My life took a turn over the last 24 months. I lost friends, lost old perspectives, lost beliefs, lost communities, made new friends, made new communities and adopted a different identity for myself. The ironic thing about self improvement is that sometimes instead of going forward, you go backwards.
That’s not entirely a bad thing.
Overcompensating and Becoming a Productive Machine: Grief, Loss and Chasing Time
I’m getting older, I’m no longer the free spirited 21-year-old rebel. I found myself measuring myself in ways that conventional culture measures you and I. My job, my career, how much money I have in the bank, how good my grades are, whether I’m going to settle down by a certain age and most recently, my life purpose.
If you’re Asian, Singaporean especially, you’re brought up in a manner to expect that life pans out a certain way and life that should play out like an equation.
You should have a loving girlfriend by 25.
You should have a degree by 25.
You should be in a kick ass career job by 25.
For the majority of my teenage days, I’ve been known amongst my friends as the person to ‘not give a fuck’. However, I was merely afraid of achieving, afraid of fulfilling my potential that I told everyone that I ‘didn’t give a fuck.’
Truth is, deep down, I did, I was just too afraid actually five a fuck.
Uncovering psychological denial is extremely painful. When you finally address those blindspots in your life, you’re left to question the years of past decisions with it. You’re left to question what if? You’re left to question: who is to blame? Your parents? Society? Upbringing?
I looked back at my life and I found myself beating myself up for adopting certain identities at different periods of time, due to environment circumstances etc. I found myself telling myself I shouldn’t have been so rebellious during my Junior College days, along with a string of other regrets. I would have achieved so much more.
For years and years, I had feared failure as much as I had feared success. I merely coped by avoiding certain decisions.
This is why some people who get their hands on pick up artist material vow to become serial players. This is why some people can never feel secure about their looks/ wealth/ social status/ intelligence, no matter how much they achieved externally.
At the heart of it, I was dealing with loss.
How to Deal with Loss
For all our heady talk about abstract concepts, all of us are psychological steam ships. We’re like the titanic when it comes to our emotions. Just like our physical habits, our psychological compenents of us are also made up of habits.
They take time to change.
The problem with the majority of self improvement advice is that it doesn’t address loss, grief and all that unsexy part of genuine introspection. The time that’s lost. People that you lose. Friendships, communities, identity and long held beliefs.
One way that many of us cope with loss is to overcompensate, and attempt to achieve our way through our insecurities. Just a month a go, I found myself in a similar hamster wheel again. I went on three dates over three weeks with three different girls, obviously overcompensating. If you sacrifice emotional health just to meet some absurd metric that you or others set for you, you’re going to find yourself in an extremely miserable position.
If you base your self esteem or self worth on how much you can achieve, you’re going to lead an extremely miserable life.
New Found Appreciation for the Ordinary
I had to find a new sense of appreciation for the ordinary.
I’d rather hang out with someone who shares his struggles/ or is struggling with his new start up, as opposed to some fancy millionaire boasting about his wealth that he was probably spoon fed to him.
I’d rather be out with a girl who makes me feel comfortable and at ease as opposed to someone who’s all heady, abstract, intelligent and annoying.
I’ve always been chasing the new, the sexy, the novel for the last half a decade. Perhaps it was these values that slowly failed me over the years. Or maybe I was just overcompensating to cover up past failures. I probably was and still am to some extent.
It’s funny how I’m perceived as a ‘self improvement’ guru or the ‘entrepreneur’ amongst the people I meet. To be honest I’m similar to you. I like the same things as you do, and I fail at the same things as you do. Actually, when I’m out with friends, I don’t want to be talking about business or self improvement. I want to be having a good time, an authentic conversation with another human being.
How to Let Go: You Can’t Relive Lost Time/ Youth
I figured that no matter how hard you tried, there are some things that you have to be more accepting of, instead of merely attempting to will power through them.
Our daily habits takes months, or even years to change. You can’t brute a physical habit, just like you can’t brute an emotional habit. It doesn’t work, and it’ll never work.
The problem with self improvement advice is that it doesn’t address trauma and loss. It also doesn’t address the fact that you can’t solve trauma and loss with more self improvement. The more I find myself seeking ‘better’ relationships, the more I feel insecure about never ever finding ‘quality’ relationships.
Let’s say you have a couple of flakey friends that regularly ditches you and criticize you. In the name of self improvement, you cut them off, go through a traumatic period of loss and you go out and attempt to become more popular, well liked and to never feel alone again.
Instead of having two friends who aren’t able to connect with you, you now find yourself with a sea of strangers in a party faced that you can’t connect with you. You’re left with a similar set of issues and you’re back to square one. That’s because you never addressed the issue of feeling comfortable from being different from others and your ability to be alone.
Internal growth is equally important as external growth. You can’t grow psychologically without a genuine form of acceptance. I mean the real kind of acceptance, and not those kind you see on self help books or Instagram memes.
To go against the grain is difficult. However, the pressure you put on yourself HAS to balanced out with a sense of acceptance.
That’s because with any genuine change in your life will follow a period of loss, a loss of friends, beliefs, communities, and even perhaps even in yourself. You’ll need to grief and mourn that loss at some point.
Or it’ll merely haunt you back some time down the road.