Insecure Is Showing Us How Not Having It Together Can Be Ok
Ever since 2016, I’ve been watching my life play out on TV via Issa Rae's HBO hit Insecure. I say that figuratively of course; I have yet to be embroiled in a love triangle or get high off molly at Coachella, but either way Insecure has touched a nerve with millennials of color who can relate to financial and social anxieties that play out every Sunday, but what is most relatable is Issa's character arc. We've watched Issa settle in her career and love life to witnessing her pull off her passion project; throwing a block party to showcase her community. Issa's story shows that there is honor in the journey of finding your purpose.
Season four has centered around Issa and her struggling relationship with her best friend Molly. In episode six, Issa is dealing with the aftermath of the blow out that she and Molly had at her block party. We follow Issa throughout the episode as she comes to terms with what occurred and tries to take care of herself by cleaning her apartment, doing acts of kindness for strangers, and attending a paint night where she makes new friends; but when the day turns left, Issa ends up at her mom's house for solace.
During their conversation, Issa shares a memory with her mother about how when she was younger, Issa overheard her mom sharing with a family member that Issa had her hands in "too many pots." This moment was so small but very significant to Issa's story and its a conversation that is not regularly had with young people. No one talks about smart kids who have a lot of varying interests who turn into directionless adults. It's hard to find your passion when it feels like your passion is everything.
Growing up I was applauded for being smart and capable. I had natural leadership skills and I had a knack for just about everything. "You could do anything you set your mind to," was the mantra I heard throughout my childhood and my young adult life; but what if I couldn't set my mind to just one thing?
In college, I received a liberal arts degree. While there are many benefits to having a liberal arts degree, there is no direct road map for what one does after. If you're pre-law you go on to law school, pre-med you go on to med school, education majors became teachers. Being a liberal arts major is like reading a diner menu, so many options yet so few desirable choices. And if you're a first-generation low-income student, your choice better pay. Not to mention those who pursue one career only to find that it's not what they want or people who are good at a lot of things but not passionate about anything. For many millennials, with little guidance, stuck in an anemic economy, experiencing pressure from social media and familial and societal expectations, many struggle with the narrative of having it all together.
Sound familiar? Although we don't have Issa's full back story, we do know that she worked at a problematic non-profit and she hated her job and we've had four seasons of Issa trying to figure out her true purpose. Compared to her friends who have established and respectable careers, Issa looked like she was flailing (read messy). But what if we view flailing as just a part of the process? What would it look like if we paid homage to the journey as much as we do the destination?
Issa may have been struggling but it took choosing herself by quitting her job and taking a risk by putting on the block party to point her in the direction of her purpose, becoming a cultural curator. Often times outside feedback becomes our internal voice. Issa was judging herself for not having it all figured out based on that conversation she overheard her mom having and observing her "successful" peers. Issa's mother was actually paying her a compliment. She admired how Issa took on so many things and took chances.
The facade of "success" is not only demonstrated through Issa but through supporting characters like Molly and Lawrence. Molly may have a stable high-powered career, but she's struggled with her love life by setting unrealistic expectations for her partners. She tried to check off the boxes of what her life "should" look like instead of just living it. Lawrence has been experiencing something similar. Last season, Lawrence lamented with his father about people having so much baggage in relationships. Lawrence told his father that no one falls in love and gets married anymore as easily as Lawrence's parents did. Lawrence's father squashed that notion of a "perfect relationship" letting Lawrence know that all people have baggage, you just have to learn how to carry it. This season when Lawrence met Tiffany and Derrick's new baby, Lawrence commented on how Tiffany and Derrick's life seemed to be unfolding as they had planned. Derrick said that the baby wasn't planned but in life, you have to make room for the unexpected. With Insecure we are experiencing the insecurities of adulthood, how those insecurities are manifested, and how they are debunked or resolved.
Toxic is an entirely overused word but I'll use it here. Having it all figured out is a toxic narrative that we need to eradicate. In response to my tweet with my episode observation, people asked, "what's the answer then?" I don't have all the answers, but I've been where Issa is. Actually I may be a bit behind Issa, but I'm learning not to judge myself for where I currently am in my journey. Don't judge your age, or your bank account, or compare yourself to others. Insecure is showing a "lost" generation how to be kind to yourself, take risks, and define success on your own terms.