Friday 28 December 2012

Pep Talk 101

You can’t escape where you came from, would that you could. Even if you have barely any contact left with the place, the connection is never truly severed. This was the first place that was ever real to you; it is the first place that formed you, the first influence in your world. And if, like me, you lived at the place from birth until you left to join the adult world, the sheer weight of time and repetition of circumstance melds into your developing brain, it creates synaptic connections between otherwise un-connected meaningless events which, taken out of context, have no sense or relevance.

Facebook is a similarly weird device of connection, of pulling you back to your origin. Heck, not even your origin, but every sideways group and every sphere of shared experience that you’ve ever been a part of. Your history is marked and documented. Even if you don’t speak to these people very often or ever at all, if you have a reminder, a blast from the blast, that only the people from that time could ever understand, it immediately re-ignites the connection, because what connected you then is still within you now even if it’s not a part of your current workaday life.

What never changes is that those people know you. You can change your habits and your hobbies, and your personality will inevitably adapt and arguably change along the way, but a part of you is still that you and always will be. All perspectives on the parts that make up the whole are valid. Each aspect is real to someone, and it is as meaningful and relevant as every other perspective. The problem is that your own perspective of you now is all that matters to you and it’s the version that feels most real because you are in that moment. Facebook therefore creates a weird mish mashing of personal perception. You feel on top of the world and at your most witty and awesome, and then somebody says something that kicks back you twenty years and knocks the wind out of your sails. It’s the same reason why family members can make you feel four years old again, because you knew them when you were four years old, and more specifically, they knew you, and a part of you then has coloured their perspective of you now. This is especially apparent when said family member is not used to the updated adult version of you, so you find yourself unexpectedly undermined when a gross or duuuuuur level stupid anecdote is thrown out with crass disregard to your newly found status. But why ever would you say such a thing, to me, me, who buys groceries online and feels that I can never have too much Tupperware and goes out of my way to find a weather report on daily basis? Can you not see that I have grown? I have opinions and first world problems and an inflated sense of self worth combined with a total lack of motivation… I’m like all the other adults!

But whatever you say you will never erode the person you were to them, even if you layer over that image with multitudinous different versions of yourself, they will just know those bits as well as that bit. It’s why we are drawn to the people we knew when we were young, the friends who were your friends before you were even you. It’s those references that only you know, in your current life, and yet with one second of connection an old friend can mention an event or a person and you remember that those memories are not soley yours. There is also an implied acceptance with old acquaintances, because of that shared history, they know the bits you would rather forget or tend to gloss over, when re-imagining the new and approved you for future audiences. Ultimately what we are looking for is acceptance and a sense of our place in the world, and often that can only be gained through seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who knew you then and still wants to know you now, despite your less than perfect track record.

All of this does not mean that we should not continue making improvements on ourselves which take us closer to the person we want to be, rather than the person we are by default. This is not about denying our nature, but what is in our nature, really? Without empathy or the affects of other people’s reactions to us, without the failures and the losses and the misfires, we would not be able to form properly and join the human race. We need to be socialised, curbed, encouraged and allowed to grow. Sometimes that means breaking the cycle of negative patterns of behaviour that we have developed, which eventually only make ourselves miserable. Sometimes that means discovering the talent or skill within our self and sharing it with the world. In order to do any of this we need to first accept ourselves, the good, the bad and the just plain mundane, only then, having made an honest assessment of the ‘you’ that is, can you draw a line under it all and resolve to move forwards. Recognising the acceptance of others is a good jumping off point, but eventually we need to be able to accept and like ourselves in order to be comfortable in our own skin without relying on external reassurance.

All of the relationships in our lives have had some impact on the person we have ended up being, and that person is still changing, analysing, learning, so the sphere of influence will only continue to grow. In recent months I have been quite down on myself, getting frustrated because I have not achieved certain things yet, kicking myself for mistakes I’ve made and opportunities I’ve missed. But, quite frankly, I just got fed up of doing this. Giving myself such a hard time, making myself feel bad, was undermining my ability to move forwards, filling my head with negative thought processes, and these, as we all know, are counter productive. I can’t be bothered to take every rejection or criticism to heart so completely anymore, not to let something which may have been influenced by a thousand and one nuanced factors or perceptions strike me to the core and make me doubt my abilities or who I am. I will take criticism, analyse it for merit and apply it as a learning point to my next move, but it won’t be devastating anymore, nothing like that ever will be again.

I realise that I’m speaking in the riddles, but it’s hard to define this sea change in respect of one element of my life, because it applies to all. Career, family, friends, hobbies and passions, all of these elements require an element of this self-assertion. Your judgements and opinions of me are just that, judgements and opinions. This does not mean that I won’t consider them and respect them, because without doing so, you just become a massive egoist, unable to look at yourself critically and isolate traits that need improvement. But I won’t take them to heart anymore, not like I did. Because, to the core, I’m me. I know me and I like me and I trust me, above anyone else, even if some people come a very close second.

