You’re great, no, seriously, you are, but I’ve spent too much of my life putting other people’s opinions, ideas and feelings before my own.
Hmm, do I sound like a martyr? The thing is I don’t think I’m alone in this. We all are do it, don’t we? We all, at some point or other in our lives, look to someone else for answers. You start with your parents, of course, because to begin with, they do know more than you, even if it’s just the basics, like, why it’s a good idea not to put your hand onto an oven hob or cross a road without looking. As children, we were the centres of our own universes. What we did, what we thought, what we felt, was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of existence as far as we were concerned. I know I certainly felt that way. The first feelings of injustice I can remember were born out of my younger sister arriving on the scene. Until then, I had behaved like some sort of feudal lord, allowing family members to witness me eat or play with my toys, and whatever I did was fucking awesome, AWESOME. How could it not be? I was the first person ever to be doing that shit, as far as I was concerned. Then suddenly this tiny, cute, ball of attention grabbing-ness that looked like me, only an evil me of course, burst in and I was no longer the special one. How dare she? Worse than that, I was told by all and sundry that I was *responsible* for this little person somehow. Life would never be the same again. And it really wasn’t, but for all the right reasons.
My sister is one of the reasons how and why I grew as a person. I learnt to have empathy through having a sister. Our relationship will never be 100% balanced because it never is with siblings, one of you will always feel slighted for being the older one who had to grow up faster and suffer the cost of being the first person to have to break through every barrier your parents set in place. The younger one will always feel that they are trailing in the wake of the other no matter what they do, and they will also feel the coddling and overprotectiveness of not just their parents but their older sibling as well. And that’s only based on two party siblinghood, the politics of bigger families get exponentially more complicated (I’m not even going to go into the issues arising from being a single child here, I think we can basically say, if you were born and have parents, you’ll have issues) So from a young age, not only did my parents teach me to care about other people, they gave me a real life example of why it is important to care, in the form of a sister.
Empathy is something we develop through many different means, we learn not to hurt others because it makes them sad, and we learn that what we feel can be felt by any other person if the same thing is done to them. But what do you do when your empathy gland works overtime, and all you end up doing is worrying about the impact of every action you take on those around you? Well, I don’t know, because that’s where I’ve been for the past few years. The problem is that it’s not just empathy at work here, it’s self-doubt and paranoia, it’s almost a form of narcissism in its own right, overestimating the importance of my actions and their impact on the lives of others. I know that it’s daft, and I know that I just need to let go of a lot of this unnecessary worry, filter out only the worry that’s relevant, and do something about the situation to change that worry into action…. I know this, on an intellectual level, I really do, but my emotions are having a really difficult time coming to terms with that reality. It’s super frigging difficult to let go of the worry.
Somebody said to me recently that all of our decisions and choices in life, no matter how big or small, professional or personal, are driven by our emotions. My first reaction to this was, don’t be daft, of course that’s not the case, you make choices at work based on the facts in front of you, and you decide what to buy based on your priorities, whether those priorities be price or quality or whatever. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that the person who told me this had a point, we *do* make choices based on our emotional state, and to justify those choices, to ourselves and to the rest of the world, we apply logic over the top and make sure that we can rationalise it. That makes complete sense, when you think about it. Forcing yourself to do something that you really, deep in your bones, don’t want to do, is next to impossible, because you will always find a way of avoiding it. This is different to things that you don’t particularly want to do but know that you have to do, those things get put back but they usually get done eventually. How often in life is there ever one definite answer to a problem? (maths not withstanding!) Particularly when it comes to personal issues, there are always pros and cons with every choice that you make, but it’s your gut that will make the decision for you in the end, however the dice may fall.
What doesn't help me to think straight, or get to the bottom of how *I* feel about a situation, is the incessant chatter of other people’s voices and opinions, flying around my head all of the time. The problem is that a lot of the reactions you anticipate from people are not solely based on your understanding of them as a person, but intrinsically linked to your own feelings of inferiority or wishful thinking. The voices of other people, in your head, do not actually belong to them, they are being filtered through your own mental bullshit creating device, and what powers that device is not logic, it’s emotion. It’s another example of us thinking that the world somehow revolves around us, in a way, assuming that other people are always thinking about you and the things you didn’t do or shouldn’t have said. But having said this, I’ve noticed that a LOT of people around me suffer from the same problem. It’s a side effect of self-awareness to a point, if you always consider the impact of your actions on other people, you will always worry whether or not you’ve done the right thing by them, no matter what the situation. But it’s a good thing to think of other people, it’s just not a good thing to only think of other people, because down that path lies endless self-reproach, an inability to make good decisions for yourself, and a constant feeling of inadequacy in every situation.
