Two nights ago, I Couchsurfed for the first time.
My friend Maggie and I wanted to explore Tallahassee on the cheap, so Couchsurfing seemed to be the perfect solution. Having never surfed before, I was hesitant. But as we pulled up to our host’s house, my caution melted away. The bungalow was quirky and thoughtful in all the right ways. The house number was hand painted on the front of the house in numbers as tall as me. The chairs on the front stoop were each their own color and there was a bike rack on the car in the driveway.
This was going to go well.
Over dinner later that night, our host and I started talking about getting rid of stuff. And then about minimalism. And finally about tiny houses.
As we started delving into the shortcomings of mini fridges and bowl sinks, we really hit our stride. Our conversation pulsed and multiplied and sauntered and peaked over the course of the next hour. In short, we are both OBSESSED with tiny homes. And we ended dinner full of both basil noodles and a sense of understanding.
Albert Einstein was revolutionary for many reasons, but not least of all was his quote on value-judgments:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.**
**Note: I regularly mis-remember this quote to say, “If you judge a fish by how it can fly…”. So, I’m going to run with that image.
I am not a bird.
I mean, every once in a while I do sing/perform associated arm motions to that Nelly Furtado song, but generally, I am definitely NOT a bird.
And yet — for as long as I can remember — I’ve been allowing myself to be judged (and participating in that judgement of myself) on how well I can fly.
I let other people tell me that I’m really bad at climbing trees and flying (metaphorically speaking) and I take those comments to heart.
Is Hannah pretty? 6.5. Outdoorsy? 3.5. Witty? 2.
But the truth is… I’m a fish.
In so many relationships, I’ve tried to climb trees and fly and hike and play soccer and run marathons and be thin and speak Spanish and have big boobs.
But I’m not good at any of those things. I’m a fucking FISH for Chrissake!
And as a fish, I’m really damn good at swimming. And — for a fish — that’s all that matters.
“Swimming” for real-life Hannah looks like empathizing with people; using my words to create digestible content from ethereal, irrelevant ideas; and loving.
I’m GOOD at those things. And I know I am because I am constantly working on them. Identifying emotionally unproductive actions, creating strategies to have healthier emotional behaviors, guiding others to see how they can exit the pain/pleasure cycles — THAT’S the stuff that keeps me awake at night.
And yet, I’ve allowed myself not only to devalue the things that I’m good at because my partners don’t value them, but I’ve also allowed myself to adopt their judgements that are NOT MY OWN as the be-all, end-all of how much I’m worth.
My conversation with my Couchsurfing host was the rare reminder that I AM interesting. I have cool, knowledgeable things to say. And people like when I put ideas on the table for their consideration.
That sounds like such a ridiculously simple thought, but as a person who has dated a string of emotionally unavailable partners (I have commitment issues I’m working on) coupled with some serious self-doubt after my most recent break-up, I’ve had to claw my way out of despair.
My lowest point came when I wrote in my journal a few months ago, “If my ex- doesn’t value me, then… maybe I don’t have value.”
I’m shaking even now just typing that out. That was a bottom, for sure.
When I first wrote that thought, I realized I needed help. So I got it. And as I slowly edged my way out of my pit of depression, I realized, “Wait. People do sometimes laugh at my jokes. My friends actually love me and contact me a LOT. My blog is well-received and my boss brags on me all the time. I’m valuable. I’m valuable. I’m valuable.”
To remind myself of that everyday, I keep this notecard taped to my bathroom mirror:
I don’t need to fly faster or climb higher or know more or be funnier or write better in order to be valued and deserving of respectful love.
I am enough right now.
As you move through your week, figure out what your “swimming” is, i.e. the things that matter 100% the most to you in your everyday.
For me, I aim to be emotionally brave. I want to be kind and patient and unflinchingly honest with myself.
I want to love well.
When I can rank well on these fronts, it doesn’t matter if I am swimming, flying, trotting, or slithering.
I’ll be moving through the world in ways that I value.
I’ll be unapologetically me.