Edition #70: I Don't Want to Star in My Own Show

Plus, how adult children affect their mother's happiness, a candle subscription, and an optical illusion

A Note From the Editor

Humans, I think, are inherently selfish creatures. This is of no distinctive fault of our own, it is just the way we are wired. We live in our own minds, we see from our own purview only, we wake up every morning inhabiting our own bodies, we go about daily life in our own set of circumstances—some of which are of our doing, others are simply the luck of the what-you-were-born-with draw. Music, television, newsletters, and other forms of media can serve to distract us from ourselves, to transport our insular minds nearer to the circumstances of the other, but most of the time our content consumption still relates back to ourselves. We hear the opening lines of a croony song and think of our crush, we see an ultra-wealthy character on a television show and immediately compare his/her life to our own. In some ways, we can only process things as they relate to us. When a friend tells the story of her childhood dog, our mind jumps straight to the vision of our childhood dog, tongue out, and we feel we must share the thought. Observe any conversation and watch the pattern emerge: someone shares a story about X, someone else shares a story about when they experienced X. This might happen three or four times in a row, because we are the stars of our own little shows.

I suspect some people fall victim to this relation-to-self mentality more than others, and I am irrevocably one of those people. I’ve only recently become more aware of my quiet mental habit of relating everything back to myself, and more recently I began to notice just how toxic the habit had become. Because I am a creature of observation and curious by nature, I spent a lot of time and mental energy mining for answers. I want to learn about people, who they are and what makes them hungry, and where they’ve been. I want to understand new ideas. I want to ingest them and form an opinion of them and discuss them with others. This desire gives me endless ammunition for intellectual fodder but also, for useless, endless comparison.

It goes something like this: through a hip Twitter person, I stumble upon another, unrelated person. This person is a comedian (cool!) and right away I can tell their work is racy and pure gold. Look, they have a new show on Showtime! Very cool. How old are they? Wikipedia says 29. Whew, okay, I’m almost 29 but not yet, so there’s still hope (for what? Not sure). Then I read an article about a chef who got laid off during COVID so now she’s doing dessert pop-ups and she admits she’s making very little money, which sounds stressful, but I’ve deemed her worthy because you can just tell she’s a standup woman and who even needs money when you’ve got a community like that? How do you even get a community like that? Will I ever have one?

Then I’m flying home from LA on a redeye and the man sitting next to me tells me his daughter is graduating college this weekend. She’s going to work in crime scene forensics but first she’s doing a gap year to live at a homeless shelter as part of a volunteer program. Wow, incredible, I really should have done something like that. And this sweet older man, he and his wife do hikes that take days and days. How wonderful that must be to live near nature and to have a partner to share such a wholesome activity with. They must have strong, healthy hearts and I’m not a great hiker but I think I could get better and I bet they go to bed happy most nights.

The heedless comparison can take on many forms, but it is rarely useful and rarely is it even relevant to my life at all. What does it matter whether the sweet man on the airplane hikes? How can my mind trick me into thinking a strangers exercise habits are at all related to me? Despite the fact that I love learning about other people, I am not other people. I am me and I can only be me. Years spent ingesting things and flipping those learnings back to myself with a handheld mirror have left me drained and gaslit. It’s much harder to trust yourself, to walk as the person you already are, when there is so much noise. Some days it’s louder than others. Sometimes I go stretches without the noise at all. In those moments of quiet, I can tune in to myself. I can observe my genuine feelings, my reactions to scenarios, and to people. Those are moments of strength, where I can find equal value in the person staring back to me in the mirror as I do the random strangers who I’ve spent years romanticizing for the simple reason that they are not me.

We are all the stars of our own little shows. But more and more I’m realizing that I no longer want to be the star of the show that is my life, at least not in the way that I have been. I want to play different roles at different times: the producer, the creative director, the supporting character. Sometimes, maybe more often than I care to realize, the observer.

Cheers, my dears, and thanks for reading. Do you consider yourself someone who compares themselves to others more often than not? If so, how have you dealt with that habit?

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Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. How Adult Children Affect Their Mother’s Happiness. I’ve been loving the How To Build a Life column by Arthur Brooks, and this one particularly struck a chord. Motherhood is a corn maze of expectation and fulfillment and depletion, and it still blows my mind when I think about the fact that almost every child raised by a mother will eventually go off on their own and, in some cases, leave their mother quite far behind. A useful reminder that your mother is also a person with needs and a life.

    The next time you call your mother—and make it today—ask her about something going on in her life that doesn’t involve you at all but that you know is important to her. Ask for details, listen, and then offer your thoughts. It might feel odd at first for both of you, but you’ll get used to it, and your mom will like it.

  2. Natasha Pickowicz Wants to Get Into the Dankness. Firstly, this is a not-great headline, as the piece is not about weed but heady emotion. If you don’t know Natasha, she’s an incredible NYC-based pastry chef who has been just as committed to creating insanely innovative desserts and she is to raising money for social justice causes. I loved learning about what she’s been up to since losing her full-time job during COVID and was not surprised to see she’s found ways to keep innovating (while giving back).

    “I needed the external validation from someone I perceived as smarter, better, cooler.” She pauses. “It’s fucking crazy, the head games you play with yourself.”

  3. Every Self-Help Book Ever, Boiled Down to 11 Simple Rules. I read this one last year during the middle of the pandemic, a time when I was fastidiously avoiding anything motivationally related. Even then, I liked the simple, pragmatic advice, some of which is tried and true, and others I hadn’t heard of before. There’s a reason self-help is such a booming industry; we all want someone to tell us how to live our lives. Number 6 on the list is what initially inspired this essay from last summer, still one of my favorites.

Think of yourself in your 80s in a retirement home. Really picture it: You in a wheelchair, wrinkled and frail, eating soft food from a tray in front of a droning TV. Would that person be glad you took the leap you want to make right now, or would they regret it? 

Perhaps You Should…
Gift Yourself a Candle Subscription

Ever since I invested in getting my apartment decorated, there are certain small luxuries I consistently allow myself. They include: vasefuls of fresh lilies, printing anything and everything on my new printer (game changer), giant mugs of tea at night, hot water via this cute electric kettle, and enough candles to have a living room seance. I’m toying with the idea of trying out this monthly candle subscription, which feels just a smidge ridiculous but also neccessary.

**Bonus Content** (Are These Balls the Same Color?)

Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned optical illusion? Try to guess before reading the answer.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“I’d begun to understand also that this wasn’t a trait peculiar just to Josie; that people often felt the need to prepare a side of themselves to display to passers-by —as they might in a store window —and that such a display needn’t be taken so seriously once the moment had passed.”

-Klara and the Sun by Kazou Ishiguro

P.s, I’m currently reading this novel and it is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, perhaps ever. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something new to read.

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

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Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”