Here’s the latest from The Under 35 Project, by Laura Randeles, on struggling to meet the wrong expectations.
When I first moved to Washington, DC in November of 2009, I didn’t know what to expect. I had only visited briefly as a tourist with my parents a few months prior for the mandatory photos in front of monuments and landmarks. But a burning desire for a change of scenery inspired me to quit my jobs in family law and yoga teaching in Florida, pack all my belongings in two suitcases and buy a one-way ticket to live our Nation’s capital. It seemed like a cool city with a good vibe, plus my friend had an empty office nook I could crash in for a while.
Adjusting to DC was challenging. I felt out of place in an environment where everyone was so accomplished and successful. In social situations, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was the girl that went to a university no one had ever heard of, I didn’t graduate with honors, I spoke only two languages and my limited knowledge of politics was pretty embarrassing. While most of my new friends were off helping refugees, or drafting progressive legislation or finishing up their fourth advanced degree, I was a sitting in front of a computer reviewing documents as a temp with a forgettable law degree.
DC was way out of my league. Not that I felt like a complete loser, but a general sense of being underqualified, inadequate and different. Adding to my shortcomings was rarely meeting anyone who wasn’t fighting for a particular movement or taking a stand for a noteworthy cause in their spare time. How did these people manage to do it all? In a city where everyone had a platform and a proud flag to wave, I found myself isolated and without much of a voice.
I did what anyone struggling to fit in would do. I conformed. My new DC wardrobe consisted of black, gray and navy. I attended boring lectures for the sake of networking and looking smart. I suppressed my sense of humor in order to be serious and appear interested. I pretended to know what people were talking about and resisted the urge to ask questions. I spent countless hours at night Googling and reading articles just to keep up an informed façade. It was exhausting. I didn’t bother looking for opportunities to teach yoga because there was no way I could allow it to comingle with this new person I had to be.
Anyway, I certainly wasn’t good enough to teach in DC. Even the yoga teachers in this town found the time to be activists and run their own non-profit organizations. I also wasn’t sure what the repercussions would be if I exposed myself as a yoga teacher in the professional world. I mentioned it in an interview once when responding to a question about how I handle stress and the interviewer gave me puzzled look that said, “Seriously?” It was an honest answer, but the wrong one. As a matter of survival I decided it was best to take a break from teaching.
Thankfully, our true nature doesn’t stay closeted for long. At the same time I was running around in itchy dark suits and unpolished fingernails, I discovered a wonderful vipassana community near my home. I couldn’t fully disconnect myself from a practice that felt so right to me. The ability to sit, breathe and be still helped me realize just how ridiculous it all was. I was tired of not being me. I accepted the truth, which was that I didn’t give a damn. I had no interest in belonging to anyone’s movement or being associated with any cause. I didn’t want to fit in or do as the Romans just because I was in the center of it all. Gradually, I was able to let go of the expectations I had set for myself. What was liberating about it was that no one else gave a damn either. This is what meditation teaches us—it’s all in our minds. I could do whatever I wanted and people would like me just the same.
Somewhere along the way I forgot that the most important reform begins within. My right to inner peace should be the ultimate cause I decide to take a stand for. If I don’t, no one else will. After nearly a year of not teaching yoga, I reached out to a local studio that welcomed me with open arms. It was scary at first, but it felt right, like I finally belonged again.
I may not get to wake up in the mornings to save the environment or mobilize voters, but at the end of every week for 75 minutes, I am blessed to stand before a class of 20-40 yogis and participate in a mini-revolution. I can express gratitude to all the advocates in DC who fight daily for equality and progress. They are what make it such a great place. When all is said and done, what I care about has nothing to do with saving the world, but whether I’ve treated people kindly, and lived genuinely from a place of love, fearlessness and understanding. It’s a work in progress and I’m not always successful, but I commit to it every day.
I still go to boring lectures in itchy suits, but now my sense of humor and blue nail polish come with me.