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You can’t be all the things.


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I want to be all the things.

If I am given a space to simply breathe and be completely honest then that’s the truth I choose to share: I want to be all the things.

I want to be a friend. I want to be a good friend. I want to be a best friend to every little human I encounter. I want to be a sister. A daughter. A girlfriend. A wife.

I want to be the person who gets called at two in the morning. I want to be the one who shows up at the door with coffee and a heart that is just ready and amped for whatever truth you want to let sit square in the middle of the kitchen table. I want to take people as they are. I want to hold people as they come.

I want to be the mysterious one— the girl in the corner of the coffee shop with the bright red hat. I want to be the rebel. I want to be the one who doesn’t care about the rips in her tights. I want to be a writer.  I want to be a poem. I want to be the one you can’t stop thinking about. I want to be the one you never let go of, the girl who managed to maneuver herself away like a magic trick. A great Houdini act that left the whole world asking, “Where’d she go? Did anyone get her name?

I want to be the one who feeds the homeless. I want to dress the orphans. I want to remember to pray when I say I will pray for you. I want to be the reliable one. The simple one. The one who needs no excess in her life— she gets it and she knows what is really important. I want to be the secret keeper. The girl who you always know is going to cook the meanest, baddest appetizer for that dinner party. I want to be the one who dances at weddings. I want to be the life of the party. Yes, I want to be the life of the party.

I want to be the one who remembers to look up. I want to be the organized one— the one who has ridiculous control over the content of my inbox. I want to be the one with systems and rules. I want to be the adventurer. The wild one. The cool girl. I want to be the one who never lets a single soul down.

I want to be all the things.

“I can’t be all the things,” I said into the phone yesterday. 

I stopped in the middle of the road as I said it, surrounded by all these trees that are begging— straight begging— to keep holding tight to the pretty yellow leaves that are ready to fall right off their fingertips and leave them forever. The girl on the other side of the phone was driving to me. She’d packed a bag and she was driving to Georgia for a few days. She was stopping in Atlanta for dinner to see me.

But here’s the thing: we are no small talkers. If you get us on the phone to talk about an estimated time of arrival, we will end up picking apart the shreds of our existence and holding them up to the light for each other to see.

“You can’t be all the things,” she answered. “We all want to be all the things and we just cannot be.”

“But I am seeing something even bigger than that,” I told her. There was something at the root of wanting to be all the things. Something I didn’t see until now: When you make promises to yourself that you can be everything to everyone, you are really just announcing to everything outside your orbit, “I don’t need you. I am everything I need to be, and I am everything to everyone, so I don’t need you.”

I don’t need you to show up. I don’t need you to come here. I don’t need you to answer my prayers. I don’t need you to tell me that you miss me.

And let’s me be honest: not needing people, and not knowing how to need people, is the saddest thing in the world. It’s sad and it’s empty and it will leave you hollow and begging for the “more” you don’t know how to swallow your pride and ask for.

Not needing people is fueled by a lie, not by a truth: the lie that if you really needed people then they wouldn’t come. They would not show up. They would not knock at your door. No one wants to be abandoned and so we all just try to be the ones who jump ship first and swim off in the distance to save the rest of the world. We tell ourselves that feels less lonely. We tell ourselves that feels better than being left. Unchosen. 

I can’t be all the things.

I wear that truth like a sweater these days— a chunky maroon sweater that comforts me and makes me claustrophobic, all at the same time.

That’s the hardest and grittiest truth I’ve been forced to swallow since I turned 26. It’s like 26 showed up with a hammer and nails and got all gangster in my face, saying, “Girl, hop off. You can’t be all the things. Just hop off that reality you created for yourself.”

That’s where I am in this present moment: figuring out what it looks like to not be all the things— to not be everything to everyone. To just be something to a few. To remember to call that few. And cheer that few on. And finally resolve the debate in my mind that has always told me that, to be valuable, you must sink your teeth into quantity.

Quantity will make you known. Quantity will make you well-liked. But quantity has nothing over quality. They were right to burn that into our brains in the 5th grade. Quantity will leave you going wide, and wide, and wide, but Quality is a beggar that needs your whole being. Quality is the one who takes you into its arms and strokes your hair as it says, “This won’t be the easy route. It’s not gonna be easy to go deeper with just a few. But aren’t you ready for the layers to come off you? Aren’t you ready for someone to know you for who you really are? If you keep skimming the surface— if you keep a constant dance with Quantity happening— you are never going to feel known. And darling, feeling known is the best feeling in the world.”

