by Kim Neiland
Your life can be thought of in stages. You enter the education system at four or five years old, gradually progressing through towards secondary school. You’re impressionable and bright eyed. You’ve two hands in and one foot out. In essence, you’re young. It’s that very word that causes so much anxiety. Endless regurgitations of phrases like ‘You only live once’ and ‘School is the best time of your life.’ Yes, of course, that may be true for some. Yet therein lies the all too familiar one size fits all approach. Misrepresentation causes unnecessary frustration among teenagers and young adults who may feel like failures if they don’t fit the mould. You excelled academically yet never conquered the social ladder. You focused on sports to the detriment of your grades. Or perhaps, quite frankly, you simply didn’t want to be there at all. Those years can take a tight, firm grip on one’s psyche.
Soon you’re faced with the dreaded Leaving Certificate and the prospect of University. Instead of focusing on who you want to be, you’re expected to know what you want to do, disregarding the core notion of people – that we will inevitably change. That can drive fear, manifest self-loathing, and cause endless boats of frustration. We are bombarded with success stories every day, yet very rarely do we see the other side of it – the tears shed from not receiving a mark, as if that result should ever define your character. If you’re anything like me, the all too pertinent fear of never being good enough is a loud, domineering voice. It weaves and haggles, it ruptures the core and leaves you hanging dry. Yet I firmly believe the strength of one’s character lives and dies in one’s response to adversity. How your attitude shifts in proportion to disappointment. I believe that in the process of falling short, you’re much further along had you not started.
The reality is that you will spend your whole life searching for who you are and what you want to do. To change, to be open to the prospect of it, that is no failure. Many lie to themselves, choosing to ignore the signs and simply let it be, ultimately becoming stuck in a systemic cycle of ‘what if’. It all comes down to risk. What are you prepared to sacrifice? Are you scared of being laughed at, or cajoled out of your ideas? What are you afraid of? Being ridiculed? I myself am afraid of absolutely everything. You name it, I worry about it. This I consider being one of my biggest failures – my inability to be objective when it comes to my emotions and simply relinquish control of what was, is, or could be. The problem is you think you have time. You think the world will wait for you. Time waits for no one, and fortune has always favoured the bold.
So, yes, maybe you didn’t get the result you hoped for, maybe you didn’t get the job you sought after, maybe you didn’t take that chance. Good. You know better now. You can move ahead. Your life lives and dies in moments of opportunity. Your past becomes your present, your present your future. At some point, you will have to let it go. Your mistakes? They are as much a part of you as anything else. Your failures? I hope they’ve made you bolder, kinder, a more empathetic and understanding individual. When you’re young, you’re impatient. You’ve your eyes on the prize, and when the goalposts shift, you must allow yourself to move along. You must never apologize for that. People will remember you for who you were, not what you are. You will spend your whole life climbing in and out of boxes you create for yourself. Falling short in essence means learning, which, above all else, is the whole point of your life. I’m not saying it isn’t tough, nor am I implying that you should strive for failure. Yet it is as inevitable as the rain falling tomorrow evening. It’s as ordinary as the freshly sliced pan arriving at your local supermarket to be stacked on shelves. It’s not glamorous or aspirational, yet you’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe when all is said and done you can look back and think ‘God, that shortcoming was the start of it all.’ I believe your world shrinks or expands in proportion to how big or small your dreams are. Keep your mind sharp, your wits about you and your heart open. I truly believe that anybody can get there, but you’ve got to take that first step. You’ve got to keep going despite hardship. When you get there, remember to give a hand back. You never know who might need it.