general question applicable to many things, but how do you not burn out from activism?”
Question submitted by Anonymous
This is quite a general answer but:
You gotta take breaks.
You GOTTA take breaks.
YOU GOTTA TAKE BREAKS.
They can look like this:
Or even this:
(If they look like that we should talk about dating in the near future.)
ANYWAY, the bottom line is that you gotta take care of you.
Seriously: Self-care is a critical component of changing the world, so whether that means you take a day, a week, or three years, you gotta take the time you need to feel centered, positive, alert, and ready. The change-making is going to need you when you return, and you’re gonna be refreshed and ready to tackle it once you’ve rested your sweet lil’ activist eyeballs for a bit.