Sh*t, I’m 29 today. At 7.42am to be precise. I mean, I actually don’t feel so bad about it right now. My feeling on this number seems to fluctuate. There are times when my mind gets thinking about all the things I thought I’d have achieved and the milestones hit by this stage in my life. And then I try to push these thoughts out of my mind – or, better yet, try to be still and tell myself to stop it.
It was only 2 years ago that I turned 27, and I wrote this post. On the one hand, there are some gems in there. On the other, it gives me a headache just looking at it. Years of consuming knowledge all spilled out onto a page. Constantly trying to self-diagnose, to find ‘better’ information, to seek answers to the big questions and somehow come up with this grand-theory-on-life.
How to be happy. What career to do.
The irony is, this constant information-consumption leads to over-thinking and anxiety. A state of paralysis and in-action. I’ve worried so much about what to do with my life work-wise, that I have found myself not working – which itself causes low mood. My identity has become so wrapped up in “work”, that my life used to be unbalanced and key parts of my life neglected. Friendships, family, exercise, sleep.
Even at the gym this evening, I found myself pondering the 5 or 6 projects I’m currently interested in, work-wise. I’m constantly worried about making the right decision, about where to focus, about which ones to choose and which ones not to choose. About what I’m supposed to do.
Fuck it’s exhausting.
It’s really hard for me to let go, and just commit to – and focus on – a couple of those projects. I get this ridiculous FOMO and worry about making the right choice. What the f*ck is the right choice?! Surely there isn’t one. I know this logically, but it’s not easy to untangle myself from this destructive mindset.
Because I spend so much time thinking and worrying, I stop myself from just going with it and enjoying the moment. Living in the present. I have recently gotten back on the Headspace app and I usually do a little meditation whilst sat in the gym jacuzzi after my workout. I incorporate stretching and yoga into my workouts to relax and ease tension in my body – and thus in my mind.
Anything to keep me as still and relaxed and as focused on the present as possible.
I’ve spent so much time reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts, trying to reconcile my life and my work with those free-living freelancers whose stories I have endlessly devoured. I love to learn new things and have always been curious – but all this info-consumption only makes me more anxious.
Not too long ago, I even put myself on a non-fiction diet to stop putting irrelevant information in my head. I wish I could just make a choice and stick with it. And not need reassurance from the stuff I read and the people I see online. Really, it comes down to self-belief and self-confidence. There’s a lightbulb moment right there.
It looks like I’m about to start a job working for a good friend of mine in an exciting business, and I’m feeling good about this for a lot of reasons. But then I ask myself what projects I should be working on on the side – which might potentially become ‘the thing; further down the line. Again, it comes back to those stupid expectations.
I am just trying to be still, to feel rather than think, and to do rather than ruminate. I’m pretty sure that once I start this new job of mine, I’ll largely be kept busy and engaged. So I reckon I’ll have time for just 1 or 2 side-projects, maximum.
And whilst I’m still teetering over which ones to focus on, I am trying to lean into feeling rather than thinking. Both my therapist, and a good friend of mine who is training to be a coach (none other than ‘Girl J’ – remember her?), have asked me to imagine myself how I feel and experience doing the thing I’m pondering over, rather than thinking and ruminating about it.
And that’s what I intend to do from here on in. Less thinking, more feeling. Less ruminating, more doing. Less anxiety about the future, more being in the present.
Happy 29th to me. Perhaps I’m becoming more of an adult after all.
I missed all 3 of my posts last week (2xblog and 1xpoem), as I had a bit of a blip – you can read about it on this Twitter thread if you’re interested. Good ol’ mental health. It feels more relevant than ever to share such experiences – especially as it’s #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2018.
Anyhow, onto today’s post…
I have ridiculously high expectations of myself. I didn’t actually realise that I did, as my thought patterns have become so ingrained over time that they don’t seem like mere thoughts anymore. It feels like I’ve absorbed them. That they are me.
