Throughout our lives, we’re given contradictory pieces of advice on not only how to live a good life but how to live “the best life.”
We’re told that we can be anything we want to be, yet we’re also steered towards endeavors that are safe and practical, regardless of whether we’re good at them or not.
Despite how many people advocate discovering yourself and not beating yourself up too much over things you’ve failed to do in the past, if you’re being honest, you probably still believe that finding out who you are must be a linear process – that perfectly straight line we’ve been conditioned to follow in order to be seen as an upright, responsible, and productive citizen.
Trying to live up to expectations of the previous generation is taxing enough.
Add in the Millennial Dream – jetsetting to five countries a year, looking flawless on Instagram, having the wittiest Twitter feed, managing several creative side projects, meal-prepping Instagrammable organic food, and on top of that, working a full-time day job that somehow ties in your passions – and it’s no wonder why we’re chronically stressed out.
Nobody is perfect, yet we’re still wired to seek perfection and to do it all like the people who seem to be at the top of the Millennial pyramid – you know, the ones who manage to travel, crush it at work, take care of their health, and be so brilliant and multi-talented in every way imaginable. And when we’re presented with a never-ending list of things we need to do just to prove that we’re worthy of being seen and heard, we freeze up and never start.
We stagnate. We fall into a rabbit hole full of comparison traps and snares of envy.
We are full of fears and doubts that twist our perceptions of ourselves. Because of overstimulation from the digital world, we feel like if we don’t have it all right now like other people, we will never get our shit together.
It’s overwhelming, I know. I’ve been there too.
I had big dreams for myself. I wanted to prove that I could be ambitious and intelligent by studying engineering and applying for prestigious internships in the corporate tech world. I thought my life would unfold like a series of perfect linear equations as long as I showed up as the correct variable in the right formula at the right time.
Newsflash: That never happened.
To make up for my lack of success in engineering, I sought after new dreams. I wanted to be a lifestyle blogger, a bestselling novelist, a poet, and a singer-songwriter who could write brilliant and legendary songs like Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and Maggie Rogers.
But in all honesty, demanding myself to atone for my failures held me back. I experienced a huge creative drought in my early twenties. My blog was stagnating, my novel was stubbornly stuck in the black holes of my mind, and I was told that I couldn’t make it as a singer, despite how much my lyrics were praised for originality and how passionately I could sing hymns like “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”
I was lost, afraid of the future, depressed, and anxious. I had frequent panic attacks. I lashed out at those around me whenever some frivolous thing went wrong. I cried every week. Not only that, I was constantly letting everyone down and even though I was harsh with myself and medicating myself with self-help materials, it was never enough.
I was paralyzed. I was living deep in guilt. I wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations, not even my own. And I hated myself for it.
Even creativity was evading me, and I became a skeptic of dreamers. I thought I was never going to make it and I was envious of those that did. Forget about perfect, I couldn’t even be good enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that constant evaluation is important in order to separate the truly remarkable, talented, and hard-working people from the lazy wannabes because not everyone is entitled to a trophy without working for it, but at the same time, too much self-evaluation and harsh criticism can be crippling and keep you so frozen in fear that you never start anything outside of your comfort zone.
There must be a balance between setting impossibly high standards for yourself, and allowing yourself to take chances and be immersed in whatever you do out of the joy of your heart. If you’ve found that something is truly right for you, hard work and persistence will follow, no matter how messy your journey may seem at the beginning.
I had to dig really deep and scrutinize every grand dream I thought I had to fulfill to justify my existence.
I had to ask myself some tough questions and discern between the goals that were purely for the sake of preserving my ego and the goals that truly brought fulfillment and joy in my life.
It was essential to be brutally honest with myself and understand my limit was not infinity (as a math major, this pun was intended). I embraced minimalism in an existential sense and let go of all the things I couldn’t possibly do: be a hyper-competitive professional technologist, have an envy-inducing Instagram feed, get a record deal, write a 1,000-page novel in 100 days, and look flawless in every photo I took. I stopped caring about trying to be better than other people and focused more on doing what feels best for me. I didn’t strive to get any more trophies that I knew I didn’t deserve.
I started to write more and eventually got published on one of the biggest sites for Millennials. I began to write songs and poetic lyrics again. I allowed myself to just enjoy the simple things in life like watching the birds in the trees, the first sip of coffee in the morning, long naps, and late night writing sessions.
But I do have imperfect days. I oversleep, I’m not always punctual, I don’t always eat healthy, and feelings of sadness and worry are still deep-rooted in me. I don’t have all the answers or proof for every theorem I come up with for my life. Because no matter how much I try to plan the “perfect” future, the only certainty is that it won’t be linear. It won’t end up as a perfect bulleted list. Even so, I’ve come to accept that, slowly but surely.
Not everything has to be a brutal fight to prove your worth.
You’re not meant to fulfill every big dream or meet every expectation possible. You’re human, I’m human, and even those who seem to have it all–don’t actually have it all.
Trying to prove someone wrong will only set you back and make you so fixated on what you’re lacking that you won’t appreciate the imperfect yet beautiful and unique life in front of you.
Because the beauty of it all lies within the uncertainty and the blank space on the other side of the equation.