We all look at the lives of others and compare them to our own, the successes and the failures, we judge ourselves by perceived opinions we overvalue, assuming even that the opinion being perceived is even close to the actual one. But we don’t know the full story of that person’s journey, the specific complexities that have taken them to that point, if we did, we would soon find many of their judgements to be less than valid, as empathy for that person’s situation and their individual perspective grows. We all need a lot more understanding and a lot less criticism. But, it’s the way of the world and it’s not going to change, it’s a continual integral part of the human condition. Comparison and competition are essential, when in balance, they make us more inclined to fight back and strive for excellence within our own lives, but when it becomes a metaphorical stick to endlessly beat yourself with it soon becomes a burden rather than a boon.

We cannot stop the world from being stressful, we can’t eliminate bullying or misunderstanding, we can only do what we can to make ourselves more balanced and capable of dealing with these stresses, which means changing our negative thought processes, and taking positivity, solace, comfort and encouragement where we can. Again I’m speaking in ‘we’ pronouns because I honestly feel that my observation is relevant, that we all need to go easier on ourselves, take ourselves less seriously whilst not letting external pressures damage us so personally. The next time I see you I hope to find myself, rather than justifying my place in the world or my progress, telling you about my hopes for the future and what I am doing to reach them. There is little point, at this juncture, for me to further berate myself for the progress not made, and a lot of point to me accepting the situation as a whole, acknowledging where I have made myself proud and where I could improve, and asking myself the question, what do I want to do?

What do I want to do?

What do you want to do?

It’s a simple question but one that, in simply asking it, opens up an entire world of possibilities. It’s possible. It’s hopeful. It’s positive. And you know that you are capable, if you put your mind to it, of course you are capable. You really are only limited by the boundaries you put up for yourself.

That’s the main difference between us and the people we grew up with on Facebook, the ones that seem to have the coolest jobs and the most fulfilling lives, do you think that if they had taken criticism and rejection to heart that they would be living their life as they want to now? Or did they let those opinions feed into their ambition, because at the heart of it they had something they wanted to do and they didn’t let anyone put blockers in their way. Of course, this all just supposition and you don’t know whether these people actually have the coolest and most fulfilling lives, that’s just a perception from an external perspective, and people will generally show themselves in the most flattering light, omitting the tribulations and personal flaws which they have to contend with, just like anybody else. But by the same token, just because someone else doesn’t believe you’re capable of something, doesn’t mean that you aren’t, you know better than them, ultimately, because you’re you.

Of course, this essay is just another ramble of opinion, just my perspective formatted up and presented to you for your consideration, so take from it what you will, if anything. I just always wonder, when I’m giving myself a hard time, or worrying about the future, and the past, whether other people are doing it to themselves needlessly. From my perspective, as another person, I can tell you the advice I would give myself. We find it much easier to forgive others and excuse them, than we do to forgive ourselves, give ourselves a break, and I can’t help but feel that if we gave ourselves the same consideration that we give other people, we would be much happier and be in a more confident position to deal with the challenges that life presents us with and achieve our goals.

I wrote the above about three months ago, but life got busy and I forgot to come back and finish it. The reason being that I got a new job, and thrown out of my comfort zone, in a good way I might add, but I did not have the space in my head to focus on writing. It’s coming back now. Whether or not the mission statement helped me to achieve this goal of mine is open for debate. I mention this only because I want you to understand that I did not write this because I was in a better headspace due to my success, I wrote it when I was in a far less positive place.

I found out another interesting bit of personal history that ties up my point somewhat, my Great Grandmother could not write. She had to put an ‘X’ on a legal document as her moniker. Less than a hundred years ago the limitations of our lives were ridiculous, and that really is a reminder of how far we’ve come in a relatively short space of time, and how much further we could come. Unlike my Grandmother, I have an education and a voice in the world, just as you do. Let’s stop putting obstacles in the way of our happiness and take advantage of the amazing opportunities that the world can now afford us. This includes Facebook and the ever more connected, informed society in which we exist. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks about you, decide what you think about you and run with it. If all else fails, turn off your Facebook feed for a bit. As with most things, the very thing that makes our lives better can also make them worse, just like self criticism and worry, it’s how you use it that counts. Let’s tip the balance, why not? Let some positivity in. What else would you rather be doing? Judging yourself? Honestly dudes, there just aren’t enough hours in our lives.

So never mind what people think you should do, and forget about whether what you could do compares to what other people have done,

I ask you again, what do YOU want to do?

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