Why are you running?

When I watched the Nollywood film titled Pretty Liars (no relation to Pretty Little Liars), I had no way of knowing that that one scene (you know the one I’m talking about) would go on to become an iconic meme. Today when I sat to write this post, that is the first thing that came to my mind. Why are you running?

See I have been running for a long time now. Running even though no one was chasing. I have always been in a hurry to get through the stages of life. It may have started when I skipped grade 6 and went straight to secondary school at nine years old. I turned 16 in my first term at University, completed all my credits at 19, and by 22 I had my Master’s degree and was starting my career. At university I took summer classes every year to speed things up so I could graduate in three years instead of four. When it was all over, I sat with myself and asked the question “Now what? What’s next? Why were you in a hurry?

The sad truth is that I should have enjoyed the journey more, rather than rushing to the destination. It would have been nice to have taken the time to smell the petunias. At the end of it all I am grateful for everything, and I’m not going to dwell mindlessly on the past; still it is good (important even!) to reflect. Did it matter if I graduated at 19 instead of 21? By the grace of God, we all reached the destination, and it did not matter how long it took. I was so engrossed in just getting it all over with, that I never even stopped to consider what the point was, and what the plan was after everything was ticked off.

For so long it was just “on to the next”. I was ticking things off robotically like I was collecting infinity stones (I only know this reference thanks to social media. I have not watched the film), and when it was done I felt so terribly lost and confused. What now? I had not thought beyond the destination, forgetting that life is not one destination but one long never ending journey with some pitstops. After my final summer semester in which I got the final credits for my bachelor’s degree in summer school, I remember sitting in my room in University, completely overwhelmed by the rest of my life staring down at me. I had reached the end of the race in record time and there was still the rest of my life to deal with. For years I had known what the next step was-midterms, exams, summer school etc. That was the first time that all certainty was gone- there was nothing set for me to do next, the decision was all mine and I was petrified. I was technically an adult now and had to decide what to do next, yet I still felt like a child. After graduation I just laid around and waited for someone to tell me what to do next. That was one of the more depressing periods of my life. I remember one day my mother scolded me for loafing around saying “do you know you are a graduate now?But I’m still a child, I thought. How am I supposed to make all these decisions? In a way I am still that child, and I struggle sometimes with making serious life decisions because I’m just a baby haha.

For a long time now I have been in a rut. Well actually maybe for the past 2.5 years because before then I had professional exams that I was working towards (again rush rush get it all done in one go no resits hello anxiety). These exams were not fun by any means but the stress, anxiety, adrenaline provided something other than inertia. After those were done and dusted, life returned to this long monotonous bore as there was nothing I was working towards or looking forward to. It’s weird that in writing this, I have managed to partially diagnose myself; I need something to work towards and for the past couple of years I have not had that, hence the funk.

I have started implementing changes in my life, and the main one is that I have found a new job. For some people this is not a big deal, but for me it is the biggest of deals. I just could not deal with the monotony anymore and I wanted something fresh. Now I realise that even the new job by itself may not provide me with a completely new fresh lease on life. There are two reasons for this; the first is the feeling that while this is a change, it is still not my purpose. I may never truly feel light and happy with work until I am doing something that feeds my spirit. The second, which I literally just realised while writing this post, is that unless I am working towards something, life is dull and monotonous. So this new job is not going to automatically lift my spirits, because if care is not taken I risk falling into the same rut. Still it is a much needed change. I just have to be intentional about this.

Taking this leap feels scary, but also empowering and liberating. If this job does not work out, I will get another one. Now that I know better, I will try to be more mindful of my life. There is a thin line between doing too much and not doing enough. I want to get a promotion within a year of my new job, but I also want to chill and take everything in stride. The next big girl decision is to get a new place to stay, but with rising costs of everything the situation is dire, and it may be better to just stay put. Still I feel better than I have felt in a while, and for now that is enough.

Why are you running? Take the time to enjoy the journey, admire the scenery, smell the roses. You will get there in the end, there’s no need to rush.

Worry worry baby.

