“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await a new voice.” —TS Eliot
Remember when Queen Elizabeth II characterized 1992 as an annus horribilis for the Royal Family and we giggled because it made us think of something like horrible asshole?
The year 2018 had some stupid bad luck. Multiple phones lost—each to a different unpredictable event. Apartment crises far from home—a cockroach infestation in Cyprus, a visit from a mysterious inspector in Montenegro. My bank account got hacked. In my freelance work, I experienced one of the slowest months in three years. Then, adding insult to insecurity, a guy I was developing feelings for turned out to be developing feelings for someone else when he thought I wasn’t looking. And while my Instagram feed looks cool because I got to spend most of my year travelling, all those bits of bad luck are especially tricky when they happen to you while you’re far from home. In more than one area of my life, I felt the ground shift under my feet.
During the summer, when things were slowing down in my work, I did a counterintuitive thing. I took the extra free time to update my professional portfolio and then doubled my hourly rate on the freelancing website where I do most of my work. And then I did some deep breathing and walking—also praying—to manage my fear that I’d alienate all my existing clients. As it turns out, my work had slowed down because three of my regular clients were moving to new companies. When they got settled in their new jobs, they resumed working with me, now at my new rate. In fact, a couple of those clients began to assign me more challenging and interesting types of work. By increasing my rate, I set a higher value on my work and my time, and consequently I am gaining a stronger sense of my own capabilities.
Chris had a tendency to flake out on plans, but I could live with that because he was a calm man, and I felt safe expressing my feelings to him. This is how I thought of him. A girl like me, I need a guy I feel safe with, and he makes me feel safe. But something about the text from him on the day I arrived in Montenegro (“How was your flight?”) followed by five days of silence (“Sorry I disappeared, life got weird.”) forced me to acknowledge that, despite his occasional affectionate moods, he was not all in with me. He told me he had gone to a movie; he didn’t tell me he had gone with anyone; at the risk of seeming needy and suspicious I asked if it was a date; he said yes, that they were “taking it slow.” And in my frenzy of social media data mining that followed his rejection I discovered that, over a couple of months, he’d done Yellowbelly, mini golf, beach fires, Jack Axes, coffee dates, and rooftop pints with this mainstream skinny blonde with an impressive selfie game. Frankly, I’d thought he had more interesting taste than that.
That’s me being snarky. Her Instagram feed is not so different from mine; I’m sure she’s just as skilled at filtering and curating as I am. Truth is, in the moment I discovered Chris’s summer dating timeline, I saw clearly how very uninterested he had been in me. He had shown up for her; for me he had bailed on plans, and then he didn’t even take the trouble to let me know when he’d shifted interest. And—this shows you how superficial I am—the hardest truth of all is that her physical appearance gave me that deep visceral shame that goes by the name Who Do You Think You Are. How could he ever be interested in a girl like me.
But, just as I had done with my career crisis, I did the counterintuitive thing. In a sense, I raised my rates. I realized I had tolerated his on-again-off-again interest for too long. I had been satisfied with his occasional expressions of affection, with the fact that he sometimes listened to me when I shared my needs, that he didn’t have a bad temper; I had been willing to overlook his bailing on plans, his extended silences while I was away. I realized I had been settling for good enough, rather than expecting respect. Rather than accept his rejection as a confirmation of my worst fears around my lack of desirability, I took the “down” time and worked on my sense of self-worth.
And something happened, something deep and tectonic. I began to get a sense of myself as awesome and brave and interesting and hardworking. I remembered the joy and the sense of liberty I feel when I pursue the curiosities I used to satisfy only through reading, explore places I’ve only ever heard of on the news or in movies, make friends with strangers who don’t speak English. The dumb bad luck of the previous months had left me feeling as if I were hurtling through the air; but now I felt as if I’d found my wings and was flying, controlling my own trajectory. This life of travel and exploration was there before the bad luck; but somehow, the bad luck helped me to value my life more than I had before, and to own it as something I had earned rather than a freak of fortune.
I’m not too sure where this learning will take me in 2019. I think there will be some moments requiring discipline where I am faced with uncomfortable choices between respecting myself and accepting what seems good enough. It’s tricky because whoever organized my emotional spice shelf set the jar of Self Worth right next to the jar of Shame, so there’s a risk of cross-contamination. What I can tell you is that I will not spend January self-correcting or self-immolating or self-flagellating. Good enough for a girl like me is not acceptable. Because a girl like me is as good as it gets.