“Just because you’re taking longer than others does not mean you’re a failure. Keep going.”
The year 2016 was an internally monumental year for me. I had to process through my not being able to complete my studies and having to ultimately return home without the degree that I was so certain I would come back home with. I had to grapple through with feelings of hopelessness, envy, self-hate, feeling like a failure and so much more. I had left high school and went to university with a rather naive perception on life as a whole. And looking back, there are some lessons that I have learned as a young adult, which I also wish I had been told before I left for the real world of “grown-ups” (I believe that would have saved me from the suffocating battle I’ve had with anxiety and depression when life really started “getting real”). Here are my most prominent lessons which came out of some of my most painful moments in my life:
1. My journey won’t look like others. We go through primary and high school with not much changes in between. We progress with our peers at the same pace from one grade to the next and we think that’s how it is always going to be throughout our lives. But once we leave school, we begin to realize that each of our individual journeys begin to take their own unique shape and form. It is therefore a great disservice to myself to try and force my path to resemble that of my peers. With this, I am learning to fully embrace my path and not worry about how the next person’s road looks like, after all we are each placed on our own track in life.
2. Success is not a straight line. When I was younger I had this image of how my adult life would pan out: I would finish school, go to university, get my degree, settle down, get my husband and set off in the sunset with him and go off and change the world. But oh, how I was wrong. In between all those envisioned life plans I had for myself, so much took place in between all the milestones I thought I would have got to by now. Through it all, I have also learned that often when we set goals for ourselves, we fail to account that so much of life will take place in between; we won’t always swiftly jump from one goal to the next. This does not mean that we become disheartened or give up on our dreams, but rather, it is for us to always remember that when we are on the road to getting our dreams, there will be potholes of mistakes we get into and long, twisting detours of lessons that we bump into; and consequently our expected arrival time to our destinies become delayed. This takes me to my next lesson…
3. Things won’t always happen when I want them to happen. I used to have a thorough time-line set for myself of when I’d achieve certain things and where I would be at a particular age. I got rid of it. As ambitious of a person I am, I realized that having such a strict time-frame for myself brought overwhelming anxiety, especially when I was realizing that my life is not going according to what I had planned. Now my rule is to live life one day at a time, taking small, progressive steps to where I want to be (but also not being overly concerned with final outcomes) and trusting that every step taken will eventually add up and lead me to where I’m meant to be, when I’m meant to be there.
4. It’s okay to not know what the next step of my life will be. In a world of “go-getters”, “movers and shakers” it’s very easy to feel like your life is stagnant and that you are not progressing because you don’t have any significant goals or maybe just like me, you just don’t know what exactly you should be striving for. But just maybe, we are not always meant to be “making things happen” and perhaps we need to have moments of stillness in life where nothing seems to be happening and things seem to be not going anywhere and maybe these are moments that we are to be waiting on God and trusting Him to make the next step unfold for us. Or maybe in a world where everyone is constantly living more in the future, not knowing where we are going is a time for us to lose our reigns on constantly wanting to control the future and just simply rest in the beauty of the present moment and allow it to surprise us as it unfolds.
5. My achievements do not define me, I define me. It can be quite stressful to live in a meritocratic society where as an individual your value, worth and potential as a human being is measured according to ones academic achievements, professional success and all other external merits that an individual acquires. I know I have been a victim of this. From Grade 1 through 12 all I have ever known was academic excellence, I always ensured that I was on top of my class because that was the only true measure of me being a “good student” and I also revelled in the pride and affirmation that those around me would show towards me when I maintained such a performance. I had comfortably defined myself around this identity of being an over-achiever. This ultimately proved to be detrimental to me because when I got to varsity and started failing dismally, I believed myself to literally be a useless individual. And this is when I had to do the hard, internal work of asking myself, “Katlego, who are you outside of your academic endevours? What gives you your worth?”. But you see, I’m learning that nothing gives us our worth, it has always been there and will always be right there within us. So whether my academics are falling apart and I seem to not be acquiring any worthwhile external achievements, I as an individual remain a whole, worthy and valuable person because my worth no longer rests on the above.
I think after all is said and done, some lessons in life can indeed only be learnt by experience; and I can stand here and be testament to the fact that out of our most painful moments in life comes our most profound lessons. I can also say that my life has not turned out the way I had planned but I am grateful for all the detours in life that I’ve had to take which forced me to reflect on my life and redefine myself as an individual.
So perhaps life is not about the destination, but the continuous journey of learning that we will always be on.