You have no idea the kind of stress I went through just to make this post coherent (or at least, I hope this version is) and not as emotionally charged and messy as it was before.
This post is something like a response to the thing my almost-cousin, Elaine, wrote, “on checked lists,” even though I have been thinking what I am now writing way before her post was published.
I’ve been thinking so much about results, what they show, how effective they are, and the effect they have on us in general – especially in a college context, when everyone is trying to find the right stepping stones to lead them to their successful futures.
I realized I had a problem perhaps halfway through the semester, when nearly every college-age human being I knew seemed to be preparing to do something super impressive with their summer break, whether that was applying for internships, being summer research assistants, or even planning a nice trip somewhere exotic. It was blowing my mind how often the question, “What are your plans for the summer?” was being thrown around, even at that time. Isn’t it too early? I was thinking. But then, at the same time, I was more amazed at how many people already had answers, if not for their established plans, for the plans they were trying to get established. And me? I was already overwhelmed after the first few weeks, so that by the middle of the semester, I could hardly breathe, much less figure out what I wanted to do over the summer. As a matter of fact, I was so exhausted that I genuinely did not want to do a damn thing other than sleep, eat, read books and write. But for this desire alone – the desire to recuperate – I felt like an underachiever. After all, you need to start building your resume as early in your college life as possible, right? It’s that thing that everyone’s doing. And even if you don’t get it yet, at least you tried, right? But I wasn’t trying. And I also felt a stinging sense of inadequacy whenever I would respond, when someone asked me about my plans, with, “Nothing.” There would, more often than not, be pity in their response, and it often sounded like, “Oh well…it’s not that important in your first year. I have this one friend who didn’t do anything big his/her first year…” And I’d think, sarcastically, Ah. Thank God you know of an anomaly whom you can use to comfort those you’re sorry for because they too are anomalous.
Surprisingly enough, I do have summer plans now – I’ll be in California nearly all summer, so if anyone is passing anywhere close to LA, hit me up and let’s chill – but that’s beside the point. I’m not sure if I only have summer plans because I just gave into the pressure and snatched at the first apparently lucrative and attainable thing that came my way. But then again, I’m a pessimist, so let all optimists declare that my summer will be lit on my behalf. Now, let’s talk about the pressure.
The Consequences of Good Results and Bad Performance
Life begins, too often, to feel like a competition, when you keep believing that you have to keep up with the production of results – and kill yourself in the process. It’s unhealthy, and the desire to keep up is one thing I wish I could easily shed from my mindset and delete from the way I do life.
I admit that I have a tendency to disbelieve people when they say that they can relate to my struggles, when I feel like I’m failing at everything I am doing in life. Because imagine that someone complains about life as much as you do, their words consistently indicating that they are in the same situation as you (a mess), with regards to school, the future, social life etc. But then…you see they have concrete and admirable plans for the summer, and you don’t. They know what they want to major in and you don’t. They’ve planned their courses for next semester and you haven’t. They’re receiving academic awards from their schools and you aren’t. How, then, are you going to feel? Well, I would feel that these people are all just lying frauds. But you see, despite my feelings, I know this isn’t the case. Why? Because my life also has a tendency to indicate disparities between my results and my performance.
For example, in the midst of nearly failing the IB, and being convinced that I’d never go to college, I was receiving acceptance after acceptance into higher education institutions, and it was legitimately blowing my mind. This semester, I have brought hell up and heaven down with a series of complaints about school, spent ridiculous amounts of time both doing nothing but worrying, and doing the work I am required to do while worrying, hardly studying, yet still having no time to put adequate effort into anything. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised to see that I have a pretty good GPA at the end of it all. I feel like I nearly died, but honestly, this thing – the unexpected reception of good results – tends to happen to me. One of the problems, unfortunately, is that despite the results, I hardly ever feel like anything was worth it.
On the occasions where I do find myself somehow “matching up” (or close enough) to the people around me – for example, if my GPA is kind of good, or if I’ve secured an internship for the summer, or I’m earning a reasonable amount of money or whatever nonsense – then I should feel secure and adequate, shouldn’t I? So then I wonder why I still feel like I’m lacking, or unsatisfied or unhappy, when the obvious “results” of my life are basically telling me that I have no reason to.
I have a proposed answer: many times, “results” aren’t fulfilling because although they are results that are generally admired – by parents, by peers, by society, by whomever – they are not worth it to the achiever because they do not necessarily fall in line with said achiever’s goals in life or conception of an ideal life; they do not allow the achiever to live the way s/he wants to, and/or the achiever may not believe in the usefulness of these particular results. This is not always a reflection of laziness. Leading a fulfilling life is a question of what you are willing to suffer for. I, for instance, know that I don’t have much a problem with strenuous work in and of itself, because for things I really love, to produce results I really want to see, I kind of enjoy the sleepless nights, the monster headaches, the lack of rest, and the challenge. There are several things I am willing to suffer for. But I derive no joy when I cannot see the point of the thing I am suffering for, even if I am getting good results out of it.
