Chapter 24: Lessons for life (pt 1)

Youth is a peculiar thing. It comes with an admirable recklessness, an emotional intensity that adulthood cannot compare with, and a spirit as wild as untameable stallions galloping through the sunburnt prairie. This unruliness is perhaps the youth’s greatest asset. At the same time, youth is sculpted from remnants of childish naivety that make it easy prey to predators. The youth is also blinded by emotion and deaf to reason, which perhaps marks its greatest vulnerability.

My best friend bemoaned how she could not feel as happy anymore as she used to:

“I realised that I was generally happier when I was younger. Compared to how happy I used to feel, I find myself unable to experience happiness with the same intensity these days.”

To clarify, my best friend is twenty-three years old, thus, she is still very young. When she refers to her younger self, she is talking about her pre-twenties.

I dwelled over her words for a moment until I commented:

“I think I know what you mean, and, in principal, I agree. I believe the reason why our happiness seemingly declines with age is because we learn how to balance out our emotions. We become more stable, the more we grow up, you know. There are fewer extreme emotions, and this applies to both positive as well as negative feelings. Sure, we may stop floating on ecstatic happiness as soon as we leave our teenage years behind, but we also do not dip into depressions every second day.”

What is it about adulthood that forces our emotions to tone down, bringing them closer and closer to an equilibrium?

I reckon it is the accumulating life experience. Life teaches us lessons through any new experience we get confronted with. Experiences therefore ground us, and it is the lack thereof which distinguishes youth from adulthood. Our youth is pecked by one foolishness after another. Only as our experience grows, do we learn how to dodge unfavourable life choices and how to successfully skip over disappointment.

In the last few days, I have been in a quite introspective mood. I keep browsing through my memories, with my attention especially drawn towards life choices which I cannot identify with anymore. While I did not know any better back then, I do know better now. I have matured through many trials and, particularly, through many errors. Because I want to ensure that my future self will not repeat these past ‘mistakes’, I have started compiling a list of important lessons my younger self has taught me.

Do not overthink

It is true that your worst enemy lurks in your own head. Have you ever tried to get rid of a pestering bug that comes crawling onto you with an unwavering determination no matter how persistently you keep shaking it off? This is what it feels like when you are trying to battle unpleasant thoughts which incessantly invade your head. Thoughts that linger around in your head for too long are like a plague that slowly but steadily sucks you into a distorted reality.

I used to be a big overthinker – somebody who is trapped inside their head with the venom of repetitive overanalysing. Not going to lie, I still am somebody with a stark tendency to dwell on certain thoughts for too long. In comparison to my younger self though, I have to learnt to be wary of overthinking. I do not let my thoughts mutate into unwarranted beliefs as easily anymore, and I forbid them to twist my perception of reality.

Too much overthinking in the past has taught me hard, but much needed lessons. I have learnt that overthinking strikes me especially hard in situations of uncertainty. The more I am in doubt, the quicker I will be overrun by wild assumptions, with the worst of them nesting the deepest. I have also learnt that the best remedy against overthinking is to act. Overthinking means that thoughts expand inside your head until it hurts, and you hit a dead end. I find that the best thing to do then is to distract myself by acting instead of thinking, even if it is just something insignificant like cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, showering, or buying some groceries. Getting active pulls me out of my head, away from overthinking and back into reality.

Do not make a guy the centre of your world

Dating is tingling, falling in love is thrilling, and one-night stands are exciting. Who else likes to bathe in the attention of a love interest? I used to depend on daily attention from guys for my self-confidence and self-esteem. There were times in my life when I dated a new guy every week, and when some stranger guy became the new centre of my world within the blink of an eye.

I ditched hangouts with friends for meeting (hooking) up with a guy. I cancelled on my plans last minute if the guy I liked spontaneously asked me to meet up. I eagerly awaited texts from them and replied instantaneously to their messages. The guys I dated used to occupy my mind twenty-four-seven as if I did not have my own life or interests to focus on. The sad truth is that I chose feeding into an illusion of emotional connection over establishing and sustaining some more genuine relationships. During all of my teen years up until about my twenty-third birthday, I always had a guy in my life that I could not stop fantasising about.

My younger self put the guys she dated first because she feared losing them if she did not spend as much time with them as she could. Seriously, I was willing to do pretty much anything for guys who I fell for and who promised romantic love. It took me a few short-lived, sparkling illusions of intimate connection, and by a few I mean quite a few, to finally understand where I had gone wrong about my priorities.

Temporary romance is unreliable. Crushes, one-night stands, flirts, holiday affairs – they lure you with the gloss of hot emotions and the false promise of love. But the brighter they shine, the quicker they fade away. Realising this got me re-evaluating, bringing upon a shift of my attention and priorities. I understood that a genuine, reliable friendship is a lot worthier of my time and energy even though it may not be able to compete with the lavish shimmer of quick love.

I therefore swore to myself that I would never prioritise a guy over my friends again. Similarly, I understood that my personal goals should never have to step outside of the way to make room for temporary romance. So, I swore to never sacrifice my own interests for the sake of a random lover ever again. If a guy is truly interested in me, he will be ready to tolerate that I have a life aside from him and that he is not the centre of my world.

