James Perse fleece dress (several years old)
Hansel from Basel socks
Well, it’s finally cooler. Cold in the mornings actually (I have the space heater going in my office right now). I’m holding and drinking a hot cup of coffee, trying to warm my fingers.
The Truth is, I’ve been floundering lately (ha, not just lately, forever) – caught up in thinking about and identifying “my purpose.” I’m wondering if I’m still relevant, what do I have to say that’s so important, why am I doing this again?
Weirdly enough, in thinking so much about personal style recently, I finally also concluded that purpose is like personal style; there’s no need to have one. Just like there are no minimalist police monitoring our wardrobes, there are no personal style cops or purpose hall monitors.
That sounds blasphemous though, doesn’t it? it’s hard to type, to put into words. How can we not NEED a purpose? I’ve been told I need a purpose, I’ve been searching for it all my life, what do I do now?
Some people grow up with a sense of purpose and meaning, or just a sense of belonging, and are always confident about their place in the world. Others have children, and there it is, their purpose, in flesh and blood. Still for more, it’s never clear, children or not, and they struggle daily to come to terms with the uncertainty. We think we must be certain. I have always thought I must be certain.
I always thought I had to have a (good) reason.
I don’t remember ever feeling like I belonged anywhere, or having a sense of confidence in my “role” in the world.
But now, finally, I feel it. I belong here. I don’t have a purpose, other than to just be here. I can stop searching and just be.
All my life I’ve felt like I have to justify my taking up space in this moment, this universe. I thought if I could only find my purpose, something that others could acknowledge, and say , “oh, Grechen, she’s this and such – that’s what she’s here for,” then, I would have proven my worth, have earned my keep.
Sadly, my struggle has had so much to do with my weight/appearance over the years, and was all brought up again on my trip to Kentucky with my mother to see family. I clearly remember growing up, being a pre-teen, early teenager, feeling so ugly and not worth the space I was taking up – because I was overweight. I was told that I’d be so pretty if I was thinner. I heard people talk about my weight and how I needed to lose it*.
I felt horrible, and that has stayed with me.
When I went back recently, and saw people I hadn’t seen since I lost weight, being now a more “acceptable looking” weight for my height, they were so pleased, I got compliments everywhere I turned. They know next to nothing about my life or my accomplishments besides the fact that I lost weight, but that seemed to be all they needed to know be assured that finally, I am okay, I am worthy.
That’s fucked up. But being back there this time and remembering how it affected me then, and again now, allowed me to see after all, that I do not have to prove myself. Certainly not by looking a certain way, but also not by “doing” anything.
So much of my anxiety has come from not feeling good enough, or worthy enough, to just be. What do I have to be good enough for? What actually IS good enough? What is my prize for being good enough? Can I ever win it? Who says when I am actually good enough and can finally just be?? Who, indeed.
I used to think I would be good enough if I had all “the right” items of clothing.
I thought I would finally feel good enough when I had children to love and nurture.
Then, I thought I would feel worthy when I was successful in my career.
I say that I am worthy right now, to take up space, to move around in the world, to just be. This is my place. Whatever it is I happen to be doing is my purpose, my meaning. Maybe that will change tomorrow, or the next day. I am not good enough, I just am. And that is all I want. I just want to be.
(thank you for reading. I know a lot of people can’t relate to this, but maybe some can. And I know I’ve been doing a lot of navel-gazing lately, but you don’t come here just to look at the pretty pictures. Now that I’ve worked this out, I can get back to shopping posts and talking about my outfits. Or not LOL)
*I attribute no malice at all to those people or statements, it was a “different” time and people were concerned about me, I hope. Also, people don’t realize how much children internalize things, and HEAR things.
I feel this, and I often think about “purpose” within my religious context, as well. Yes, we all have an obligation to uphold values of kindness, empathy, and collective good, but beyond that, where does it say that I’m supposed to change the world somehow? And why would I presume that I *can* change the world? I think this idea borders on idolatrous for many people and it keeps us from actually practicing intention and kindness on a moment to moment basis. And then we hold up people who have done a lot because part of that striving is making sure you get the spotlight. I’ve been so so burnt out lately, and feeling like I need to be doing something that creates a straightforward narrative in my life, but I fight with it at the same time. Why do I think I’m not good enough already?
