Columns

Al-Salem ’17: Only my winnings

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, February 26, 2016

After my last article on feeling lost and aimless, a lot of people reached out to me about feeling the same way. Some of these people took me by surprise because in my eyes, through their Facebook feed or ongoings on campus, I thought they were brilliant leaders who had it all together. But the sincerity they expressed when they admitted to having no idea what they were doing reminded me that we are all putting up a front. It reminded me of New Found Land’s song “Only My Winnings,” where they sing, “All my mistakes and all my troubles, only my winnings would reach through my mouth.”

Every time I mess up, or I come back from a particularly terrible meeting or interaction, I listen to this song. It’s part of my blues playlist, which is specifically dedicated to feeling mopey and whiny and all around pitiful. I cry it out, brush off the experience and go to my next meeting. Sometimes the labyrinth-like and repetitive lifestyle of academic and extracurricular commitments leaves me feeling restless, but most of the time I would like to think I can carry myself through a semester without having a breakdown in front of someone.

The only way I’m ever really genuinely exposed is through my writing, and I always forget that readers now know something about me I otherwise would not have told them. I recently was in an interview for an internship when the employer mentioned he read my articles. I froze. Here I was putting up this real cliche front of having it all together when he had just read that I, in fact, did not have it together at all.

I think for most people it’s the opposite. Our Instagrams, our Snapchat stories, our Facebook profile pictures: They are all a story we are trying to sell to whomever we think is listening. I could look at one person’s Facebook post about getting an amazing summer internship and check that same person’s snap of them at a party and think to myself, “Clearly, this person has it all.” That’s what we strive for — we would never want to be vulnerable and weak, especially at an Ivy League institution.

So you would think that I would now know to keep my articles a little less expose, but if I did that, my editor would kill me because I would have nothing to give her. My vulnerabilities fuel my creative expression.

Which leads me to this: You do not have to have your shit together, and it is totally acceptable to show that side of yourself every now and then. This is something I am still learning to do, but it is something I wish I could have mastered ages ago. When you want to cry, do not run to the bathroom and hope no one notices how blotchy you look when you come out. When your day is just absolutely terrible, find someone with whom you can talk. Do not blame yourself for feeling whichever way you feel. Do not keep fighting to only show your winnings.

Most importantly, allow yourself to ask for help. Allow yourself to walk out the front door with a little bit of honesty on your face, even if it feels uncomfortable. It’s true; it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that life is hard sometimes, but do it anyways, for yourself. Because there have been so many times when I could not muster up any strength to go to a meeting or event and made up 4,000 lies instead of just saying, “Today was really bad, and I want to sleep it off.”

I’m proud of those people who do, though. I am proud of those who are honest, winnings and mistakes alike, from day one. I think there’s something beautifully un-human about being both accepting and forgiving of our own flaws. We are always trying to defend or hide our humanity, when all we really should be doing is accepting it.

This is a lot of big talk for someone who would absolutely hate it if you ever saw me cry, but this is genuinely something I aspire to overcome. I want to be able to be vocal about the bad as I am able to do through my writing. I want people to know me as someone who would completely respect their honesty about failures and hardship because one thing that I know would help me through so much of the murk is knowing someone could just say, “I’m sorry you feel this way, but please don’t feel ashamed of it.” So if you’re waiting for that someone: I’m sorry you feel this, but please don’t feel ashamed of it. You are only human.

Sara Al-Salem ’17 can be reached at sara_al-salem@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@briowndailyherald.com.