Alternate Universes and Making Decisions


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Ever since I was little, I have been obsessed with the idea of parallel universes. There’s this movie called “Sliding Doors,” I don’t know if you’ve seen it. (Heads up, this blog will contain heavy spoilers for the 1998 film “Sliding Doors,” so I guess click out if you don’t want that, but that movie is old enough to vote now so if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably weren’t going to, let’s just be honest here.) Anyway, the movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow and centers around the two diverging life paths a woman would have taken based on whether or not she makes it onto a subway train. In one life path, she gets home earlier, discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her and breaks up with him and meets this great guy and gets this great job and then finds out she’s pregnant and then gets HIT BY A CAR AND DIES. And in the other version of her life, she doesn’t make it home early, never finds out her boyfriend was cheating on her and she stays with him and then her life kind of takes a horrible direction and she ends up working this crappy job and never meets that great guy and still gets pregnant and still gets hit by a car but doesn’t die and meets the great guy at the hospital but she loses her pregnancy in the accident. Which like, I think that second one is supposed to be better? But it’s still EXTREMELY TERRIBLE AND TRAUMATIC. But she doesn’t die, so I guess that’s technically preferable by a thin margin. Anyway, I saw this movie when I was very young and like many things that you watch when you are small and impressionable, it wormed its way into my consciousness and haunted me for like ten years. And after a decade’s worth of consideration, what I think is particularly horrifying is that Gwyneth had no way of knowing what could happen, no way of knowing the stakes. She doesn’t know that the whole course of her life depends upon this one subway train. She just tripped! Or didn’t! And it ruins her whole life! Or doesn’t! Fully at the mercy of the fates. It’s all very overwhelming when you’re fourteen and the whole world already feels like chaos and you just want some reassurance that there is some semblance of goodness and order to the world in general and your life in particular!

So ever since then, every time I am presented with a decision that could take me in one of two opposing directions, I am incapacitated with worry. Because look, I haven’t read the script to the end. I don’t know which plotline is which. No one sent me the final draft. How am I supposed to make decisions when no one will tell me which one leads to me getting pregnant and getting hit by a car? I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO GO ON HERE.

I think the weirdest thing about the whole idea of parallel universes is that it inevitably leads to this weird nostalgia for the life you don’t have but maybe you could have had if you’d gone to a different school or moved to a different city or never met a specific person or didn’t make it on that train. Would you have a different job? Would you have a different best friend? Would you be married or pregnant or already dead? Like, yeah, maybe, it’s entirely possible.

I don’t really have a solution to this vein of late night worry because I still get very nervous making decisions and frequently think about what Alternate Universe Kelly might be doing. Is she happier than me? Is she more successful than me? Has she figured out what to do about her eyebrows? And if all of that were true, would that make her happy?

I do find it strangely soothing, though, in a weird way, that both versions of Gwyneth Paltrow (not really Gwyneth, the character is named Helen, but you understand what I’m saying here) have absolutely terrible lives. Like yes, one of them is technically better insofar as she doesn’t literally die but that’s a pretty low bar for evaluating quality of life. So, I generally subscribe to the notion that if things are going to be terrible, they’re just going to be terrible no matter what, and if things are going to be okay, they’ll probably be okay no matter what. Life is chaos, you know? No sense trying to control it. Did that help at all?

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Should You Listen to Your Critics?


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I think there is no skill more worth cultivating as an adult than the ability to tell whether the feedback you receive on your work was given in good faith, and beyond that, whether it’s worth taking to heart. If you are involved in any kind of creative field (or if you’re a woman on the internet), you probably get a lot of feedback on your work and your life, both solicited and unsolicited. Here’s how to figure out what’s worth listening to and what you should ignore.

1. Is this person invested in your career or personal development? Strangers on the internet tend to have a lot of opinions and they are very rarely useful. The best advice tends to come from mentors or close colleagues: people who know you and your work well, and are invested in seeing you achieve success and improve your work. (An important caveat to this: if you have done something offensive or harmful to a marginalized group, and members of that group are calling you out, that feedback is well worth listening to, and you have a responsibility to pay attention and adjust yourself and your actions accordingly.) However, if a random dude on the internet hops into your DMs to tell you that you are doing a bad job, but out of the kindness of his heart he’s willing to give you a long lecture about how you could do things differently and more in line with what he personally would prefer, feel free to mute the hell out of that guy and move onwards with a clear heart.

