Are you going to like this article when I post it on Facebook? Are you going to share it, retweet it, or comment on how wise and helpful it was? Am I going to get a text later today about how much you resonated and how talented I am at writing? I'm sitting here at Coffee Bean on a glorious California afternoon, staring at a blank word document, and that's what's on my mind.
I'm being brutally honest about my need for you to compliment me because it's something I'm desperate to be free from. As I sit in this transitional space between graduating college and joining the "real world" of five-day work weeks and trouser pants, my need to be affirmed seems to be getting worse. For 18 years of my life, I have been graded, evaluated, and constructively criticized on my writing, my reading, my math skills, and my ability to memorize and problem solve. There were progress reports, and parent-teacher conferences, and comments written in illegible red ink on the bottom of papers. I always knew where I stood, at least academically. And now that the influx of constant feedback has come to a standstill, it feels like your Facebook like is absolutely necessary so that I can feel good about myself and my writing.
How else will I know that my article was relevant and well thought out? Without that notification that pops up, how will I be assured that I have enough talent or skill to pursue writing professionally? Furthermore, what is really the point of doing something if there isn't a grade or pat on the back or a job offer at the other end? What makes writing an article, or going to the gym, or staying extra hours at work worth it if I'm not guaranteed a compliment or a beach body or a promotion? I'm asking these questions because I've recently realized that so much of what I do is motivated by result, especially in the forms of someone else's approval and the feeling of being productive. If that result or sense of self-accomplishment isn't guaranteed or available, my motivation to do something drops like the crystal ball on a subfreezing New Year's Eve.
This problem began for me years ago. In Mrs. Marcus' fifth grade science class, I was taught how to successfully formulate a hypothesis: "If this happens, then this will happen." This paradigm became the basis of my elementary school science fair projects, and was extremely helpful in figuring out how to make the volcano explode or predict what kind of chemical reaction would occur if I mixed vinegar and baking soda. Years, and many more science classes later, I am still making hypotheses. Just now, they are no longer about 5th grade science projects. Without even realizing it, this once useful kernel of knowledge became the effective but ultimately harmful basis of how I encouraged myself to do my homework, compliment my friends, and workout. "If I do my homework, then I can watch TV." "If I tell you you look good in that top, then you will like me more." "If I work out, then maybe I can look like J.Lo," and so forth.
And even though I've accepted the fact that me looking like J.Lo is as unlikely as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake getting back together, I still continue to do things because I can get something out of them. Because all throughout my academic career, I did get something out of them. I got great grades and an acceptance to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. And here I am, realizing for the first time that I don't know how to do something just because.
I don't know how to do something just because its fun and feels good in my body. I don't know how to call someone just because I miss them and want to tell them that without expecting a phone call back. I don't know how to post a picture an Instagram just because I like the picture, and be totally okay if not a single person likes it.
I don't want to feel purposeful and motivated because of something I could get later on. I want to feel purposeful and motivated because the very act of living my life, of showing kindness to strangers, of keeping in touch with old friends, and of running on a treadmill is the gift that I've been waiting for.
I am vowing to have a summer of just because. To do something just because suggests that the activity is enjoyable in and of itself, regardless of if a reward is earned or not. It doesn't require an explanation or a justification -- there is no "If I do this... then I will get this, and that's why I'm doing it." It means melting into the experience of the present moment without constantly trying to document and narrate it on social media. It means doing things I'm really bad at, but still really enjoy (like singing in the shower--sorry mom!) It means doing a lot of relaxing, which is harder for me than advanced Physics. It means understanding that if I don't write a single successful Huffington Post article for the rest of the summer, I am still a writer, I am still worthy, and I am still entitled to the same self-love and self-encouragement as if I had written 10 articles.
A summer of just because means placing no conditions on myself, and not doing anything for the sole reason that I think I "should" do it. It means not listening to that latent anxiety that tells me "You're going to miss a deadline!" "Get going -- get working!" And "You're wasting your time." Time spent doing something just because is not time wasted, it's joy earned. It's getting in touch with what I want, which up until recently, was for you to like me. Now I want to like me.
Why am I writing this article? Just because I love to write, and I want to. Although I hope you like it, I can remind myself that at the end of the day my real friends are my own sense of happiness and inner peace, not your opinion or your Facebook like. And that's what I call a life of freedom.
For more from Liana Gergely, click here.