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
– Swedish Proverb

“Your rest is not rest. You are resting so that you can work. You are working so that you can rest. You are caught up in a circle.”
― Shunya

One thing about me; I am going to worry. A good chunk of my life is spent worrying about what to eat, the rest is spent just worrying in general. I don’t remember when I first encountered anxiety, but it has quickly become the mainstay of my life, that annoying guest that was to spend the weekend but still remains seven years later and even now receives guests in your home.

I am always anxious. I noticed this a few years ago in the thick of prepping for professional exams. I was anxious about the exams while studying for them, anxious on my way to the exam venue, anxious on my way back home, and anxious for the six or so weeks before the results came out. When I say anxious I don’t mean “casually hoping for the best and slight nervousness”, no I mean waking up at 3am in the morning panicking about my answer to question four. I mean constant heart palpitations and skipped beats that has me running off to WebMD.

If I really think about it, anxiety has been around for much longer, although back then I did not call it by its name. I remember the days back in University when I would wake up in a cold sweat, my heart thumping so hard it was impossible to sleep. What was on my mind pray tell? An impending operation? A death? A breakup? An eviction? Nope. It was the exam I had earlier that day. Then the results would come and I would get top marks (I once got 51/50, no lie), enjoy a slight relief while my heart preps itself to go through the ordeal again.

Writing truly is my therapy because as I write it I am beginning to diagnose myself. I don’t remember this anxiety back in secondary school, not even during final year exams. I barely studied back then- I just freestyled the whole thing and still managed to get decent grades. I remember my final year Agric exam in which I casually decided to glance at the textbook before the exam and was so shocked to see that one of the points I read in the textbook actually came up. Wow who knew that reading a textbook prepares you for an exam? I did not have this anxiety in my first term of university- I spent all my time eating butter croissants and watching old American TV shows; The Cosby Show, Good Times, The Jefferson’s and the like. I would literally pause an episode of The Cosby Show, go write an exam and come back to finish it. Sigh good times. Then I got my result at the end of the term and was not pleased. That was when I had the awakening.

What is the awakening you ask? Hold on, I’ll tell you. After seeing my embarrassing first term GPA, it dawned on me that I would have to sit up if I ever wanted to graduate with honours. The period of coasting was over, and I could no longer rely on common sense to pass my exams. I said to myself- you are smart and you are capable of excellent grades, you just have to apply yourself. If you don’t you will spend the rest of your life trying to convince yourself and others that you could have graduated with honours. And so I did. I began studying hard for each class, and actually started getting good grades. From then on I was always on the Dean’s list for academic achievement and even made the Chancellor’s list for academic achievement (this came with a medal). But there was a cost.

See the result of me applying myself was that I got the results I wanted, but accompanying this was a silent stranger who snuck in like a thief in the night. Whereas previously, exams and tests were not the end of the world for me, they quickly become so. No longer could I nonchalantly waltz in and out of exams, now I had to deal with stress and panic on both sides of the exam. I would beat myself up worrying about the exam I just wrote and this stress would only be abated temporarily by an excellent score. Once I got 89% on a psychology midterm and that ruined my week. I was depressed and dismayed. It was ridiculous.

This stranger has followed me from step to step, sometimes walking slowly at a distance, and other times climbing on my back and putting me in a chokehold.

I no longer have exams, thank goodness, but now the anxiety is about work and life in general. Listen I cannot work and be anxiety free at the same time. Work stresses me out to no end and I am tired of it. Thanks to my anxiety, a meeting scheduled for 2pm means I am going to be stressed until 2pm. Everything else I do before 2pm will pale in significance to the meeting.
I also worry too much and assume unnecessarily. A manager could ask a quick question and that is enough to send me in a downward spiral of doubt and angst. “Oh God what the hell does she want oh my goodness why won’t she leave me alone I ain’t got the answers sway and I feel bad because I probably should have the answers now she has activated my doubt and made me feel foolish and I wish I didn’t have to work with her but really she is not a bad person just overbearing and the reason I feel bad is because she is asking valid questions that I should have asked and oh God I thought tomorrow was Friday but it’s not so now I have to face two more days with her uggggghhhhh let me pep myself up so I don’t sound depressed on the quick call which I really would rather not be on“. Then we have the call and it’s not anywhere close to being a big deal. Madness.

