EIGHT: The Pressure to Succeed

My plan is absolutely fool-proof, what could possibly go wrong?

Me, before everything possible went wrong. Oops

Let me start out first and foremost by saying this; my opinions are subjective, and have come from my experience as a young man growing up with an undiagnosed mental illness who was heavily influenced by the unspoken and spoken expectations placed on me from a range of sources. In no way, shape or form am I discrediting the struggles and challenges of growing up in any generation. I feel like by now we can safely assume that my perspective on a topic will never be at the expense of an alternative viewpoint, buuuuut you know what they say about assuming…

I was raised by an incredibly supportive family, shoutout to Mum and Dad, ya did your best with what you had! Against all odds, I made it to my 20s, ya’ll deserve a Nobel Prize. With that supportive family came some academic success, as I was accepted into an academically selective high school. The school ran just as any normal school does, the difference being the raised expectations when it came to academic pursuits. The opportunity was a blessing and I am grateful to have been under the tutelage of some exceptional educators. But coming out of school I began to feel the pressure to convert this opportunity into a booming success.

At age 18 I had a plan. Graduate school, go to university, get my degree, get a place in the police academy, graduate the academy, I’m a cop before I’m 22. BOOM. Done. Hopefully by then I’ll have met a nice girl, and by the time I settle into my career I can make plans for houses and babies going into my mid-late twenties. Future Police Commissioner Lord had the wheels in motion.

Nothing went to plan. At age 22, I was not a cop, my degree was on hold, I had been knocked back from the police force, and I felt like I had absolutely blown it. But I was 22, still so so so young, and yet here I was thinking I had wasted my one chance to get it right. Why?

Because for my young, impressionable mind, the pressure to go out there and be someone was unrelenting. Success, to me, at that age was measured by your salary, your prospects of marriage/kids and a white picket fence. If I was to prove my worth, I needed those three things going for me. The pressure was coming from these unbreakable beliefs I had relating to careers and success;

  1. I have just received a very high quality high school education. Don’t waste it.
  2. In whatever endeavours you pursue, you represent your family. So whatever you do, bring pride to all they have done and continue to do for you.
  3. If this 18 year old sports prodigy I saw on Facebook, and this 23 year old genius doctor from the nightly news, and this 24 year old business tycoon I saw in the paper can be successful, then what are YOU going to do to make a name for yourself?

I’ve since gotten older (obviously), and it took me the best part of my first 26 years to stop myself and say “hang on, who made these rules? Whose timeline am I on? What am I in such a hurry for?”. I am allowing myself to have my worth, my ideas of success and my potential dictated by literally no one in particular. This is crazy, I literally couldn’t put a face to this looming presence telling me I needed to get married and buy a house and have a career. Once you relieve a mental pressure of its identity, suddenly it has no power.

I had to represent my own life in a metaphor to truly begin to understand just how irrational my poor younger self was. It used to weigh on me so heavily, the pressure to “succeed”. Sometimes I still get it now, when I’m not really sure of the direction I’m heading. And hey, it’s okay to not know right now. So for anyone reading this thinking that they’re “behind the times”, consider this;

This is your life, represented on a (poorly edited) single line. On the left, there’s zero, your birthday. Happy birthday fam, welcome to the world. On the right, there’s 100. Yes, I know, we’re not going to all live to 100, but that’s not the point right now. Consider where you are right now. I’m 26, so I’m about a quarter of the way there. And here I was, at 20, 21, 22, PANICKING. Do you ever see athletes panicking in the opening quarter? You never see a football team panic in the opening 20 minutes, you never see a marathon runner charging at their sprint pace in the first 5 kilometres. Because they’re playing the long game. As should we. Life is short, yes, but also no, it’s not. Life is literally the longest thing you’ll ever do, with the exception of being on hold with your phone or internet provider. Literally anything could happen in 1 year (thanks for the reminder COVID), never forget how much things could change in such a short time, let alone 3, 5, 10 or 20 years.

I point zero fingers for the pressure I felt as a kid. My generation was exposed to different stimulus to the previous one, just as the previous generation were raised differently to their predecessors. And as the world continues to become more and more digital, it certainly doesn’t hurt to remind our youth to be young. I, for one, don’t need reminding, I will be a child until I die, don’t you worry about that.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t panic, you’ve got plenty of time. If you’re 18, you have plenty of time to make a change. If you’re 25, you have plenty of time to make a change. If you’re 40, you have plenty of time to make a change. If you’re 65, you have plenty of time to make a change. Life is literally the longest thing you will ever do, the only thing keeping you from making the changes you want for yourself, is you, my friend.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be

Douglas Adams

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