Getting out of a pickle

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The Wise Pickle – by FearfulAdventurer.com
How many pickles can one person eat?

A lot. That is the answer.

Everyone has their own unique ways of dealing with the free-falling sensation of losing control.

My sister quilts.

My mother cooks.

I eat pickles.

***

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve taken some time off from being a Normal Person to recover from burnout; to wear a robe all day without apologising, to eat dill pickles from the jar. I won’t go into all the detailed specifics of why this had to happen—not here, not now—but I will tell you that I simply pushed for too hard for too long, and my mind decided to force my body into supine position for a while.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an over-achiever. One of the first books I bought was a bulky nonfiction hardcover, ordered through the mail for $80 when I was eleven years old. At that age, $80 would’ve been about a year’s worth of allowance money plus a metric ton of American pennies salvaged from the couch folds, in amongst stale McDonald’s fries, dead skin, and dried dog vomit.

Of course, I couldn’t do anything with the American pennies we carried back to Australia with us from our trips to see family, so I traded them for the gold dollars in the tooth fairy jar by my sister’s bed, which she left unattended while she slept (like a fool). I cleaned up during her molar years.

Don’t worry—it was a perfectly fair sisterly exchange, since she kicked me hard in the guts whenever she wanted to let off some steam.

So with all my saved money, which was about $10,000 in kid-currency, I bought a book on how to write and speak better. Kind of creepy behaviour for an eleven year old, don’t ya think? I mean, why did a prepubescent kid hand over all her savings for a weighty tome on writing and speaking better?

Looking back, I believe the word ‘better’ is what drew me in. That magical, fabulous, alluring promise: Better. I want to have me some of that.

Be better, Torre.

I’ve pandered to a perceived defecit for my entire adult life, travelling from country to country, job to job, book to book, cream to cream. You should see my squandered supply of hair and beauty products. You should see my cupboard full of art supplies and craft projects. You should see my tower of unread books (including a weighty tome on how to write a speak better).

Of course, there are also great prizes to show for my wild goose chase in pursuit of betterment. I’ve had an artwork exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria, I’ve aced my studies, won awards. I’ve earned a degree, studied piano, worked in a range of professional jobs, moved country several times, sailed an ocean, hiked Nepal, studied painting, started a business, travelled, written a book, signed with a literary agent, published…

I’m just your standard over-achiever, really. The awards and accolades that come with these achievements create the impression that I’m on the right path, especially on paper. But am I?

Keeping within the well established pattern of things, my next move needs to better my best. But after achieving unexpected success with my last accomplishment, I’ve fallen into lethargy over the self-imposed pressure to compete with myself. What happens if I can’t better my best? Just the thought of beginning again from the bottom of the very, very tall mountain I’ve created for myself is exhausting.

So here we are at burnout and pickles:

Torre and her pickles – FearfulAdventurer.com

Illustration by Sarah Steenland

As I’ve munched on one vinegary pickle after the next, I’ve stopped for the first time in my adult life in order to just be. Instead of spending all my mental energy on doing, doing, doing, I’ve been asking myself some important questions, like: What is ‘better,’ exactly? Better than who? Why am I chasing it? When will I arrive? And what, exactly, is in these pickles?

Pickle – FearfulAdventurer.com

Illustration by Sarah Steenland

I’ve spent most of my life working non-stop towards one lofty goal or another, hoping that I will one day look in the mirror and see a person who is enough. In pursuit of this magical, fabulous version of future self, I’ve been so busy with my goals that I’ve hardly stopped to celebrate the successes, to smell the roses, or to eat the pickles, if you will. Until now…

While hunkered down inside of this compulsory period of inactivity, something unexpected is emerging from the stillness. While once there was only the booming voice of a dictator filling my headspace—Get up! Work harder! Be better!—,there is now a gentler voice that can be heard in the stillness:

Slow down. Sleep in. Stretch! Take your time. Observe the little things. There is nothing and no-one that you need to be better for. You have already arrived. There is nowhere else to get to. This is it. This is enough. You are enough.

I have stopped to sit still, and there is suddenly space to think clearly, to play, to create from the heart, to truly relax, to be present, to read fun books, to make weird art, to be anxiety-free, to identify what is it that I really want. To find wisdom inside of pickles.

