Ever been so tired that the only thoughts in your head spin and sear with overwhelming anxiety?
It’s been about 24 hours since I left South Africa for the second time. After 8 months away I decided it was time to get some good old home vibes right in my face. And a good idea it was. My 4 weeks back in the Rainbow Nation was a whirlwind of excited faces, good food, love and laughter. I had forgotten what it felt like to be safe, to be surrounded by people who really care for you and have done for years. I feel so blessed by the reaction of my loved ones, all the people that seemed even more excited than I was about my spur of the moment, secret return home. Even my sister, who had no idea I was about to arrive on her doorstep and reacted with a simple and eloquent, “What the fuck?!!!”, before proceeding to make her cheese sauce for dinner. It was 28 days of happiness, mixed in with the occasional heartache that comes from missing home before you’ve even left.
Now I’m back in the UK and about to start the next leg of my journey.
These past 8 months of travel have been intense – difficult, personally challenging, often painful. Especially when I came to London and settled into a ‘real’ job. I have a tendency to get caught up in impressing people – whether it be massive plans for a Pirate Bar or taking over Swarovski’s Christmas party without being asked- I always seem to lose sight of what I really want, in favour of ‘doing well’.
I realise now that this intense and overwhelming need for validation is something I’ve carried for a large part of my life. Incredibly self-conscious with intensely low self esteem, throughout school my only validation seemed to come in the form of A’s and awards. I might not have had friends (at least in my eyes) but EVERYONE knew I was smart. Unfortunately, due to what I will refer to as ‘Family Stuff’ as I was growing up, I never learned how to feel comfortable with myself, to feel good enough, to not need to perform. And funnily enough, even though my academic, sporting and cultural achievements came without much effort at all, the one thing I tried to bend over backwards to do never seemed to materialise – I couldn’t get people to like me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t hated and made to sit alone in the corner eating poop. But I had never felt a true human connection, not one. Everyone I hung out with, everyone of my ‘friends’ – I was never comfortable enough to be myself without censure. Even into post high school years, when I came out of my shell, started being the life and soul of the party, knew everyone and was known by all; even then I wasn’t me. I wasn’t happy, or comfortable, or proud of myself. I was so convinced that who I was wasn’t good enough, wasn’t worthy, that in every social situation, in every relationship (whether it be friend, family or otherwise) I tried to control the situation, keep people liking me, loving me. People can’t love you if they don’t know who you are, and the part of me I was hiding was the part that was needed to connect. I wasn’t honest. I was never honest. Up until a year ago I felt the same.
Then I found two friends- two silly, beautiful, ridiculous girls – and they just loved me. They accepted me. I don’t know if it’s because I could sense how real and pure the friendship they had was, or if it was just time for me to grow. In either case, these girls welcomed me into their world with open arms, all my flaws, my mistakes and my guilt. Since then, I’ve been blessed with people who continue to love me regardless of my struggles, who’s simple unwavering presence has helped me realise that it’s OK to be me. Actually, screw that – that it’s AWESOME to be me. Going home simply compounded that, when I was surrounded by love and excitement and joy – people I hadn’t seen or even spoken to in months celebrated my arrival and mourned at farewell… Even though I had ‘done nothing’ to deserve it, apart from being me.
So I get it, people love you for you.
Instead of the need to be constantly agreeable, I’ve realised that I have the right to my own opinion, I have the right to be amused or offended, happy or sad, irritated or positively bounding with energy. And if you don’t like it, that’s not my problem. I have the responsibility to be honest – to myself and to those around me. To not attempt to control others or conserve relationships by muting myself or by speaking words I don’t mean, but rather to let life flow organically, in the understanding that every person is their own, and their choices belong entirely to them. Not only is it futile to try change this, but how can you ever hope to have a real connection and worthwhile relationship with someone you’re consistently manipulating… yes, it’s an ugly word, but every time you don’t express your true feelings you’re attempting to manipulate the situation – that shit ain’t cool.
Back to the new part of my journey. I’m about to start a new job, one that will facilitate my ability to travel and pay me for it. I’m incredibly stressed because I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing (yay for my meeting the bosses tomorrow), and because I’m starting to doubt my ability, let alone my desire. Most of all I’m tired and I just said goodbye to so many people I love. But I just realised – I am honest now. I don’t need to be the best and get a noddy badge, or push too hard simply because I crave the validation. I don’t need to run the company by Tuesday. I am enough, just as I am. And because of this, I think I’m going to do a great job – and keep it for once. Instead of constantly stressing and filling my head with thoughts of pushing, promotion, leadership, I’m just going to settle down, clear my mind and get shit done. I’m excited, because after the first 8 months of self-discovery and craziness, I’m looking forward to growing while being me, and to a more relaxed yet purposeful life.
I’m giving myself a break from ambition based on the need for validation to pursue ambition fuelled by passion – not to be a bar manager or a hotshot event organiser, but to be a writer and traveller. Because it’s OK to be me, and to be honest. And without two girls who showed me love, it might not be the case.