Happiness and the Pressure to Succeed


I remember being annoyed that the weather was nice when I arrived home. I had been to America for the summer, working and traveling not too long after graduating university. September was far away in my mind as I played and lounged on Venice Beach or had a bite to eat in Downtown Manhattan. Suddenly though, it was upon me and I was home, to my old room before university on a lovely day.

My life until that point had always had something ahead of it; primary school turned to secondary, then to A-Levels, then to university. However, when I arrived at the end of that journey, I could see nothing ahead, or nothing that excited me at least. For the first time in my life I didn’t have anything to work to, to succeed at. It was scary because I’d always thrived on that next step, without giving thought to what came after.

Since then, I’ve worked in a part time job, been back to America and have loosely decided where I’d like my career/life to go. It has been eighteen months of ups and downs for me and, over that time, I’ve had a challenging relationship with my mental health, something magnified by my graduating and having no life plan situation.

For me, my anxiety and the pressure I feel to succeed in my life go hand in hand. Right now in the present, I am actually feeling good on both fronts which is why I wanted to write this piece. I want to both gauge what others have felt in their own experiences with success, as well as offering some of my own thoughts to those still figuring it out.

I think there is a very common misconception that if you’re not being an amazing person or doing wonderful things with your life all the time, you’re doing a bad job. I think the golden rule for this, though it’s easier said than done, is to treat this as complete bullshit. The reason I know this is because that’s exactly what I felt like during the last year and a half.

In a totally immersive social media world, it is very easy to feel you’re not doing enough when people you follow are constantly on holiday, writing for top news outlets or tweeting about how happy they are all the time. More often than not, it makes you feel worthless instead of persuading you to go out and chase something yourself.

I would worry that I wasn’t doing enough and would therefore stop enjoying myself in the present. I was so eager to get to where I wanted to be, I forgot to appreciate where I was. My life wasn’t glamorous but it wasn’t terrible either. I was sulking that I had to move back home, that I had a rubbish part time job, that life wasn’t like uni anymore and that everyone I knew was growing up or had moved away. I saw all this and pressed myself too much to get away from it, even though I had no idea where ‘getting away’ was. The pressure I felt to succeed had completely overtaken my life which only made my anxiety worse and greatly affected my own happiness.

Now, wanting to do well in your life isn’t a bad thing and there is a difference between that and this success pressure. To turn the latter into the former is a trick of slowing down, stepping back and seeing what you already have. It’s an awfully difficult trick to master and keep consistent. I find myself falling back over the line some days but I slowly started to realise that what I wanted most in my life was never going to be achieved if I ignored my current life. I think of this whenever I need to hop back to the light side.

I’m a firm believer that you make your own destiny in life and that only you can push yourself to where you want to go. I’m getting better at it but I’m glad I realised that this doesn’t mean racing ahead to ‘success’ because that too changes as you grow and live more. There is no one destination so there’s no point feeling pressure to reach somewhere that doesn’t exist. If you do feel that pressure creeping behind you, step back, unplug, watch your favourite film, read a book, do some gardening, practice yoga, or have a beer with some friends.

My main take away would be this: it’s important to realise that you are you and that is all that matters. Things take time, hard work does pay off, and no one is constantly being a great person or feeling fantastic every day. It’s okay to miss doing some writing one day if you felt down and it’s fine to take time off to have a little me time.

Don’t fret, you’re doing just fine.

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