Am I failing at life? This is the question that popped into my head as I was showering the other day, followed by ‘can you even fail at life?’, ‘what does failing at life even mean?’.
Am I failing at being a great (I was going to say ‘good’ but ‘good’ just doesn’t seem ‘good enough’ to my mind anymore, it seems like to be successful you need to surpass average) : friend, daughter, sister, teacher, British-Indian, Instagram ‘influencer’, foodie, traveller, content creator, citizen, sustainable human-being… the list is endless.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found all this free time with my thoughts during lockdown somewhat painful at times. After moving jobs and countries during a pandemic to one that is less stressful and requires less hours I have found a lot of free time to perfect the art of overthinking and label myself as a ’26 year old failure who left her steady full-time job to move to another country, is nowhere near buying a property and instead wasting time searching for her purpose’.
What shall I do with this free time? Panic. I must be productive. I tried picking up some online courses, spent more time on my Instagram vegan food page, thought about some business plans, worked out more, and even tried creating a podcast – all of which now reflecting back were heavily influenced by what I saw other people doing on social media , compared my so called ‘basic’ life to theirs and thought ‘hey I need to be more interesting, I should try doing that too’, because for some reason: having a job, going for walks/runs, yoga, cooking, reading, having a vegan food page where I interact with amazing vegan brands and people and spending time with loved ones isn’t enough anymore – it’s too average, basic and simple – I tell myself.
‘But… is it possible that not everyone wants to start their own business, not everyone is book-worthy and we don’t need any more charities? Is it possible that we are not all extraordinary, super-interesting or going to change the world? Is it possible to be perfectly happy living an ordinary life? Even more, is it possible for the Purpose of life to be perfectly ordinary?’ Anderson, ‘The Purpose Of An Ordinary Life’
Having this thought of failing at life in your 20s (ok mid-late 20s) is quite dangerous and not uncommon. A quick search on Google defines failure as a ‘lack of success’, naturally I then thought ok, but what does ‘success’ mean? To which Google answered, ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’. By this definition, I guess I ‘failed’ at all the things I tried picking up during lockdown because I didn’t ‘accomplish’ any of them, I tried and then gave up – except for the spending more time on my Instagram page, which is an accomplishment I’m not really proud of due to the uninvited guests that came along with it: fatigue, over-thinking, comparison and anxiety.
It’s sometimes hard knowing whether you’ve chosen to simply not follow through with something – ‘failed’ – because you are lazy, lack motivation, merely lost interest or realised that you only thought you were interested because everyone else was doing it. Isn’t knowing what you’re not interested in just as important as finding things that you are interested in? With this outlook when you start something new, you could say you were successful despite following through with it or not.
Initially, I had started my podcast on food and the impact it has on our identity, courses on teaching and my Instagram vegan food page to help people, but I ended up finding these things a chore at times, it felt like I was spending so much time online and little time actually taking action and you know, helping people. I felt as though I was more heavily driven by my ego to curate the perfect post (the perfectionist & self-critic that I am) and upload these things online for the world to see and gain some satisfaction out of it. Added to this are the by-products of social media – comparison, never-ending unrealistic expectations and low self-esteem which sucks any feeling of success you might have felt prior to it. Of-course it goes without saying that social media has a ton of positives and has helped raise awareness on issues such as ‘Black Lives Matter’, the farmers in Punjab, it’s not all negative.
Sometimes we put so much pressure on being successful or appearing successful and doing something just because we see other people doing it that society’s definition of what it means to succeed in life becomes intertwined with our own.
Also the fact that we are easily able to go online with a touch of a finger and spend hours (thanks to the tech guys whose job it is to make us addicted) comparing ourselves to the highlights of others doesn’t help. Success on social media seems to be defined in terms of career, materialistic possessions, followers, likes and accomplishments that involve doing something extraordinary. Even the people who are posting yoga retreats or ‘self care’ posts can add to this pressure of what success looks like (even if the intentions are good) – on days where you feel like a mess, you might catch yourself bitterly saying ‘yeah, well done you have your life together and have time for yourself.‘
However, if I had to define success on my terms right now I would define it as the follows: ‘to continuously give back and help the community, to be a compassionate human being, spend time with family and friends and explore the world’. So how do I align my everyday actions to this? It doesn’t have to be grand gestures, cooking up extra food for a neighbour or a co-worker who you know has been struggling to make time to eat properly, listening to a friend/family member who needs you, volunteering with your local community on issues you feel strongly about.
There’s no real proper end to this blog post because I’m still in a state of confusion on how I can follow through with my own definition of success without being influenced by social media and society’s definition of it. What I will say is that there is no such thing as ‘failing’, especially in life – even when you think you’ve ‘failed’ – you have learnt a lesson from it. You are doing the best that you can and to simply live another day is an accomplishment. I believe that spending some time offline can help clear your mind to try and reflect on what your definition of success is and how you wish to achieve that. What will truly matter to 80 year old you?
Life is to be lived, so go ‘succeed’ at accomplishing this by doing the things that make you feel alive.