You can do it all.
Variants of this inspirational quote adorn throw pillows, Instagram graphics, and T-shirts. At first glance, the sentiment is admirable and even motivational. As a big dreamer, I think it’s healthy to remove mental blocks and limitations. I hope everyone can find the courage to strive for their wildest dreams. Nonetheless, I also think if we do a deep dive, this sentiment can be dangerous to your overall dreams and fulfillment.
I do believe you can do it all…but you shouldn’t.
The problem with this quote is that without us realizing, it seeps into our daily lives and poisons our fulfillment. What’s meant to inspire us to dream big actually chains us down to a life of monotony and lists.
We think we should have a home worthy of a magazine AND be the best mother AND the kind of friend who does weekly brunches AND surprise our husbands with romantic date nights AND climb the social ladder AND master how to make perfect enchiladas everyone will love AND do glam makeup everyday AND have mastered silky, shiny hair AND have a hair free body every single day AND do an hour of pilates five times a week AND make sure all the appointments are made AND be spiritually enlightened.
AND AND AND.
We think we should do it all because we can.
The list is never-ending. We run through a rat race believing there is something wrong with us when we are crying in our imperfect bathroom that isn’t spa-like as we think about how tired we are–and how we are failing. We can do it all. It’s clearly us that’s the problem. We must be too stupid or too clumsy or too disorganized or too lazy. Our lives should look effortlessly perfect like we see on social media and from celebrities and from the moms at school pickup. We can do it all if we want to–and so we convince ourselves we want to. We tell ourselves we have to. We dig deep, wipe away the mascara staining our cheeks, and we throw ourselves at the merciless to-do lists once more.
The need to do it all is an inferno we cannot escape once we let it infiltrate our lives. On our relaxation days, we look around and see all the things that aren’t quite right, all the to-dos. Instead of soaking in the sunshine, we look at how the deck chairs need washed. When we’re spending quality time with the kids or the dog, we think about how we really should be taking those perfect photographs to get made into that scrapbook we’ll do someday. We shame ourselves for caving and eating fast food and running out of energy to do our insanely rigid workout schedule. We scorn as we look in the mirror because we didn’t use enough self-tanner and we missed a spot shaving and our eye shadow is lackluster. We are hard on ourselves and see every missed item on our list as a failure.
We critique. We critique some more. We try to do more because we think that’s the problem.
And eventually, all of that “do anything” attitude becomes a life of monotony, a life missing passion, excitement, and happiness. We wake up in our lives that still don’t have everything mastered and feel inadequate, unfulfilled, and like failures, yet we keep trudging along on the hamster wheel that is quickly spinning of its axis.
Thus, the thing I think we need to talk about is this: yes, you might be strong, powerful, and smart enough to do it all. Still, that doesn’t mean you should.
Doing it all leaves you depleted. You have finite energy, and if you try to master everything at once, you just do a little bit of everything half-assed.
More importantly, trying to do it all is a fool’s errand. No one, no one, no one does it all alone and well.
No one has perfect, spotless baseboards and clean sinks while trying to work full-time.
No one has a perfect body while running the kids to seventeen activities, managing a stressful work schedule, and cooking dinner every night.
No one has magazine-worthy hair, makeup, and outfits while being a hands-on mother and making sure the appointments are all made.
No one has celebrity-worthy interior design, meals, bodies, makeup, outfits, bank accounts, careers, vacations, and lives like social media wants you to believe.
In the real world, most of us are hanging by a thread. We have dirt on the baseboards, we fed our families ham sandwiches while forgetting the dentist appointment and trying to get to work on time.
We are cleaning up cat barf while trying to put on a swipe of mascara and blot away some of the grease in our hair as we wolf down a yogurt we hope is healthy.
We are trying to iron the pants for the school play while ignoring the layer of dust on all of the surfaces in the house and hoping the squats we did while brushing our teeth count as a workout.
We are hoping no one knocks on our door as a surprise visitor because it’s Thursday and we barely made it through the work week let alone picked up a single item strewn about the house.
We’re all hanging by a thread. We’re all trying to do everything–and realizing we’re not doing it well.
