If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
If I land a backhand snap and no one sees it, am I still improving as a surfer?
If I post a reel I love on Insta and it only gets 10 likes, am I still happy I posted it?
If I share this blog post and no one reads it, am I still proud I wrote it?
On many days in the past my answer would be “No”. No, because someone else couldn’t confirm my worth. No, because how could I personally be proud of anything without someone else agreeing with me? Without a whole chorus of voices cheering me on?
I’m trying to have more days where my answer to all the above questions is a resounding “Yes!” Yet more often than not, in the back of my head I still hear that “No.” And that quiet (or loud) “No” has been making me think about just how much energy and weight I give to world out there. To people I may or may not know and to opinions I start to believe other people might have, regardless of the truth of it.
One of the reasons I left Instagram for 4 years (from 18-22) was because I’m so easily swayed by the numbers game; I quickly get wrapped up in the metrics, the views, the stats. One of the reasons I struggle so hard to enjoy my life is because I often live it for the sake of other people’s approval or praise. One of the most common phrases I say out in the water is “Did you see that?” because I keep hoping that someone will tell me I’m good enough.
But the funny thing is, even when I get it, it’s still not enough. Because it’s never really about the external—it’s always been about what’s inside me. And when I keep looking outward it stops me from looking inward.
I took a long time away from posting here because I wasn’t getting enough readers; I wasn’t “performing” well, so why keep going?
And then I pick up my pen or type something up, or paddle out alone and I remember that no matter what other people say, good or bad, it always comes back to me. To what I believe about myself.
It’s become even more apparent now that I’m actively trying to grow on social media for my business. I put out content that I love and I’m happy with, and it doesn’t perform as well as I hoped. My brain starts to spin, looking for reasons why and how to do better, what to fix and what to change. Maybe I’m just not likeable enough; maybe I’m just not interesting; maybe I should just give up.
I keep spoiling these experiences that I truly love with this layer of self-doubt and looking around outside myself for someone to make me feel better. For a number or a word or a smile to finally confirm that I am enough. But when I get that thing, it’s still not enough. When I get the compliment or the praise it’s only because of this that or the other thing… (sorry family and friends who love and support me—I know I am annoying.
And it’s because if, at your core, you still believe you are unworthy, you will always find a way to put yourself down. To stymie the positive and fixate on the negative.
I manage to find ways to take myself OUT of flow all the time. Comparing myself while surfing, doing yoga, writing, running my business… missing out on all the perfect beauty of the now because I’m so busy wondering who might have seen me. Because putting all your energy toward being seen is so much easier than putting in the time to truly see yourself. Yet when I am seen, I can’t take it in, can’t accept it. And it’s impossible to hold forever because it fades, always getting swallowed up by the noise inside.
This craving of mine can never be satisfied because it’s based on a false measure of self. Because at the end of a surf session, or after this post goes live, or after yet another reel I made tanks, the only person who can see and validate and love me through it all is me.
I would never go back to my old ways, but I have been seeing more and more just how simple and “easy” my eating disorder made my life. Everything came down to two things:
- Did I eat very little today?
- Did I eat “too much” today?
The former meant I was okay, the latter meant I was terrible, awful, weak. This measure of self-worth was brutal, but it was also simple and allowed me to stay focused on just this one thing. As I have come further and further in my recovery, the rules have simply expanded into every other part of my life.
Make more money and then you’re successful.
Surf better and you are special.
Write high-performing content and you are valuable.
Get praise and you are loved.
When I was most deeply in my eating disorder, I didn’t care about family, friends, surfing, hobbies, or joy—all I cared about was what I had eaten that day—because I believed all I wanted was to be invisible, to shrink so much that nothing could ever hurt me ever again.
But really, I think more than anything in the world, I am most hungry to be seen.
Yet I keep pursuing these flowing, changing ways of seeing.
Seasons change, metrics go up and down, waves come and go, just as money and work do. I’ve continued to rely on the external world because, although I have made so much progress, there’s still a stubborn, bruised, and hurting part of me that wants to keep believing I will never be good enough.
It is difficult to change the stories we have written about ourselves for years upon years. Writing new stories takes time, energy, and a willingness to let go of the old ones. And I am impatient, so I’d rather hope someone else will write the story for me. I want to feel better right this second, and cling to the measures that will never create a lasting narrative.
I truly believe that a tree does make a sound in the forest, even if no one is there to hear it. Because the tree hears it. A tree does not need anyone else to validate its existence as a tree.
I am here. I am there on that wave. I am there in each moment, regardless of whether anyone else was. So, each time I catch a wave or do the thing and wonder whether it was enough, I’ll remember that I am the only person who needs to decide that.
I will keep looking inward, instead of outward.
We’re surrounded by signs telling us to look out instead of in. Telling us to check ourselves against other people instead of what we know inside to be true. Encouraging us to listen to everyone else but ourselves.
The hardest work I can do now is to keep looking in, even when I desperately want to look out, slowly but surely re-writing the old and discovery the new.
This work is slow. It cannot be quantified or externalized or even But it is this work that is most worth doing.