About five years ago, I was lying on a hospital gurney in an E.R. in Bangkok, with my friend Oriana and a mystified doctor standing over me.
I had come down with some mysterious ailment, which, I now know, is not that weird for a traveler. Stress and new foods and 20 hours on a plane with unknown germs, they all do things to us. But at the time, of course, it was a crisis, and I was ultra-weak and nearly unconscious, and convinced this was my last day on the planet. Not to mention: The city was flooding, because of course it was, and the power had been unreliable in some parts of the city. We’d stepped over sandbags just to get in the door.
One would imagine this would be troubling. Time to panic. There were other times for panic, for sure. But in that particular moment, I surprised myself. Looking up at the overhead light and the blank ceiling, not only did I feel totally peaceful, I almost laughed out loud.
What was funny was this: I’d been trying so hard. So hard. To find the right thing to do with my life. To spend my energy on beautiful, purposeful things. To not be suckered by money and prestige, to try to find meaning and authenticity instead. I’d selected these stars to steer by very early on, and I hadn’t questioned them since I was maybe 22 or so. This was the plan.
Of course, this could beget a very anxiety-filled existence. You’re always wondering: is this the best use of my time? Are these the right people to be with? Is this the most perfect path?
You can see how this would make a person crazy. It sounds insane, to write it out.
But, again, I hadn’t stepped back to consider this.
And suddenly, flat on my back, imagining the waters rising around Bangkok’s city center, I thought, “What if this was the story? What if this is how it ends? I spent all that time trying to know everything, be a stronger, better person, and for what? For some imagined future that’s never coming. I could have just relaxed a little. I could have just been nicer to myself.”
And that, for whatever reason, was hilarious. In a sort of slapstick, I Love Lucy-esque way.
So I laughed, in my head. I don’t think I laughed out loud, although maybe I did. And then, the power went out in the hospital, and I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the ICU.
People of a certain disposition think they need to be constantly improving themselves, that they are not enough as they are.
(Other people, of course, are big fans of taco bowls and think they don’t need any improvements whatsoever.)
For those who think they need to start mainlining self-improvement before they’re certified to walk out the door, I’ll just gently suggest that this is not the case, and state the obvious: a lot of people make a lot of money by telling people, especially women, that they’re serious fixer-uppers. And in fact, the very thing making you feel crazy is probably that you’re inundated by chipper tips to “boost your self-confidence” and “lean in” and “stop apologizing” and “live the life you’ve imagined.”
In the face of such an avalanche, it’s easy to see why a quieter, less marketable philosophy like, “You are sufficient,” becomes easily lost. There’s no great mystery about it, it requires no multi-step processes, it makes for terrible clickbait, and it won’t sell any books. But on my last day on earth, it’s the only thing I knew.