I think the problem is this, though. I think the problem is we all are keeping up the ruse that it’s possible to do it all. We’re all clinging to that “can do” attitude and smiling through as if we’re not all exhausted. We’re swiping the dust away and hiding the remnants of our life in shambles. We’re getting it together just enough to convince everyone around us that we’re doing it all effortlessly. We’re convincing ourselves and our friends that yes, of course we wash the sheets every few days and manicure the lawn and make sure the kids are eating only organic food. We pretend we’re not all dying inside trying to wear fifty hats instead of just the ones we want.
We convince ourselves that the world is going to fall apart if we prioritize and let some things go. We tell ourselves we’re being lazy when we want to relax instead of tackling the window washing or the tax spreadsheet or the list of phone calls.
We keep up the facade that we’re happy doing all the things because that’s what we’ve been taught. Still, the “can do” attitude is a thief of happiness if you let it be.
So I propose that this week, we all take a deep breath and ignore the gunk from the dog on our kitchen wall or the crayon mark on the table. I propose we resist the urge to wear a full cut-crease eye look every day or iron the slightly wrinkly shirt. I propose we don’t feel guilty if we feed our families bags of chips and peanut butter for dinner or if our hair has been in a bun for a week straight. I propose we all take a breath, take a moment, and ask ourselves:
What really matters most?
Even though I can do all the things, what do I want to do?
What will make me feel successful?
Certainly, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. But that doesn’t mean we have to strive for impossible standards in all areas of our life. There are seasons for everything. Seasons to work on our killer body, and seasons to cut back to maintenance mode where a walk or chores counts. Seasons for killing it at work and letting the spring cleaning slide. Seasons where we serve all homemade meals, and seasons where cereal is a food group.
We have to learn to be okay with not doing it all and instead, doing all the things that feed our soul, that make us feel alive, and that remind us of who we are. We also have to accept that life ebbs and flows, and that it’s okay if our vision of perfect in one area morphs in the next season of our lives.
Furthermore, we need to remember that we can do it all–but we shouldn’t have to do it alone. We need to ask for help when we need it and find support systems. We need to be honest with our friends and co-workers and stop pretending this adult thing is easy. We need to stop showing up in the world as these extreme multi-taskers who are wearing a cracked smile over their dead–inside visage.
We need to be brave enough as a society to say yes, we are kickass, powerful warriors who can do it all–but are smart enough not to. Who are intelligent enough to know that it isn’t sustainable to do all the things, isn’t fulfilling, and isn’t what this life is about.
Thus, we need to change the quote in our minds to: we can do all the things that really matter most–and all the rest can wait.
Nervous jitters coursed through my body as we pulled up to the familiar building. All 140 pounds of our black Great Dane was wiggling, thrilled to see his dog school we’d been going to for months. This time, though, things were different.
After several courses of obedience, I’d decided to enroll Edmund, our Great Dane, in a class we’d never taken before: agility. I knew the instructors and the building, but I knew nothing about what to expect. It was foreign territory, and I was terrified of how he might perform. Still, along with the nervousness was another feeling–excitement. There was something thrilling about doing something completely new, something out of our comfort zone. And although Edmund still has so much to learn, we both had a blast learning new skills.
It might seem crazy that my dog’s agility class had such an impact, but honestly, in the past year, that’s what I’ve learned about life–small changes can make a big difference.
From taking a new class with my dog to learning to make candy, I’ve been branching out in small ways these past few months. I’ve read books in genres I usually don’t. I’ve listened to new podcasts and tried new makeup looks. I’ve bought new clothes and spent a lot of time on Pinterest seeing what appealed to me. I’ve tried to get back to the notion that used to be so familiar in my childhood–the idea of exploring, trying, and adventuring in any way I can.
Still, I hear so many friends and acquaintances talk about the state of monotony they find themselves drowning in. I completely understand because in my thirties and especially these last couple of years, I’ve felt the suffocating feeling of being stuck in a rut. Maybe you have, too.
Maybe you’ve experienced the sensation where every day blends into the next, and you feel like you’re stuck in a black-and-white movie. There is no passion, no spark, no joy, and certainly no element of surprise. It feels like your life is stuck on repeat, and you can’t find the remote control to pause it. A hamster on a wheel, you keep running the race without a destination in mind.
Growing up, people always told me how tough the “real world” was and how hard adult life would be. The thing is, I don’t think anyone really focused on the other difficult aspect of being an adult: monotony.