Things sort of came to a head for me the other day, whilst I was doing some shopping on the way home from work, as is my wont. I sort of hovered around the self-service till, despite having paid and collected my bags. I didn’t really know why I felt something was missing, until the machine spouted out ‘thank you for shopping at insert major food corporation here’. That’s how you know you’re feeling underappreciated, when you find yourself waiting for a machine at the supermarket to thank you. And that machine is only thanking me because it’s programmed to, but a part of my head was clearly feeling so worn down that I was determined to take that thanks. Sigh. This is when I realised the first of many things that I need to do when re-evaluating me, which was, to take time to appreciate the good things I do. And this is something we all should do more of, appreciate yourself where possible, because if you wait for someone else to recognise when you’ve done good, you’ll be waiting a long time.
I feel as though I have come full circle with a lot of things recently. I’ve been giving other things, people, even ideas, too much power over me. This is tied into my own self-worth, or lack thereof, the nagging suspicion that I’m weak and dumb and not capable, which undermines my ability to trust in my own strength. No matter what demons I have fought before, that all becomes forgotten in the rush of worry about the situation in front of me at the time. Yes, I know all the self-help phrases about loving yourself before you can love other people, but I love other people, why is it my responsibility to love myself too, is that not for someone else to do? This is where unrealistic expectations come crashing back to reality with a heavy thump. What do *I* want out of life, what do *I* want? I don’t think I’ve ever really asked myself that question. I’m a very reactive person. I didn’t expect to make it this long through life, I genuinely didn’t, and that’s my damage as much as anything else is. So what do I want for the future? I think the answer to that question is as trite as anyone else’s, I just want to be happy, doing whatever it is I end up doing. I want to make other people happy too, because making other people happy is worthwhile. But that ambition is far too vague to be put into motion. It isn’t even an ambition it’s just a ball of wishful thinking. So I’m going to undertake a bit of much needed self-evaluation and try to identify some truths that I can hang my hat on, and hopefully move forward with a better balanced head.
The reason I’m sharing this is with you, is that, I just don’t think I’m alone in this. I think we all have times when we feel unfocused and unbalanced and talking to you helps me to think, it really does. So let me share with you a few realisations that I’ve had recently, that are going to be a big part of my mental tidy…
You can’t please everybody all of the time. Sooner or later, you have to make a choice, live with it, and let it go.
Nobody thinks about you as much as you worry they might. This is sort of a sad fact, because in many cases people should think about you more often than they do, but everybody really is too caught up with their own fears, flaws and night terrors to give much of a crap about yours. If you need help, you need to *tell* people that you need help, not just wait in a corner hoping to be rescued.
Everyone does and doesn’t know better than you at the same time. It’s a bit of a paradox, you see. People can only process your feelings and the events in your life through their own experience. This is what empathy is all about, applying your emotions to those of somebody else and trying to understand where they are coming from. The mistake people make is assuming that the right path for them will also be the right path for you, but this is not necessarily the case. That being said, you really should take the opinions of people who have been through similar experiences under advisement, because even though they cannot really know how much a person or situation means to you, they can see it with the emotional distance that you will never be able to. It’s the whole ‘other people’s problems are so much easier to fix’ idea. Again, not necessarily true, somebody could do everything “right” and still get screwed over, or they could take your advice and walk away from a situation, only to regret it for the rest of their lives. Emotions simultaneously inform and confuse us, they tell us what we want or how we feel without reason or logic and we have to apply the reason and logic over the top where possible and see what that leaves us with.
Everybody looks good in hats and I believe this to be universal truth. Seriously, if you feel that you don’t look good in a hat, that’s just because you haven’t found the right hat for you. It’s all about the way you wear something, and what you invest into it, that matters. I’ve spent too many years of my life feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, and I’m just bored of it already. I’m not saying that you should never try to change an aspect of yourself if you really want to, but in order to do that you need to stop worrying and start *doing* and if you’re already doing all you can to change it, don’t waste any more of your time worrying about it. What is that extra worry for? Fuck all, and it’s time that can better spent doing anything. I mean it, ANYTHING you can possibly think to do with your time will be more beneficial for you than worrying, except for the old caveat about not hurting yourself or others. So, find your hat, and own it, because you rule, okay?
Accept that you are going to change throughout your life and this is okay. It would be considerably more worrying if you did not change. But also accept that any changes within you, from your weight to your feet to your outlook and your priorities, will change gradually and you will only notice it’s happened in retrospect. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will you be!