The same kinds of results do not fulfill all people. This might explain why there are several people achieving, and producing great results, who are still a bit miserable. I usually fear that I am surrounded by several people experiencing identity crises. In the eyes of the world, because of how the results appear, they are completely fine, but for themselves, they still don’t really know who they are, or what they’re doing with their lives. It’s paradoxical to feel like you’re sinking deeper and deeper into quicksand, even as you are clearly putting one foot in front of the other and consistently moving forward.
I do not think misery is worth it, if one doesn’t see that it is worth it both when one is in the middle of, and once the period of the thing causing the misery has ended.
What if the results that end up benefiting you aren’t exactly the ones you were supposed to achieve?
Last semester, I took an interdisciplinary class that was supposed to be centered on music – and the content as well as its method of presentation evoked approximately zero interest from me. The whole course was a pain in my overlarge botoss. However, during one class, the conversation got even more tangential and unrelated to any designated topic than usual (which I hadn’t, I admit, believed was possible), and I do not have a clue how the conversation got to this, but I did discover something that fascinated me more than anything the course itself could have possibly been designed to teach me: the origins of the four temperaments/humours. (I know very well that you can Google it for yourself, but since people are lazy, just for the record…)
Ancient European civilizations, guided by their assuming physicians and philosophical doctors who knew next to nothing factual about the human body, believed that bodily fluids were the determinants of each person’s behavior and personality, and that the excess or deficiency in any would be cause for any physical illness. “Black bile,” also known as “melania chole” would be the root of depression in people, and those with more of it than most people would be “melancholic.” And in the same way, “yellow bile”/ “Kitrini chole” made one aggressive and “choleric.” Blood, which is “le sang” in French, gave you socially useful skills and made you “sanguine,” and then phlegm made you stable to the point of barely emotional; “phlegmatic.”
Now, this historical information is almost completely useless – unless you’re a weird creative writer like me, and it sends your thoughts spiraling in different directions, trying to come up with very interesting potential stories. But you know what this information doesn’t do? Help me pass my freaking academic courses.
I have several stories like this, where things I have learned in the classroom have led to some pretty creative writing, because inspiration shows up in weird places, and this is just how my brain works. But then I do not always end up understanding the content that the course goals intended for students to, and more concerningly, I do not always pass.
There is something I have been wondering for several months now: If I am confident enough that I have gained something, anything from formal education, no matter how little, or unrelated it is to any of the actual course goals; if I have been serially exposed to volumes of material that will ultimately be beneficial for the achievement of my personal aspirations in life – and I still failed out of school, would you (generic you, which can stand for my parents, my teachers, my friends, my manager etc.) be happy? Happy without a hitch? If I said I learnt something, but you still saw me drop out/get kicked out? I think the answer is no, that you would be disappointed or at least worried about my future, despite all the things you would like to tell yourself you believe in.
I believe that to this point, anyone who has ever postulated, in any form, the idea of “it’s not really about the grades, it’s about what you get out of the experience itself” has been a bloody liar – not just to me or whomever they were talking to, but to themselves even more than anyone. (Note: a few days after I wrote this, I came to the conclusion that the only person I have ever met who has postulated this idea and isn’t a bloody liar is my Astronomy professor.)
If I did drop out or get kicked out, and somehow still managed to make it in life, I think I’d turn into one of those poster-kids that people who are flopping at life, as well as others, desperately cling to. I’m talking about people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Kanye West, any other famous dropout you can ever think of. However, I have never heard of a single soul, especially from a home with a financial situation like mine, raise their children telling them, “It’s perfectly fine if you fail out of school, you know? As long as you gain something, anything, from it.” (But if I had a kid, I would tell them that. No, correction: I would love to tell them that; I just wish I had the power to believe that the systems of the world weren’t all playing together to damn them if they do and damn them if they don’t.)
I think I am going to end this post without any sort of adequate conclusion, partially because I don’t think there is one, but mostly because I’m a rebellious badass who thinks conclusions to written pieces are overrated anyway.
I can, however, tell you what I wish the conclusion was: I wish the conclusion was that you should blind yourself to the achievement of those around you and do you in the healthiest ways possible. I wish I could also conclude that you should try to get whatever you can from wherever you are, whether you’re achieving the results you’re expected to achieve or not. But I cannot make either of these conclusions because I do not know them to be tried and tested; at the very least, I have not tried and tested them, so my life cannot be a testimony that they work. I don’t know if they work. I don’t know how life works.
This isn’t related to anything about the post, but Poetra keeps blowing my mind with every bloody thing she makes, and so I’m hyperlinking her latest track, a collaboration with Kenyan electronic producer, KMRU: