Where my average Joe’s at? My losers. Failures. People who don’t win pub quizzes or get promoted; who don’t get drinks bought for them or have 10k followers on social media; who maybe struggle to say the right thing sometimes (or all the time); who always seem to be going through something; who are late to meetings; who forget their umbrellas (if they even have one) and get soaked in the rain. Where are the people who aren’t married or in a stable relationship (including the one with themselves); who don’t have kids or a mortgage. If one, some or all of these apply, I’m talking to you my lovely little lightbulb.
I’ve noticed a pattern forming these past few months. I realised it a few weeks ago, when I was leaving badminton with my friend. In the car home, we casually dropped our shared existential dread that we were doing something wrong in life, lacking something in some way. After making plans to get slaughtered again next week and getting home, I realised that I’d had our conversation before… multiple times, with multiple people. A lot of my mid-twenties friends, myself included at times, all seem to have this nagging thought in the back of their minds. It seems like we’re all haunted by the same thing, a ghost of future-past-what-could-be-but-isn’t… a quarter-life crisis even.
It’s the feeling that you’re falling behind, like you aren’t where you should be. Maybe you’re looking around or scrolling through your newsfeed and feeling that everyone else’s lives seem to be moving on faster than yours. You may not need other people to compare to, you might just be comparing your realistic self to an ideal version or a romanticised version of yourself from the past. Either way, you start reflecting and comparing until, eventually, you feel a lack and, usually, decide that this lack is coming from something inside of yourself and maybe even that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. By the way, this isn’t exclusive to mid-twenties folk, it seems to be more universal than that.
You beautiful, unique and silly angel. There is nothing wrong with you and I’m going to make you believe it. This won’t be a post spamming you with motivational quotes telling you how everyone is made from stardust and thus we’re all shooting stars. That’s not my bag. Instead, I’m going to be pragmatic with you, realistic. I want you to take in the words that my little nail-bitten fingers have worked and reworked to string together. I’d also love for you to chat to me about it afterwards, message, email or leave a comment- whichever is best.
The first thing I want you to do is to think how much you align with the person I’ve been describing (writing your thoughts down is a good idea too). Out of 10, 10 being ‘I fully believe it’, how much do you agree that you aren’t good at anything, that you’re a waste of space or a failure? Be honest- word on the street is that it’s the best policy.
Now you have your number I want you to consider the state of being a failure as a spectrum. It makes sense to be fair, as most things exist on a sliding scale. Take cake for example (I’ve been watching Bake Off so excuse the analogy). Cake exists on a scale of edible deliciousness. At 10, you’ve got a Mary Berry level cake, maybe chocolate sponge with some chocolate orange buttercream in the middle (ooft). At around 4, you’ve got like those cupcakes they sell in the Asda for kids birthday parties with the three colours of icing on them. What would be at the 1 point? It’s not just gross, it’s completely inedible. A burnt-to-an-actual-rock lump that would break your teeth if you tried to eat it.
Now let’s apply that sliding scale to the ‘I’m bad at everything’ concept.
10 would be an absolute G who would fail at nothing. They’d win every Monopoly game they played with style, traffic lights would ALWAYS turn green for them, they’d never lose an argument or be wrong…they’d succeed at absolutely everything they tried. As the direct opposite of that, your number 1 would be an absolute failure who wouldn’t do anything right. By anything, I mean anything. They wouldn’t succeed at holding jobs, relationships, being able to function, to make people smile, to communicate with other people or to impact the world around them in anyway.
At this point, maybe you feel at or around the 1 point- but I want to ask a couple of questions before you settle on that. Did you get out of bed? Wash your face? Apply SPF? Brush your teeth? Have you spoken to someone? Been kind to someone? Gone to work? Put some washing in? Eaten something? Drank some water? Have you messaged a friend? Have you worked on any projects/ studies/ hobbies or made a plan to do so? Also, have you ever received a compliment in your life? Have you ever succeeded at a job interview, completed a test, read a book, watched a film or series? Have you learned something new? Exercised? Have you pushed through on a day when things were difficult or encouraged someone else to do the same? Yes to any of those? Well, there’s no way that you’re at 1 and if you’re not at 1 then you aren’t a complete failure.
I thought long and hard about the ‘bad at everything’ spectrum myself and want to share what I found.
I wasn’t naturally ‘clever’ in school. I struggled to understand a lot of what we were learning and found that it took me a long time to process the content. I felt embarrassed near the students who would be chatting with their friends, stopping for seconds to complete a paper or to answer a question correctly. What was wrong with me that I needed to focus all of my energy and attention on learning just to feel like I was scraping by?
It’s the same now. I play badminton and kickbox every week, get 10k steps a day, try to fit in weight training, planking and running (if my GTPS isn’t kicking off too much). I home-cook most meals, which are all veggie and usually full of healthy superfoods and I drink 2.5L of water most days. All of that considered, I’m not a size 6 model with rock-hard abs. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s a process and my body will fluctuate naturally based on life events and hormones etc., but there’s still this question in my mind asking, why does it take so much effort just to scrape by?
You might have a recurring question like mine. It could be – why do I not feel good enough? Why do bad things keep happening to me? What’s wrong with me? Instead of allowing these questions to grate away at your self-esteem, I’m going to ask you to address them instead. It seems a bit scary at first right? What if the answer to my question is that it takes so much effort to scrape by is because I’m stupid or because I have an unchangeable, fundamental flaw. But it’s only by considering the question properly and breaking it down realistically that I’ve gotten past that fear and been able to consider some more realistic answers.
Sure, it takes me a while to do things. Teaching-wise, I’ll take hours to mark/ lesson plan. But the lessons I plan are thoughtful, tailored to the class and exciting. The feedback I give aims to help the students develop not only in the course but as academics. I take ages to write blog posts (you may have noticed) but the posts that I do write are personal and vulnerable and written with the sole intention of helping you to see your own brightness and remind you that you aren’t alone in your situation. I’ve been in some absolutely horrible relationships and situations. But the relationships I have now are filled with gratitude, honesty and love.
The process of questioning the question helped me to realise that my resilience is my strength. The fact that I keep doing what I’m doing, even when there aren’t short-term rewards, is impressive. It helps me to love myself more fully because instead of feeling frustrated by my struggle, I’m proud of how I manage it and I would love for this blog post to inspire you to feel the same. Besides, looking back, when I thought I was scraping by, I wasn’t. I left school with good grades, I lost over 10kg with my fitness and it’s allowed to fluctuate and I’m currently balancing three jobs while finishing up my masters.
Wherever you’re at in your life, that is exactly where you are meant to be right now and you should be amazed and in awe of yourself for being there. No relationship? Perfect, you have more time to spend with the best person in the world for your mental health and success – yourself. In a job that doesn’t inspire you? Well I think you have amazing dedication and should be proud of yourself for turning up. Not eaten a healthy meal this week? Cool, you appreciate that there are times when your time is better spent in company or resting or working or doing whatever else.
There is literally no roadmap to life guys and that is such a liberating thought. Your compass is your passions, interests and loves. Tune in to those and follow where they lead you. When you feel like you aren’t good at anything, or that you’re falling behind – please remember that you are good at the most important thing you can be in life and that is being yourself.
I love you loads and am so excited for the next part of your journey.