We live in a world of scarcity. We wake up not having slept enough, to get in a Starbucks line not moving fast enough, to go to work to make a dent in the pile of yesterday’s unfinished business.
There is a sort of buzzing, electric energy that comes to me when I face a burgeoning schedule with insufficient time and resources to get it all done. It is an opportunity to be the kind of person who, without enough time, sleep, or resources, can accomplish as much or more than everyone else. I want to do in three hours what everyone else does in four. I want to run five miles when everyone else runs two.
I have become hooked on the tangible sense of purpose that comes when attempting to do more than is expected, and I have found college to be an optimal breeding ground for this addiction. In college (or maybe in life in general, but college just happens to be my life right now), the standards are set high enough to ensure that you’ll never quite reach them, but you’re sure to be utterly convinced that everyone else around you is. This type of competition has afforded me a great sense of meaning. I know what needs to be done to out-compete myself and others; it is only a matter of whether I have enough talent and willpower to do so. As long as I am operating from such a place of scarcity, I have purpose.
I was hit with the full force of my addiction to scarcity after a recent encounter with an acquaintance in the dining hall. The incident came at the end of a week when my schedule was uncharacteristically empty (maybe this is because I quit statistics, who knows), and I was feeling insecure. Free time, obviously, is not a cause for celebration, but for panic. To me, an empty slate implies only one of two things: either I am forgetting some of my obligations, or I am a lazy, unmotivated, not-reaching-my-full-potential kind of person. Either alternative leaves me feeling troubled, so I have learned to avoid considering these possibilities by making myself busy enough that I never have time to think about them. Usually, I am great at this. But unfortunately for me, last week, I was not.
So I was in the dining hall, collecting my usual pile of goodies from the salad bar, when I spotted my acquaintance by the espresso machine. She looked like stress incarnate: about six book bags hung off her arms, a half-eaten banana dangled limply from her hands, and she oozed of over-worked anxiety. I called out to greet her, and in response I heard, “Sorry-gotta-run-have-two-homeworks-and-a-midterm-tomorrow-also-club-meetings-for-which-i-am-the-president-and-secretary-and-treasurerer-all-in-one-and-my-boss-needed-me-to-proof-read-his-newsletter-by-yesterday.” Oh. So she didn’t have time to say “Hi.” Forgive me.
The encounter left me frazzled, partly because anxiety is a little contagious, partly because I felt legitimately sorry for the girl, but mostly because my own sense of inadequacy was threatening to overwhelm me. After she left, I actually stopped, put my tray down, and took a deep, meditative breath near the salad dressings. That day, I had only worked for five hours. I had no class attend. I had no urgent homework. I had planned to go lap swimming before dinner, but decided to take a nap instead. The list of the things my acquaintance was doing that I was not were severely threatening my sense of self-worth. Thankfully, before jumping headlong into the rabbit hole of self-depreciation, I paused to remember what happens when I let myself be defined by what I do.
Younger me knew nothing about scarcity. My childhood was full and content. I slept as long as I wanted, ate whatever I liked, and did whatever made me happy. I did not compare myself to others, and I was certainly not at war with myself. I have a highly competitive spirit, however, and it was only a matter of time until it turned inward. I remember distinctly the day, during my freshman year in high school, when I decided I needed to become more “healthy.” I knew that didn’t run enough, walk enough, mediate enough, or eat enough produce for the CDC’s tastes, and there came a day, when, for whatever reason, I began to feel a pressing need to address my insufficiency.
Initially, it was somewhat fun , and most certainly satisfying, to witness the fruits of my self-improvement. The “healthier” I become, however, the more insufficient I perceived myself to be. Soon my sense of inadequacy defined me. I lost 20 pounds during the spring of my freshman year, and I spent the rest of high school trying to pick up the pieces of a girl who had tried and failed desperately to find worth in her achievements.
Sometimes, just when I think I’ve successfully managed refashion all of my broken parts, I realize just how cracked I still am. “Whole” people don’t write 900 word blogs about encountering busy friends in the dining hall. “Whole” people take naps without feeling guilty, eat dessert without feeling anxious, and fully enjoy their days off from work. I think there are fewer “whole” people out there than one might think, though; we are all a little cracked in our own way.
Here, then, is a tribute to all of the cracked and broken people out there: the ones who are driven by a sense of inadequacy, and who’ve tried and failed to find personal worth in achievements. I haven’t successfully pieced myself back together yet, and I have a feeling that I never totally will. But maybe, just maybe, being a a little bit broken is OK. Being a little bit broken is…..enough.
As Brennan Manning wisely said, “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”
In these words, let all the cracked and broken people find peace.