***

Illustrations are by Sarah Steenland who, to my great amusement, sends me doodles of scenes from my book and my blog on Twitter. I urge you to follow her on Twitter

Leave a Comment

  • Kelly Exeter August 13, 2013 at 11:42 am edit

    Summit syndrome is what it is called. The only way I have found to overcome it is to work towards a big goal on a completely different path. Otherwise there will be this pervasive sense of dissatisfaction when your next writing ‘achievement’ doesn’t quite stack up against your last. I’m just all sunshine and lollipops aren’t I?!

    Reply
  • Vanessa Martin Randin August 13, 2013 at 11:43 am edit

    Hi Torre,

    And you’re not even Indian… Thankfully being anxiety-free is a learned response. You get better at it as the years go by apparently.

    That little voice in your head will always be there, but it gets easier to shout her down in the long run.

    Good luck with it all!

    Reply
  • Ashley August 13, 2013 at 11:48 am edit

    I stumbled upon this, great read!
    I can absolutely 100% relate to the feeling of having to be the best, and the anxiety, lack of sleep, and 0 fun that can bring (most of the time). Striving shows our insecurity in who we are, in having to prove ourselves to the world (when really, the world isn’t watching). It’s great you are taking the time to just be, I think this is where happiness awaits to be found :)
    All the best in just being and finding yourself!

    Reply
  • Janice Stringer August 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm edit

    Torres,
    I’d ask – after all those achievements, if you’re still not satisfied what is it you really want?

    I know what I want which is ‘to travel, write and relax’ but have a family and need to earn a living and within my head, at the present moment can’t correlate to two. Does that stem to a belief that I’m not good enough to earn a living doing what I want. Who knows? So, see. I know what I want but don’t know if I trust enough to allow it to happen. :-) Fuck being a human being sometimes :-)

    Reply
  • Kathleen August 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm edit

    So glad you are taking a much-deserved break and finding wisdom wherever it speaks to you (even if it is a pickle jar). I struggled for a time with constantly being on the go and searching too hard for what would/should come next, the next mountain to scale, the next project to complete, the next milestone to devour.

    Then, suddenly, once I let go and relaxed (somewhat – I do have a kid) inspiration struck, but not in crazy/overdrive mode. And it feels good. Hope you find your rainbow after the storm…with your very own pot of pickles at the end.

    Reply
  • Abbie August 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm edit

    Hi Torre
    What a beautiful and unflinchingly honest blogpost. All I can say, on behalf of your fans in Chichester, is that you are most definitely enough. I know you have to know it from inside, but if a little outpouring of fandom would help, please consider yourself thoroughly doused. :-)
    Be gentle on yourself – you are already perfect at being Torre, and that is already enough.
    xxxxxxxxxxx from Abbie

    Reply
  • Jen August 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm edit

    I wonder if any overachieving kids ever manage to really get over their need to improve and be judged worthy. I know I still haven’t figured it out! I can’t bring myself to step off the “get better” treadmill quite yet, despite my exhaustion, because I know I can do more and be more. The thing is – and it’s hard to recognize – there are things other than a career to get better at. Like naps. When you hit that wall, you should practice naps. It’s much easier to hear the quiet supportive voices when you’re curled up under a blanket!

    Reply
  • Gigi August 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm edit

    Insightful and wonderful as usual. I’ve felt very similarly about my first year of full-time travel. Suddenly, as I slowed down, I finally realized that it’s enough. I don’t have to do anything else. If I want to take a 5 hour nap instead of going to the Eiffel Tower and writing a brilliant blog post and coming up with a new venture, that’s good too.

    Reply
  • Patricia Sands August 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm edit

    I am so glad the pickles are helping you enjoy stopping and sitting still. Everyone deserves time to do this. Your universe will unfold as it should. Thinking of you and sending hugs!

    Reply
  • Jan Keeler August 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm edit

    Slow down as long as you need to but don’t quit writing, please! While munching on a pickle sometime, checkout the artwork on http://www.millienoe.com – think you’ll like it.

    Reply
  • Amanda @ Adventure Year August 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm edit

    I can’t tell you how helpful it was to read this blog today. I’m constantly feeling like I need to push to be better, and it’s exhausting! My “pickles” are just quiet fits where I sit and simmer. They’re tough to let go of and no fun at ALL. I do, however, appreciate your eleven-year-old-self’s ambition. That’s very money savvy of her. ;)

    Reply
  • Vincent August 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm edit

    I totally get how you feel because I’m the same way. Although I’ve never suffered from burnout before, I rarely slow down to enjoy each success as they happen. It’s usually jumping from one to the next without any real celebration. I find that because of my lack of excitement I’m downplaying my own results. Doing well just becomes something I’m expecting myself to do.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Reply
  • Tatiana August 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm edit

    I guess it’s no surprise that many accomplished people are either Overacheivers or Type A. Working, pushing, wanting to be and do your best is pretty impressive.

    Unfortunately – depending on how you look at it – I’m more of a Type C (for Cat). haha. I don’t actually come from an Overachieving family. I never saw people push themselves into success (or push themselves in general). Much like a cat, I prefer to lounge and sleep. But the necessities of life oft require that I make some kind of wage in this life since I wasn’t born with a silverspoon either.

    *SIGH*

    In other news, I used to eat pickles growing up. Now I don’t. Now I eat gushers all the time! nom.

    Reply
  • Rhonda August 13, 2013 at 4:29 pm edit

    I’m glad you took time for your pickles! I got your postcard in the mail yesterday, and was astonished you took the time to personally write. I must admit it made my day, but also made me wonder just how hard you’ve been working! I saw a quote recently that the end of your blog reminded me of:

    No more “supposed tos”
    You’re not supposed to work harder, look better, sleep less, sell more, run faster, talk slower, be happier, stay longer, leave earlier, cook, clean, negotiate, settle, start, stop, move, try, win, shake, rattle and roll.
    Other people made that all up.
    You’re wonderful just the way you are – love, the Universe.

    Back to your pickles!

    Reply
  • Kelly @Try New Things August 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm edit

    Beautiful time in your life….tough to see it though except in the rear view mirror. For an over achiever, down time is wasted time when you could have been achieving something else. But when you lean into it, it feels so right.

    Reply
  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures August 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm edit

    For me it’s popcorn haha! Big hugs!!!

    Reply
  • Fi@InspirationtoDream August 14, 2013 at 1:01 am edit

    There must be something in the air – and you know what, I probably wouldn’t be telling you anything new when I say sometimes you just have to stop and love yourself as you are, because that’s enough.

    Pickles – what a bizarre security blanket / comfort food, it’s probably even good for you as opposed to ice cream or chocolate.

    Hang in there :-)

    Cheers, Fi

    Reply
  • Hannah August 14, 2013 at 1:43 am edit

    I love that you are learning to take time for yourself to just be still, eat, and create art that makes you happy. I also love that you are sharing your journey with such poignant honesty, the highs and the lows, and not just pretending to be untouchable – that success somehow means your life is perfect. Enjoy this time of stillness and pickles. You deserve it.

    Reply
  • Shirley Hollick August 14, 2013 at 2:29 am edit

    Love your site, and good for you for giving yourself a break. Guilt is a wasted emotion anyway. I’ve put a link to your site on my site, and have shared your book link everywhere I can think of!

    Reply
  • Leon A. Falde August 14, 2013 at 2:42 am edit

    Being a “B” type personality, I tend to take it slow and easy too much of the time. My wife, on the other hand, is a “AA” type (opposites attract). She “hit the wall” several years back when she became disabled due to physical problems. She is getting better and I continue to do my best to help her through it. She and I have learned a lot through this time. One of those lessons is that there is a lot of wisdom in a jar of pickles. May God bless you through this time.

    Reply
  • Victoria August 14, 2013 at 6:49 am edit

    I’m not quite as much of an over-achiever as you but I can definitely relate to the feeling of needing to always better oneself. It’s something I’m working on too and Bali is proving a good place for it. The problem is, I’m not prone to believing I’m not relaxing “well enough”. Oh dear…

    Reply
  • Alana - Paper Planes August 14, 2013 at 7:17 am edit

    If I’m being completely honest, I’ve spent the past two years on my travel-while-I-can-career-break journey always thinking about what else – what more – I should be doing. And I know it’s ridiculous, and I know I would tell anyone else to stop being silly and just enjoy their time and space, but I can’t fully….for some reason.

    Thank you for sharing an honest and accurate account of what it’s like to be work toward, or at, something (or not) but also struggling with it.

    Reply
  • laura August 14, 2013 at 10:09 am edit

    Beautiful Torre!