I know, I know. Being bored is, in some ways, a blessing. It means your life is stable and safe enough that your mind can rest. You aren’t in survival mode, running on pure adrenaline. If you have the mental capacity to be bored, you probably are living a life that you should be grateful for.
Still, I’ve come to learn in my thirties that there’s more to life that being stable and safe. There’s something else we need that few of us focus on–which is why I think so many of us feel lost.
Passion is the spark that lights us up from within. It’s the igniter for our soul, the element that keeps us going. It’s what keeps the days from blending into each other. It’s what keeps our world in vibrant color instead of dull gray scale. It’s what keeps life worth living.
So many of us, though, once we’re settled into our lives, find ourselves lacking just that. We get stuck in a rut in our careers, our relationships, our own personal development. We fall into routines and can’t find the energy to leave them. Our days become repetition cycles that keep us alive but don’t actually bring us to life.
It’s understandable, though, that we fall into these patterns. Routines can be comforting and also helpful. They keep our minds at ease. Furthermore, adult life is exhausting. Between housekeeping, paying bills, the stress of job, our social lives, taking care of family, and everything else we are pulled to do, who has the energy to mix things up or find excitement?
It’s easy to fall into a routine and a rut. It’s hard to get out.
Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking lately that we owe it to ourselves to try. We owe it ourselves to find ways to mix up our lives, spice up our routines, and challenge ourselves to find something new to excite us.
I don’t think you have to go to extremes. You don’t have to sell your house tomorrow, buy a camper, and travel in a foreign country. You don’t have to quit your job and learn to live off the land next week or change your entire look and personality. Getting out of your rut can truly happen if you focus on the small things.
Take a new route to work.
Go on a walk somewhere you’ve never been.
Get your coffee from a new place.
Find a recipe for a food you’ve never tried on Pinterest and make it.
Take a class, free or paid.
It isn’t about how much money you spend or how radical the change is. It’s simply about trying something new. Challenges, new experiences, new skills, and new views feed the soul.
Too often, when we hear motivational speakers or experts talk about breaking out of a rut, it all seems so drastic. They tell us how to reach for the stars and be brave enough to trade in our lives for something else. I think all of that is great and can be the right move for some of us. Nonetheless, I don’t think you have to chuck out your entire livelihood in order to feel alive again.
Sometimes, it just takes a dog agility class or a Pinterest craft or a slightly new hairstyle to make us remember that we aren’t done exploring yet. I hope that this week, you take some time to try something new, to learn something new, or to be something new. As my favorite quote of all time says, “You are not a tree.” So I hope this week, you feel moved to move away from the sights you’re used to and discover something new.
Maybe it was actually prophetic, the way I cried and panicked leading up to the day. Maybe deep down, beyond what my family and friends deemed ridiculous tears, I could already sense what was coming. Or maybe, in the credo of those who believe in manifesting, I brought it all down on myself with my late night weep fests over getting older and turning 30. Regardless, back at 29, the thought of thirty candles on my cake freaked me out–yet I still had no idea the impending storm coming my way.
My family, my husband, my friends–they all reassured me thirty was a good thing. I heard champagne promises of the “best years coming” and “stability” and “inner peace.” I bought the thirty lie for a while, imagining myself as Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30–Flirty and Thriving.
But now, at 34, I can honestly tell you–this has NOT been the thriving, flirty decade the movies like to portray. I don’t feel like the women in all the movies I watched growing up, where they confidently strut in stilettos through offices and up career ladders. In my version of my thirties, red lipstick can’t fix everything (trust me, I’ve tried), and there isn’t always a fun New York City club scene to drown your work sorrows in. There isn’t the witty best friend or the cocktail parties to attend. I have a gorgeous sparkly top for work to evening wear events that I have yet to break out.
In truth, for me, my thirties have been an amalgamation of watching the hard work of my twenties pay off–only to find out there are new problems on the horizon.
So far, my thirties have been marked by job loss and financial uncertainty, thanks in part to a world pandemic but also, I think, because it’s life, which is never certain. There have been health scares and threats of war looming in the distance. There have been weird talks of “new normal” and enough changes in the past few years to last a lifetime.
