“There’s a real correlation between a society that tells people that they can do anything, and the existence of low self-esteem.”
A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success by Alain de Botton
I’ve been thinking about this quote for a while now. I’ll be sitting in a subway car on my way to work, letting my mind wander to distraction for the commute, and it’ll just float in to remind me that sometimes how I feel isn’t my own fault.
I was told I could do Anything, that I could reach for the stars, be president, or write a bestseller if I wanted. But if society tells each of us the same story, aren’t some of us doomed to fail?
I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t try. But sometimes I think the restlessness I feel is imposed on me by a society that demands constant improvement rather than by any personal dissatisfaction with my life thus far.
With a full time job it’s easy to give way to monotony and routine, to get used to workweeks passing by in a blur with little fanfare. And for the last few months I’ve been absorbed in that fog, allowing myself to proceed through the day as if it were a dress rehearsal for a real life waiting in the wings. I’ll admit that I’m dissatisfied with this part of my life and how helpless I feel to change it, but I don’t always feel that way.
When I’m with friends or lost in the pages of a book, I feel more set in the present and more content with what I have. I may not love everything about my life, but I do love my life. I’ve been frustrated with my career path and with a few other decisions recently, but in the last year I’ve felt more at peace with myself and who I am then in any of my previous twenty-two. And that’s nothing to sneeze at, just because of one misshapen puzzle piece.
Still, when life keeps reminding you of its endless possibilities, it’s hard to appreciate that contentment for the milestone that it is. It’s hard not to give in to feelings of hopelessness or the pressure to keep up with the Jones’ social media highlight reel. They were told they could do the same Anything as me..so if they can – and they did – then I guess I should, too. Never mind the fact that I’m ok with where I am; society thinks I shouldn’t be so happy about wasting my ever-increasing Anything potential. But thoughts like these are what bring people down. They teach people to lament their failures rather than learn from them and to view themselves as lesser than people who spend their whole lives climbing success ladders. As de Botton said, it begets low self-esteem.
Instead I try and focus on the little things that have led me to where I am today. I try and appreciate my tiny successes for the milestones that they are and to let myself linger at each point before moving forward. It may not read like a traditional path, and occasionally I still submit to that ladder climbing pressure, but no part of my life has been a waste because of the choices that I have made. They are each a part of who I am today and I’m proud of myself for each of the steps I’ve taken, big or small. I refuse to feel bad about them or like they aren’t good enough, no matter how green the grass may look on the other side.