A small portion of my anxiety is the regular anxiety that functioning adults have when dealing with work and deadlines, but most of it is self inflicted from the pressure I put on myself. A manager leaves a review comment on my work and immediately I start to feel stupid for not knowing the answer and not thinking about that in the first place. Then I feel annoyed with the manager and the job as a whole. It’s a mess.

It was the intense stress of exams and waiting for exam results that drove me back to God in 2019, and once I got over that I went back to being a pagan but that’s a story for another day.

The thing is that I can’t just quit my job and hope for happiness because the anxiety is in me not the job. Even if I get a job in which I can explore my creative talents I will still be riddled with anxiety. Even those people who seem to have it all- writers, singers etc must constantly deal with anxiety. I can just see myself as an award winning writer-living in my dream home and still battling with anxiety over my new book; screaming out in irritation every time my editor calls to check in, worrying about meeting the deadline and being sick over how the book will be received. I won’t have a monthly salary/steady income so there will be the stress of ensuring I don’t go broke.

The only way I can be truly happy is to have no pressing responsibilities, no deadlines, no “urgent meetings/quick calls to discuss…” All I need is a steady influx of >£10k each month into perpetuity and I’m good. Oh my God I can’t wait to find the life that’s for me.

On purpose and fear of missing out.

I don’t think your life has to have a purpose, or you a grand ambitionIt is okay to wander through life finding interesting things to do until you die.” https://www.instagram.com/p/CEuA5EUhmDG/

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the causes of melancholy in today’s youth is the fear of missing out, FOMO if you will.

Thanks in part to social media, the world is much smaller and everyone is your neighbour regardless of where you actually live. Like many things, this has its positives and negatives. The negative is that you have so many people to compare yourself to; so many FOMO inducing moments which you might not have had otherwise. This goes beyond parties and fun holidays but also seeps into more serious existential things; finding fulfillment and purpose. A 21 year old in Texas bought her first house, now a 26 year old in London who saw the pictures on Instagram is feeling insecure and unaccomplished because she is nowhere near being able to do the same. People feel like failures because they haven’t completely “figured out” their lives at 24. Everyone else appears to have it together (just look at their Instagram pages!) and this intensifies the pressure.

The need to find one’s purpose predates the internet age and is not unique to this generation. However the concept of finding one’s purpose is both helped and worsened by social media. On one hand there is whole new range of occupations that were not available twenty or even ten years ago. People can now make careers out of their hobbies and interests, instead of forcing themselves into unsuitable moulds. On the other hand a traditional 9-5 is considered old fashioned and dull, leaving a lot of people feel pressure to be doing something non traditional on the side. Surely you can’t simply work for thirty or so years and then retire. How uninteresting. What a waste of a life. You need to find your purpose!
Now people are running helter skelter trying to determine their true purpose because “if you do what you love it doesn’t feel like work.

This whole thing about finding one’s purpose can be both liberating and stifling. Liberating because you may be lucky to find something that enriches your soul. Stifling because unless you find this “purpose” you may find yourself perpetually unfulfilled, restlessly hopping from one place to the other in search of the elusive purpose.

So when I saw the quote at the beginning of the post, I was immediately drawn to it and inspired to write this post. Of course some people will disagree and say everyone in-fact has a purpose; wandering is a purpose. I myself wonder if I was drawn to the idea of not having a purpose as a cop-out for my laziness and lethargy. I like to write and my computer is littered with unfinished pieces. If I took writing as my purpose would I be more serious with it or would I be driven mad trying to fulfill this purpose? For now writing is something I like to do but I feel no pressure as I don’t necessarily see it as my purpose. Still there are times I feel like there ought to be more to life (see last post) and I wonder if I would feel more fulfilled if I had a purpose I was working towards.

For some, having a life purpose can be very comforting and motivating as it keeps them going. Conversely it can also be comforting to think that there is really no purpose to life, no heights that must be reached, no real boxes that must be ticked. You don’t have to get married and have children if you don’t want to. You don’t have to monetise all your hobbies and interests. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur.

If it makes you happy to live day to day as you are then don’t stress yourself out fearing that you are missing out. And to those who are desperately searching for their purpose, their raison d’etre? I hope you find this and I hope it makes you happy.