There has been the loss of the beloved dog we bought in our early twenties to go with our white picket fence life we have yet to have time to appreciate. There have been constant answerings to social pressures as to why we, a married couple, don’t want children. There has been looking around at our collection of things and accomplishments as questions like, “What now?” circle endlessly.
There have been existential crises on a daily basis about why I’m here, if I’m living my purpose, and what the hell happiness truly is besides a Starbucks coffee and bag of chocolate. There have been questions of whether or not the dreams I worked so hard for in my twenties are actually even my dreams anymore. There are looming regrets and “What ifs?” and “What’s it all for?”
There have been struggles with a changing body and slowing metabolism. There has been weight gain and wondering if I’m still pretty. There have been constant mental battles over the gray hairs, the wrinkles cropping up, and a wistful look at photos of the past when I was a “better version.”
In short, there has been very little stiletto wearing, cocktail drinking, and strutting with the assurance of the flirty thirties of the movies.
I will admit, I didn’t go into it all blindly. Some people tried to warn me. They told me in my twenties, when I was frantically worrying about finding peace and stability and success to enjoy those years. Your twenties are fun and lighthearted. You’re not expected to really know anything, and hangovers barely feel like anything. They told me to live it up, that they were fun years.
I just didn’t believe them.
People told me that life is tiring and the adult world is full of complex injustices. They told me that money would always be hard and relationships took a lot of work. They told me how exhausting and stressful the 9 to 5 hustle could be.
I still didn’t believe them.
Still, there’s one important piece I think is so often let out, and it’s been the piece I’ve struggled with the most. Because people warned me to enjoy my twenties, but no one told me how the #1 soul killer in your thirties would be something completely unexpected: monotony.
There’s something to be said for settling into your thirties, a life of (hopefully) stability where you’ve sort of figured out the hard stuff. You’ve made the big decisions and perhaps settled into your career. You’ve found a routine and your place in the world. All of this seems like it would secure your thirties as the perfect decade.
But I’ve found–it doesn’t.
First of all, stability, I think, is always a myth. Life is constantly changing, as I’ve learned. You can do all the “right” things and make good choices. Life will still come for you when you’ve least expected because, well, that’s life.
And furthermore, even if you do find solid ground to build your foundation on, you aren’t guaranteed happiness. With the stability come all of the haunting questions.
Is this what I really want?
Is life supposed to be this predictable and dull?
Is this really it for the rest of my life?
Sometimes, I think the hardest thing is waking up in your thirties and realizing this might not be sustaining, that your soul searching isn’t done. Because although the movies want us to believe we’ll have it all sorted out by thirty, the thing I’ve come to learn is: very few of us do.
I write this article not for pity or reassurance from those of you who have passed through this decade. I don’t write this article as a word of warning to those in your twenties. I don’t even write this article to commiserate with my fellow thirty-somethings. I write this article because I think we all need to be reminded, whatever decade we’re in, of a few things.
My thirties haven’t been the gleeful decade I’d hoped for when I hesitantly blew out those thirty candles. Still, they are part of my story. They’re part of my evolution as a person, an evolution I don’t think will ever be done. At least I hope not.
Because now, I’m learning that yes, you are different in your thirties–and that can be a good thing. It’s okay to dream new dreams. It’s okay to still feel a little (or a lot) lost. That’s part of what this whole journey is about.
One of my favorite quotes or mantras is: “You are not a tree.” It reminds me that you don’t ever have to be stagnant in your dreams, your life, or your pursuits. Despite what the movies and media tell us, there isn’t a deadline to self-discovery. If you get to your thirties and find yourself lacking, give yourself permission to dream new dreams, to mix it up, and to find excitement–and that goes for your forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and beyond, too.
No matter how many candles are on that cake, put on the red lipstick and the stilettos if you want–or go barefoot. Regardless, this life is short. It is your duty to find what lights you up, no matter what your age.
Go fearlessly forward, and don’t let the number of candles stop you. Ever.
She sits alone on the couch, scrolling through social media as she sees group after group of happy faces. Girls nights and brunches. Martinis and mascara. Glowing faces of the “it” girls who belong. Like scenes from a chick flick playing out in real life, it seems like everyone has a group–except her. As her messy bun flops to the side, she tells herself she won’t cry. She tells herself it doesn’t matter, that she is stronger being alone. But inside, she asks:
What’s wrong with me?