    Reply
  • Nancy August 15, 2013 at 2:54 am edit

    Torre I can totally relate. I’m recovering from my own version of burnout as I had to execute my father’s estate, sell my parents’ house, as well as pack up everything I have in order to move to Sydney from New Jersey USA. I’ve been in Sydney for 2 weeks and am only now feeling a little better (though I am currently dealing with the Aussie allergies!). These days I’ve mostly been enjoying going for walks around the city and beach. I’m sleeping better now which helps. Sometimes you just need to give your body a break before it breaks you. Stay comfortable and relax and we look forward to hearing and reading more from you!

    Reply
  • Ali August 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm edit

    I have that sort of outlook about myself too, that I have to be better, although I deal with it differently. I usually end up giving up on things too quickly because I feel like I’m not good enough. Gotta work on changing that about myself!

    You have me craving pickles now!

    Reply
  • cindy August 16, 2013 at 2:07 am edit

    Nothing like a big dose of parenthood to cure that problem. 18 years of not about you just about nips that in the bud and then some. I mean you’re already eating pickles so… ;)

    Reply
  • Millie Noe August 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm edit

    Hi Torre,
    You are awesome, no matter how books you write or how many pickles you eat.

    Reply
  • Kim August 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm edit

    OMG there’s a name for it?! (Summit Syndrome? That. Is. Amazing). Anyway, I can only imagine how overwhelmed you feel and that free-for-all feeling I know well. You start something and then it takes on a life of it’s own and you can’t control it anymore. I’m glad you’re sleeping in and cocooning.

    Reply
  • Denise August 18, 2013 at 1:23 am edit

    Once again, a beautiful and honest post.

    Glad you’re taking a break and well done for your achievements so far.

    Reply
  • Christie August 18, 2013 at 3:51 am edit

    Ah, the joys of being a Type A personality. I can definitely relate to what you’re saying and am at a similar point in life. Love your work.

    Reply
  • Kelly August 18, 2013 at 7:44 am edit

    Learning to let go and relax is actually harder than it sounds, especially if you are driven to succeed every single day. I know what it is like to be burned out physically, mentally, emotionally…in any which way! It is a nasty beast that can stifle every inch of your being, if not addressed. The good thing is Torre, you no longer have to compete. You have made it, and that success is glorious. Now, you are free to really enjoy your craft. Have a great rest, and make that weird art because that is what life is made of! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences – it has been such a huge motivation for me since I found your site :)

    Reply
  • TammyOnTheMove August 19, 2013 at 8:18 am edit

    This is a common problem with our generation I think. People want to be better than others in everything, have a bigger house than their friends, a faster car, better holidays and of course get promoted every couple years. My parents never understand this kind of behaviour. I think life used to be much simpler and less stressful. I pushed myself to the limit too, but realized about two years ago, at the grand old age of 30, that I can’t go on like this for much longer. That’s why I have decided to take a career break. That actually turned into a new career in international development and I see myself developing the same stupid habits again. So I have decided to take another break from the beginning of next year. Maybe I should also eat more pickles.

    Reply
  • Mary August 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm edit

    I cannot tell you how weird it was to see this post. About two hours ago I typed to a friend:

    “Can I find satisfaction in constantly looking for more? or should I look for satisfaction in being content with what I have? and can I do both simultaneously? Because my gut reaction is that I don’t want to just be content with what I have. But I’d also like to be MORE content with what I have…like..a calmer version of seeking out new stuff, not a panicked “omg what am I doing with my wasted life?!” feeling.”

    So, thanks for your post. Solidarity! :)

    Reply
  • Amy Lynne Hayes August 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm edit

    I can completely relate to the relentless force with which you push yourself to always do more, go farther, take less breaks, you’ll only do better if you don’t stop… but I am learning that taking time to recharge is just as important as not allowing yourself to feel “lazy” (the horror!). I am still working my way up the slope, but am trying to enjoy the ride instead of let the mountain of work ahead intimidate me!

    Reply
  • Gary from Livefreedietravelling August 21, 2013 at 8:39 am edit

    Another inspiring post…thank you. I am a LOT older and have had most of the same feelings despite never achieving to the same extent as you!! The time to relax and JUST BE is the key here and most of the comments above reflect the same. Travel can be a whirlwind and the pressure to produce something from each excursion can be intense but it need not be…just be back in Nepal …just stop and listen to the sounds around… and if it the pickle talking then there must be a lesson to be learned!! Ta again :) Gary

    Reply
  • Lou August 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm edit

    Pickles help me in any situation. Hope things are looking up for you soon.