Longtime reader, first time commentor! I just wanted you to know this post touched me. Maybe this IS your purpose. Sharing yourself (whether it’s fashion or personal thoughts) with people you don’t know, which is incredibly brave and very special. I am a trauma therapist and one thing I’ve learned through my work is that while not everyone has had full scale traumatic experiences we ALL have “little t’s”; they stay with us and affect us until until we share and process them. Thanks again for sharing; I enjoy the deeper discussions thrown in with fashion (which I love, BTW – great dress!)
Grechen Reiter says
YES. this has been my whole life leah. “feeling like I need to be doing something that creates a straightforward narrative in my life, but I fight with it at the same time” – i have been fighting and struggling against MYSELF for as long as i can remember. when all i needed to do was to just let go and try to be.
i hope you can also come to that point, because you ARE doing amazing work, and inspire me every time i read your words. you are so thoughtful and have such impact. which, in reality is beside the point, because just by being, you are good enough 🙂
I love this. Lots of food for thought. I do feel like sometimes my purpose is to simply help my husband and kids fulfill theirs, and I hate that. And I don’t think what I’m doing work-wise is really my “purpose”. But my job is exactly what I need right now and allows me to live a good life and I like it. And seeing my husband and kids happy brings me joy. I’ve often thought of this phase of my life (I’m 36) as the treading water years before I’ll have more time to pursue what I truly want. But maybe I’ve just reached an age where I’m pausing to think about what exactly is that want, and finding it’s nothing. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Grechen Reiter says
that’s okay!!! maybe you also just want to be??
i never could figure out what i wanted, what I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted. but it turns out i don’t need to 😉
mostly, i want to be kind and helpful to all of the living things, and i think now that i’m not focused so much on figuring out my “purpose” or whatever, i can be that, you know?
This is such an honest and open post, Grechen, and I can relate to everything that both you and the other readers have said. I wonder if it is something that many women feel? That sense of being an outsider, in a way, and not having a true purpose. I love my roles as wife and mom and think they have value, even if it’s doing unpaid work that isn’t recognized in our society. It’s like I’m fine with my place in life, just not how other people see it, if that makes sense. Like you said, you/we are enough to just BE how we are.
You definitely help and encourage other women every day, and I am so grateful for you. Outsiders Unite, maybe?
What if your entire purpose in life was just to be a good mom to the pet that you love, no matter how long that was? The companionship people provide each other in a relationship makes both people very purposeful. I had a woman tell me the other day that she wished she could find a companion, because it gets so lonely not having anyone to even share the events of her day when she got home from work. So, what really is purpose, and how big does it have to be?
I relate – I’ve never had a clear sense of purpose, though as a Brit I never even thought about it until I kept coming across it on the internet!
These days having a sense of meaning and purpose is considered essential to good mental health but the kind of meaning and purpose they mean is different to having ‘A Purpose’ – the mental health meaning is much simpler and includes things like feeling connected to family or a community.
Tbh the notion of a ‘Purpose’ sounds like an invention to me – from where I’m standing it seems to have derived from the idea that ‘God put me here for a reason’, and as I’m not Christian I don’t relate to that at all.
I imagine that going back to my first sentence this also goes back to being British – we are much more secular here, and even before two WWs which shattered religious belief for many, our expressions of Christianity were different, due to the slightly different culture.
Erin S says
I relate to this and I appreciate you sharing these thoughtful words. xoxo!
I would argue, however, that this “purpose” language is a distinct part of American civic religion rather than Christianity as such. Yes, there’s always been a strain of striving in Christian practice, but it’s not as if the religion itself demands it. I think it has more to do with American Dream ideology than anything else.
I have been reading your blog for a long time and I do not think that I have ever commented. But, today I wanted to let you know how much I look forward to reading your blog everyday. I work at a very high stress job with a wonderful group of people who demonstrate resilience to me everyday and whose struggles I share daily. Reading your blog allows me to escape and just have a moment of ……fun, comfort, escape….all of the things that come out of your different blog topics. Your wonderful writing and your generosity with yourself and your musings is so appreciated by me and I know that others would agree with me. Your purpose could be connecting with people through your writing and bringing comfort? entertainment? companionship? and all of the things that enrich life. So…..thank you.
I’m certain you’re right – I’m only looking from a distance, though I did say I thought it derived from Christianity, not that it’s actually a part of it. I can see too that it may be part of the dream ideology, which of course we don’t have – though that is changing. American culture influences British hugely.
