Do you know how much time I spend trying to pretend I have my life together?
The key word is pretending.
When I look around, I see people who look like they have their life together.
As I go about pretending that I do, too, I wonder how many people believe that I do. I wonder how many of those people that look like they have their life together actually do. What I’ve come to realize through being more open about my own struggles and lack of togetherness is that we are all pretending. And to prove it to you, this goes out to anyone who even remotely thinks I have my life together:
The first week of school, I locked myself out of my own apartment.
One day a few weeks ago, I forgot to put my contacts in. I got all the way to class, was trying to look at the board, and was so confused as to why I all of a sudden couldn’t read anything.
I have 8:30s Monday through Friday, and for some reason getting to my Wednesday 8:30 is always the most challenging. Maybe because it’s the middle of the week? Who knows. Anyway, I always walk into class at like 8:31 and 32 seconds and the entire class gives me this death glare that screams, “I cannot believe you couldn’t get here a minute and a half earlier. Please get your life together.” I’m really tired of the look, and also I hate being late just in general.
So last week, I decided I was going to get up 45 minutes earlier than usual, take my time getting ready, and be early to class for once. I walked into my 8:30 at 8:15. 8:15!
I’m sitting there and looking around, and no one is coming. I decide to text one of my friends in the class, so I pull out my phone and see an email from my TA, reminding us that class, just for this week, has moved locations and is in Trent Hall. Guys, I was in the Biological Sciences building. Trent Hall is on an entire other campus, a good 25-30 minute commute from where I was currently sitting reading my email. So I ran out of the building, and instead of walking seven minutes to the bus stop, waiting for a bus to the other campus, then walking the ten-minute walk to Trent, I called an Uber. Within 10 minutes, I was dropped off at Trent, but then I spent at least 5 minutes looking for the right classroom. I walked in at 8:31 and 32 seconds to receive, yet again, that glorious death glare.
I don’t have my life together, folks. Nope, not even close.
But admitting that is so freeing because I don’t have to keep pretending that I do.
You know, to the outsider, walking around Duke’s campus and seeing people who go about life looking like they have it all figured out, have everything under control, don’t need help, and have never struggled, the campus feels like a place you’d want to be a part of. But when you actually become a part of it, when you’re actually one of these students who walks around pretending like she has it all figured out, it can become really toxic. You become afraid to show weakness. You assume you’ll be different and not accepted if you show hesitation, doubt, confusion, or the unthinkable: struggle.
But I know you don’t have your life together. Because none of us do. So why are you pretending? Why are we all pretending?
It’s far better when we don’t. We’re way more fun that way, way more real. I can connect with you so much more because mutually cracking up over our inability to figure life out strengthens our friendship as we realize that at least we’re in this together, at least we’re not alone.
I told that story about being late to class to my friends Dibet and Akshay shortly after it happened. We laughed and laughed, as they told me about how sometimes they just can’t even get out of bed for their 10:05s and about times when they go to the wrong building at the wrong time. We had this beautiful little moment realizing we’re all just trying to live, that we’re all just doing the best we can. That we don’t have our lives together and isn’t it so nice not to pretend like we do???
As I go about my day, I run into countless people that look like they’re living life effortlessly and perfectly. I see people grabbing their to-go food at the Divinity School just in time for their next class, before they head to work, before they go to their lab position, before they eat dinner with a friend and still make it on time to their 7:30pm meeting. Sometimes I just look around campus and nervously fidget, feeling inadequate and self-conscious. I start telling myself all the reasons I’m not thriving as well as my peers, like how I don’t have as many commitments yet somehow am still a minute and a half late to my Wednesday 8:30 every week.
But the more I immerse myself here on campus, the more I realize that we all do this. We all look around and feel like everyone has life way more figured out than we do.
I don’t want to be one more person who pretends. Because, by pretending, I am part of the problem. I am one more person who lives life on the surface and makes others feel like they are inadequate.
I want to be honest when I’m not doing well, upfront when I am struggling, open about the aspects of life that are really confusing and up in the air: like my future, my goals and dreams.
I want to be honest about the fact that I don’t have anything figured out.
So I’m finished pretending.
But not much will change if I’m the only one who stops pretending. I know you hate that when you look around everyone seems like they have it together. But by you feeling like you have to look like you do, too, you’re only worsening the problem.
Maybe when you first stop pretending, you’ll stand out a bit. Maybe you’ll be the brunt of a few jokes. But soon you’ll start having these beautiful moments, like I did with Dibet and Akshay, where you all just take a step back and realize that life is really hard. And it’s okay to admit that. And to laugh and relax for a minute.
I want you to stop pretending with me. Actually, I’m begging you to stop pretending. Because my heart aches for you when I think about all the beautiful aspects of life that you’re missing by pretending.
To add to the many examples of my lack of togetherness, last week my car got towed. Right after it happened, I ran into my friend Julianna. She asked me how I was doing, and I could have told her what we all usually say: “Good!”
But instead I told her the truth.
She drove me all around town to find my car, and we spent the ride talking about some really tough things happening in our lives. I felt like I got to know her on such a deeper level, and that may not have happened if I hadn’t told her how I was really doing in that moment.
If I hadn’t told Dibet and Akshay about being late to class in Trent, I would have missed that opportunity to joke around with them. In fact, some of my closest friendships here at Duke exist because we had the courage to tell each other that things just really weren’t going as well as it seemed.
Life is really hard. I don’t have it all figured out. And I’m finished pretending that life is easy and that I have it all together. Because I don’t want to add to the effortless perfection culture. And because I realize the power and beauty in the moments that are created through courageously admitting weaknesses.
So, do you have your life together?