I Definitely Overthought This Essay About Overthinking

in defense of overthinking man repeller

As a kid, I was always impatient for wisdom I hadn’t yet earned. Maybe it was due to having older siblings who provided me a roadmap, but I can’t remember a time I wasn’t hungry for life’s cheat codes. If I paid close attention, I reasoned, why should I have to wait to be mature? If I thought hard enough, prepared enough, avoided regret with pinpoint precision, couldn’t I learn everything before life taught me the hard way? To this day, I’ve never pursued anything more than I’ve pursued answers to those questions.

Later, I would come to identify this kind of rumination as “overthinking” — the mental gymnastics people like me perform when we’d be better off chilling out and letting life happen, or so chilled-out people say. While my mom, bless her, was always endeared to my overwrought internal monologue (and the first to indulge it), out in the real world, my neuroses were met with less patience. “It doesn’t have to be so complicated,” I heard over and over from peers, mentors and strangers. “You’re fine.” I was labeled an overthinker so often I adopted the moniker myself, frequently using it as an apology for being who I was, and eventually, especially around the time I turned 25, coming to see it as a kind of curse.

At 14, I imagined being 25 and no longer caring that I wasn’t popular, journaling furiously to hammer in this perspective. At 18, I chose to study business hoping to please my 25-year-old self, sure that I’d regret being pigeonholed by a more creative major. At 20, I tried desperately to love my body, like every “What I Wish I Knew in My Twenties” listicle insisted I do. But when I turned 25, those delicate frameworks unraveled — I was still socially insecure, I was miserable about my job prospects, and I couldn’t get a handle on my body image — leaving me with the harrowing idea that no amount of preparation could inoculate me from mistakes, regrets and inconvenient emotions. But then what had it all been for?

This was my quarter-life crisis, and overthinking was at its center. As I began to clock the way failure and chance played a role in others’ progress, I began to doubt that the right answer was the reward for careful thought — a notion I’d held close my whole life. If that wasn’t true, why think at all? My response wasn’t unlike the mid-life cliche: I got impulsive. I moved to a town I ended up hating 10 months later. I adopted a cat I couldn’t keep. I took on a car loan with a boyfriend I broke up with the following year. But I also got decisive — I became determined to start a long-form blog and did it; I decided to move to New York and pursued it; I got a contract offer and moved without job security. It was a time riddled with mistakes and leaps that changed my life.

When I look back on that period, I can see the way my impatience propelled me forward like gas in an engine. And while I used to believe I owed that long-awaited motion to quieting my “overthinking” mind, time has afforded me a different view. Because my best decisions out of that era (like the one that landed me at Man Repeller) weren’t random; they were the combustible result of action rising to meet thought. They were the culmination of years of thinking carefully and tracking the patterns. They were the necessary result of where all my years of thinking got me: stuck — and acutely aware of why. Ultimately, my mind wasn’t a hinderance, it just couldn’t do everything on its own. It needed a little courage mixed in.

Journaling at 14 may not have solved my friendship equation, but it later offered me insight into my long-held social complexes. Choosing a safe major at 18 was an expression of my prudence, a trait that later helped me flourish in a field I wasn’t particularly fond of. My years of grappling with my body image in my early twenties enabled me to deeply explore my relationship with it, and finally find peace in my later twenties.

Today I accept my mental process, circular thinking and all. Because exhaustively examining my choices often leads to a kind of confidence when I choose differently. And the older I get, the more I appreciate those who choose to peel back the layers often and willingly, even if it’s sometimes annoying. Even if it’s sometimes in service of nothing. Some of my favorite people and writers are classic overthinkers — although I no longer use the term. Despite all the internet comments I’ve learned to let roll off my back, being told I’m “overthinking it” still gets me. Maybe, I’ve often replied in my head, you’re just underthinking it. There’s nothing wrong with an insatiable desire to unpack the world; it’s especially potent when paired with a little gumption.

These days I’m less interested in skipping ahead, but my acceptance of life’s unknowability doesn’t stop me from seeking answers, because that’s who I am. A seeker without a finish line, and that’s okay. We all have a process, after all.

Illustration via Getty Images.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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