As soon as we are born, society judges how cute we are, how in proportion we are, how unique or fitting our name is.
By the time we are 5, we are judged on our colouring ability in local competitions which is fun, but there’s an underlying desire to win.
In our first years of school, we are expected to have a certain level of reading and speech ability which is essential for improvement. However, a kid being picked on for a little lisp or slower progress can result in dire consequences on their development and ultimately their self-actualization.
By age 12 school teachers and parents expect us to top the class with intellectual hobbies whilst our peers expect us to be the class-clown and sport-inclined. Simply, a walking contradiction at age 12.
In high school, the cliques have formed. If you’re intelligent, you’re a success in the eyes of your teachers but expect pressure to know exactly what your career path is. If you’re popular, then nothing else really matters in the eyes of your peers. The drinking, the smoking, being cool enough to ‘lose it’ to the captain of the football team even though he’s a dick and will never leave his original home-town. Having the newest phone, going to the most exclusive parties and not caring too much about anything to seem chill and popular. Does anyone even know what purpose high-school popularity has? Does anyone know what they want to be, or feel like they can achieve their goals when they grow up? I’ve met 50 year-olds who are still dreaming of what they want to be.
At university, expectations perform a 180 because being intelligent in the ‘new’ popular and the expectations are high. You have to be smart, healthy, have an income and an internship, keep hobbies, be social and somehow sleep. You’re supposed to find a way to clone yourself somehow.
You are expected to be an Instagram influencer or take ‘indie’ photos. You need to document every moment to have the most engaging Instagram with more followers than EVERYONE you know. Especially your best friends, because you’re competing with them too.
Graduation creeps in and you should have a job lined up already because you ARE running out of time. You should be thinking of revolutionary entrepreneurial ideas to create a niche start-up or be the next youngest billionaire. You should also have a successful relationship because success is nothing if you can’t tie your whole package up with a shiny red bow.
By 25, you should be settling down or at least thinking about it. Fertility doesn’t last forever and people might think there’s something wrong with you if you haven’t had a stable relationship yet. Wedding bells need to ring before 30 because what’s the use of trying after three decades? Children arrive soon after because your kids are tied in with your success story as a human and then as a parent.
Where does it end?
Success isn’t a linear line and success isn’t measured the same way for every individual. Success can diminish or disappear within the flick of a switch and who you are now, is not who you are tomorrow.
When I was 10, I had my first existential crisis. Let me be more specific, the existential crisis in which I wondered not the purpose of my life, but the purpose of life. It was like the lightbulb moment, but the lightbulb didn’t just turn on, it exploded. I couldn’t understand what the purpose of yesterday was or what the purpose of tomorrow was because what happens when it’s all over? What were our memories for?
I have this revelation quite often, in which my head just sits in grey misty clouds for about 15-30 seconds…conflicted…confused…anxious…and then back to Earth. What success is to me, is not the same as you. Managing to keep these thoughts at bay, managing to practice mindfulness, to feel one or two points above neutral to ensure I am in the moment but also pushing towards being more as a person. If that person is kinder, more intelligent, less judgmental, more open, less serious, more forgiving, richer, poorer; so be it. Success to me is being self-aware to feel like I am able to be exactly where I want to be when I want to be and who I want to be.
Not who you want me to be.