When you are trying to be all the things, you are layered.

You are bundled. You are like one the wooden Russian nesting dolls that keeps itself hiding beneath all the other layers.  And there are a few extra layers that are heavier than the others— wanting to be there for everyone. Wanting to save everyone. Wanting to stack the world upon your bony shoulders and turn away anyone who tries to tell you they are here to help.

“I don’t need the help,” I want to say, holding up my hand. And really, if you chipped away at all the pride inside of me, you’d get down to the truth: It’s not that I don’t need the help, I just don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t know how to say— even in the smallest of small voices— please help me. Because I am too proud. And I am too fixed on saving things. And I am too busy thinking that I must be God— I must be God— to ever ask for the help of someone or something that is evidently bigger than me.

That’s a real way to slap God and people in the face—wham, wham— at the very same time: when you find a way to say with your actions and your words, “What you are trying to give me is not enough. I already think I can do better than you.”

She scouts out all the random and weird and delightful coffee shops hidden in the limbs of Atlanta and she is one of my best friends here. She gets me. She gets my love for classic literature. She gets my ache for a good cup of joe. And she and I can just sit at a table for hours and talk about Life like it is the third person sitting beside us and we are doing our best to analyze its stony personality and unpredictable ways.

Hodge Podge. This time her recommendation was Hodge Podge. It’s a half-mile from my house though I never ventured in that direction. I think I should probably explore.

“They have paleo brownies,” she told me. That sealed the deal. I was on a paleo kick at the time.

We sat in the middle of that coffee shop, inside of a room that is giant and filled with tables that look like they belong in an art classroom. I shimmied the brownie out of the cellophane. We picked at it as we talked.

“What do you need from me?” she asked.

I wasn’t expecting the question. She asked it again. Rephrasing it this time.

“As a friend, what is it that you actually need of me?”

I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.

And I don’t know if she and I have figured out what we actually need from one another yet. I still don’t even know if we know how to ask. But it started slow and simple and fixed and I want to think I’ve gotten better at asking her for the things I need:

Someone to talk to when the world feels like it is going haywire and  you all you want to do is rant or cry or shake your fists in the air because it is November and Atlanta is having a field day with the 70 degree weather.

Someone to venture out of the city with and try to pitch a tent and camp in the wilderness.

Someone who has a great laugh that seems to fuel you.

Someone who is just as wide-eyed and just as unsure but they are on a quest to find beauty, just like you. They are searching for something— maybe just about to scratch the surface— on something they haven’t quite touched yet, just like you.

Maybe that’s what we all need on any given day: a person who just stands besides us and nods their head when we finally get the breath to say, “I don’t understand. I just don’t understand. And I try. And I lose. And I win. And I had it really, really good this one time and I keep trying to fumble my way back to something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s probably better than it was in that moment but I just don’t know how to see it right now.

And I am trying to pray. And I am trying to be an adult. And I am trying to pay bills. And I am trying to figure out the names I want to go by, the titles I want live inside of. I am trying to figure to figure out how to just be a good human being— and that is hard enough on any given day. 

This whole “I have you then I don’t have you,” “I need you but I don’t know how to keep you,” “I want you but you aren’t for me” thing is hard enough.

Please just stay. I guess I just need to not be left alone right now.”

so there’s a book coming out in March…

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45 thoughts on “You can’t be all the things.

  1. Julie Paulston says:

    This is EXACTLY where I am right now. Terrified of letting go of what I expect myself to be, what others have gotten used to me being. I feel so lost, yet I’m surrounded by a myriad of people that I believe love me.
    Thank you Hannah from the bottom of my soul.

  2. aislinnrae says:

    As young people, it’s hard to accept that we can’t be everything. We’ve been told our entire lives that we can be anything we want to be. They forgot to mention that we can be anything, but we can’t be everything. I want it all. I want the twinkle lights and the fireworks. I want the quiet nights underneath the stars, and the cozy Sunday morning cups of coffee. I want best friends, a boyfriend, a family, a support system. I want a career. I can have it all, but the 20s are such a strange place to be. I don’t know where I’ll be living in 6 months. I don’t know if I’ll be in love, out of love, heartbroken, happy, sad. I just don’t know. But I know I have to make decisions that will ultimately lead me back to the idea that I can’t be everything to everyone.