2.Is the person giving you feedback an expert? Do they know what they’re talking about when they’re giving you advice? If the person telling you how to write an article or pick audition material or take a photograph doesn’t have any experience or expertise with doing those things, their feedback probably isn’t that useful (especially if it comes unsolicited). You are doing the thing! You probably know a lot about how to do it! Don’t get intimidated into going against your impulses if the person giving you feedback knows less than you. 

3.  Is the feedback actionable? Is the person giving you feedback providing you with action items for things you can change or are they simply telling you that your work is bad? Do they acknowledge potential in your work and interest in helping you make it better? Or are they simply telling you that you’re bad at what you’re doing? If you’re getting feedback that is nothing more than a negative opinion with no recommendations for how to improve, that’s not useful information to keep in your brain. Ignore it, it won’t help you. (And again, because I fear I have to be very clear on this point: if someone tells you “This is racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic etc., that is constructive and actionable feedback, and you should act on it. It is not a personal attack. They are not being mean to you. They are asking you to do better. Listen to them.)

4. Is the person giving you feedback too close to you? Just as feedback from hostile strangers tends not to be helpful, feedback from hyper-encouraging family or loved ones can be just as unhelpful. If a person is too close to you, or if they are invested in you too much to look at your work separate from you as a person they love and care about, they may be too effusive with their praise. My best friend refers to this phenomenon as “love goggles,” as in, “you’re not a good judge of this work/situation, because you’re seeing it through love goggles.” This is why, though I love my mom with my whole heart, I take it with a grain of salt when she says “you are the most talented person in the whole world.” She’s seeing the world through love goggles, and those tend to warp things just a little.

5. Is the feedback you’re getting an anomaly? Are a lot of people telling you you’re doing just fine, but one outlier is telling you that your work is bad? If the person giving you feedback disagrees with the vast majority of people responding to your work, it’s worth considering them an outlier and not letting that feedback get to you. People tend to remember negative feedback more than positive feedback, so bad reviews can tend to stick out more, but if most people are being supportive, it’s worth sitting down and reminding yourself that one bad review is just one person’s opinion. It’s not gospel.

We should all be trying to improve and grow, but it's worth remembering that you can't please everyone, and that's okay. Take advice that helps you grow, even if it makes you uncomfortable, but feel free to ignore bad faith advice! As long as you're doing your best and being kind, you're doing okay.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

When Things Change, and When Things Stay the Same


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Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the gap between where I am and where I want to be, and how stressful it is for me when things go slowly. In the past, it’s been dangerous for me to fall into a mentality of “this is how things will be forever.” Whether I’m in a bad or good situation, if I feel like I’m stuck in one place and it’s just going to stagnate and stay the same for years and years, that really scares me.

I’m so resistant to having to wait for the things that I want. I’m not resistant to working for them, which I’m more than happy to do, but I am resistant to the uncertainty. Like if I don’t achieve the things I want right away or reach milestones early enough in my life then it freaks me out. What if I never get those things? So many things I wanted have gone off the rails and never happened that sometimes I feel like I need to force changes. Even though my whole life has been a long lesson in “things never ever stay the same even if you really want them to,” I get so scared of being stuck in the same place forever: stuck in the same job, stuck with the same mental blocks and fears and anxieties and stuck not having enough money.

It’s hard to remember how young I am, to remember that the people whose careers I admire are by and large older than I am and have had more time to do more things and have more experiences and create more work. But I don’t know. Everyone always says change is scary but I think the specter of nothing changing is just as scary. I guess maybe the two are linked: since change is going to happen inevitably, if I can hurry it along or force it, at least I can make sure it’s a change I can live with. I don’t know guys, I don’t have a solution for this, maybe it’s just a consequence of being in my late twenties and looking ahead at my life and not being clear on what it’s going to look like. Anyway that’s where I am in the weeks before my 26th birthday.

