If you’ve been online as long as me you’ll know Heather Havrilesky, who wrote for the much-missed Suck.com. Among other things, these days she writes the Ask Polly advice column for The Cut. It’s a frank, insightful and occasionally uncomfortable read.
This week’s edition has caught a lot of people’s attention: it’s powerful stuff. Havrilesky responds to a 35-year-old woman who’s lost her sense of purpose and fears her best days are already behind her. She says:
I used to think I was the one who had it all figured out. Adventurous life in the city! Traveling the world! Making memories! Now I feel incredibly hollow. And foolish. How can I make a future for myself that I can get excited about out of these wasted years?
Havrilesky’s response isn’t perfect (the bit about her own book promotion is jarring), but it includes plenty of sage advice.
It’s okay to be in debt and worried. It’s okay to feel lonely and lost. It’s okay to feel tired of trying. It’s okay to want more and wonder how to get it. You’re just a human, this is how we feel a lot. It’s not irregular or aberrant to feel despair. This is part of survival. Your shame is forming your despair into a merciless story about your worth. Don’t let it do that. Build something else from your shame instead.
…What if you reached out to other people, and friends, and family, and let your shame into the room with you? What if you simply experimented with being who you are, out in the open, even as that feels difficult and awkward and sad?
She asks the writer to imagine herself much older.
You are 95 years old, looking back at your 35-year-old self, and this is what you see: a young woman, so young, so disappointed, even though everything is about to get really good. She doesn’t see how much she’s accomplished, how much she’s learned, how many new joys await her. She doesn’t know how strong she is. She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.