My best friend and I are in a long-distance relationship, living thousands of miles and a very big ocean apart, and as such, we talk more often than what some people might call “normal” or “healthy." We reach for our phones at all hours of the day, full of joy or rage or anxiety, or just to spend a quick forty-five minutes analyzing the tone and punctuation of a professional email one of us has received. (Okay, but is someone mad if they end a sentence with a period, and was he being sarcastic with those two exclamation points, or nah?)
After more than a decade of lifting each other up after every misstep and heartbreak, we’ve pruned all of our gushy best friend affirmations down to one simple concept, and we now end most of our (many, many) texts and phone calls with the phrase, “You’re doing a good job.” I love you, and you’re doing a good job. I’m proud of you, because you’re doing a good job. She does this for me not just because she is the world’s most patient and lovely person (she is), or because she knows that I am a thirty-year-old professional adult woman who needs roughly the same amount of praise and encouragement as a baby learning to grip a spoon in its chubby little fist (I do), but because it is the thing we all need to hear the most.
Somehow, it seems that most of my gals — and a lot of my guys and non-binary pals — internalized, in some way or another, the idea that we are failing. Egged on by the people in our lives and families and workplaces who communicate to us (explicitly or otherwise) that we are fucking something up, the ads that sell us self-improvement like we’re broken, the culture that demands humility and self-deprecation and telling ourselves that our careers and accomplishments are all a big lucky hilarious mistake. If you don’t hold up the sky for everyone else in your life, you’re failing as a friend/daughter/wife/mom. If you have to call out sick or leave work early to take care of something vital in your personal life, you’re failing everyone else in your office. It’s so rare that we can look ourselves in the eye while — for example — crying in an airport bathroom, or parked outside a Target having a furious speakerphone argument with one of your parents, or going down a subway escalator after a bombed first date, and simply say, Good job.
Found yourself unexpectedly pregnant and trying to procure an abortion so that you can live out the rest of your life in the way that makes sense for you? You’re doing a good job.
Parenting a child who is in a constant and extreme state of rage or panic or both, despite your best efforts at mollification and a whole lot of counting to three? You’re doing such a good job, my friend.
Gained weight on your vacation because you forgot to think about whether or not you’re allowed to eat stuff or rest your body or enjoy your short precious life, so then you just did what you wanted? Really good job.
Showing up for your friends in ways you can’t really afford, financially or emotionally, because you know they need it? You’re full of love and also you’re doing a good job.
Said the wrong thing and hurt someone and then APOLOGIZED FOR IT LIKE A GODDAMN ADULT? Hey, guess what.
Made a mistake in public and then somehow fought through the shame and defensiveness to actually learn something from it? You’re doing an amazing job, sweetie.
Called someone out on their shitty joke or petty gossiping, and now you’re being alienated and mocked for being too sensitive or not cool and you feel lonely and crazy and like you maybe made too big a deal out of it? You didn’t! You did a good job! And you’re still doing a good job and also fuck them.
Confused by your poor life choices and trying to understand them better through therapy or journaling or whatever? Even though it feels pointless or horrible? Yeah, you’re doing a good job.
But you don’t need me, or your boss, or your impossibly hard-to-impress yoga instructor to tell you this. (I will tell you, though, any time you want.) You just need to feel it for yourself.
After all, you’ve kept yourself alive through everything that’s happened, you’ve rebounded from tragedy and betrayal and self-sabotage to keep putting one foot so gracefully in front of the other, and P.S., you look cute as hell today.
top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Nogran SRO
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Hannah Matthews is an organizer, activist, and writer based in Portland, Maine. Her work has appeared in Time, Inc., SELF, and BUST Magazines, and online at McSweeney's Internet Tendency and Ravishly.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org