About six months ago I drove home thinking, “what life is my direction going in, and am I happy?”
Well, after contemplation, yes I was indeed happy, but there was still room for improvement. As for my life’s direction, it felt like I was navigating with a broken compass. Then I thought to myself again, “what can I do better and what can I change?” Then my mind time-warped back to childhood and the moments when I was most carefree. And then I explored those memories of carefreeness (which is apparently a word, something I have concluded based on my Macbook’s absent attempt to autocorrect it) and what the most foundational element was to feeling so…free. And what I found was this:
As a kid, I just didn’t give a sh*t.
That’s not to say I was a rebel, unruly, or a problem child, it’s to say that when I was a child I had not yet developed the ability to self-judge, and I had not yet learned how to be afraid of failure and how to be afraid of success.
When you self-judge, you end up spending a lot of time focused on how you are being perceived by others, and internally, how you’re perceiving and judging yourself. What you’re not devoting time to when engaged in self-judgement is the moment. How much fun can you have if you’re not present and in the moment? How much can you enjoy your favourite song if you’re afraid to dance to it, sing to it, or bop your head to it, for fear of judgment? How hard will you smile and how deeply will you laugh if you’re afraid that someone else will think the source of your amusement does not warrant such mirth, thus creating embarrassment? Well, you might enjoy your music, and you might smile and laugh a bit, but the experience will be like eating pancakes without the syrup–nice, but nothing like enjoying some warm, delicious, fluffy pancakes, dripping in real maple syrup, bite by bite, as if every mouthful was ambrosia from the heavens delivered directly to your fork by food angels. Now, which pancakes would you rather eat? The second kind, of course! What I’m trying to say here is let go of self-judgment and stay in the moment. Be a kid. Live your life with maple syrup.
Now, what about the things I feared–failure and success? Let me break them down each in turn.
With my fear of failure, I was simply afraid of what people would think if I did not live up to my “potential” (I hate that word). See, the thing is, I was always told I had tons of that thing called “potential,” which is a good thing to have a lot of–to a point. When it starts not being good is when you’re obviously smart enough and talented enough to warrant the descriptor, but when you lack the resources, mentorship, and opportunity to make the most of your potential.
This was precisely my situation.
Yes, while it was great that I had a high IQ, it really didn’t mean very much when I was getting bad grades in grade 8 because I was too hungry or too depressed to focus on my studies. However, I didn’t have anybody around to explain to me that I might not be getting A’s anymore because when I went home at night I wasn’t thinking about the geography of Canada, I was thinking about the geography of my cupboards, how barren they were, and where I might find some food. I believed in the hype of my own “potential,” which meant that when I wasn’t living up to it, I believed it was because of me and not because of my circumstances. I started internalizing my failures. I started thinking that I wasn’t good enough and that those who had labelled me as having “potential” would be disappointed if I didn’t live up to it, regardless of the completely justifiable mitigating circumstances. I began fearing failure.
As for success, well, I had a lot of that growing up (they didn’t say I had “potential” for nothing!). Throughout elementary school, I was generally the best (or at least very very good) at whatever I tried–I made every sports team and was a top player, was in the advanced reading club, was asked to skip two grades (I didn’t), was good enough at drawing that other kids would pay me in candy to draw for them, I was popular, girls had crushes on me. Etcetera. The thing is when you’re good at stuff, even when you’re not trying to be good at stuff, you tend to get a lot of attention. This is really cool at first, but there are downsides. One, is other kids begin getting jealous, like Anisa did when she could not get better grades than me even though she worked hard and I…didn’t. Two, success and attention soon become…*screen blackens and lightning strikes*…expectations.
Let me tell you about expectations–they suck! Because now, when you don’t do well at something it’s not good enough, and even when you do do well at something, well it’s still not good enough. So, basically, being good can become a lose/lose situation once successes become potential and potential becomes expectations. Now, unless you’re superb every single time you do anything, you’re not good enough, and the spotlight is on you (there’s that attention again) so everybody notices and everybody starts talking about it. So, all this is to say that because of my successes as a young student, I garnered so much attention that everything I did became heavily scrutinized, even when it was good! So, I became afraid of success because I didn’t like the attention that came with it.
But, again, when I was a kid, I didn’t really give a sh*t.
When I was a kid, all I knew is that I liked success and I didn’t like failure–however, I was not afraid of either of them, and I accepted both success and failure when they happened. Success? Failure? Potential? And expectations? What were those? I was too busy lathering my pancakes in maple syrup to care.
So, when I got home after that drive on which I wondered, “what direction is my life is going in and am I happy?” I endeavoured to ignore the question, flipped the proverbial page over, and started doodling, because that’s what kids do. That’s what it means to be carefree.
With all this being said, I’m not stating that you shouldn’t care about whether or not you fail (or the direction of your life), but rather I’m endorsing the view that you should stop allowing the emotions you attribute to success and failure to become so strong that you begin to self-judge, that you being to fear failure and success, that you live in the past and the future, and thus stop living in the moment.
That’s eating your pancakes plain.
Don’t do that.
Be happier. Stop eating plain pancakes. Be a kid again.
Live your life with maple syrup!