(On Wasted Potential)
an essay by Haider
artwork by Rameez
There is always this need to be better, this reminder in the deepest depths of your heart that chews away at your bones you could have done better. You try to measure the size of every step you take, but you hardly ever look back on the amount of steps you have taken in the first place. You can try to explain your shortcomings to your parents, friends, or even your professors, and maybe, they would say, “It’s okay. You’ll get it next time,” but you know, deep down, no matter what you say or do, you’ll just never feel enough with what you have done.
I find myself orbiting the thoughts of what more I could have done or how foolish I could have been for not knowing better, even if “knowing the better” was impossible in context. But I can’t help it. When I achieve something, I am surrounded with love and applauses, but I can’t seem to be proud of myself even then. I know I should be more, but I don’t know if I know why I need to be more. Why can’t I just stay still and be loved even then?
Sometimes, there is performance anxiety. It’s often experienced in relationships where one partner feels that if they don’t provide consistently enough, their partner would abandon them or feel they no longer deserve love. It usually stems from one’s upbringing and how their parents treated them. Where love comes at the cost of requirements, if you do XY, you can be loved. It was always this feeling of, I need to do this, I need to do that, I need to be this, I need to be that, and only then could you be allowed love. When children fail to achieve a task successfully, a task they are well aware about how their parents feel, they tend to feel fear and anxiety about being punished, in other words, being deprived of affection.
I fear that I may go through my whole life having done my best, but I’ll only be seen at my worst because even my best would never amount to anything. And what happens when I’ve done my best, but no one’s there to applaud? Would I still be asked for an encore? Would there still be some more expected out of me?
You have to constantly perform. The world does not wait for you. An A or an F on your paper does not say, “I put in a lot of hard work, even though I was not feeling okay!” Neither do your medals, accolades, or even the empty cabinets say, “I did my best, even though I hardly had anything left inside of me,” nor does the amount of love you gave to someone say, “I gave you whatever was still left inside of me.”
I always felt like I was a step or two behind everyone. The closer I tried to get, the further everyone else was. I never really know who was a part of this “everyone,” because nobody had ever done what I had done, or been through what I had been through, so I wondered who I was trying to compete with or prove a point to.
You have to perform constantly, you have to keep dancing until the lights go out, until the curtains fall – out of fear the audience might get up and leave any second. But sometimes, it’s not even about the audience because you know the audience might love you, regardless. Maybe a few would leave, sure, or perhaps many, but there is always at least that one person who could love you in all your imperfect glory.
Usually, that someone is me. At least, that is how I feel in my relationships with people. But when the tables turn, when the spotlight is on me, I just can’t help but feel the need to rip out my bones, my flesh, my bruises, and my aching eyes and say, “I just need to lie down. I promise I will dance for you better tomorrow. Please don’t go away while I rest.”
It takes a long time to feel and believe that although the world may not completely wait on you, you are allowed rest, and you are still capable of being loved in the morning. Even when the stars have left your eyes at night, you can still find the moon with you during sunrise. It’s a slippery road, though. I wish I could tell everyone that I have ever failed, that I am trying. I am still trying. I wish there were a way of knowing what would happen if you let go. Suppose you did not attend your little circus for a day. Would the audience bother to come back?
I give my all to everything, which is something I wish I could pride myself in, but it doesn’t really pay off too well. Be it academically, romantically, creatively, or mentally. I don’t understand where all that effort goes then, I don’t know what it’s all for in the end. It wasn’t always like this, but I can’t remember ever feeling otherwise. It takes the weight of the world to lift yourself off the ground every time, and each time you fall back down, it gets heavier to get back up. But still, I show up. I get up. Just because it takes time doesn’t mean it’s not happening, I tell myself.
It takes a long time to be okay, even longer to find someplace to rest your head on. And sometimes, it takes you nineteen years of your life & five months of therapy to find yourself in your car, parked on the side of the road, crying & convincing yourself somehow, you’re good enough, that there is still something left to love about you, despite it all.