Why am I never invited or part of the group?
So many of us have been “her” at one time. For some of us, we are the girl left out in junior high or high school. Some of us find this in the workplace when we realize the job of our dreams is actually a clique haven. For others, it comes in mom groups, the PTO, the gym. I’ve come to realize there’s always a risk you’ll be “her.”
For many of us, when it happens in adulthood, we’re left feeling those lonely feelings of our hormonal teenage days. We might try to cover it up. We put on the brave “kick ass” face and pretend it doesn’t matter. We tell ourselves we love staying at home, that martini nights sound like a chore, and that the people in the photos aren’t happy anyways. Some of us pour ourselves into work, into our families, into our children, into our dogs. We tell ourselves we’re too busy doing other things to care, and that friend groups like that really only exist in the movies.
Some of us blame ourselves. If only we were more—what exactly? Anything, really. Fill in the blank with your chosen adjective. Loving. Outgoing. Open. Beautiful. We make lists miles long of our shortcomings, of why others don’t want to be with us. We sulk in our lonely caves of quiet, secretly Facebook stalking others and scolding ourselves for being creepy. We tell ourselves we’re going to get out there more, fit in more, but we don’t.
Some of us tell ourselves it’s not worth being in the “in” group anyway. We fill our heads with stories of lies and deception. We hang onto every word of gossip about the popular group, secretly hoping they fall into anarchy.
And some of us tell ourselves to rise above the feeling. We remind ourselves that we don’t have to be popular to matter. We tell ourselves all of the mantras and quotes our female relatives probably told us in high school. We convince ourselves we’re doing just fine and that it’s okay if we’re left out. We soothe our soul with the fact so many others feel this way. We might even tell ourselves it’s not the popular group’s intention to leave us out. We push kindness and forgiveness to the forefront of our minds in order to ease our wounds.
But if you’ve ever been “her,” the woman left out, left behind, or who just feels plain invisible, I want you to know that I see you. So many of us do.
Also, though, maybe you’re reading this and you’re the other “her,” the one in the it group. I want you to know I’m not here to villainize you or make you feel guilty. Maybe you don’t even realize what’s happening, or maybe you argue that you can’t invite everyone. It’s not your job to be friends with everyone. Maybe you’re just living your best life and not thinking about it. Maybe you work harder than some of us on friendship and making connections. You don’t think you should feel guilty about that.
I can agree with you on all of that, I really can. Still, I challenge you to ask yourself if you can think about the other side, about what it’s like. I’m sure that even in the “it” group, you’ve found yourself feeling lost or alone, left out or abandoned at some point. You know that’s not a good feeling.
Nonetheless, what’s to be done about it? That’s the question that unites everyone, no matter where you rank in the scheme of it all. Whether you’re “her” or the “other her,” both sides are faced with the impossible question of what can be done.
The thing is, I think something should be done. Everyone deserves to belong. Everyone deserves a place to fit, a community, a group. We can shirk off responsibility and say, “We’re all grown here. It’s not my job to help everyone feel like they belong.” That’s true. We all need our own sense of resilience and independence. We are grown, and we need to realize we can be our own best friends.
Still, lately, I’m not satisfied with doing just that. Because I can’t help but think of some of the women out there, day after day, fading into oblivion because they feel invisible. I can’t help but think about the women who maybe weren’t raised with a strong sense of worth. I think about the women who are struggling with heavy things and just want a place to lay down their head, to be comforted, to be understood. I think of the girls, the women out there who aren’t strong enough to go searching for that place. I think about what it could mean if a hand reached out and pulled them in, what a difference it could make.
So what do we do about it?
It’s a question I’ve been considering. I don’t think we throw our hands up and say that’s the age we live in or let it just be a mark of our gender to be catty, gossipy, and toxic. I don’t think the answer is found, either, in spreading T-shirts around about girl power and positivity and kindness. I don’t think we can throw a girls’ night for everyone and really mean it. I don’t know, in truth, if we can fix the whole problem. Maybe we really do just have to settle for building resiliency in our girls and getting to a place as adults where we convince ourselves it doesn’t matter.