    Reply
  • Ann Mee August 26, 2013 at 7:56 am edit

    Hi Torre
    I think perhaps you have experienced nervous exhaustion. This happens to lots of people including myself, where you keep going and going, until your body says no more and that’s when the lethargy sets in. I can see that over the years you have achieved many things, but wondering if your latest achievement, your book was your greatest challenge and one that has maybe made you feel a bit nervous and anxious. You said it was unexpected and so perhaps you doubted your own abilities. Maybe after relaxing and the realization of what has happened has sunk in you will stat to pick up. The hardest challenges are the most fulfilling. Take your time on your next project. Explore, give yourself some space and breath. Set your pace that feels comfortable from now on and enjoy life. Ann xx

    Reply
  • Joanne Joseph September 6, 2013 at 4:15 am edit

    Torre,
    This is one of the most delightful “coming of age” moments I have read in some time. By Jove, I think you’ve got it. How grand that you have recognized that you are enough! Keep on celebrating your awakening and enjoying those pickles…

    Reply
  • Jess September 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm edit

    Some very wise words here – plus I’m now likely to become obsessed with the word pickle! Love it =)

    Reply
  • Carolyn September 14, 2013 at 11:47 pm edit

    Hey there…I’ve been following your blog sporadically for a few years…stumbled upon it when I published my first book…how fortuitous I thought. No matter how much time has passed, I always seem to relate to your posts…I often think “this girl needs to get out of my head!” It’s quite inspirational. Just recently I’ve been talking to someone on a similar path and I thought to myself that when is it ever really enough? I mean after all is said and done and we have contributed our bit to society and fulfilled our mission in life…did we sacrifice a portion of our happiness somewhere along the line? Your post made me realize that I really need to step back and reflect on what is really important. In spite of wanting to create these masterpieces and influence lives, I need to really slow down and to enjoy every last drop…every waking moment of this spectacular life. Balance is key. We’ll see how it goes! Thanks for the inspiration…Carolyn – http://inspirationescape.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • Arianwen September 27, 2013 at 9:14 am edit

    Good thing I don’t like pickles or the same fate might have befallen me! I loved this story – especially you as a kid saving up for that book. I was a bit geeky like that too! ;)

    Reply
  • Kirsti September 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm edit

    As I sit here in my dressing gown on school holidays, I have nearly had to tie myself down to make myself STOP. I am so used to going here, trying this and that, pushing myself to achieve.
    I too am just stopping, and contemplating why I need to push myself and try so hard to do and be.
    I have noticed that at least three times a day I am stopping myself from wanting to do and go everywhere!!!!!!
    Is it our genetic make up and just ” in us?” or a habit and the way we have become?.

    Reply
  • Naomi October 22, 2013 at 11:46 am edit

    Yep, totally get where you’ve been and so glad you are coming out the other end – who knew pickles could be so therapeutic?? You’ll always be an over achiever – that’s OK! – just we have to learn to give ourselves a break and some space. I think we get better at it as we get older, get over the punching ourselves in the face (metaphorically) and just go for the pickles instead. Namaste!

    Reply
  • Nathan December 30, 2013 at 2:44 pm edit

    This article is so on-point and I totally am still in the “get up” and “get better” mode, but would love to feel the anxiety feel environment that you do. Thanks for the inspiration.

    - Nathan

    Reply
  • Lauren @ Roamingtheworld January 18, 2014 at 2:00 am edit

    It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who puts way too much pressure on myself and am always dealing with good enough and being better. Why did so much self-pressure come from? At some point its not very healthy. Hope you’re doing a lot better and enjoying the ride!

    Reply
  • Darcy Latta January 20, 2014 at 3:31 pm edit

    Congratulations—I think you’ve discovered what most people never do! Self-competition is the worst because it never ends. I’ve always believed we do our best work when we’re in that calm and relaxed state of mind, so enjoy the pickles!

    Reply
  • Angus Pryor January 23, 2014 at 9:51 am edit

    Hi Torre

    I like pickles! Actually real ones and metaphoric ones. While they’re not always fun at the time, I take the view that we typically do our best learning while in a pickle.

    Thanks for sharing so honestly.

    Regards

    Angus

    Reply
  • Joel Stephenson @ Borderline Collective February 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm edit

    I struggle an awful lot with my obsessive drive when it comes to anything I want to achieve, take my own website. I’ve had hardly a peep of sleep all week, staying up all night thinking about how to design it, make it appealing, promote it, etc. You’re so right about having to just sit back and take a look at things from a distance. As soon as I did that, it all became much more fun!

    Reply