I don’t know exactly where this comes from. As a kid, I used to apply myself diligently to my school work, pushing myself to get the high grades and – better yet – the best in the class. I even remember this being the case at primary school, when even in Years 1 and 2 I remember aiming to “beat” the other cleverest kid in the other form (his names was Jason, and we actually have kept in contact; he did ‘Kumon maths’ from a young age, so that was always a particularly tricky subject in which to beat him!). I remember getting home from school, having some milk and biscuits (strong bones and teeth, mum would ensure we had it twice a day – with our cereal and then a glass after school), watching one of the kids’ programmes on BBC1 or ITV (we didn’t have so much choice then!) and then getting started on my homework around 5pm, or 5.30pm at the latest. Favourite before- and after-school programmes included Tom & Jerry Kids, The Smurfs, The Snorks, The Lampies and Jackie Chan Adventures. Oh, and Aquila, that was amazing. Anyway, it was then homework till 7pm or so, when it was time for dinner-time and Coronation Street. And then I’d chill for the rest of the evenings usually – or, sometimes, especially when secondary (high) school started, finishing off homework after dinner too.
Gosh I remember the homework. All the subjects. Taking so much pride in writing as neatly as I could in my fountain pen… sh*t got real annoying when I made a mistake at the second attempt with my fountain-pen eraser (remember those?!). I was a bit of a neat-freak when it came to homework.
It was all about those good grades. And the competition with classmates. And the kudos – both spoken and unspoken – from my parents and teachers. Mum was (is!) very on top of things after each day asking how our day had gone and if we’d got our homework or test scores back and how we had done and so forth (I should explain at this point that “we” refers to my brother and I).
With my upbringing (good schools) and capabilities, I was always expected to do well at school. And then go on to do something “impressive” at university, and as a career following that. Those were the expectations I felt and put on my own shoulders. In fairness to my parents, unlike other Asian parents, never was I told to do this or that. They just wanted me to be happy, and work hard and honestly (in my Sikh faith, making an honest living is an important theme).
I narrowed down the “impressive options” to medicine – after all, I found science interesting (I’m a curious guy, I find most things interesting!) and I wanted to help people. A match made in heaven. Plus I was an Indian, so wasn’t being a doctor like in the blood or something? Just kidding – but not really.
It seemed to make sense. Though I didn’t fully want to acknowledge it at the time, I had no frickin’ idea what I wanted to do. I mean how could I?! The big wide world out there was very different to the microcosm that was school. How can we expect to decide to do with the rest of our lives if we haven’t even experienced the day-to-day realities of said job? Ridiculous. A rant for another time…
I choose the subjects which were essential and/or “good” for applying to medicine, and I actually ended up bored and hating them. I was much happier with the GCSE’s, perhaps as they were easier, there were more subjects and so more variety for my curious mind, and I guess with less sh*t-my-life-is-starting-to-get-serious-now-and-I-need-to-make-a-decision pressure. I did minimal work over the course of the year and ended up with ABB as my final grades, after a less-than-impressive (by my standards) year 1 (AS-Level) results.
Looking back, Biology had actually been the only one of the three subjects that I took that I had actually enjoyed at GCSE – wow, this is actually a light-bulb moment for me. Writing this down, I realise I wasn’t really interested in those other subjects I took. Weird.
I ended up going to university twice to study other “impressive” subjects at “impressive” places… and dropped out of each after just a year.
You see, I was sent to good schools by parents. I was given an education that they didn’t have. They worked incredibly hard to make a better life for themselves and to give myself and my brother the best possible start in life. We both still live at home, and so really they continue to do that whilst we’re under their roof. I felt duty-bound to do something impressive with this education and life I had been dealt. One that would elevate my success even above that of my parents (after all, I was starting from a high point), and also make them happy and proud.
