I was raised to believe that success matters. I was also raised to believe that the good things I do or accomplish are even better when they also look good and prestigious to outsiders. My family is a bragging family—my grandparents still love to crow about it when I achieve something—and as a result I sometimes feel defined by my accomplishments, and invisible when I’m not actively out there doing brag-worthy things.
Even though I’ve dealt with a lot for someone my age and my life has not been overwhelmingly happy, a lot of positive things have happened to me: I got a scholarship to my first-choice college. I was a contestant on The Glee Project. In my adult life, I’ve had only jobs that were interesting to me, incorporating at least one of my passions: music and writing. (I told you I come from braggers.)
But here’s the thing: I don’t feel like I really made any of those things happen. I didn’t have to fight any foes or scale any obstacles to get them. Everything good that happens to me feels like purely a matter of luck: being in the right place at the right time. None of my good fortune seems fair. And that’s where the problem lies. What will I do when my luck runs out?
This question haunts me, and casts a shadow over even the happiest of occasions. In any given situation, at any time, I can’t stop myself from thinking of the absolute worst possible thing that could happen. It’s bad—whenever one of my friends goes away on vacation, I wonder if I’ll never see them again. I finish every phone call with people I’m close to with an “I love you,” just in case it’s my last opportunity to tell them. Someone’s blowing up a balloon? It’s going to burst in their face and they’re going to be blinded by a latex fragment. You set a drink down near the edge of the table? I will actually be your drink security guard and hover nearby so I can catch it before glass shatters everywhere. My brain is a constant negative-thinking machine, so that I will never be taken by surprise. Because if I expect something bad, I might be able to handle it better if and when it actually happens, right? It’s like insurance against disappointment.
When I see something bad happen to someone else, I immediately fear that it will happen to me too. Disease. Death. Homelessness. Job loss, injury, accidents. Why do these things happen to other people? Why do they happen at all? Why not me? When will my life be turned upside-down by negative experiences? How can I prepare if I don’t know if and when bad things are coming?
Take writing for Rookie. Yearbook One came out before I worked here, and stumbled upon it at Skylight Books in Los Angeles. I sat in the bookstore for three hours reading it cover to cover. When I got home that night, I came to the site and looked for a submission link. Next to the link was an advertisement for a Rookie event and signing the very next day, 10 minutes from my apartment. I couldn’t believe how great the timing was. Luck! Even though I was too broke to buy the book, I waited in the signing line just to tell Tavi how much I liked her work. When I got to the front I told her I’d love to write about trans and queer issues for Rookie. She told me to email her a few writing samples, which I did as soon as I got home. It wasn’t long after that that they asked me to be on staff. So my being able to publish my writing here is really the result of being in the exact right place at the exact right time, plus the fact that I happened to have a perspective they were looking for someone to write about.
Yeah, they must have liked my samples, but there are a million people out there with good writing samples, and there are lots of better writers than me. With this and anything else the universe give me, I feel undeserving, and that makes me anxious. Which means this can’t last long. Disaster must be right around the corner.
I just ran into one of my musical idols, Sia, outside of a restaurant. To me this means I’m due for an accident, just to balance out my excessive happiness. I do think I deserve good things and happiness, I just don’t know why I deserve them more than anyone else. I don’t! We all deserve positive things in our lives; we all deserve happiness and to achieve our goals. So why do positive things happen to me when a friend of mine across the country is on the verge of homelessness?
I’m not sure if everyone is as anxious about all this as I am, but I do know that many of my friends also worry about too much success. I saw a friend’s Facebook status a little while ago that said something like “I’m so happy. I have a job that I love, my amazing friends and family, and a wonderful boyfriend. I’m just worried that it’s all going to come crashing down somehow.” I instantly identified, of course. Why are so many people afraid of success? We all seem to know it’s fleeting, but we don’t stop to enjoy it while we have it—we’re too focused on worrying about what’s going to happen when it’s gone. What would happen if we all learned to savor the great things in our lives instead of preparing for everything to crumble?
I don’t want to be this way anymore. I want to be the kind of person who can bask in my success, not run from it. I want to be more like Cristina Yang, Sandra Oh’s character on Grey’s Anatomy, who works her ass off to get what she wants (usually a chance to get in on a once-in-a-lifetime surgery opportunity) and doesn’t care what those around her have to say about it. She knows she’s cutthroat, and that’s what makes her a great surgeon. She celebrates with victory dances and owns her I’m-the-best-of-the-best attitude. She knows that she makes things happen for herself, and for that reason, she takes pride in her successes and knows she deserves them. I’d like to also be proud of jobs I do well, no matter how they came to me.
I know that success doesn’t drop out of the sky and into people’s laps. In the future, success and happiness will come or it won’t, but it’ll mostly be up to me. And I’m the only one in charge of how I react to it. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach Cristina Yang levels of confidence, but I could at least stop raining on my own parade. ♦