What I Learnt From The First Quarter Of 2022
Travelling, exams, job prospects, old and new friendships, priorities, and mistakes. This year has been busy so far but I wanted to write down a few things I especially want to remember:
- Friendship and people are the sources of meaning in life.
Everything relates to it. Meaning is found by taking responsibility, by contributing to things that ultimately benefit other people. Life is lived with others. Friendships are more important than career goals. The relationships we make are of the highest importance when it comes to life satisfaction — they are the most important psychological good. Who are the people in your life who light you up? The ones who want the best for you? The ones with whom you feel liberated and alive? Start spending more time with them. Start being proactive, taking responsibility, making the choice.
- You are not alone.
Linking to the above point — you really are not alone. Don’t try and solve all your problems by yourself — share some of the annoying stuff you’re going through with other people — air your thoughts. Realising that you can ask a housemate or a friend for advice on even extremely stupid issues, like choosing whether to host a party or just a small gathering, is empowering — life is about solving problems together. That is not to say overwhelm those around you with all of your problems but rather to realise that you can rely on the kindness of others when you need it. No longer do you have to be isolated, make decisions completely alone — there are others (a lot of them!) that can help you.
- Recreation is re-creation.
Rest and time for processing the events in your life is absolutely needed. Moving from one thing to another constantly is draining. Going on and on and on is unsustainable. Not much more to say other than to say the obvious — rest and sleep enables you to be a better person.
Likewise, it’s easy to lose sight of your priorities and what you actually want when you move at 100 miles an hour — what kind of person do you actually want to become? What kind of things do you actually want to do? What kind of 1%, small-scale habits can you implement on a daily basis to achieve those goals? These questions require serious self-study and thought, something that can’t be done when moving at such high speeds.
- Limitations are perceptions.
Be curious. What could you be if you pushed yourself a bit more? If you faced a fear? If you did something that scares you? Travelling opens our minds and our perspectives — what is this incredible, different culture that I am experiencing? Nobody else speaks English here — I have to rely on the innate ability of humans to understand each other through, facial expressions, hand movements, and tones of voices, even if the words I speak are not understood. And that consolidates the view that human connection is not limited to those within the same country, it transcends language, religion, class — it is the building block of life. Narratives play such a large role in our lives — it’s time to question them, to push beyond what we believe ourselves to be capable of. What if you even allowed yourself to think about starting your own business, about moving to a completely different field to become a photographer or a pilot? What if you even allowed yourself to think about better future potential versions of you, disregarding the limitations you believe yourself to have for the moment.
- Honesty is the best way to live.
Forget about playing games in relationships, about trying to be something you are not. Of course, expressing one’s self in a way suitable and appropriate to the situation is key but it is a skill to be learnt. Living in honesty allows us to embrace our fears and accept our feelings — “It’s not logical why I am feeling jealous but the feelings are there”, we can explain to our friend or partner after accepting our feelings rather than trying to ignore or suppress them. In being honest, we can perhaps go 15% outside of our comfort zones to confide in others or ask for advice. In being honest, we can accept the things that we truly want or need and thus be better posed to ask for those things and set the necessary boundaries for successful friendships and relationships. In being honest, we can develop exceptional friendships, be confident in ourselves after self-assessment and learn from our mistakes.
- Fear and narratives play massive roles in our lives, whether we know it or not.
Feelings that might suddenly arise in conversations or certain environments, such as a desire to be small, or limit our contributions so that others don’t think we are stupid often point us to more complex and deeper issues. Often such feelings, though without an explicit cause, such as someone pointing at us and laughing, point towards problems in one of a few areas: the culture, environment, and the beliefs and narratives we have about ourselves and the world. The first two are often outside of our control but we do have a choice to try and mould the beliefs and narratives we have — it takes a lot of time and effort.
The changing of one’s mindset is really just the alteration of the stories we tell ourselves on a daily basis. The growth mindset is the move towards a belief and narrative that says, “You have a choice — it’s down to you. Stop just waiting for things to happen. Intelligence isn’t fixed. Your past, whilst influencing who you are now, does not define you — you can make a change. You can break the chain. You can write your own story.”
It takes a lot of courage and bravery to admit to ourselves that we might be wrong about the way we view the world. It often starts with analysing the feelings we experience in different situations or when we see particular people. Why might we feel intimidated when we see a particular person? Why might we feel inadequate or — the opposite- incredible in certain scenarios? The answers often are not black and white. The answers often involve lots of complex navigation into one’s upbringing and the ways that people interacted with us during our lives. For instance, perhaps to avoid getting teased you made jokes to deflect or divert the bullying onto others. Part of this self-protective mechanism has stayed with you, still retaining the belief that humour is necessary wherever criticism is concerned. Perhaps you were bullied and in order to protect yourself you started trying to avoid rejection, criticism at all costs, and the way to do that was through people-pleasing. Now, as an adult, you find that you have a significant fear of rejection and causing discomfort in others’ lives. Hence, you don’t ask for what you want, you don’t push yourself.
Of course, there are two sides to every coin — someone who is a ‘people-pleaser’ may find that they do indeed get on with a lot of people, which is great for professional and non-professional relationships. However, the flip-side of the coin is that they might expend significant amounts of energy in interactions and be at the whim of emotions stemming from childhood or life experiences that have not been investigated and assessed.
The point is that in embracing such fears, such insecurities, such toxic narratives, we can start realising when such fears activate, accept ourselves and the arising feelings, and then realise that we then have a choice in how we act next. It liberates us from feeling that we can only act a certain way.
- Don’t depend on just one area in your life.
Don’t expect to get all of your satisfaction and fulfilment from just your partner or just your job, for example. Not only does this, as in the relationship case, lead to an unhealthy and toxic relationship, but it puts immense and unachievable expectations on the partner. Instead, realising that in achieving a “balance” in the different areas of your life is key. Of course, equal balance really is just an illusion — when you focus on one thing, for example, your degree, you necessarily sacrifice in other areas, for instance, your social life. However, finding a balance (ratio of time and energy spent on the different areas of your life) that works for you and your goals is key, and a lifetime endeavour.
In our culture, there are unhealthy expectations that once you get the ‘ultimate’ relationship, the gigantic house, a million followers on YouTube, you will be completely and utterly satisfied. However, if you realise that life is very much about keeping a multitude of different areas in order, in ‘balance’, then this view, propagated by Western society and the media, is very much distorted. Rather than being a terrible thing, in that it means that we must accept that we will never be completely satisfied, this new view is empowering — it means that we can actually act to increase our satisfaction by meeting our standards in the different areas of our lives — happiness is no longer just limited to one big, abstract goal, but rather the process of meeting the standards we set ourselves. Happiness becomes a process, not a goal, a series of habits and actions, rather than the aim. It becomes the choices we make in each moment.
Ultimately, realising that I have a choice — that I can choose who I want to spend my time with, what I want to do is so incredibly empowering. Who are the people that I actually want to spend time with? What are the things that I actually want to do? Of course, one must separate what feels good from what is right — they are not always the same, as is obvious when waking up at 7am to go to the gym. But more importantly, realising that relationships really are pivotal to happiness — we live not only with others but for others. The world is so incredibly interconnected. What is money without good people? What is better than a great friendship spanning 60 years? What is better than having friendships that propel you onto greater things? What is better than relationships where you can be honest, where you can grow, when you can admit your true feelings? What is more satisfying than helping others, than organising events, bringing people together, celebrating others’ successes? We are a social species.