There’s so much here that touches me, that resonates deeply, that I can neither let the post go by without registering a response — Brava You! — but neither can I trust myself to answer now (just not enough time or energy to do it justice — and perhaps not the emotional stamina at the moment either). I will say that I’ve felt this throughout my life and still grapple, at 65, despite having raised four kids, gone back and completed BA,MA, and PhD and then taught at Uni for years. And as frustrating as the continuing self-questioning has been (and is), I guess I value my willingness to be self-reflexive — and I value very much your generosity in sharing your own self-reflexiveness. You bring an honesty to Style-Blogging that is rare and so treasured. Thank you!
(see what I mean? That was me not having enough time or energy to respond — yikes!)
Savanna Wright says
I can’t thank you enough for this post. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts, but, opposite-ish? I left a great job that was “just a job” to pursue my “dream job” and it worked. I have the dream job! It’s a magical frikkin’ fantasy! YAYAY…..
I miss having a life, I miss thinking about things other than this work, I miss art and travel and books and relaxing and gardening and loafing. I miss being able to afford to live in a nice home.
I’m supposed to be grateful that I have my dream job and that I’m good at it- most people never get that. It’s rare and special and I should be really grateful. I do understand that narrative.
I missed out on finding a partner. I missed out on kids. I am missing out on having a dog.
I regret having “purpose.” Who cares. Purpose shmurpose.
The purpose if life is to marvel at it. Find joy and awe in it’s beauty and complexity. If you are doing that even sometimes, well, you’ve won the game.
The trick is believing you deserve it, eh?
You struck a chord with me. I never felt like I fit in (does anyone feel like they fit in in jr high/high school?), but mostly because I was tall, skinny and smart…also, not a partier. I had a brief interlude of feeling like a goddess in college, and the found the man I intend to spend the rest of my life with. He always encourages me to take chances in life.
After having my girls, I felt like I found my purpose, but kids don’t stay little forever. My purpose has changed. I feel like one’s purpose shifts with time: Children – play, teens – students, young adults – work….
Of course, that varies for each of us. For some, finding that takes a lot of trial and error. And others just KNOW, “This is what I’m meant to be.” I envy them. And yet, I think of all of the different things I’ve done in life and what I would’ve missed out on if I hadn’t lived all of those lives! I’m trying to figure out what I feel led to do now. I believe it’s important for us to use our talents and gifts in order to find fulfillment. I’m contemplating a return to school for my Masters in Social Work because I feel a pull back to working with troubled teens – something I found very fulfilling in my soul.
My hubby and I look forward to volunteering once we’re retired. I believe in giving back because we are incredibly blessed. We want to usher at theaters, hang out at coffee shops, read in independent bookstores, watch the sunset on the coast of Maine…just take it all in.
I love what you’ve been writing lately! Deep, raw, real. I can totally relate.
Also, on a lighter fashion note, wow you look terrific in that black dress!
Yes to your comment about holding up people in the spotlight that do a lot . And doesn’t that just make us feel guilty or “less than” if we don’t? I’m best when I’m just authentic me.
Good point, and one that I agree with, Leah! Sometimes I think Christianity in America IS the Civic Religion: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet!
Jo B. says
Gretchen there is so much here to think about. I appreciate your words. As a health couch my biggest hope is for people to get past the past and know they are perfect in this moment. You are perfect in this moment.
April Foreman says
Great post. Similar feelings when I lost weight after I had to change my diet drastically because of a health problem…I didn’t realize that my body was such a big deal to so many people. I also got a lovely comment at work…Because I am a white midwesterner, working in the South, I experience the body culture here in delightful ways. People are often more body positive, especially women who are black. A friend at work came up to me, and she must have realized something, b/c she asked, not to praise me, but out of genuine worry. And she said, “Doc, don’t go losing weight tryin’ to get all fine. You always fine.” And she hugged me (which is the norm in public here, even at work, vs the midwest). She intuitively realized something was up. And since my weight was crashing so rapidly (and I was actually worried), her kind way of noticing ME and not my “acceptable weight” really stuck with me. This was three years ago, and I don’t think she’ll ever realize how much she impacted me.
Also YOU ARE WEARING MY WHITE WHALE DRESS. Gah. I have it in the cream now, but every time you post with that dress on, I get twitchy. If I ever find it in a 3…