My whole life, I’ve always found myself in the incessant pursuit of everything.

I was taught to always strive for more, to aim high, to dig deep, and to turn my vision board into a checklist.

I would take on a million things at once—from jobs, to side projects, committees, volunteering and social events—filling up my calendar and my mind to give no space to the underlying thoughts that lead to this inherent conditioning.

This, of course, was always lauded by those around me—as my enthusiasm, perseverance, and general desire to succeed and push forward was always deemed aspirational. 

The need to say yes to everything is likely not new to many women and specifically children of immigrants—from padding your resume to your weekend schedule, to making sure you’re taking care of your parents every need and spending adequate time with your family, attending every birthday party or social event, every work happy hour or networking event, coffee chat and everything in between. 

This isn’t just something that’s celebrated. It's almost an expectation. 

People were always impressed with how many things I was managing at once; at how much I had achieved at such a young age, and how I was able to juggle the many hats I was constantly wearing.

I’d balance a regular job, a side job, a random gig here or there while also chronicling my whole life on social media.

It was working for me. It felt good to be recognized, to be validated for my efforts and the pretty picture I was painting.

But that wasn’t enough—I also thought I I had to be everything to everyone.

From thinking I had to take responsibility for the energy in the room, or casting aside my personal needs and desires to please or placate others, I became a master at doing the most for everyone but myself.

I’d show up and smile on days I was exhausted, I did things I didn’t want to in order to please others or bite my tongue to avoid conflict.

I’d share so much of my life and my personal experiences online, sometimes posting my thoughts and feelings online before I had even begun to process them myself. 

I’d share what I was experiencing to offload the actual endeavour of feeling my feelings. It was a manufactured vulnerability and a way to maintain an appearance of someone who had figured it out when I couldn’t have been more lost. 

After years of reflection and being forced to pause—both because of the pandemic and because of years of extreme burnout—I now recognize that beneath the desire to do and be everything was a need to prove that I was good enough.

The pursuit of everything was really just a nudging urgency to fill the nothingness.

Each time I accrued external success, awards, accolades, achievements, or even just recognition, I felt even more compelled to do more in order to justify that I was worthy of it. 

I never felt worthy of the kind words I often received, so I thought that taking on more would mean that maybe one day, I would live up to them.

This need kept the cycle going until the wheels fell off, and I was confronted with the reality that despite doing it all—when I thought about it on a deeper level—it didn’t really amount to much.

I realized that my need to say yes to everything and everyone was all about keeping up appearances and much less about my own personal satisfaction.

I was giving so much to others and taking on so much that I lost sight of what contributed to my own personal happiness. 

In the last year and a half, I’ve been thinking a lot about how for so much of my life, not feeling good enough has caused me to overcompensate in every possible way, often abandoning myself in the process. 

I carried so much of what didn’t belong to me, and I was missing so much of what makes my own world worth getting lost in. 

As I worked extremely hard at strengthening my boundaries and my relationship with myself, I got so much better at refusing to put up with things I didn’t have to and putting myself first and no longer feeling sorry about it. 

It actually isn’t my responsibility to please everyone or to be and do it all.

My arms grew tired of carrying the “everything,” so I simply decided to put it all down.

Repairing and rebuilding my boundaries brought with it a feeling of liberation—one that taught me I was worthy of a lot more than I ever gave myself credit for.

I still wish to work hard, but only for the things that serve me. There isn’t a sense of fear or lack of fulfillment in what I say yes to, and there isn’t a nagging sense of self doubt in what I say no to. 

When I really think about it, it’s actually doing less that makes me happy. (Probably because I do not dream of labour). 

These days, the things that make me happy are just defined a bit more narrowly. I’m consuming myself with the small stuff—which is actually the big stuff—the stuff that makes this life worth living and fulfills me on a deeper level.

My biggest “flex” lately is not having to do the most, not feeling the need to prove how much fun I’m having, how in love I am, or how sweet getting lost in the present moment is because I’m too busy doing all of those things. 

I’m no longer trying to convince anyone, primarily myself, of anything. I no longer have anything to prove.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “everything we seek can only be found in the present,” and “to abandon the present in order to look for things in the future is to throw away the substance and hold onto the shadow.” 

I’m learning to let myself enjoy my sweet everythings, without getting too focused on what’s next, where I’m lacking, or where I can get more. 

Lately I’m getting lost in what is beautiful about being alive, in designing a life where I don’t live to just work, where the expectations, opinions, perceptions of others are no longer factors dictating my every choice and action. 

In reclaiming my time and my energy I still am in pursuit of everything—just not in pursuit of more

These days, what I have, what I’m achieving, and who I am, is more than enough. 

In fact, it’s everything.

About the author

Rumneek Johal

Rumneek is a journalist, host and speaker. She is currently the BC Reporter at Press Progress where she focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism. Her previous work centers on asking tough questions within her community, starting conversation and chipping away at the status quo. Other focus areas for her work include the South Asian community, arts and culture, pop culture, and more. She is a proud Punjabi woman from Surrey, BC.

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