In the past few months, I’ve had a pretty big realisation. Being struck with chronic illness or sickness can be seriously debilitating, but I’ve always been of the opinion that there is a lesson in everything. So, when I found myself in bed, day after day, unable to be productive, I started thinking about what I place value on the most in my everyday life.
What did I realise? I place way too high a value on the expectations others have of me. And not even just the people I know.
I’ve realised this is part of a wider problem. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to block out the noise of what other people say we should do, versus what feels right for us. In my mind, this is overwhelmingly true for young people (cue millennials and smashed avocado reference). With social media exposure, a highly competitive job market and high expectations when it comes to our education, I feel like it’s time to ask ourselves, who are we again? If we stripped away all the noise of should – should get a Master’s degree, should use specific language to appeal to the corporate market, should speak and act in a certain way, can we even remember what we actually want to be doing in the first place?
It is near-impossible to have a conversation with someone about something like a career or aspirations without receiving well-meaning advice, or hearing some inspo about working harder and/or differently to get what you want, without taking into account that there’s a whole lot more at play that affects people’s abilities, mental health and wellbeing. My personal favourites: ‘think positively and good things will come to you’, and ‘put your head down and focus on your work – don’t let the other stuff get to you’.
Well, other stuff does get to me. Stuff like the high rate of suicide for young Australians and particularly young Indigenous Australians. The percentages of entry-level jobs and rates of unemployment and underemployment for newly graduated young people. The lack of affordable housing for young people and pressures on their parents and households. The real and hugely concerning state of our climate. The percentage of young people in care in this country. Those who are unfairly discriminated against based on their gender identification, abilities, beliefs, and religious affiliations.
I have, however, realised I can’t take all of these problems on as my own to solve. And nor should I.
I know in my own life, I’m only just starting to get a grasp of who I am and what I stand for. I’ve realised that full-time-work, with additional health troubles and multiple volunteering gigs has left me with little room to think about and do the things that truly nourish me. I’m all for experience, but it’s been recently brought to my attention in a big way that something huge has been missing. I’ve realised that thing is truly feeling like myself in a world with lots of other beliefs and opinions of how things should be.
So, I started to carve out some time for myself. Not only am I privileged enough to be able to do this, but also grateful that my chronic health problems have not reached such a state of crisis that it’s too late for me to have realised.
I dropped the volunteering gigs I could no longer commit to. I signed up to a singing circle and a poetry class because I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t allowing myself to do the stuff I love purely for the sake of enjoying it. I even began to reflect on what kind of work-life balance I needed, and what kind of income to aim for which would also support my living needs. This has all happened slowly and incrementally, but I sit here writing this reminiscing in shock at how I was operating a few years ago. When I was fuelled by a need to succeed and prove to others that I was worth something. At a time when I let the words of others, often those who were ridiculously successful, dictate my pathway forwards – one that I didn’t even really want.
Ultimately, I was moving further and further away from myself and what made me feel good, only to attain the successes I worked so hard for and not feel what I thought I would feel once I achieved them, because they didn’t align with my values.
So, I propose periods of reflection and grounding – without it becoming a hashtag movement. When did we stop doing things for ourselves? How did the expectations of others become somehow more urgent to us than our own? How can we take some much needed time, even an hour if we can, to turn off the voices of what others expect of us and allow our inner voices to get a little louder?