My friend Maddy is into astrology. She’s probably going to castrate me when she reads me outing her like this, but at her instruction, I completed one of those hokey charts. It basically takes your birthdate, birth location, birth time, and name, then maps your existence into all these weird symbols on a compass that looks vaguely Satanic.
(Also, it’s entirely possible this is an identity theft measure by some crafty fraudsters who know how to sucker white people into volunteering personal information.)
And though I hate to admit it, the description it spit out about me was creepily accurate. She took a look at the chart.
“Oh, shit. Your moon sign is in Leo.”
My what is in what? What does that mean? I thought I was the goat one, the Capricorn. Prior to this conversation, my only interaction with astrology was a pink and white cami from Limited Too that said “cApRiCoRn” in toggle case across the shelf bra in the front. The early 2000s were a weird time for all of us.
Apparently, your moon sign is what controls your emotions. Leos are, apparently, selfish and dramatic. Fantastic!
But on the plus side, she noted, one of my other signs points to a super rational, logical, and self-controlled approach to life. So, she assured me, while I probably FEEL overly emotional and self-centered things, I’m (apparently) especially good at using logic to overcome it.
Not to toot my own goat horns, but I identify a lot with that analysis.
I realized most of my anxiety (especially the objectively irrational kind, which—let’s be real—comprises nearly all of my anxiety, since I am very lucky to have a great family, a great job, great friends, and an all-around happy life) is caused by the cognitive dissonance I feel when the way some aspect of my life doesn’t quite look how I feel like it should.
“Cognitive dissonance” occurs when your beliefs and your actions don’t match.
For example, if I believed that lying was wrong, but I lied all the time, I would be doing myself a psychological disservice. Behaving (or existing) in a state that’s contrary to your beliefs creates this sneaky breed of unrest in your subconscious that—surprise, surprise—feels a lot like seemingly inexplicable anxiety.
And although that’s a pretty simple definition and example, it also has more complex implications.
Whether it’s your body, your job, or your relationship, if you have a vision of what that thing is supposed to look like—and it doesn't--it’s likely going to be a consistently anxiety- and unrest-inducing component of your existence until you address it.
Unknowingly and unintentionally, we allow unrealistic influences to impact our ideals. Instagram models, romantic comedies, and even our more successful friends’ careers can manipulate our beliefs.
Everyone’s seen that quote those knock-off Wiz Khalifa and Chance the Rapper Twitter accounts post weekly: “Nothing will ruin your twenties more than thinking you should have your life together already.” It’s been rendered tawdry by its overuse in justifying blatantly stupid decisions, but the fact remains that when you evaluate your life against a magic measuring stick, you’re going to feel shitty.
When I had this realization about something in my life Tuesday evening, here’s where my self-talk led me:
I’m just going to acknowledge that it’s OK this aspect of my life isn’t absolutely flawless, and it’s natural that it’s still a work in progress.
This weird relief and clarity ambushed me once I settled on the words “work in progress.” A simple acceptance that nothing—yes, nothing—in my life is yet, or will ever be, exactly the way my delusions specify it should be. Because that toxic sentiment of "should" is the magic spell for inadequacy.
But once you’re content with imagining each little silo of your existence as a progress bar that’s just slowly filling up day by day, that progress will be a sense of joy—not frustration.
When you’re young, you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy yet. You don’t yet believe the way you feel or what you think could be innately right. So you look to other people—maybe older, maybe louder, maybe just a collective whole—as examples of what your life, your job, your friendships, should look like, instead of trusting that you don’t need to compare and contort and examine every small piece for flaws or imperfections in order to determine it’s good.
Granted, I’m no psychologist. I did minor in psychology, but only because I wanted to learn how to more effectively market stuff and build brands by understanding behavior—not exactly the most altruistic decision, to be sure. But the 18 or so credit hours I completed for my minor did teach me enough to self-diagnose and offer unsolicited advice to strangers on the Internet. Welcome to 2018.
Let's be honest, everyone experiences anxiety about the transition. Here's an inside look at mine and the realizations I've had along the way.
The fine print: