After many months, I finally convinced my sister to watch Fleabag. Naturally, this meant I had to rewatch it, to keep up with her commentary. As I watched the final scene of season two, which ends with the infamous lines “I love you” “it will pass”, I thought of an exchange in my own life that had similar energy.
Here is how I remember it: the year is 2018, and a 20-year-old Eliza sits in the office of her favourite lecturer. Eliza says “I just want to make you proud of me”. Lecturer says “you’ll grow out of it.” Ouch.
My diaries confirm that what she actually said was “I’ve had people I wanted to make proud too. It’s a great feeling when you grow out of it.”
Reader, I did not grow out of it. 4 years, two degrees, one pandemic later, and I still have a desire to make that woman proud of me. She was a pivotal figure in my life, her influence was unparalleled. Every victory in my life right now, I can trace back to her teachings. Tonight, I thought about the wisdom in her words, and realised—begrudgingly—that she was right.
It is a great feeling when you grow out of the hold people have on you. When you look up to someone, it’s easy to fit yourself into their shadow, to seek their approval for far longer than necessary. I have fought my people-pleasing tendencies hard over the past few years, and it’s changed the way I relate to approval.
Every time I try to write a blog, or tweet, or post on my Instagram story, a little voice in my head asks “who do you want to see this?” Oftentimes, the answer is no one in particular. I want attention, I want people to think I’m funny, I want people to connect with my writing. But that voice holds me back – hence why I don’t write many blogs these days.
Other times, I do want particular people to read my work. People I haven’t spoken to in years, people for whom I’m not even a blip on their radar. There is a vast disparity between my desired audience and the people who actually read my writing. This blog used to be a copout, it was my way of saying exactly how I felt, screaming it into the void, and hoping the right people would take the hint. I have grown up since then; my writing doesn’t disturb people’s peace now. It’s a declawed cat, soft and docile, unable to do much damage, stripped of its power.
It stopped being personal. It stopped being fun. I restricted my self-expression too much because each time I wrote from my heart, it backfired.
I’ve thought a lot about my ideal readers this year. I started this blog as a way to reach a wider audience for my novels, and that’s not a factor anymore. I’m no longer trying to sell something or build a platform, I just want a space where I can talk about the things that matter to me, a space that’s mine to curate. I wrote so much in my teens and my early 20s, for an audience that was largely comprised of my peers. That audience faded away, because we’re no longer students occupying the same world. My experiences are less relatable now that we’ve all grown up and gone our separate ways. No one has time to read a couple thousand words of my introspection, and I’m more than okay with that.
As I thought about my former lecturer, and how much I once wanted to make her proud of me, I realised that I’ve grown up since then. I thought about the line in Taylor Swift’s Nothing New “I know some day I’m gonna meet her it’s a fever dream […] she’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me”, and the brutality of growing up and watching younger women follow in your footsteps. I realised I don’t want to write for the people I look up to, I want to write for the younger version of myself. Painfully cliché, I know. Should it have taken me this long to come to that realisation? Definitely not, but I’m a slow learner.
I occupy a weird space now, where I’m a few years older or several years younger than all the people around me. Going from being a student to working in university admin often feels like switching from a starring role to working behind the scenes. My place in the world has shifted, but it’s the same world I came of age in. I watch people younger than me living out the life lessons I learned at their age. I think about the people I looked up to at 20, and see myself fighting similar battles to theirs. I have a handful of regrets in my life, and holding my teachers up on pedestals is one of them.
24 feels like a liminal space. It’s not as bad as 23, but I still feel stuck between worlds. I have new revelations every other day, and the people I want to share them with haven’t been in my life in years. I’m exhausted and a little jaded, but I have a stronger sense of self now, and so much more hope for the future. Not just hope, certainty. I don’t doubt my goals, I take practical steps towards them. I am measured, I am mature. I think before I act.
My lecturer was right. It’s a great feeling when you grow out of wanting to make people proud of you. It’s a bittersweet feeling, taking people down from the pedestal you built for them, seeing your heroes as human, seeing how the world was cruel to them and how fate is trying to pull the same crap on you.
Growing up is a grieving experience. Maybe I just say that because I came of age in a pandemic and never got to be a normal 22-year-old. Maybe I lost a little too much of my youth, and became middle-aged overnight. I look at each lesson I’ve learned about adulthood, and find them to be brutal and tragic. Growing up hurts, growing up shatters all your illusions. Adulthood zooms in on microscopic details. My world is no longer comprised of big ideas, but small victories.
Adulthood is exhausting and expensive and there are days where I wish I could opt out of it all, but it is liberating. You reach an age where you’ve finally freed yourself of the teenage feeling of cringe, where you can unapologetically like what you like instead of policing yourself by other people’s metrics. You rediscover the joys that you lost along the way.
I stopped needing authority figures to be proud of me, because I became the authority in my life.
I have become distanced from my writer self over the past couple of years. I’m finding my way back to her now, because I’m not seeking anyone’s approval. I have a guarded relationship with my writing these days. It no longer feels like breathing, the way it once did. There are so many stories I want to tell that need to be read by a specific audience. Stories for all the mini Elizas of the world. And there are stories like this, where I feel like I’m chatting to an old friend. Stories that require time and care, versus stories I can write in an hour when I have an evening to myself. I need to write them both.
The mistake I have made in the past is trying to write all these stories in one place, trying to write for everyone and inevitably writing for no one.
I write for two audiences now. I write for myself, here, chronicling the thoughts that refuse to stay locked within my mind. And I write for the person I used to be, and all the other young women who are living her same truths right now. I don’t know where I will write for that audience, all I know is that they are who I write for now.