Surrender is such a huge requirement in life. Really, I think it’s the theme of being in your twenties. Surrender that identity that you thought you were supposed to embody. Surrender that job that you thought would make you happy. Surrender the relationship with that person you just swore you were going to marry. It seems like for me and the people around me, the message is clear: Let. It. Go.
With “surrender” being such a key part of adulting, we’ve decided to start a series of articles about just that—Surrendering in Your 20’s. To kick things off, let’s unpack fighting for your happiness and surrendering emotional weapons.
I think I’ve come to the realization that I, like many others, have spent a lifetime waging a war against myself. For a long time, I’ve felt like happiness was supposed to be a hard fought and ongoing battle; one that I was willing to fight proudly, until I found myself bruised and battered, with enough scars to last a lifetime. I’m someone who has always self-identified as a warrior– a person who won’t quit the battle until the battle is won. I could fight and keep up with the best of them. But these days, whenever I look in the mirror and observe the scars and the bruises, and feel only exhaustion, all I feel like is a quitter. It’s as if the battle has finally worn me down and I can’t get back up again. But recently, something dawned on me: Self-acceptance– which was really the happiness that I’ve been looking for– can feel a lot like resignation when you’ve spent a lifetime fighting an unwinnable war against yourself.
I have what psychologists call an internal locus of control. While the researcher in me can’t help but to urge anyone reading this to search through google scholar for the scientific definition of this approach to life, the writer in me will keep it brief: I believe that life’s events, and the things that happen to me, are within my control. Really, I’ve always operated under the belief that my own happiness is in my own hands, and that I can make my life look however I want it to. While there are benefits to having an internal locus of control, the downside is that sometimes, our version of happiness can be a little, well…unrealistic. And in my self-reflection I think I’m realizing that I, like a lot of twenty-somethings, have accidentally conflated happiness with perfection. And when I believed that my happiness was within my own control, what I really meant was that my perfection was within my control. And because the warrior in me was ready to fight, I wasn’t able to slow down and realize that I was fighting for perfection, and not happiness.
This manifested in a lot of ways for me– in ways that I think it manifests for so many of us, especially now given our current self-help climate. I took up arms against all of my imperfections because I perceived them as barriers between me and my happiness. Any personality trait, or even emotion that I felt ashamed of was something I fought with fervor. There were days where I couldn’t feel motivation to do anything, and I took up war against my lack of motivation while neglecting the reason it was there in the first place. Instead of accurately acknowledging my own exhaustion, I mislabeled it as laziness. I would sit and ask myself, almost non-stop, “I mean, don’t you want to be happy, Vanessa?” In my eagerness to fight for the “happiness” I wanted, I didn’t stop to realize that I was fighting with the wrong weapon. I thought I needed discipline, focus and drive to be the best version of myself possible. But really, all I ever needed was self-compassion, and self-acceptance. And because I was so used to battle, surrendering my weapons of choice felt like resignation– like I’d quit on my own happiness. What I didn’t realize was that really, I quit on my own perfectionism.
The truth is that ending the war that we wage against ourselves is hard work– another battle in itself, really. I almost constantly feel like I’m quitting on myself– like the only thing standing in between me and the happy life I’ve always imagined having are those bad habits of mine, and if I were a better warrior, I could be truly happy. Becoming a warrior turned “quitter” was never something that occurred to me. And I think that even more shocking than “quitting” on the most perfect versions of ourselves is that in the moments where we truly see ourselves and surrender– those moments where we give ourselves a little grace– are the moments where we can feel the most peace. The days where we surrender the fight are the days when we receive the very thing we’ve been fighting for– happiness.
Releasing that internal locus of control when it comes to perfection is hard. While the deep seated belief that one can control anything and everything creates resilience and determination, it can also leave us fighting against ourselves far too often. And the emotional exhaustion that results from these internal battles we fight leaves little, if any, room to invest our energy into the things we’re actually passionate about. It’s almost illogical– it’s like those days where you tell yourself you should be getting things done– fixing this, that and the third– only to look at the clock and realize you haven’t actually accomplished anything because you spent the entire day nagging yourself, and fighting yourself.
Self-acceptance is hard, and complicated, but I think it’s only complicated because we’ve been taught that the only way to achieve anything is to fight for it. But fighting with ourselves is counterintuitive, and I think it’s helpful to reimagine the ways we accomplish our goals and improve ourselves, without fighting a battle to do so. I’ve been practicing unlearning the idea that happiness is perfection, and in that process I’ve been able to take on the role of a warrior who has surrendered, and retired from the fight. While it’s a struggle to find that balance, the days that I’m best able to surrender are the days I actually take the most steps towards the person I’ve always imagined myself as.
I’ll end by saying that none of this means we should let our bullshit slip all of the time, especially if it harms others. With that, it’s important that we aren’t taking up arms against ourselves. While some of us may think that this is the only way to get to where we want to go, it’s high time we surrender, and let our inner warrior rest for when the real battle appears. Rather than viewing happiness as something that’s hard fought, maybe we can practice viewing it as something that’s hard earned, the distinction being that we give ourselves grace at every step we take towards coming into ourselves, rather than fighting ourselves as every step. Surely that’s a more efficient way towards becoming, right?
Vanessa is a third-year graduate student studying Psychology at Rutgers University, with a passion for all thing’s wellness, research, creativity and empathy. In her spare time, Vanessa enjoys learning guitar, reading and writing fiction stories as forms of expression and vulnerability. Vanessa can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.