Man is condemned to be free

What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning. Life has no meaning a priori; It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.

Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.
― Jean-Paul Sartre

No other destiny

“Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

 

What now?

I recently achieved yet another milestone in my life. I have hit many milestones in my life; nothing spectacular, just the usual milestones everyone hits. What is so different about this one is that there is nothing after it.

Rather than be excited or relieved, I feel empty. Emptiness brought on uncertainty about what to do next; uncertainty brought on by a lack of plans; lack of plans brought on by lack of planning; lack of planning brought on procrastination; procrastination brought on by laziness; laziness brought on by being too comfortable without even knowing it. There was simply no fire under my bum (or whatever the saying is.)

Most of life is routine and planned out in stages. For me it is primary school-secondary school- university undergrad-postgrad. Up till now there has always been something else coming up after a milestone. I never had to worry about what to do next because it was all set out for me.

Now I have reached the end of this road and all that lies before me is a wide expanse of nothing. For the first time ever, I am beginning to panic.

Further education is out of it; I have not done anything tangible with the decades of education I have acquired thus far. The obvious next step is to get a job, and maybe if I had one I would be more at ease. Having a job and earning money are the first steps to my becoming an adult. It is impossible to be independent without money. It costs money to be free.

Every time I write a cover letter, and I have sent out a lot, I start to wonder: what is this really for for? Am I really hustling and jostling for a chance to join the rat race? I am here hoping, praying, wishing that I am given the opportunity to work myself half to death for little satisfaction. Do I really want this life?

Previously, when people in films talked about finding themselves, I rolled my eyes so deeply I could taste them in my throat. What hogwash! Find yourself? But you are right there what’s else are you looking for ha ha ha.

I have lived and I have learned and I have now realised how important-necessary even-it is to find yourself: to know the person you are now and the person you would like to be; what you like and what you don’t; things you will accept and things you will not; what it is you want out of life, and how you are going to get them.

A few Sylvia Plath quotes have been in my head lately:

“If only I knew what I wanted I could try to see about getting it.”

What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.

What is my life for and what am I going to do with it? I don’t know and i am afraid.

I do not know who I am, where I am going- and I am the one who has to decide the answers to these hideous questions.

I do not know what I want from life. I have never given it much thought. When people ask about my dream man or dream wedding, I never have anything to say, because I have never pictured a dream man or wedding. I was also never bothered about this. There is no big deal in not fantasising about a wedding.

Now I realise that I have not thought about anything; I have no dream job, no dream house, no dream life, nothing. All I know is that I want to be happy, but I have not given any thought to what things will make me happy. So far my method of adulting is just taking each day as it comes and letting the universe take care of things. Unfortunately life has outgrown this.

How did I decide on what to study for my undergraduate degree? I went through the list of courses that were offered at the school I was applying to, and just picked one. Fortunately for me I ended up liking it and I did reasonably well. Let this not be mistaken for spontaneity, because boy oh girl I am so not.

Every time I apply to a job, I feel a twinge of nervousness. Not just because I know they won’t get back to me, but because I’m afraid they will. Strangely the thought of getting the job scares me a little. What if I am not qualified? Everyone else will probably be smarter than I am, with degrees from schools more prestigious than mine. What if I am unable to keep up and I am found out for the fraud that I am?

What sort of a life do I want? My perpetual answer to this question and other variations of “what do I want?” is I just want to be happy and stress free. For most of my life I have been stress-free, I don’t go looking for it and it doesn’t come looking for me. I have even bypassed all the things people get into in the normal course of life; things that bring great pleasure but also have the potential to cause great pain and distress. I have avoided the stress but by doing so also avoided the pleasure. This reminds me of Nietzsche’s assertion that pain and pleasure are twins; we cannot have one without the other.

Perhaps I need some stress in my life. I need to go out and have experiences (even as I type this I know I won’t). Maybe then I can begin to discover myself, I don’t think I will be revealed unto myself while in bed watching yet another show on Netflix {with Microsoft word open in the background, housing the skeletal outline of the stories I started ages ago and always mean to continue.} I have become aware of all that I have taken for granted and I can no longer continue to coast through life, unfortunately.

Who am I? What do I want? What do I want to do with my life?

These are the questions.