“I always feel like I could be doing more.”

“I always feel like I could be doing more.” A statement written in black marker on poster board, photographed and staring back at me from my feed. A sentiment that stopped my mindless scrolling for a moment and made me pause. Something about it held a thread of truth and tugged at things inside of me.

“I always feel like I could be doing more.” It’s an idea that always seems to sit somewhere in my consciousness, in the forefront demanding my attention or in the background distracting me from the task at hand. It’s also something that I’ve been thinking about more and more lately with my 28th birthday coming up, an age which may sound pretty young for some and pretty old for others. Yet as I approach nearer and nearer to the 30 mark, I’ve been trying to make sense of my life so far. What I have accomplished and where I have failed. When I look back at how quickly my twenties have flown by, I start to recognize the truth in the trite statements I’d hear adults throw out in my childhood.

“It goes by fast.”

“Enjoy while you can.”

“It’ll be over before you know it.”

The adults who I suppose I am one of now, although I secretly believe that I will always feel like an overgrown child.

@peopleIveloved_I feel like I could always be doing more_Productivity as tied to self-worth_Never enough_Never doing enough
@peopleiveloved

“I always feel like I could be doing more.” Yes. This idea of productivity as tied to self-worth, it’s a topic I keep coming back to. One that seems to always crop up and nag at me before going to sleep, especially after particularly listless days. It begs for my attention and worry, feeding mainly on my trusty friends, comparison and self-doubt. On looking at how far ahead others appear to be and how far behind I currently am. Usually resulting in self-admonishment for not being more disciplined or visionary. Thoughts that end up serving no purpose other than to sink me into a shallow pit of despair, not the drowning variety, but the kind that gets your feet all stuck in the muck, a slow-moving kind of quicksand. The main concern sinking me down deeper being the idea that I’ve wasted innumerable hours and am still so far away from where I need to be.

While I’m still not sure that I will ever know exactly where it is that I need to be, it’s true that I have indeed wasted many many hours of my life doing nothing worth mentioning. I could be doing so much more. I really could. It’s a truth that needs no sugar coating. It’s also true that I still don’t have a grand, overarching goal or purpose for my life. I have goals, sure. I have things I’d like to accomplish and that I’d like to see become reality, sure. But I don’t have the kind of goals or drive that you’d write a newspaper story about, not the kind that would inspire a wave of admiration or awe. “Maybe it’s just not in my nature.” I’ve pondered time and time again. This structured, goal-setting kind of life. I’ve never been one for five-year plans or timelines. I shy away from them as I do from definitive statements, which means that so far I’ve just been seeing where things take me, save a few definitive decisions made here and there, and I’m very fortunate to say that it’s all worked out pretty well. But could I be somewhere better if I did more? Probably. Could I be of more value to the world if it weren’t for my lazy and self-centered streaks? Undoubtedly.

Still, I recognize that even the most motivated and selfless among us tend to have this sneaking suspicion that they should be doing more, which makes me realize the slippery nature of this notion. It’s the carrot always dangling just a little too far in front of us, never close enough to take a bite. The idea that doing more will somehow bring us closer to self-actualization, to absolvement, to completion..to I’m not sure what. That doing more will somehow save us. The idea that this salvation can be achieved through our careers, our relationships, by the milestones that we’ve reached before turning 30.

Maybe time has granted me one thing, which is recognizing the problems in “I could always be doing more.” It’s given me a degree of separation between the thoughts that produce a statement such as this and whatever it is that makes me me. So these days, before I launch into the self-laceration that sounds like; “Yes Elizabeth, you have failed in these myriad ways and here’s why;” I try to think about how my friends would view my life. Would they also think I have done nothing with it? That I have accomplished nothing worth mentioning? Maybe. But I think that mostly they would probably disagree with that assessment. I think about my friends who might say: “Girl, what are you talking about? You’re doing okay.” The ones who might argue, “You’re alive and well, right?” The people who wouldn’t require more of me than that.

This tactic offers some amount of solace and relief. It allows me to think less about what I’m not doing, about all the hours that I’ve let wither away with each day’s wax and wane and think about what it is that I want to be doing anyway and remember the path I’m already on and the work it’s taken to get there. It also allows me to think about what I could do that might offer something to others, that might be of service in some tiny way. Like perhaps writing something about these inner voices and worries, in case someone else might struggle with them too. As a way for us to pick ourselves up together and say, “Hey, it isn’t so bad. We’re doing okay. Yeah, maybe we could be doing more. But we’re also doing just fine.” And as I type those words, I will myself to believe the truth in them. To see my shortcomings without wallowing in them, to create a bit of relief from knowing that I’m not alone. That “I always feel like I could be doing more” surely plagues many of us in this social media generation, since, after all, someone else had thought to scrawl it out on poster board and post it to Instagram. Since it made me think about all the ways in which this idea is failing us, and how, together, maybe we can unravel it, how we can look at it and say, “Yes, I could be doing more,” and so what?

~

Photo of me by the talented Nicole Oh.

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