Edition #75: What If You Already Have All the Answers?

Plus, an profile on Issa Rae, getting clarity, and my favorite Instagram account

A Note From the Editor

It started during those never-ending days of the pandemic, early last spring. My mind had too much time to wonder during the weekdays spent alone in my small East Village apartment. Between baking unnecessarily elaborate desserts, whisking stiff peaks in a bowl of egg whites while pacing around my kitchen, roasting full chickens for no one, sticking my head out the window to clap at 7pm, and going on my much-anticipated mid-day runs, a sort-of-new mental habit began to form: I started second-guessing myself, constantly and without noticing. The expereince was mostly internal, as I didn’t have enough outside contact with the world to verbalize these doubts. And anyway, everyone was going through their own shit so I was not going to dump mine onto anyone else.

Prior to the pandemic—as in, weeks before lockdown—I had made a major decision about what the shape of my life would look like that year. I made arrangements for my plans, told very few people. My plan kept me going on my blandest days, for I knew a change was waiting around the corner. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely proud of myself. I was going to make a decision for me, one that took a careful blend of ignorance and faith, and the other decisions I had avoided making in my life around that time would naturally iron themselves out on the tail end of this one. I was sure of it.

I don’t need to tell you how this story ends. I was unable to follow through with my plans due to the change in circumstances, and within a month of lockdown, I couldn’t remember the time when I’d had such luxury to dream too far and wide. In retrospect, I think this is when the trust I had in myself began to erode, rusting around the edges a bit each day. Logically, I knew what happened wasn’t my fault, but I felt like a fool nonetheless. As the pandemic dragged on, I began to question myself relentlessly, often with a dark shadow of cruelty. Am I actually burned out, or am I just being lazy? Is this person just not the one for me, or am I actually just an unlovable wench who will never be happy with anyone? The more I did this, the more lost I felt, until all of the self-knowledge I’d cultivated to that point, through therapy and journaling and lived experiences, drowned in s vicious ocean of questioning. I felt more lost than I had in years, and with that sense of loss came a frustration so ripe and fiery it alarmed me. How could I be on the cusp of 28-years-old and still feel like a wanderer? Why did I have nothing figured out, and what had I been doing this whole time?

To blame this entirely on the pandemic would be to shape a false narrative; the pandemic only exacerbated something I’ve identified in myself and in others—the inability to trust intuition.  I remember a friend debating aloud whether or not to take a new job earlier this year, leaving behind one that treated him poorly for one that would pay him more and offer up more of the work he wanted to do. To me, the choice seemed obvious, but I watched the inner struggle play out in real-time. “Do I actually want a new job, or have I just not been trying hard enough to communicate what I want to my boss?” he wondered aloud. He knew the answer, and yet he questioned and questioned until he’d trapped himself in a mental maze, one impossible to escape. I knew the tactic all too well, I’d been playing the same game with myself for an entire year.

 In a recent episode of my new favorite podcast, Tony award-winning Broadway star André De Shields said: “I need to stop forgetting and get on the road to remembering what I already know.” It was an insight I didn’t know I knew was true until I heard it affirmed aloud; that we are born knowing everything we need to know, but that it can be difficult to tune out the noise and tune into that quiet voice at our core. Call it intuition, call it God, call it whatever you’d like, but it exists within all of us. Mine used to come to me frequently and with clarity, an internal light switch flipped on. I would know that in a certain meeting I was going to get praised, or I would know when a loved one was going to share major news on the phone before they even called me. When I was tuned in to my intuition, small pieces of knowledge flowed to me easily, and the bigger stuff was less foggy because I trusted myself instead of constantly beating that voice down with a what-if stick.

Often when we ask a question aloud—should I take this job, should I end this relationship, should I make this move—we already know the answer. We are only asking for affirmation, or because we don’t trust ourselves to know the right way. But what if we already know everything we need to know, as Shields suggest? What if our only job is to quiet our minds often enough to listen, to build or re-build the trust in ourselves so that we don’t always have to look outwards for the answers? Every time I read my journals from five, even ten years ago, I am in awe at the self-knowledge the younger me possessed. I knew from the time I was 19, after my first internship at a shiny PR firm on Park Avenue, that doing work that did not have any real impact on the greater good would leave me feeling unsatisfied. I knew from the time I was in middle school that I loved to write. In both cases, I did not clock that knowledge with any weight.

Years later, as I re-make these discoveries I once knew as an adult, I can only laugh. Imagine where I might have been if I listened to myself back then, if I trusted what I already knew? Or, imagine where I might go if I start remembering what I already know, right now, today? Pulitzer Prize-winning author André Gide once noted,

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

The same logic can be applied to our internal sense of knowing. We only need to keep reminding ourselves what we already know. To quiet the noise in order for the truth to have the chance to show its face. Cheers, my dears, and thanks for reading. Here’s to less second-guessing and more trusting.

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Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. What Issa Rae Wants. I’m a huge fan of Issa Rae’s Insecure, which is coming up on its final season soon. There’s no other show on TV quite like it, and I was pleased to discover that Rae seems to be just as genuine and hilarious in real life as her character is on the show. An interesting tale of how this 36-year-old star went from a self-produced YouTube series to an HBO show writer and director. I can’t wait to see all of the projects she has coming down the pipe in the coming years.

  2. Modern Zoos Are Not Worth the Moral Cost. I went to the Bronx Zoo relate last year, wildly hungover and spent most of my time watching the gorillas. I'd see gorillas before, but for some reason, it felt like the first time. There was a whole troop of them, I watched them hold hands, interlacing their human-like fingers, scratch their hands, come right up to the glass and gaze into the depths of my eyes so intentionally I had to look away. My heart sank. I almost threw up. It was the first time I felt a horrible sense of dread: why are we keeping them here? They cannot enjoy this. This piece affirms what we already know; that for the most part, zoos are cruel institutions with a cloak of conservation, their animals captive and depressed often medicated.

    “Zoos shifted just slightly from overt demonstrations of mastery over beasts to a narrative of benevolent protection of individual animals. From there, it was an easy leap to protecting animal species.”

  3. Garbage Language. Why Do Corporations Speak the Way They Do? An oldie but goodie, from last summer. I’m a firm believer in the power of words and language, and I often think the way we carelessly attempt to convey what we really mean deserves more thought than our words are given. This is especially true in the corporate setting, where “circle back” and “close the loop” are just the tip of the jargon iceberg. A case for saying what we mean in the office (and elsewhere) instead of using made-up phrases that inflate a false sense of importance.

Perhaps You Should…
Get Clarity

I haven’t shared any exercises of this sort before, but it felt fitting with today’s intro essay. I’ve been doing deep meditation work through this program for about half a year now and have found it transformative, though (full disclosure) it might feel a little hokey if you’re not into this sort of stuff. I started off by trying this clarity exercise at a time when I was feeling lost and mentally cloudy, and if you’re feeling that way, I’d suggest giving this a try.

**Bonus Content** (Dogs in Bags)

A post shared by @bagdogs

My new favorite Instagram account.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“And he listened to me. That was the thing he did, as if he was trying to fill himself up with all the sound he could hear.”

-The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

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.”