I’d feel like a failure if I’ve not ‘bettered’ what my parent shave achieved – financially – given the backgrounds that they came from. Even ‘matching’ it wouldn’t feel quite enough, given the circumstances. This is a mindset which is only just beginning to shift.
Ugh, it’s tough. And then I have this £100k salary mark in my mind. Like, where did this come from?! I somehow plucked this out of somewhere and it’s been a goal of mine ever since. Even when I sat down yesterday and realistically decided how much I want to earn in total in the next year, I had that £100k figure creeping there in the back of my mind. And yet, I’d rather even not be working for someone. At least not in the traditional go-into-the-office-and-work-9-to-5 sense.
So this is what I do. I chop and change all the time. I worry, and then I worry, and then I worry some more. All the time these expectations in the back of my mind.
I left a job where I was on the way towards earning that arbitrary amount (seriously, where did it appear from?). I tried doing ‘my own thing’ for a little while I was going to change education and be a rich entrepreneur. Then, I tried coaching. I thought I was going to be this famous coach working with top athletes to help them become superstars. Again, kudos and money springs to mind.
Now (time of writing), I’m looking at writing, with the hopes of becoming an author who makes a lot of money. F*ck, it’s exhausting. Not least because I’m constantly worrying and questioning myself and my abilities, whether I’m doing the right thing, whether I’m spending too much on blogging/marketing, whether I should publish traditionally or self-publish. Aaargh!
Like, WHAT THE F*CK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY LIFE?! Again, more on my career struggles here.
What’s the journey here?? Where’s the roadmap??
Recent inner dialogue: do I write a short story first? Then edit it? Then what? Do I waste time + money getting a professional editor at this early stage (when the story is completed)? Do I just put it out there for free? Do I make it available on just Kindle/iBooks, or on other platforms too? Do I start charging eventually? When? Will anyone actually find + read the damn thing in the first place?
Why am I even writing this story? Is it for my own personal joy + creative self-expression, or for the money + fame + kudos from becoming an author? Again, it comes back down to those ridiculously high expectations which I put on my shoulders from the outset, when all this is just an idea in my head and I haven’t even put pen-to-paper yet!
This is what happens to me. And then when I’m connecting with others online, reading their bloggers, looking at their follower counts, seeing the stories they’ve already written… this is when I feel worse, inadequate even, and doubt I am capable and whether I’ll ever get there/ And perhaps at that point I’ll stop before I even get started, not wanting to try and fail. Not wanting the humiliation.
All of this I’m thinking when, at the time of writing, I am barely a week into writing my first story in 15 years (i.e. since creative writing at school in English).
Ridiculous. pressure. and. expectations. doh.
Another example: when I go to the gym, I sometimes pressure myself to have a ‘decent enough’ workout and push myself and be there for a length of time I deem acceptable – pressuring myself to have a ‘good’ workout, rather than praising myself for being at the gym in the first place and doing what I feel.
I worry that I’ll keep failing, and be a bum trying to make ends meet, and with barely enough money – and capability – to function as a self-sustaining adult, let alone with a family to look after further down the line. After all these hopes + the decent start I’d been given in life.. amounting to nothing in the end.
I feel overwhelmed by pressure, and doubt, and fear, and this scenario where I can no longer depend on others (parents, family) to look after me and help me out, that I’m sh*t at DIY, my culinary skills are basic, that when it comes to living on my own or even with a partner, I just won’t be able to cope. Terrifying.
The pressure I put on myself can be overwhelming sometimes. And it’s only when I face it head on and write it down like this, that I realise just how much of it exists, and how it permeates my life + psyche from all angles.
What about you? 🤷🏽♂️ Do you find yourself putting a lot of pressure on yourself, or not? Is this conscious or subconscious (without you realising it)? Are you doing anything to change this? I’d love to hear about your experiences 💙
The ‘inner critic’. I’d heard about it a lot, and read about it in articles on the internet, as well as in books like Steven Pressfield’s, The War of Art. For a long time I have been aware of my lack of self-belief and my self-doubt, and just thought that this must be how it is for all of us.