I’ve been thinking lately, though that maybe, as women, we can start trying another way. We can start making more room at the table. We can challenge ourselves to put a few empty seats just in case. We can all remember what it’s like to feel lost, alone, and uninvited. Those of us who have strong groups of friends group or strong senses of self can make it our goal to find someone who doesn’t. We can seek those quiet ones in our lives and try to make room. We can send invites even if we don’t think they’ll be accepted and even if they aren’t. Not pity invites, mind you. Not look at me being nice to the quiet girl invites. Invites that we really mean because we realize….it’s no fun being “her.”
We’ve all been her at least once in our lives. I’m not suggesting we whip out the rendition of Kumbaya and all embrace each other in a group hug. I know this sounds, in some ways, like a ridiculous, lofty vision that isn’t possible. And I’m not saying we can’t go out with our friends and have a guilt-free good time. And no, we can’t carry the weight of everyone. We can’t sacrifice our own mental health and well-being to save others.
But I think we can try. What if just a few of us try? I think we owe it to the strength of women everywhere to at least try to do better.
We can ask more questions and whisper less.
We can seek to build a sense of belonging instead of a sense of exclusion.
We can build bridges to other women and try to look out for those who are struggling.
We can do our best to be inclusive in the areas of our lives we control.
We can leave the world a little brighter for others, even if they aren’t ready to accept our invites.
We can set extra seats out even if we don’t think they’re needed.
And for those of us who are currently “her,” we can do our best to remember we truly aren’t alone. Maybe we can use our sadness to start our own group, to create our own inclusive group for other women near us who are feeling the same way. We can reach out to those who are often on the fringes, who are invisible, who aren’t ever in the group pictures or at the brunches or sipping the martinis. We can be a leader in our own arena and unite those around us.
We don’t need a group to be happy or survive, it’s true. There’s something to be said for being your own best friend. Still, I think we all deserve the chance to be a part of a group, to feel like we belong. And even if we don’t want a group, I argue there is something we all crave: we all want to feel seen.
So no matter who you are, I ask you: see someone today. Really see her. It’s easy to ignore “her.” It is. But it takes a whole lot of courage and awareness to see her.
L.A. Detwiler is a USA Today Bestselling author and teacher. To learn more about her work and connect with her, visit http://www.instagram.com/ladetwiler ; http://www.facebook.com/ladetwiler.
You won't always have a huge friend group
An inconsolable mess of hot pink, stuffed animals, and tears, my five-year-old self remained buried face first in the princess comforter on my bed. Through racking sobs, I tried to explain to my mom what was so terribly wrong.
“I don’t have any friends,” I coughed out in between gasps. It had been a terrible day of Kindergarten. I’d done something to make my friends in the class angry, and they’d shunned me during playtime. I didn’t know it then, but I was on a long path that would be riddled with problems with friendships; female friends always seemed to dart in and out of my life. The road was just beginning, though, and it was the first time I’d suffered such an immense heartache as being left out.
My mom, as mothers do, hugged me tight, dried my tears, and tried to console me.
“What’s going on?” a male voice asked from the door of my bedroom.
My mom explained as the tears still fell down my cheek. “She’s worried she doesn’t have any friends.” The way my mom’s voice quivered slightly, I could sense the empathy along with the trepidation that perhaps, somehow, the child she’d worked so hard to raise had turned out to be a loner incapable of social relationships. Considering I was an only child, this was a very real fear, I realize now.
My dad walked into the room, and I peered at him through my blurry tears. I watched him shrug and look at me.
“Well, you don’t have any friends,” he uttered matter-of-factly.
Que more racking sobs, even more inconsolable now.
Que an angry sigh from my mother as she shook her head at him.
“What?” he responded after the glare my mother gave him. “It’s true. You don’t have friends. I don’t have friends. What I mean is, don’t worry. No one has friends. You are your only true friend in life.”
My mother shooed him away, knowing that a five-year-old needs hugs and advice on how it would be better tomorrow, not an existential examination of the meaning of friendship.
We still tease my father about his words of wisdom that day. In many ways, that was the first scarring moment in my five-year-old life. What did my dad mean I had no friends? What was wrong with me if even my dad thought I had no friend to speak of? At five, I couldn’t really comprehend what he meant. Luckily, my mother managed to calm me down enough to get me to go back to school and try in the friendship department again.
