Let go of the idea that your life could have been anything else

Someone reading a newspaper that is on fire

Remember when life was all about landing your first job and staying there until retirement, marrying your high school sweetheart, raising 2,3 kids, and buying a house with the white picket fence? Yeah, me neither.

This idea would make most modern people cringe, but what if these people with their boring and predictable lives were better off than us nowadays having infinite possibilities. Because of the simple fact that they didn’t suffer as much from the ‘if-then illusion’ that hunts modern day men: “If I had ABC, then now I would be XYZ.”

* If I had this exciting career and not this one, then I would have been successful now.
* If I had moved abroad years ago, then I would have been happy.
* If my life would be just like this Instagram photo, then people would like me.

Tessa is fucked

Sure, when Sally was ironing John’s stinking boxers in 1964 (John loves smooth undies), she dreamed off to better places as well, but she knew her options were limited and she needed to make the best of it. She had a clear purpose and knew what to focus on and she did. Sally looks back to a simple and fulfilling life she wouldn’t trade for the world.

Fast forward 40 years and Sally’s daughter Tessa finds herself in an entirely different scenario. She can do whatever the fuck she wants, and that’s precisely what she does. 30-year-old Tessa has had eight jobs and 11 relationships with all genders available (cause hey, it’s fucking 2019!) in the last five years. She’s been all over the world and had many great options in life that go way beyond her mother’s imagination. Tessa had more experiences in five years than her mother in 60. What a time to be alive!

This was everything Sally dreamed of for Tessa and worked so hard for with smooth undie John. Tessa could be anything she wanted, but shit didn’t pan out the way Sally anticipated.

Tessa is confused, is on prescription medication for her depression, and can’t focus on a single thing for five minutes, even if her life would depend on it. Despite the infinite possibilities and her parents aiming for the moon, Tessa ended up a wreck that never left the ground, and Sally can’t wrap her head around it.

The constant idea that our life could be something else then it is, dwelling on it, and continuously shifting directions, makes not just Tessa, but an entire generation completely lost,  miserable, and weak.

Right now, the reality is that the new generation is weaker than their parents, which is a first and catastrophic event for humanity. After centuries of growing stronger as a species and thriving, we are declining. I betcha good ‘ol Sally didn’t have the extinction of humanity in mind when she busted her ass to make the sky the limit for her princess, but hey, shit happens.

Enter FOMO: the fear of missing out

But, what makes it that Tessa and her peers keep switching their lives around so much and evolving in a bunch of lost and weak mofos? Is it a healthy drive and awareness that’s fueled by the notion of wanting to experience life at it’s fullest and becoming the strongest version of themselves?

Or is it an unhealthy fear of missing out? Is it the constant voice that keeps telling you, “There’s something much better going on somewhere else, and you’re the only one not at the party, sucks to be you.”?

I think the latter.

By listening to that haunting voice, you enter a never-ending cycle. We consume 24/7, the world moves faster than ever, and every piece of content you see is just a bit better than the one you saw before. You’ve entered a state in which fear is the predominant ruler, and that’s always a bad place to operate from.

It’s a weird form of fear also. In its essence, fear is based on something being taken away from you. Someone stealing your bike, threatening your safety, or when shit really hits the fan, killing your fearful ass. All very good reasons to be scared.

But, in the case of fear of missing out, you are afraid that something that isn’t even yours and that you are still unaware of gets ‘taken’ away from you.

How can you enjoy what you are doing now if you are always in fear of missing out? You can’t enjoy what you are doing now, because at this moment you are physically looking for something better to do right now. Hence the reason you keep scrolling Instagram, checking your messages, and being unfocused. It just might happen that that one thing you don’t want to miss passes by. And even if you seem physically present, your mind wanders off in the realm of fear and comes up with all kinds of things you could be missing at this very moment. It’s a bizarre phenomenon.

When you are in a state of FOMO, you are constantly searching for the perfect experience, but are never able to experience the actual experience. You end up with a ton of mediocre and fragmented experiences, while your ultimate goal has always been quality, the finer things in life. In search of better, you missed out on life.

When Tessa finally comes home from a week of chasing shiny objects and the next big thing, she’s tired and has a ton of information to process, but those things are fixed with a good nights rest. There must be something else in play. You don’t just stumble upon misery, weakness, and feeling lost.

The illusion of having your life figured out

When you look around you, it feels like everyone has it figured out. Everyone has their dream job, fantastic relationship, goes on vacation three times a year, and their Instagram looks straight out of a magazine. We all tell the story of perfection, and we all buy into it, but deep down, we know it’s bullshit.

When we see our own magazine worthy Instagram feed, we know it’s a lie. Date night with the girls looks fantastic on the gram, but you know the night was lame, Kelly was a bitch again, and the food was tasteless and gave you diarrhea. The photo, however, looks ‘a-ma-zing! #BFF’ #bestnightever’, and when you see it while shitting the last remainings of your 60 euro dinner out for the 8th time that night, you feel like a big fat liar.

