I know that the life I was born into and the support I get from my parents (given what I’ve put them through mental health-wise) is actually pretty rare and that I am, in many ways, incredibly fortunate. I’ve also done a better job of not constantly comparing myself to others as a way of putting myself down. A great thing that my therapist told me is not to compare yourself to others, but to compare yourself to your past self. That way, you can still strive to be better, hold yourself accountable and acknowledge your progress without suffering from a comparison spiral.
Whether you are a future CEO or a stereotypical slacker, whether you have a trust fund or live paycheck to paycheck, whether you are a brilliant performer or a shy mathematician, it all starts with your relationship with yourself. Because the way you judge yourself will also be the way you judge others. The way you are resilient with your own emotions will be the way you are resilient in uncertain environments. The way you love yourself will open you up to being loved, and loving someone else.
Life is messy and nonlinear. Life occurs where ambiguous thoughts fluctuate, vulnerable situations emerge and authentic growth is hard. Life contains suffering, a part of what makes life special. I’ve struggled for many years (and still do) with these themes of ambiguity, vulnerability and authenticity. But they are, in my opinion, ingredients to a life well-lived.
It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that relationships play a vital role, but it’s another to internalize that in our everyday behaviors. I’m far from a social butterfly (in fact I’m quite socially anxious), so I’m probably not the best person to tell any audience how to have better social skills. But I’m also telling this advice to myself, and I feel that through therapy and reflection, I’ve learned some things.
I was pretty angry for many of these last few days. Anger is an easy but supremely unhelpful emotion. I was angry that I failed my editors by not meeting my deadline (I didn’t publish a column last week). And I am angry because each day I’ve been failing at the values I outlined at the beginning of the column. I haven’t been curious, but judgmental. Instead of being vulnerable, I’ve put armor around me. I’ve been far from optimistic. I’m consistently vague in my thinking and task lists. Most importantly I haven’t put in any kind of effort towards compassion, kindness and generosity.
Just as I had optimized the plans for my column, I had idealized this last semester of my college career. In my mind I saw a gaggle of housemate friends, the ease of productive work flying by and the picture-perfect job offer in my hands. But, of course, that thing we call life hits.