I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I believe we never stop learning. Education does not cease upon graduation, and I’ve definitely learnt more about life from interacting with and observing people and my surroundings than I did from simply attending classes. I suppose that could be partially attributed to my constantly wandering mind, but the most important lessons are usually not found in textbooks and notes.
10 years after graduating from secondary school, I’ve found that this still holds true, and since we’re approaching the halfway mark of this year, I think it fitting to do a recap of what I’ve learnt so far.
Expect nothing of others, and everything of yourself. Expectations almost inevitably lead to disappointment, especially when we have little control over the outcome of the situation. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give inconsiderate people a piece of our minds, or express dissatisfaction when our colleagues display a lack of professionalism, for instance. It simply means that minimizing expectations better equips us to solve problems when they arise, for we would spend less time and energy being upset, and focus on resolving the issue(s) at hand. It also means we would be generally happier people.
I was recently chatting with a friend over coffee, and the topic of expectations came up. Having previously worked full-time in a corporate environment for about four years, I recounted that it was common for people to feel unappreciated if they didn’t receive recognition for going above and beyond the call of duty. I said, “What does that achieve? I’m more interested in being appreciated via my salary being paid on time, and a raise or bonus whenever appropriate. Sure, I can take a compliment, and there’s no harm in a little positive reinforcement, but I don’t expect it. Praise won’t put food on my table, and I don’t need any special mention to assure me that I’m good at what I do. It’s nice, but not really necessary.”
On the other hand, we should expect the most from ourselves, and so do everything to the best of our ability. People can be expected to fail us, and it’s easy to feel as though we’ve been dealt the short end of the stick, but dwelling on it changes nothing. We can only do our best, and even if we don’t always succeed, no one can fault us for not trying.
Lowering one’s expectations should not be confused with having low / no standards, though. Maintaining certain standards is imperative, as it gives us something to work from and towards, but saddling ourselves with lofty expectations, however “realistic” we want to believe they are, will only set us up for disappointment. In short, always expect the worst – that way, you’ll either be prepared to handle the outcome, or find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Schedule regular reality checks. I’ve long prided myself on being as practical and realistic as possible, but even the most grounded among us sometimes need to be brought back down to earth. I was reminded of this not too long ago, when I tested the waters with a male human I found rather attractive, and my arguably subtle advances went unreciprocated. I got over it in under 24 hours, but – and this may make me seem somewhat egotistical – I was actually surprised. Rejection was something I had not felt in years, and it gave me a timely reality check.
See, I was quite the unattractive kid. In fact, my adult self once described my teenage self as “an ugly fucking troll” (this also explains why photographic evidence of my teenage years does not exist). Most of the friends I’ve known since that awkward period would say I’m exaggerating, but the point is that I couldn’t be considered good-looking back then. Still, that didn’t stop me from boldly approaching the lads I fancied and making known my intentions towards them. My 0% success rate did nothing to deter me, either (see above for my take on trying one’s best). Each rejection I faced was another layer added to my constantly thickening skin, and I grew accustomed to it. Perhaps receiving severely limited male attention as a result of being physically unattractive propelled me to be a hunter; I knew I would never be one of those girls to whom guys flocked in droves, and that was okay. I had wit, charm, brains and guts, and if I couldn’t find love with a normal human boy, I could have at least made a nice zombie boy very happy.
And then, things changed. An intensive fitness regime, a strict diet, self-imposed catwalk practice and posture training later, the roles were reversed. I stopped having to approach men. Instead, I was being approached. Granted, I wasn’t exactly a refrigerator in a magnet store of pheromones, but I was experiencing a marked improvement in my chances with the opposite sex, and for the first time in my life, I found myself having to do the rejecting. The hunter’s spirit never left me, though, and I still initiated my fair share of interactions and dates. The difference was that this time around, my success rate had increased exponentially.
I had forgotten what rejection felt like, and the most recent one – the first in nearly a decade – brought that part of me crashing back down to reality. Lesson learnt? You may know exactly what you want and how to get it, and you may have all the confidence in the world, but even the best laid plans can go awry, and that’s okay. Get up and move on, but always stay grounded in reality.
Life is a buffet – just don’t pile every damned thing on your plate. I often liken life to a buffet, and though that’s probably because I’m a shameless glutton, I do feel we should take some time to consider all our options and pick the best combination of choices in any given situation. I understand the appeal of variety, but the last thing you want to do is turn into a hoarder. You may not have 500 cats hidden all over your house, or bottles of your own belly button fluff lining every inch of your storage space, but you can still hoard aspirations, habits, hobbies, even relationships. And you certainly don’t need a degree in psychology to know how unhealthy that is.
I’ve known what I wanted to do with my life since I was 16 – obtain a diploma and possibly a degree in media and / or the arts, and make a career of my two favourite things: writing and performing. That’s working out relatively well so far, and I’m satisfied. But once upon a time, I also wanted to get married by 30, and enjoy my own home and the rest of the world with that special someone. After a long-term relationship that eventually proved to be what I refer to these days as “a shitstorm of emotional fuckery”, that dream took a back seat. I’ll be the first to admit that I am something of a control freak, and when I want something, I can easily go out of my way to make sure it happens. But I’ve gradually learnt that no amount of over-thinking or manipulation can change circumstances that happen to be beyond your control, and life is better when you choose not to cling to things you may not be able to achieve.
These days, my attitude towards most things is this: if it happens, great. If not, that’s okay. Because if you can’t get what you don’t have, the best thing to do is make the best of what you do have. The alternative is sulking and moping, and we all know that no one likes a Negative Nancy or a Sour Sally. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have aspirations and goals. I still have mine, but I no longer hold on to them so tightly that they affect my daily life, or those who care about me. Oftentimes, the way in which we envision our dreams coming true turns out to be vastly different from how it really happens. But life is too short to be hampered by worry over a future we cannot predict, and even if we may feel we’re not on the right track, we just have to forge ahead and remind ourselves that wherever we’re going, we’ll get there, and we will learn and grow along the way. Heck, some adults don’t even know what the hell they want to do with their lives till they’re well beyond their 30s, and guess what? That’s okay.
Have a sense of humour – it’s one of the best coping mechanisms you can have. Due to a rare and uncharacteristic lapse in intelligence, and a subsequent display of “what the hell were you thinking”-level stupidity, my life took a tragically comedic turn last week. As soon as I got home, I texted several friends to share my tale of darkly humorous woe. And since birds of a feather flock together, my dear buddies had nothing but kind words for me, among which were the following gems: “fucking useless” and “broken in the head”. My response? “Keep it coming, guys – I know I deserve it.”
Shit happens, and I know all too well what it’s like to beat yourself up over your own mistakes. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that even the sharpest, most quick-witted, resourceful and opportunistic among us can fall prey to the epic failure of half-fucked actions and missed opportunities…and that’s okay. How we respond makes all the difference, and I’ve found that having a (morbid) sense of humour helps.
People say we should learn from our mistakes, and while that is true, knowing how to laugh at ourselves when we fuck up is just as important. Things won’t always go our way, but if the stories of our failures can put a wry smile on someone’s face, or inspire hysterical laughter in another, at least some good would have come from it, and our experiences are somehow validated.
And yes, that’s okay.