At 16, where did I see myself at aged 30? In a position of some note within a well-known company? Married with a child, maybe two, three? That’s what mainstream society and close relatives would class as ‘normal’, right? This was the natural order of things in our parents’ and grandparents’ day; before social media, 24 hour wall-to-wall news coverage, and ‘everyone has to be a flawless, over-achieving star’ celebrity culture. Just to be content with our lot in life these days is to be an unfashionable killjoy who doesn’t appreciate the massive advances in human achievement over the last fifty years. We’re constantly being told that we should be pushing ourselves, striving for bigger and better, without really knowing what ‘bigger and better’ actually means. Making our families proud. Ticking life’s boxes.
I’m starting to feel more and more that the harder I try to make others proud, or even just to keep afloat in a constantly changing world, the more barriers crop up to bar the way. As an example, in 2007 I decided to ‘do what was expected’ of someone in their early twenties with few qualifications, and go to uni as a way of securing a more prosperous future…just at the same time the western world spiralled into the worst recession in 80 years, rendering the degree I received at the end of three years of deadlines and dedication a virtually worthless piece of paper. It’s safe to say that this is a ubiquitous state shared by anyone who graduated after 2008. Harrumph.
Whilst we’re having every conceivable career possibility dangled in front of our noses pre-graduation, when you look beyond the false promises, all we’re presented with is another locked door, with the vague reassurance that something positive and fulfilling is waiting beyond some far off horizon. Instead of looking within ourselves to find happiness, the more popular and seemingly easier way to contentment is to call on others to show us the way; but this can leave you with the sense that you’ve let others down when we haven’t achieved certain things by specific stages in our life.
So what of a high-flying career, family of my own etc? As the first year of my thirties draws to a close, I have neither and I wonder if ever I do achieve any of these things, will I finally be content? Will concerns start to materialise? Will my job be safe for as long as I want it? Will my partner one day decide she’s had enough and vanish into the sunset with a more attractive/self-confident example of masculinity? Will my kids live a relatively trouble-free, prosperous, and healthy life?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe life will always be filled with a certain amount of worry, and false expectations, no matter how well-meant, are often the reason for these fears and concerns. It’s not that we shouldn’t try for happiness, both our own and those of our nearest and dearest, and instead simply make our solitary way through a black and white world of low horizons, but I think there must be other ways of achieving goals that don’t revolve around doing what other people think we should be doing. Otherwise in a world that’s only going to get more competitive, ruthless, and faster, the pursuit of ultimate contentment may be a tiring journey down a long and winding road that never really reaches a satisfactory conclusion.
Trying to be less self-critical and more content within ourselves might be a good starting point in helping us to deal with all the shit life throws our way – appreciate the small things, the day to day achievements, and give less life changing onus to the big stuff. Give yourself a break. No one achieves every single goal they set for themselves. It’s the ability to pick yourself up and retain perspective if you fall wide of the mark that’s the secret to true contentment.