‘Even when I’m a mess, I still put on a vest with an ‘S’ on my chest. Oh yes, I’m a Superwoman.”
Yes, I’m quoting Alicia Keys. Indulge me. These lyrics flash across my mind as I drag an exhausted body into yet another day. And as I head off into the sunrise — it’s 5:30am and I am off to the gym again (Superwoman, right?) — I am assured with the reminder that at least later today I’ll be able to smile coyly and profess to have woken up like “this”. Put-together, in charge and formidable.
But I didn’t. After gym, I slugged down a green smoothie, declared that no sugar formed against me shall prosper for the next 24 hours (at least), ignored the aches and settled in for another day of squaring up against an ever-bulging inbox.
Fatigue has no place here. No one cares whether the day seems too heavy to face, the “getting up and getting it done” takes no days off. And neither can I.
We’re caught in a vortex of success obsession that leaves no room for the allowance of it sometimes becoming too much to bear. The constant worry that, if you don’t shred your to-do list before the sun has properly warmed up the day, you’re going to be left behind.
You’re constantly chasing an elusive “enough”, but you’re unable to stop and catch your breath. It’s as though you were running and your legs started cramping up. And then you hit a wall and you’re left immobilised by an inability to take the next step.
Anxiety manifests as a myriad nagging little monsters that buzz in the pit of your stomach; swirling around your head, taunting you with the catcalls of self-doubt.
Author Alain de Botton called it the “handmaiden of contemporary ambition”, tweaking poet TS Elliot’s original quote: “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” Simply put: in the endless pursuit of success — the light at the end of the tunnel that makes all the struggle worthwhile — we’ve become prisoners to the anxiety that debilitates us.
Success. Anxiety. Same WhatsApp group.
As a writer, this nagging feeling has me running in circles in my head every so often — especially when faced with a vertigo-inducing blank page on which I need to arrange words. Because to call myself a writer means that I must write. To attain that success I must do the thing with the words. And do it well.
It’s a heady, overwhelming internal struggle — trying to drag heavy fingers across a keyboard, willing them to ignore that anxious soundtrack on a loop in my head.
Simply improving is not enough. There is no room for gradual growth or slow progress. When ambition and anxiety meet, the scene is set for a battle of wills. It is a tinder box waiting for the tiniest spark of self-doubt to burn my resolve to the ground. Elliot was right; it seems almost impossible to create without the feeling that you’re being hounded by insecurities.
De Botton took it a step further: you can’t attempt to strive towards success in the world as we know it without the stifling effects of anxiety.
We all know the “goals”: #couplegoals, #gymgoals, #careergoals, #hairnailsglowupbrowgoals. And opting out of the hustle to achieve them can feel like you’re letting yourself down. Like you’ve failed.
As women of colour, particularly, every day is a labour of defiance. Of overcoming every historical and systematic hurdle in our way to attain a level of success determined by white, cishet men.
We forget the extra burdens we’re carrying — as partners, mothers, co-workers, friends, individuals — or the head start others had. We’re running the same race and all we need to do is make it to that finish line, no matter how many extra knocks we take on the way.
But those knocks matter — whether they are bruises that we think we can brush off or the kind that take the wind out of us — and we need to temper ourselves before we’re too battered to go on.
Thankfully, we’re seeing a light shone on the importance of self-care. Of learning when to bench yourself and recoup before picking it all up again. Understanding that resting is not quitting, realigning your goals and outcomes is not failing and that sometimes putting yourself in flight mode (and cutting yourself off from the world) is a saving grace.
You can let today run away from you and hang back here. There will be another day to slay — or not — tomorrow.