So, there you are with your 30+ years on this planet and your beautiful life, but on the inside, you’re dying. You try to keep up with the Joneses, but when you lay awake in bed, you know you’re at the end of your rope, simply because you can’t keep up with those annoying Joneses.

You feel miserable, like a failure, and you are ashamed. You are fragmented because no matter how hard you try, it’s never good enough. You have to look good, have a prestigious full-time career, run a household, and raise three kids, oh, and don’t forget about date night with the girls now!

You’re struggling so hard to figure it out, but it just doesn’t seem to work.

But guess what. Having it figured out is bullshit. Having things figured out is a fixed mindset, and when the world moves so fast, fixed things don’t last. Figuring things out along the way is way more beneficial and works in the long run.

Figuring things out means you will be struggling and that’s ok. It’s part of the process. What’s not ok is that everyone pretends like they got their shit figured out and don’t struggle.

The struggle is real

Society doesn’t talk about the struggle. It’s always perfect pictures and people that accidentally stumbled upon success and happiness. When someone asks how things are going, you put on a fake smile and say: “I’m fine, busy, busy, busy, you know me!” (and when you walk around the corner you break down in tears for the 6th time that day).

But, we all want to know about the struggle. Once we move past the initial shame and facade that we all have it figured out, we are open to someone’s struggle because it’s so relatable.  

We love movies of people struggling and going through hard times because it’s real. It’s a story of hope. Even though the character in the movie went through the struggle, he came out a better man. It’s the hero’s journey. The struggle was just what he needed to become who he was destined to be.

Even though we love a good story about struggle, we don’t want to bother with it ourselves. Why should we? There’s enough to take our minds of the struggle (FOMO, anyone?). We deny it, push it away. We believe life is all about happiness and unicorns that shit rainbows. The moment things become just a bit challenging or hard, we take the easy route and pick something else. Something new and exciting. And while we jump from one exciting thing to the next, we condition ourselves and become weak people that hit the ground with the first jab life gives us. 

But the struggle doesn’t care that you pretend that it isn’t there. It just stays where it is, slowly building momentum and one day it knocks you out, you burn out, or even worse. And you never saw it coming, because you were too busy chasing one shiny object after another.

In the struggle, you suffer, and suffering is the process to heal. Accepting the struggle is taking responsibility. Suffer as long as you need, but not a moment more. When the music is gone, and the lights go on, go back home. Embody the experience, transcend, and carry on.

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castaneda

Freedom is a prison

The main driver of the fear of missing out is, well, the fear of missing out (excellent work, Sherlock). The sky is the limit, and therefore, we are fully open to it. We are entirely free to become who we want to be, and paradoxically, we become nothing at all. We run up and down the playing field completely clueless of where the goal is and we never score a single goal.

There are too many things to pick from, and as a result, we choose nothing.

Passion and purpose come from doing the work, not the other way around. We have to decide what we will invest our time in and what is interesting enough for us to pursue. And to make that choice tangible, we need boundaries. Being free is a fantastic concept, but if you have no idea what to do with that freedom, you are a prisoner of freedom.

Accept that you can’t do it all and that that is perfectly fine. Society has fucked us, and we now have a model for both men and women that isn’t realistic at all. You can’t be everything at the same time; we must choose. If you want to be a full-time stay at home mom, great! If you wish to pursue a career, also great!

But, whatever you do, don’t beat yourself over the head if you can’t do both at the same time. Set boundaries, pick something, and truly commit. Commit for a specific time and don’t bail out. Go past the excitement and through the boring middle part. When the excitement and rapid growth from the early stage wares of, keep pushing through the struggle and develop yourself. Give everything you got.

If you feel like you fucked up, just say, I fucked up.” Let go of the idea that your life could have been anything else as what it is right now. Not happy about it? Take responsibility and change it today. Don’t worry about all the days and years before yesterday.

It’s easy to mope around and act as the world fucked you over. But guess what, nobody is coming to your pity party. Being sick and down is a perfect excuse to escape the unattainable model that society has put up for you, but it doesn’t serve you well. Don’t say, “If only XYZ didn’t happen, then I would be XYZ.” Whatever happened to you might not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility.

Your life couldn’t be something else then it is today, because it’s the way it is because of you. If you’ve got a fucked up life now and feel you should have turned left when you turned right, your life would probably still be fucked up, because of, well, you.

And if you’re a stubborn fucker and think left would really have made a difference, here’s the thing: you will never find out.

A message for Tessa

Now, Tessa and her entire generation will never read this article beyond the first paragraph, because there are a million other more exciting things going on, but maybe this shortlist will reach them someday, some way.

1. Stop chasing the next big thing and focus on one thing at a time
2. Having your life figured out is bullshit. Figure it out along the way
3. Struggle is a good thing. I hope you suffer
4. Fuck freedom, set boundaries and commit
5. Passion and purpose come after the work
6. Enjoy the present, read this

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell

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