“I had a lot of coaches growing up that were very hard on the kids in the name of building character, but it could have the opposite effect on kids.” — Steve Carell
Before I get into today’s subject on what going through tough times has taught me, I want to tell you a bit about why I’m writing this.
I’m 32 years old. And as time goes by I see myself more and more like the people I once told to “Fuck off!” when I was in my “dark period”. Basically the “Don’t trust anyone over thirty”-mindset.
What woke me up was a weekend of drugs and alcohol. I started hallucinating and felt like shit. The details don’t really matter but I had to get to that point myself, because nothing that anybody told me could make me want to change.
It had to come from within.
I rented an apartment in Stockholm over the summer. I knew I had to get away from the people and environment, or I’d fall back into old behaviors.
Long story short, it was one of the single best decisions of my life. But before I got to that point I went through a lot shit.
If you recognize any of the following, please know that I’ve gone through it myself. I know what it’s like to be in the middle of it.
You want to tell people to “Fuck off!”, and you don’t want to face the facts about what you need to go through and do before coming out the other side.
What I’m talking about isn’t that I have sympathy for what you’re going through, and I’m not going to say that I feel sorry for you.
The reason I’m writing this at 32 is because the experiences you’re having are still close enough for me to touch on an emotional level. I can still tap into the frustration, disappointment, and rage at life that I felt less than a decade ago.
However, with each passing year it seems to fade a little.
When I was in my early 20’s and people told me “Oh, you’ll grow out of it…” or “You’ll understand life better when you’re my age…” I wanted to punch them in their old sagging tits.
I don’t want this to be an explanation from a place where I can’t truly empathize with what you’re going through.
That’s why I’m writing this at 32. Close enough to feel it, and far enough to understand.
You get born into circumstances that are out of your control.
Whether you’re born into a loving family, who are well off, who send you to a good school where you make a lot of friends, and who give you the tools you need and opportunities in life.
Or, you know, the complete opposite of that.
If you strike out on one, a few, or all counts, you need to understand that it’s none of your fault.
It’s not your fault that your parents couldn’t provide for you emotionally or financially. It’s not your fault that the school you went to didn’t provide you with proper education or a safe social environment. It’s not your fault that society at large failed you and didn’t give you the tools you need or expose you to opportunities that would’ve given you a better life.
That’s on THEM, and it’s total fucking bullshit that you had to go through it.
Now, I have tremendous amounts of understanding and empathy for your situation.
As you’re reading this you might still be in your teens, going through it, and/or having some of it ahead of you. If that’s the case, I’m so sorry that I, and everyone else who came before you, didn’t fix it in time.
You’re allowed to be angry at us. In fact, you should be. We should be held accountable for our actions as well as our inaction.
However, the sooner you understand what I’m about to tell you, the sooner you’ll be able to start doing the things we couldn’t do for you.
Knowing myself at ages 11–23, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have listened to this advice, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Maybe 1 or 2 of you will actually be ready to understand this, because it’s NOT what you want to hear.
Nobody’s coming to save you. People have their own problems and probably don’t have time for yours.
If you’re 18 or older and you went through some, or all, of the things I mentioned, maybe even a few I didn’t, it’s OK to be disappointed.
But ask yourself, will complaining about it help you? Will blaming people and circumstances help you?
While it’s true that all of it happened, and while it’s true that all of it sucked ass, how will complaining and blaming help move you forward?
It’s OK to look at it and say that this, this, and this wasn’t right or fair.
They’re facts and reasons for why your life is the way it is now, but it’s not an excuse to not work toward getting the life you want.
If the life you want now involves having had a good childhood, education, friends, chances. Well, it’s not going to happen, so allow yourself to mourn that loss. But you don’t have to dwell on it.
You can’t change the past. Perhaps with therapy you might solve some of those issues and have closure. But that won’t change the fact of how your life unfolded up until this point.
You can only change where you go from here.
Our brains are wired to keep an eye out for danger and lack. At an earlier stage of our evolution it enabled us to survive.
We still have the same basic wiring today. Unfortunately the same signals of danger and lack are triggered by things that aren’t really a threat to our lives.
Also, given that you’ve probably experienced some trauma in your life, be it physical or emotional, your brain’s become very observant of similar things in your environment.
Let’s say you’ve gone through life and learned to gather shit in your backpack. Well, it’s easy to go on thinking that you need to pick up every piece of shit you come across. Until either you realize it for yourself, or someone tells you that you don’t actually have to do that.
I’m telling you right now, you’re done with it. Put down your backpack. You don’t have to pick up another piece of shit.
Now that you’ve looked at everything that isn’t as you wish it were, it’s time to look at what you’ve actually got.
There are gems waiting to be unearthed. The fact that you’ve gone through all that shit has given you something that is perhaps far more valuable than the life you wish you’d had.
If you’re having a hard time knowing what to look for or how to put it to use there’s a world full of people who can help you. The tricky part is finding those who can actually do it. Again, these people won’t come along and save you, but they might give you the tools you need to do it for yourself.
Even if they can’t physically be there, you can always look at them from afar and try to understand what it is that they do that has helped them to get to the place you want to go.
Now, I sense that some of you might have a hard time looking at the future you want and see how it fits with where you are right now. The discrepancy can be daunting to say the least.
If you haven’t got a degree and you can’t afford to study, and even if you did, you don’t have the grades, what do you do?
It’s easy to get stuck in this Catch-22.
The important thing is to remember to focus on what you can do instead of what you lack.
Can you start reading books on the subject? Can you audit courses? Is there a cheaper introductory course available online?
It might not be the perfect solution, but it’ll get you a couple of steps closer to where you want to go.
While the specifics and amount of time it’ll take may vary given your circumstances and what you want to achieve, the basic principles remain the same.
Start asking questions about what you CAN do.
A part of me wishes that I’d written this a lot sooner. Maybe 7 years ago, when I wasn’t as removed from the experience.
Today it feels like I’m standing behind a podium lecturing rather than standing next to you. This is perhaps what time has a tendency to do.
Most people will tell you that: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, but what they fail to tell you is that you need to bring your own water and sugar or it’ll taste like shit.
I hope that in writing this I’ve perhaps moved the needle a little bit. Just enough that you share your experiences with someone else who’s going through something similar.
When you’re in the middle of it all, it feels like the world should change, not you. Unfortunately, the world is going to fight you every step of the way.
The funny thing is that once you begin to change, somehow the world starts to change with you.
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Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!