    Thank you, Hannah, once again, for telling me (in the most beautiful way possible) exactly what I needed to hear.

    My dream is to someday sit with you in a cozy coffee shop to talk about this crazy thing called life.

    • Not only have we been told we can be amything, we’ve also been given a ton of options, from education to entertainment. Our success now seems to rely on how well we can just pick a tree already in the midst of the largest forest humanity has ever had a luxury of picking from.

  3. Linda says:

    I’m 61 and still figuring it out – and your words fill me with a-ha!, hope, aspiration and joy. Thank you for your deep honesty.

  4. Yes! I have been learning this lesson over and over (and over) again lately – that needing people isn’t just necessary, it’s a good thing, and life would be so boring if I had all the puzzle pieces on my own. So as much as I dream of being that mystery woman or the life of the party, I’m not. I’m easy-to-read, sometimes-too-honest Elise, and that is a good thing. Thanks for full of wisdom and vulnerability.

  5. Being truly known certainly is the most beautiful thing in the world, but I still also find it one of the scariest. This is not only an incredible piece of writing, but touches on so many profound and inspiring truths, I’m in awe. Will need to re-read – can’t digest it all at first sitting. Thanks for what you’re doing for the world by writing as you do. It’s genuine service. Hugs of gratitude, Harula xxx

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  7. kristinpedemonti says:

    Relevant. Real. So many of us are Searching to be Quality. To be 3 or 4 things instead of 20. Searching for someone with whom to have more time, whether friend or lover. Too many people are too busy, with work, with family with… and so many of us become isolated. Tnx for the post. Really needed it today. HUG from my heart to yours. Kristin

  8. SO GOOD! Dang, girl. Thank you for speaking truth and sharing wisdom. I needed to hear this, to know I’m not alone in these hard realizations. You’re so right. At the end of the day, I don’t really know what I need other than to not be left alone. Even if it looks like sitting on the couch watching Netflix and not saying a word. Please, don’t leave me alone. Ah! So vulnerable. Thank you for taking us to that place.

  9. The way that you let me get such a clear, emotional glimpse is a marvel. I think that we find ourselves in the daily struggle. That we’re always becoming who we are. So this revelation will not only benefit you but those around you.

  10. rachellewardell says:

    Wow. This spoke to me. I made a PDF of it for you. Going to craft it onto canvas for my wall. How can I send it to you, in case you want to use it in future?

  11. i literally just cried reading this.
    those last few paragraphs were like the echo of my heart.
    this right here: “And I had it really, really good this one time and I keep trying to fumble my way back to something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s probably better than it was in that moment but I just don’t know how to see it right now.”
    has been resonating with me….man.
    you just wrapped my life up in this post.
    i’m so glad i was shown this by a friend.

  12. Reblogged this on Daughter of the Star Breather and commented:
    This is important in remembering that community exists around us, for us. I know that I’ve recently discovered how amazing my friends are and how willing they are to care for me and be there for me. I can’t be all the things but I can be exactly what I’m intended to be and I can be that with my whole self.

  13. I completely cried because this is something I needed to read. I am constantly trying to be something for everyone when really, I need to be something for my close friends. They are the ones who matter the most.

  14. I almost unfollowed your blog a few weeks ago, because it was becoming very Jesus Jesus Jesus and I couldn’t identify. I mean, a little is okay but I was starting to feel overwhelmed by it. But this post, girl. This post is perhaps the best post I’ve read by anyone all year, and I’m glad I hung in there with you to be able to witness it. It hit me right between the eyes… this is something I have struggled with immensely this year in the wake of my divorce. I now have all this free time to be the things for others that I couldn’t be when I was with my abusive husband. And that freedom quickly turned into dread: now they expect this of me, but I can’t. I can’t do everything. But I can do some things. And when I accepted that, I really felt freedom for the first time.

    Bravo, Hannah.

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  18. It’s already Monday from where I am and reading this was truly humbling. I came in thinking, “Some things need to change. Today, I’ll try being Super Girl.” But I’m not and soon enough (I’m pretty sure) after trying so hard everything will start to unravel. I needed this reminder. I can’t be all that, but I can try to be good at one thing today. 🙂

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