I guess I should start with the idea that I am average. Or more accurately, my fear that I am average.
That was one of my biggest fears growing up, that I would turn out to be mostly, if not entirely, ordinary. Maybe this is an effect of that famous “you are special” school of parenting that a lot of us millennials grew up with. Nevertheless, at around the age of 11, I was convinced that I had to grow as a person every year. I wanted to become a new person, or at least a new version of myself, once every year. Over time, I became scared that if that ever stopped, I would become, simply, ordinary.
It took me years worth of unlearning to embrace the fact that being average isn’t a bad thing by itself. But we will get to that in a second.
Sticking to the Benches
I think I learned to stay away from competition from an early age. There was always the pressure of performing well in school, and I probably didn’t want to cope with the added pressure of being competitive in other areas as well. Sports, online gaming, ECA- I gave these a wide berth until I was 20 years old or so.
That’s when I started my undergrad courses. I remember wanting to make a mark, back then, but not knowing exactly how to do that. I didn’t talk to many seniors or alumni in those first two years. As a result, I wasn’t knee deep in business competitions or debate, like some of my friends were, back then.
Was I supposed to do those things? If I still ascribed to that idea of entitlement, that I deserve to be someone special, then perhaps the answer is yes. Debate opens lots of doors for you. As does winning business competitions.
But if I wasn’t investing my time and effort into these things, what was I really doing with my time?
I was learning. I worked in various part time roles, and picked up skills from almost every thing I did. I didn’t do everything right, but I believe that I did enough things right. Then I graduated college. And things started falling apart.
The Slow Unraveling of a Frantic Mind
I was doing well in my day job, all things considered, but at night, I frequently grappled with the idea that I wasn’t achieving my full potential. Friendships became, well, conveniently segregated. And somewhere along the line I started comparing myself to those friends who ticked off the all right boxes. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t petty enough to wonder why some of them were doing well when I was hitting rock bottom with depression.
In fact, depression can make you unimaginably petty.
You wonder how it’s a struggle to wake up every day, how going through the motions becomes harder over time; and then you see Instagram posts of people vacationing around the world. You come to hate these posts, but most of all, you learn to hate yourself. You wonder if you really aren’t good enough. It didn’t occur to me that depression is an equal opportunity offender. It really didn’t matter if I was a good worker or not, or even a good person or not.
Depression was there to stay, and soon enough, it brought along another friend, anxiety, into the party.
And I remember, thinking at the end of the day, if I had anything to show for all those hours and sleepless nights I had put into myself. I had money, of course, but it wasn’t enough. My friends earned twice my salary, which is understandable given that I worked in startups and they worked in multinational corporations. But my comparisons continued, and now they had more venom than before.
The Long Road Ahead
It took me another two years to unlearn such destructive coping strategies. I learned to fight depression and anxiety every step of the way. And one of the things I had to learn to do was to love myself. And that, to tell you the truth, was pretty hard.
I had to understand that I deserve love, happiness and peace, regardless of how I perform and what I do later in life. I had to minimize my fears of being average.
That’s something I still have to deal with from time to time, because a part of my mind is always measuring myself, checking what I am doing and constantly wondering if I am growing as a person. I am still a workaholic, and I still have to deal with those fears of not being good enough.
I still find myself thinking what if when I see guys and girls three-four years younger than me win things on the big stage. Was I supposed to be one of them?
Was I supposed to work in a MNC and feel proud about it? Here I am, running a startup that hasn’t paid a dime off its investment. I go to bed every night thinking things will go to shit the next morning. When they don’t, I sometimes think if I was supposed to be earning a decent, if not lucrative amount and use that money to fund a vacation in Bali.
At this age, a vacation in Bali doesn’t seem really that bad.
I literally caused a partial tear in my right shoulder from working too hard, according to a MRI I had earlier this month. My spinal column hurts like hell too, and I am doing three separate MRIs for that later. I don’t know if I work harder than anyone I know. I just know that I pulled off a 36 hour workshift when I was 22. And I haven’t really stopped working since then.
Is this going to ever end? Do I even want it to?
Thankfully, I am aware enough to know that these things don’t matter. I am only human. I probably won’t accomplish everything I set out to do. I might even end up as an abject failure. But I have to love myself nonetheless, like I would love another human being who’s also struggling in life. Kindness and compassion are what will see me through my difficult days, not envy and shame.
If you are struggling with negative self talk as well, my advice to you would be to be kind to yourself.
Try to be just a bit kinder every day. It’s hard work, but give yourself enough time and you will see the results.
Of course, sometimes mindfulness isn’t enough, but if that’s your case, then you need to be kind enough to seek help. There’s no shame in asking for help. Don’t let anyone else fool you into thinking otherwise.
At the end of the day, even if you are hooked up on meds, you are still the only person who has to live with yourself 24/7. So be kind to yourself, like you would be towards your significant other. For if you can’t love yourself, how can anyone else who knows you?