Nevertheless, I didn’t forget my dad’s words. And even if I’d wanted to forget them, I couldn’t—because over the years, they basically rang true.
My father is not a literary man by any means. Even though I’m an English teacher and he was the one who sparked my love for reading and writing in many ways, he does not value Shakespeare, Emerson, or poetry. Still, I can appreciate now, decades later, the Emersonian quality to his phrase—this idea of being independent, of being your own best friend in life, and of chasing your own desires no matter what others think.
He was trying to impress upon my way-too-young mind that people will always come and go in life. People will get angry at us when we deserve it, and they’ll get angry at us when we don’t. People will claim to be friends in the good times and leave during the bad times. And sometimes people will just up and leave because they can. There’s only one constant, one person you can depend on to have your best interests at heart—yourself.
I think that these words ring even truer for females.
Not to edge over into the realm of sexism, but honestly, ladies, aren’t we sometimes terrible to each other? Manoeuvring the catty world of junior high and high school with my bad haircut only to get to adult world and find out it doesn’t end—it’s been a tragedy worse than that seventh grade shaggy haircut I had and lack of hair styling techniques. All relationships are hard, but female friendships sometimes carry an extra weight with them. Competition, jealousy, and manipulation all seem to worm their way into even the best-intentioned friendships.
I’ve had friends and lost them. I’ve been backstabbed and lied to over the years. I also have done some things I’m not proud of in friendship. I’ve let jealousy or distance get in the way. I’ve failed to be there for the female friends in my life in ways I should have been.
In short, friendships do come and go, and sometimes it feels like the coldness of my dad’s words ring true—no one has any friends at all.
It seems like a stoic lesson on humanity, one that there would be no recovering from. Still, my dad’s words have helped me stay positive in the face of loss when it comes to relationships. At a young age, despite my mother’s eye rolls, he taught me to be independent.
My father taught me that happiness shouldn’t come from external forces. He showed me that a big part of life is learning to be your own best friend, to have your own interests at heart, and to let go of people who just don’t get you.
In junior high, I had a substitute teacher who I was convinced hated me. She was a long-term substitute for our home economics teacher, and she often got frustrated with me because I was, shall I say, somewhat of a failure in the cooking and sewing and everything domestic department (some things don’t change). I remember going home with my whiny, thirteen-year-old complaints about how unfair life was and how much she hated me and how mad I was.
My father’s advice?
“Some people won’t like you just because they don’t like you. They don’t need a reason. Just keep on going, don’t draw attention to yourself, and do your best.”
That wasn’t what my thirteen-year-old “life’s not fair” self wanted to hear. But even then, he was true to his mantra.
Not everyone will like you. Not everyone who says they are your friend will stick around. People are fickle.
You have to learn to be more than just okay with being alone. You have to learn to be confident in who you are, where you’re going, and sometimes hold your own hand on the way. Sure, along the way, there will be people who lighten the journey. There will be people who walk with us for a few miles or maybe even thousands. There will be friends who get us, who really get us, and who love us despite our shortcomings.
But there will also be people who don’t. There will be people on the sidelines pretending to cheer us on only to cheer louder when we trip. There will be friends who are actually enemies wearing friends’ cloaks. There will be friends who turn and leave when we need them most.
We will all find ourselves a teary-eyed mess, face down in our comforter wishing our mom could tell us of course we have friends and tomorrow will be better.
But as one of my favorite female writers and speakers, Rachel Hollis notes, you can’t let the opinions of others impact your self-worth. You have to ignore the negative opinions of others and realize they don’t change who you are.'
I’m thankful for my dad’s words because he set me on a path of being okay alone—more than okay alone. He taught me to find self-worth and self-identity outside the views of others. He taught me that it’s okay to walk by yourself sometimes through life—because we all do that from time to time.
There’s a wonderful quote in the book and movie P.S. I Love You where the mother is consoling he sobbing adult daughter when she is grieving over her lost husband. The mother says, “So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we're all alone, then we're all together in that too.” It always reminds me of my father and his advice. It reminds us that human friendship is a struggle for everyone—we’re not alone in facing this.
However, we need to be confident enough in ourselves to walk alone sometimes. My father taught me that alone isn’t a scary, tearful thing. It’s just a part of life, and one we all can get through when we must.
USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books