Stress Baking


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I first started baking when I was in law school. It had been much different than I imagined it would be and I was feeling pretty stressed and depressed and I was watching “The Barefoot Contessa” for comfort. Ina was making Irish Soda Bread and as I watched, I thought, “that doesn’t seem all that difficult.” And as it turns out, it wasn’t. I made that bread using the recipe they gave in the show, pausing Netflix and rewinding to double check ingredient amounts and bake times and temperature. (I do not recommend this method - just look up the recipe online; it will make your life so much easier.) That was the first thing I ever made without a mix. It was underbaked on the inside and Paul Hollywood wouldn't have approved but I still ate it for breakfast all week. I felt weirdly proud to have made something as fancy as bread all on my own. It felt like an accomplishment in a way that school hadn’t felt like in a while.

After that, I started baking more often. Partly it was because law school left me little time to cook whole meals, the way I used to, so it was nice to have food around the house to snack on whenever I got hungry, but it was also more than that. Baking felt like time away from work that was still productive, like a break that was justifiable because I was still accomplishing something. When I was baking, I couldn’t read law books at the same time or try to write an outline. I could only bake. It was a task that felt relaxing and meditative and at the end I got something nice to eat for less money than I’d have spent at a store.

And even beyond that, baking felt like a way to make some order out of the chaos I was feeling in my life. I could take all this stuff that I had sitting around the kitchen and make something good out of it. If I followed the directions, it would always work out. And if it didn’t, I could figure out where things had gone wrong, and I could make it work next time. And best of all, there was no grade attached to it. I wasn’t being judged on it. It wasn’t my job, so nothing depended on it, not my rent or my health insurance, or even my ego. It was something I could invest my time in that was only for me.

As time went on, I started baking more complicated things. I started watching The Great British Bakeoff and wanted to reproduce the things that I saw on the show, so I taught myself new techniques and played around with the recipes I was using to make them different or more suited to my taste. I started being the girl who got a bunch of baking books for her birthday, and I loved it. I sometimes even read cookbooks just for fun. Even after I dropped out of law school, I kept having stress and anxiety in my life, and the best way I have to make myself feel a semblance of order in chaotic times is to bake something, to take a bunch of messy ingredients and make something delicious and beautiful. Nothing else makes me feel so accomplished and so in control. If everything else in my life feels completely unmanageable and it feels like everything is falling apart at the seams, I can pull out a recipe for scones and know that at least this will go exactly as I plan for it to go. I’ll get exactly the outcome I want as long as I follow the directions. It would be nice if all of like were that simple and predictable, but at least I know that when times get rough, I have one little corner of the kitchen where I’m in control.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Everyone You Admire is Struggling Just Like You


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Recently I was talking to a friend, and they told me that they thought I was really thriving these days. To which I very reasonably responded, “SHUT UP, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I am always frazzled and I feel like I am only now beginning to figure out my life and ninety percent of the time there are waffle crumbs in my bra! But she didn’t see any of that, she just saw the good stuff going on in my life, because that’s all I make public. And it occurred to me, it’s really all just a matter of perspective, isn’t it? The good things she saw in my life weren’t fake, they were really happening. They just didn’t seem to me like they were that big a deal, or like they represented everything that was going on with me. Because no matter how big a fraction of someone’s life you are seeing, it’s still not the whole picture. There’s always something else going on, some other thing that they’re struggling with or that they don’t love about themselves that they’re working on. She was seeing all the good things in my life, and I was seeing all the messy things and the loose ends.

And that is what led me to another, even more delightful conclusion: all the people who I thought were seriously thriving probably felt the same way I did: kind of confused, not always super confident, prone to getting lost in the grocery store and accidentally buying four boxes of toaster waffles. You can be a big giant mess and also be doing big impressive things! The two do not preclude each other! It is a feature of our dumb, irrational monkey minds that we have trouble imagining other people as complexly as we imagine ourselves, but it is important, I think, to take a little time to remind yourself that every single person you idolize and admire from afar has something they don’t like about themselves and something they don’t think they do very well and some secret vulnerability that they are afraid everyone else will notice. It is not just you. And of course this has all been said before but I do think it bears repeating: we are all just dumb confused people doing our best! No one has it all figured out! As long as you are doing your best, you are doing all right. Do try to get the waffle crumbs out of your bra though, those get itchy.

Photo by abi ismail on Unsplash