What’s the Six-Pack Holding You Back?

I recently had some friends over for dinner. The night before, I bought a bunch of food and drink. I needed room in my fridge, so I removed a six-pack box that had one beer left. The box sat on my fridge’s top shelf for a while, and it kept that position solely due to some sentimental value attached to it. I didn’t want to throw it out, but at the same time, I needed somewhere to put my new supplies—and those were perishable. Thus, I put the box aside, filled up my fridge with my groceries, and went about my day. 

The next morning, as I groggily prepared myself breakfast, I opened my fridge door. Something seemed off. The inside of my fridge looked bigger now. I had so much space! Did my friends and I really eat that much food the previous night? Was something missing? Or taken? I was perplexed. It took a couple trips, but it finally dawned on me: That six-pack box wasn’t in there anymore. I had gotten so used to it over the past couple months, it basically became part of my fridge. Even though the box was taking up room and doing nothing productive, I eventually grew used to it— to the point I didn't even notice its presence. It took a need—i.e., space for my friend dinner food—to inspire the change. But now that the change happened, my fridge was better for it. The box would not be making a return.

The point of this anecdote isn’t to remind you to look check your fridge, or clear out your closet, or do any sort of actual cleaning. Rather, it is to ask yourself: What are you holding on to that you don’t really need? As a packrat, I can argue just about everything I hold on to is important and has meaning to me (all my junk brings joy), so I understand how hard it is to let go. And not everything has to be banished with extreme prejudice. But if you needed to get rid of something temporarily, and you can’t even remember it the next day—heck, you even find life is better without it—then that could be a sign that the object/feeling/emotion/memory needs to be let go.  

I held on to that box because of the memories associated with a person who used to be in my life. And maybe, in a way, continuing to hold on to that box was holding me back mentally or emotionally. That may be some Instagram-level psychology, but at the end of the day, my fridge is better off with the space—and my heart and mind are better off moving forward too. It’s OK if not everything stays around forever. Even if we’d like it to. 

My Biggest Shortcomings With Love

Over the past several weeks, I’ve reflected on what life has taught me over the better part of the past decade. Unsurprisingly, it came down to love. Here is what I concluded:

I loved my vision of life too much.

I didn’t love myself enough.

Let me frame this in the context of a story. You are the author’s protagonist. Every thought, action, feeling you have is part of the narrative. And as life happens, your story plays out.

Now imagine, instead of listening to the story, you start interrupting the storyteller. Based on other things you’ve heard—from friends, family, mainstream tropes—you think your story should play out a certain way. Like, you think it would be best if your character had gone to the party rather than stay home; or should have gone to a certain university over another; or that your character should be much more developed by Chapter 28 than it seems to be.

And because you think you know better than the storyteller, you judge whether this is a good story or not based on your personal vision rather than what has actually happened. Naturally, you will end up disappointed since reality doesn’t line up with how you think it should be.

This has been one of my biggest hurdles to overcome. I don’t know if other writers feel this way, but I usually believe my way of conveying information is best. And because I’m biased towards my life character—not surprising, considering it’s me—I gravitate towards believing my story should play out in a certain way, i.e., linearly. Like, I complete Action A, which should yield Outcome B based on my understanding of history and experience and what I read and hear. But this equation isn’t perfect (or even correct)! There are many more variables involved, and I can’t possibly account for all of them. Yet I thought I could. And I’ve stubbornly pushed forward with them despite plenty of resistance because I thought my interpretation of the story was best.

Turns out, my life’s storyteller is even more stubborn than I am. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be the storyteller. So here I am, finally ready to shut up and listen.

Being a prisoner to a vision is not just inflexible—it’s also suffocating. If you think life should play out in a certain way—and it doesn’t—you can end up feeling very badly about yourself and believe that you did something wrong. Even if you didn’t! 

I fell into this trap. And I didn’t realize it until a friend called me out on it. Essentially, she argued I was too focused on what I thought other people wanted rather than listening to what I wanted. It didn’t dawn on me that my efforts to make a vision a reality were actually subversive. Yet I was pushing certain standards and expectations upon this character that weren’t me. I became a slave to my vision. Simply, I was pursuing my idea of the best story because it was a goal, but I never even considered if the goal was worth accomplishing. 

I struggled with this notion because ultimately, I find it easier to be what other people want you to be. It’s easier to follow directions, a template. There is a lot more risk involved when you go off script, and the only one who believes in you is you. 

But if you love yourself, then you’ll trust yourself even when other voices raise doubt. And you will pursue paths that you think will lead to the most fulfillment. Because it’s your voice, not others. 

So rather than stick with rigid visions, I’ll seek to trust myself more. Just try and embrace the pandemonium, as it were. It’s my story, after all. Mine is the only audience review I should care about. 

As scary as it is, it should also make for fun stories. And I do like a fun story.