As it turns out, my inner critic casts a stronger shadow than I was aware of. My therapist, who I’ve now had 8 sessions with (at time of writing), is an integrative psychotherapist who likes to use art and creativity in her practice. Her room is warm, bright and accommodating, and scattered around the place are all sorts of weird and wonderful objects, from cuddly animals through to pine cones, lego figures and different coloured feathers and shells.
In one of my first sessions with her, I was asked to pick out an object that best represented this critical voice of mine. I chose this cute little monkey with a kinda sad/awkward/uncertain expression on its face.
At the start of each session, there he is in that same spot on the sofa, looking my way. Sometimes, I forget he’s there.
She then asks me questions like “What does this (the critical voice) sound like?” I’ll be honest, it doesn’t even appear to have a distinct voice, as such. It seems to be just ‘my’ voice, and that’s even if you can even describe it was a voice. It’s just in my head, merged with my thoughts.
Apparently, over time, such negative chatter can become more entrenched, and I expect that this is what must have happened. That’s my guess, anyhow.
Now this voice means well, it worries about me and it cares about me, but it doesn’t always act in my best interests. It can be stifling, overwhelming, overbearing, causing me to question e-ver-y-thing.
Am I doing the right thing here? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Will this just be another thing I start and don’t complete? Am I capable of this? Do I deserve to be happy? That last one is especially potent, and I find it can slowly creep up on me as this intrusive, paranoid though that emerges and sees me question whether I am a good, decent human being who deserves happiness, a life that I enjoy, and things to just “work out”. This can sometimes happen after I’ve had a good day or something good in my life has happened, as if it’s attempting to counteract and sabotage this – and a sense of “Is this good experience I’m having too good to be true?” can arise?
For example, the whole ‘work’ situation feels like it’s weighed on me for a significant portion of my adult life; when I was choosing a course for university, when I then picked another…only to dropout. And then re-apply, and drop-out again. And then falling into a job, and then 5 years later going back to study, and then trying my own thing, and then taking a year out, and now attempting to get into book publishing after a lot of considered thought and reflection.
Starting over, again. It feels like this pattern of constant worry/anxiety, jumping into something – and then failing or it otherwise not working out. Rinse, repeat. My 5-year sales career (can you even call it that?) was the closest I’ve had to any consistency when it comes to work, even though I knew from the outset that that wouldn’t be “it”.
On some level, I am afraid that I won’t ever find something I am truly content in. That I’ll continue to be pained by this constant state of fear, and doubt, and yearning for more.
I am already aware that I am a people-pleaser, and that I care about how others perceive. That said – I have come in leaps and bounds in this area of my life of late #proudofme. I’ve left social media several times due to it becoming all-consuming, overwhelming, and even feeling paranoid that people I know are watching my every move and seeing me fail out in the open. That I left my job and have since crashed and burned. That I’m almost 29, living at home, and feel like an irresponsible adult who sometimes can’t look after himself properly and has a lot of growing up to do.
There it is again, loud and clear. That critical voice. It’s amazing how, a lot of the time, I don’t even realise that he’s there, the b*stard. Unaware of what he’s even saying and the impact he’s having on me. Like I said before, it doesn’t feel like a voice, rather just my thoughts.
By getting to know him better, by facing him head-on, and talking and writing about him, I hope to recognise him even more and – in the process – reduce the hold he has over me. I acknowledge that he is there, but realise how much him to take at face value.
After all, I am not my critical voice, just like I am not my thoughts. He does not control me. Not if I don’t let him. And, with time, my own voice will be heard above his. And that will be the very opposite of critical. It will be loving, and kind, and compassionate, and resolute.
What about you? 🤷🏽♂️ Do you have a critical voice, or an ‘inner critic’? Does it sound like a voice, or something else? What impact does he/she/it have on you? It’s always so lovely to hear your perspectives 💙