I’ve completed my gossip cleanse and I must say, my mind feels like a once dirty carpet that’s just been steam-cleaned. On to the next quest on my journey to become a yoga teacher: practicing contentment. When I volunteered to take this on as my assignment for the month, the visual that popped into my head was me at the nail salon, flipping through the lasted issue of InStyle, while receiving a back rub. This was my image of contentment? You must have something better than that, I scolded myself.
But honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced content once in my life. So I would hardly know what to imagine. Well, maybe I felt content on my week-long jaunt to Paris, while eating oysters and sipping champagne in a famous LaBelle Epoch eatery or on my first date with my boyfriend, in that moment when our conversation became so deep that the rest of the universe receded. But maybe what I was feeling in those moments was joy. The two are different. Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness and contentment is a state of satisfaction. One is feeling and one is a state. When I’m getting a pedicure, I’ll be honest, I’m never in a state of satisfaction. I’m usually consumed with worry that the shade I’ve chosen looks too black on my toes or that my nail polish won’t dry fast enough for me to get to the next place I need to be on time.
My natural state, it seems, is whatever the opposite of contentment is. I am made of million molecules that strive. From the split ends of my curly hair that I used to blow-dry straight to the tips of my weird toes, I’m not content with anything about me. I’ve been like this since I can remember. When I was seven, I came home from school crying because I got a 98 percent on my spelling test instead of 100. When I started singing and acting, even if the audience was applauding when I took a bow, the only parts of my performances that I could remember were the sharp notes or the missed lines. And going on auditions? Every one was a bomb in my mind, even when I got the part.
As I got older, my lack of contentment with myself just got worse. I didn’t like my pimpled skin, the fat roll on my stomach, my lack of boyfriends I had, the part in the school play I didn’t get, the math class I got a B- in. By my teenage years, it seemed normal to me. I was allowed to beat myself up over my failures as long as I was doing it under the guise of striving for something more. And once I’d get to the something more — getting accepted early decision to my college of choice — there was always something else. But wait! I needed to be the best student in my acting class, so I’ll stay up all night practicing my monologue and if that doesn’t work, I’ll switch majors. The cycle never ends.
This pattern continued when I graduated and started my career. I would get really excited about each new undertaking only to feel like a failure when I realized I would never be the best actress, or director, or teacher, or whatever I was trying to do. Which in turn would cause me to feel ashamed of myself for not striving hard enough and eventually, I’d quit. I later realized this was because my definition of success would be impossible to achieve. Feeling successful means being able to celebrate your victories and having the self-assurance to shrug off your failures. I don’t really know how to do that. Every time I accomplish something, I’m looking for the next thing to accomplish. And every time I don’t, I’m burying my head in mole hole feeling like a loser. Yoga and therapy and being humbled by life have helped mitigate these feelings, but they still lurk. No wonder I’m never content — I’m so busy swinging wildly between perfectionism and fear of failure that I barely have time to take a breath — let alone experience a state of satisfaction.
I haven’t succeeded in my quest for contentment yet. But for once in my life, I’m not going to strive to. Because the more I think about it, the more I understand that contentment is not about striving; it’s about accepting things exactly as they are. And this is how they are for me: I am a crazy perfectionist. My first order of business will be accepting that. After that, I imagine there will be a series of small acceptances until, one day, I’ll find myself able to enjoy a pedicure in peace, ugly toes and all.