Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

From the very beginning, I have eaten the damn cake.

I love reading Kate Fridkis’ blog, Eat the Damn Cake. She writes about body image and beauty culture and, through those lenses, personal worth.

Today, I saw her post, “Women’s Work,” and I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop thinking about the power of one negative comment. I can’t stop thinking about how easy it is for an outside opinion to touch and taint a perspective.

It’s interesting to watch the humans goad one another into lives that I’m pretty sure nobody wants, lives consumed with constant work and climbing.  As Kate writes,

I am realizing more and more that I am intensely afraid of appearing to not be throwing myself into my career, the way every self-respecting, educated, enlightened twenty-something woman should be. God forbid, I should look as though I am not doing enough. God forbid I should fail to scramble up higher and higher on the ladder of life until my accomplishments speak so clearly for themselves that I never again need to explain that, yes, I am working. I am always working.

In my twenties, I truly believed that working hard and achieving were the keys to getting a better life. If I just pushed hard enough, I was sure that I would get…well I didn’t know what I would get, but it would be Something Great. I was very attached to the idea of Success and what Being Successful would bring to my life – respect, a feeling of accomplishment, more security, more love, etc.

And, in a way, I was absolutely right. Being successful, truly successful, has brought me all of those things…though being truly successful looks nothing like the picture I originally had in my head of Success. It took me more than a decade (all of my twenties, and some of my thirties!) to really get that the cookie-cutter version of Success that I had bought into (“work hard-feel disconnected-work harder-burn out-get a degree-rinse, repeat”) brought me less self-respect, a good dose of hollowness, more general anxiety, and less time to love.

The success that I’m now experiencing has a lot less to do with checking off achievements and accomplishments or climbing some cliche career ladder – though I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes sigh and fantasize about keeping up with the Joneses – I totally do that. I think we all do. But my True Success has more to do with a feeling of personal worth, a feeling of dignity and integrity. And, funny enough, it doesn’t feel like drudgery.

I know I’m feeling Truly Successful when I’m feeling:

Inspired.

Connected.

Honest.

Rested.

Joyous.

Present.

Loving.

These feelings are my Work.

And to feel these things? Well, I have had to let my Theoretical Life To-Do List slide; I have to let go of the things that I do to Matter that don’t really matter to me. That means I only read the books I want to read and clean my apartment less frequently and nap more and work fewer hours and don’t rush and pay attention (when I remember). I’m aiming for a “do less, experience more” kind of life. And I make it, sometimes.

With that comes the call to live with more personal authority. When people tell me what I have to do to get farther in the game, I am getting better at remembering that I want to live my life and that I get to choose what has meaning. And that sometimes means feeling the ache of not being supported by the culture around me…and I can’t discount the power of that uneasiness. It is a mighty weight, and deep-rooted in my gut. But along with the discomfort, there is a feeling of Authenticity and of Wholeness. And that, my friends, is so worth it.

I appreciate how candidly Kate writes about redefining self worth. I am moved by her ability to not only sit with discomfort, but to translate that discomfort into something useful for others. I am grateful that she is so fucking brave. And I am so glad that she eats the damn cake, and that she inspires me to eat it, too.

What do you feel you need to do/be to have worth? How do you buttress yourself when your choices are not supported by others? What does True Success feel like to you?

Do you need to eat more cake?

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