Every time we don’t achieve what we set out to do, we categorize the effort that we made in one box and the failed result in another. The equation works in terms of basic economics, are those clichéd phrases of “you get out what you put in” coming to mind? And every time we fail, we look into our box of efforts and pick it apart and ultimately determine that, with hindsight, there were some vital ingredients missing from the recipe that cooks up success.
Why are we so obsessed with the idea of ‘success?’ From a very young age, I have been a very ordered and organized person. I am boring. I thrive on routine and nothing makes me feel worse than an unstructured day or the fact that I don’t have a plan for tomorrow. If I lose motivation, I spend days internally chastising myself for the squandered opportunity and I can see the tension on my friends’ faces when I stop participating in a conversation because I’m making a list in my head for what I need to do later that day or in the coming week. Lists are both my lifeline and my kryptonite.
Bearing all this in mind, no one was more shocked than I was when I had to take a year out of university because I had let my grades suffer to a horrific extent. This was me. The only talent I had was academics. All I knew were books and essays and perfect exam results.
I had allowed insignificant things take over what I thought was the very core of my being; a boyfriend, a shopping addiction, a disproportionate interest in the way I looked. There were times when I was genuinely more concerned with Blair Waldorf’s relationship with Chuck Bass than I was with my own life, although I was becoming acutely aware it was being flushed down the toilet, I had reached the dangerous point where it was easier to watch it spiral down the bowl than to get my hands dirty and stop the tragedy.
The first part of the year I spent outside of formal education was also not one I used “productively.” I got myself a job and used my newfound freedom and surplus of money to make more bad choices but on a more decadent scale. I had overestimated what the world owed me. I naively believed that having to take a year out of my studies was the slap I needed and that it was all going to come together. It didn’t. I stayed numb. I wrapped myself up in superficial worries because I under no circumstances wanted to deal with the real issue at hand.
I’m not sure how many ‘friends’ I lost along the way. I’m even less sure of how many blazing rows I had with various members of my family who needed to “get out of my grill and let me deal with my own life.” I’m still not sure now what made me snap out it. We are not mathematical creatures. Every action might have an equal and opposite reaction, but it’s not so easily measured which way a human being might react. There are hundreds and thousands of variables, and I can’t tell you that there was a major event that year that triggered anything at all.
But I think that’s exactly what I did learn. I was in free fall and there was not one moment where I could say I hit rock bottom. I could’ve kept falling forever because until you make a real conscious decision to make it better, things will always get worse.
There is no such thing as a “kick up the backside.” The world doesn’t owe you that.
Your family and friends, the ones who stick around when you are the worst version of yourself, are your support system, but they are not your legs. I owe them everything, but at the same time, I know that ultimately, the credit lies with me.
I went traveling alone that year, not to find myself or to have an epiphany, but just to give myself the chance to demonstrate that I was still an autonomous human, who can do things alone. I took a backpack to South East Asia and made ridiculous mistakes for a month and survived. I got myself back into university, and every single morning has been a mini struggle, every assignment and exam a tiny Everest. I have fallen back in love with learning because at the end of the day it wasn’t school that I loved, or lists, or organization, it is self-improvement. To be acutely aware of where you can do better is healthy, as long as you take some time to look back and congratulate yourself on what you’ve managed to overcome so far and what you will be able to do with your time on earth in the future. And that is why screwing up is the best thing in the world, because only in your sadness do you really understand who you are and what you are going to do about it.