Photo credit: Author's own.
About a year ago, midway through the big three-oh, I was having a well masked but very real life crisis. It had occurred to me that I could and should be doing better. That there were stupid people who were younger and more successful than me. That I wasn't earning as much money as I would like to keep me in the lifestyle to which I wish to become accustomed. And that, crucially, I had no fucking plan. No idea how I was going to get from where I was to the glorious, prosperous future I assumed was ahead of me.
You know the feeling, right? You go to a party and someone you haven't seen for a little while asks you how you're doing, what's new? Dread washes over you as you become acutely aware that your job doesn't sound cool. You're still single. You haven't managed to buy a house yet, or even pay off your student overdraft. You find yourself torn between admitting all of this to a near stranger in that self-deprecating humorous style you've honed over the years, or you run a full-scale spin campaign around the limited success you've managed to grasp between frequent meltdowns, binge drinking and 48 hour Netflix marathons. I don't know about you, but no matter which option I went for, I'd always leave the interaction feeling like I'd fluffed a job interview.
In a desperate attempt to combat this feeling of unease, I;
- thought about going back to uni and becoming something. Nothing specific, just something, in the Hollywood sense. I thought that maybe it was worth accruing yet more debt if someone would look at me and say "Gee, that girl is really something". I didn't go.
- increased my creative output about 1000%. I told everyone I was writing a novel. THE NOVEL. The one that would change everything for everyone who had ever had a problem. I've got three notebooks full of yet untranscribed material and two characters who are begging for an ending to their story.
- got a new job. Didn't take it.
- made plans to save a tonne of money and buy a house by the sea and get a dog and shave off all my hair and be wild and free. At the time of writing I live in east London, pet free and with a full head of hair.
Somewhere in this absolute frenzy of activity, powered by the fire of insanity, someone (probably tired of my nonsense) encouraged me to read a book called The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna. The general gist of it being, there are things that one "should" do - the things we all do to avoid dying in the gutter, and, there are things that we "must" do which basically amounts to following your dreams, man. I'd like to tell you it changed my life, like the blurb told me it would, but it didn't. It just made me feel bad about not learning to swim.
That was it. I was broken. A cynic, doomed to a life of misery and self-deprecation. Faced with myself as my biggest obstacle, I forged onwards and grasped at achievements. I got a promotion, I started strength training, I went on adventures, I saw Beyoncé. You know, the real life changing stuff. But I wasn't really focused on any goals and to be honest, my enjoyment of each of these things, though real, was transient and fleeting.
Although this sounds like the ultimate first world tale of bullshit self discovery, and I expect no pity for my sad tale of a year where I did more than I've ever done, I do have a point. Looking back, I wish I had approached any one of these things from a place of honest joy and positivity rather than desperation to fit this imaginary mould of success.
I don't need to say this but I'm saying it, you guys. Success isn't real. Success is immeasurable. The myth that you'll be happier with a better job or more money or if you do all the things on some fucking bucket list you found on Buzzfeed has been debunked. The only real success in life is finding the things that distract you from the futility of human existence and then finding the time or the resource to make sure you get to do those things once in a while. Whether your happiness comes from curing cancer or having children or dancing in your bedroom in your undies, you owe it to yourself to figure it out.
If you're wondering, I still don't have a plan. Everyday is still fraught with some navel-gazing existential crisis. I still think about moving to the sea and getting a dog. I'm sure I'll finish that novel and change the world. But if I do those things, it won't be so other people can perceive me as successful. It'll be so I can find some modicum of unspoilt happiness, and in quiet moments of reflection, I can say "Gee. I'm really something."