Do not waste time on trying to please others

Acceptance – is that not what we all look for deep down in our hearts? To be accepted by others means to belong. To belong, I have walked lengths unseen, unaware how I thereby overstretched my own capacities. I did many things to be liked. I crafted masks to cover up my personality; I did to blend in better with the others. I abandoned my own beliefs and wishes. I shamed my natural beauty which I was too blind to appreciate at the time. I put others’ interests over my own, and I intentionally presented people the sides of me that I knew they liked, keeping less favourable ones out of sight for them. Afraid to be excluded, I hid my true self to please others.

Trying too hard to belong, kept me from feeling completely comfortable in my own skin. It took me years to forge the confidence to stand my ground, defending my way of being. It is not that I care less about others now; I just care less if others happen to disapprove of me. Not everybody has to like me or agree with me, and that is perfectly fine. First and foremost, I owe it to myself to be myself, and by being authentic, I will naturally attract people that suit me. These are the people that will stick with me. These are the ones that I want to belong with, and these are the people whose opinion I should actually care about.  

Collect memories, not possessions

It is a pain to move flats, especially if you have to do it every year. I have moved flats five times within the last four years. Packing my boxes always makes me realise how much clutter I collect over time. I rediscover clothes that I last wore during that ‘bold-and-sexy’ phase back in my wild days (Fortunately, I discarded this phase). Similarly, I debate whether I should throw half-emptied beauty products away or keep them. Last time when I moved, I recovered the stapler that I would have needed weeks ago. The bottom line is, I always come across random clobber, and I wonder why and when the heck did I accumulate all of this?

Honestly, with every exhaustive decluttering, I appreciate the idea of a minimalistic lifestyle more. Our Western society reinforces materialistic consumption – an attitude that I treated as the norm without questioning. Born into a Western, middle-class household, I grew up with plenty of choice for things, such as toys, stationary, or hair-styling mousse. By all means, my parents were not growing money on trees. They were considerate about spending money. Nevertheless, we were privileged enough to be able to buy almost everything that we wanted. In my family, shopping constituted a regular activity. 

I only started to view this attitude more critically when I realised how little materialistic possessions I truly need in life. In 2018 I travelled through Asia with one backpack – 50 litres to survive with. It carried a fifth of my wardrobe, a third of my gadgets, half of my beauty products, and one pair of shoes. Had I missed my summery dresses to wear out in the evening? I sure had. Had I longed for my cute handbag to stroll around the city? Of course, I had. However, wanting and needing lie shores apart from each other.

My time in Asia humbled my thirst for possessions. Travelling taught me to invest into experiences rather than possessions because experiences become memories, and memories are what forms us, fuels us, and fills us. Certainly, the odd purchase of a new phone, or a new pair of sturdy boots cannot be strictly avoided – in fact, it should not.

Therefore, the message I want my future self to take away is not to condemn materialistic possessions as if they were a sin.  Rather, I want to tell myself to spend money on possessions more deliberately while investing into experiences more readily.

Money is there to be spent, not hoarded

My parents never gave me proper pocket money. The only thing close to pocket money was the weekly tenner for school lunches. Until my high school graduation, all these 10€ notes went untouched, breeding inside my piggy bank. I was determined to save all my lunch money, so determined that I would ignore my body’s starvation, only allowing myself to eat at home after school. On some days, I got dizzily hungry in class. Nevertheless, I stubbornly refused to buy food at the school cafeteria.

Perhaps it is exactly this early experience that planted a fear of spending money in my head. Perhaps I was born with a predisposition towards hoarding money rather than spending it. Who knows? Either way, I have always been one to contemplate every spending with much thorough, assessing its necessity and feasibility.

Even after moving out of from home, I continued my habit of zealously putting money aside every month. Some of my work colleagues would complain about how they had no money left to spend for the rest of the month although they were only one week into a new cycle of waiting for pay day. I never shared these kinds of concerns. However, controlling my expenditures with meticulous attention often came at the price of forcing myself into restricting abstinence.

I remember how friends would invite me to tag along for the cinema or a meal out, and I would decline because it did not fit into my spending’s calculations. I used to keep tight budgeting regimes where I defined how much of a weekly allowance I granted myself. I would go into a shop, see a product I really liked, as simple as a one-pound sandwich, but I would refuse to buy it because it did not fit into my budgeting plan.

I have become sick of holding back from investing into my social life, my wellbeing, and my enjoyment. I do not constantly want to prioritise saving money over having a great experience. I simply had enough of missing out on life. My mindset about money has been too extreme and unhealthy for too long. The crux is that all the guilt I felt for violating my budgeting plan has always proven inferior to the regret that nagged me for missing out on a great time.  

Ultimately, money only embodies a means to living life. Money does not make happy, it can only ever lead to happiness when it is spent, not when it is locked away. In the words of a close friend:

Money serves the purpose to be spent.

(Of course, this all just applies as long as a certain safety net is given which covers essential living expenses.)

In this life, it is highly unlikely that I will convert into an impulse buyer. I mean, I still maintain a budgeting plan. Yet, I have loosened up a lot on my rigorous accounting. I am treating myself more generously, and I do my best to battle my inner stinginess. Changing my mindset about money is a long-term effort, however, it is good to see that I am improving. For example, I started to donate. As a matter of fact, I promised myself to donate every month once I finish university.

I hope that my future self will always remember the following philosophy:

If my world were to end tomorrow, all my savings would rot whilst I could have invested it into a good cause or a good memory of my lifetime.

 

To be continued…

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