Life is a long time. My friend Sheree told me that. She passed away painfully early, which is a horrific irony of course, but she was still right. Life is the longest thing you will ever experience, it is the sum total of everything you are and everything you will ever see, so matter how long or not is it, it’s still a long time. Assuming that it’s not going to be a long time is part of the reason why I’ve reached nearly thirty and couldn’t tell you the first thing about who I want to be when I grow up, it’s why I’ve spent so much time reacting and very little time planning.
Accept that your parents are fallible. This will fall on a massive spectrum of difference for each individual, from- your parent is a monster who you will never speak to again to- Daddy bought you a MGF when what you really wanted was a Lamborghini. But the important thing to remember is this, you have nothing to prove to them. You don’t need their approval in all of your life choices, you just need your own, and if you’ve been brought up well enough to feel capable of making those choices, then they’ve done their bit. Again, not all have, but that’s their issue, and not yours. Similarly don’t go about blaming your parents for every negative character trait you have, it’s time to own that shit now. Yes, they may have contributed to it in a HUGE way, and realising that will help you to manage it, but don’t assume the role of the victim and let it hold you back. You’re better than that.
On the topic of victimhood, terrible things can and probably will happen to your throughout your life. These things can and will make you question who you are and what you’re about. My advice to myself on this score is as follows, never ignore anything, never repress anything. Think through your damage, talk it through with people, allow yourself to flow through the emotions that it will bring up and eventually you will find yourself moving on from it. Although it’s a tricky balance, don’t allow yourself to dwell on issues either, don’t give your power away to anyone. The things that happen to us do not dictate who we are, they inform who we are and if you are faced with someone who has caused you great pain or damage, don’t back down from the fight. Don’t make their bad choices your responsibility, take the fight to them. Doing this will not only restore some kind of balance in the universe, it will also bring you some peace eventually. Knowing that you’ve done all you can to stand up for yourself will contribute to your strength and the resources you will have at your disposal as an individual. The only person’s actions that you are responsible for are your own, remember that.
Give out compliments whenever you think someone deserves one and always try to be nice before being combative, there is enough hate in this world without adding your own to it. It’s nice to be nice, and if someone does not deserve you being nice to them, you’ll realise it soon enough. Assume awesomeness until proved otherwise. It is also worth noting that if you treat people with niceness it will often bring out the better side of their nature, no matter what their default position is.
Go out of your way to do things you enjoy and that make you laugh. Those moments are the ones that get your through the rest of the bullshit that is life.
Never underestimate yourself but remember that nothing happens just by wishing it, you have to put the effort in with the want otherwise nothing will get done. I am so excessively lazy that I need to remind myself of this regularly, but you’ll usually be surprised by the returns from an even a small amount of effort invested into something. This is encouraging and worth remembering.
Don’t lower your expectations of a person or situation, but always make sure that you are living up to your own. What I mean by that is, for example, don’t go to a party expecting it to be all awesome without investing your awesome into the mix. It is AMAZING how much you can bring to a situation and how much more fun you can have through investing your energy and watching that reflected in the people around you. But do expect to feel a bit drained the day after, for every up there’s a down, but you already know that, don’t you?
Accept that you can’t control who you’ll end up loving and who you’ll end up hating, these things are driven by our emotions and sometimes, ahem, other areas, but you can control what you do with that information. For example, you may love a friend to pieces but if they keep letting you down or hurting you, the hard choice of what to do with that information is yours. Just don’t be annoyed with yourself for still caring about them. You really can’t control who you like but you can control who you spend your time with. Just accept that sometimes the best decision for you can break your heart, but you’re not a bottomless well, you shouldn’t invest in people if they don’t give the love back. We all deserve to love and be loved in return.
Wow, cluck a duck that’s a long list of stuff to consider! I’m sure many of you will disagree with aspects of it, but please remember that it is only my perspective, cooked up from my own experience, so whilst I hope a few might strike a chord with you, please forgive me if you feel I’m barking way up the wrong tree on others! But that’s the thing isn’t it? This is my self-evaluation, this is my pep talk, this is me trying to find myself in amongst the host of other priorities and people in my life, so it was always going to be a bit subjective!
But thank you, as ever, for listening. I hope you do take away from this some of the more positive stuff, because you really are a dude, and you really do deserve to work out what makes you happy, and more importantly, what makes you, you.
This one is for my sister, for being the reason I want to make a better shot at this life business, to show her that the only limitations on who she can be, are those that she will create. And to thank her for loving me without condition and through that teaching me that it is only through loving people that we can show them just how special they really are.