By Gokul KP
Childhood experiences are destined to impact the rest of one's life. When societal pressures excel, the child - who later becomes the adult - finds themselves prioritizing success and productivity over contentment and wellbeing.
It is not exactly a fresh take, but I firmly believe that one's childhood influences how well one is doing in life later on. For many, their childhood was greatly affected by how much the people around them expected them to excel at, if not exceed, all standards set for them. The child goes through this rigorous process of constant evaluation and criticism, and sooner or later, the impression that there is a correlation between deserving something and performing well starts to set in. Regardless of whether or not they're able to achieve success, the child grows up and finds themselves without an avenue to relax or heal the burnout they suffer. The pressure to excel and overachieve is so intense that any mediocre result fills them with shame and guilt. And eventually, they will feel unworthy.
From early on, the child we know of is perpetually restless. No matter what they do, the mind never admits that the outcome can be good enough. There is the instinctive tendency to deem themselves a failure due to their "mediocrity". With a little bit of "soft" persuasion, and often regardless of personal interest, the children try hard to achieve academic excellence, practice sports, etc. that promote favourability among peers and parents.
The danger with this? The child starts associating any value in life with their achievements - based on profession, intelligence, creativity, appearance, or physicality. There is no room to measure their satisfaction or happiness around what they have always wanted to be, their hobbies, or anything they express a speck of interest in.
Inevitably, the adult version of the child resembles what they observed around them in their childhood, and many become unhappy people dealing with demons. Others also adopt an unhealthy habit of pushing their inadequacies on the most immediate source of vulnerability, so that the responsibility for failure will no longer lie with them. Ire and pain masquerade as concern and motivation, thick enough to hide from within.
Once the adult comprehends how much they have been accustomed to the toxicity of that lifestyle, they become unsteady and powerless. This can consequently derail the life they have been leading until then. And it would not really come as a surprise.
But all these are never individual problems. The issues an individual faces regularly are probably also a symptom of how ill the community is, partly because it collectively strives for excellence. According to the community, being ordinary must mean one does not have it in them to succeed. Only failures and outcasts should resort to a quiet life, little to do with the spotlight. It is as if one cannot be hopeful without being out there in front of everyone, and they will not tolerate anyone who chooses to center their life around themselves.
It is hardly surprising since mainstream media, pop culture, and art altogether have been busy preaching how material things should matter so much to us. According to these, being occupied is a virtue that only the fulfilled ones would exhibit, and if you are not one of them, then you may be worthless after all. The kind of influence these hold on the consumer psyche is appalling, but it is inevitable considering how far we have advanced as a race.
There are countless examples to show that many overachievers have led miserable lives, sometimes leading to suicide. Ironically, the people who are content with the mediocrity that the world routinely spits on, who find peace in the mundane and look forward to the tiny moments that provide them with bursts of joy, are healthy - especially mentally. As much as it takes a lot of privilege to excel in something and keep going at it - if one feels envious of those who can be utterly unremarkable and happy simultaneously, it would be a very valid emotion.
It is almost imperative that one finds happiness and contentment in the little things we often term uninteresting. Putting more effort into familial relationships, guiding people who would do much better with even a slight nudge, working through obstacles that may arise in friendships, creating a space called home, prioritizing health, staying in a job and doing it responsibly despite not being sure of whether it is the right one so that you can pay the bills, staying in touch, etc. are all perfectly sensible ways to live your life by, even though none of these may qualify as ambitions in the modern world. Ultimately, the purpose is to not fall prey to the crushing sense of hopelessness and chaos that permeates anything and everything we are exposed to today to have a happy reason to stay alive.
Once we acknowledge that existing according to exterior demands and expectations is not what living is about - as corny as it may sound - the true pleasures of life will reveal themselves. And they would be basic things like sanity, peace, freedom to be yourself, being creative for your own sake, unconditional love, mountains, moonlight, and beaches.
About the Writer
Gokul KP is a Queer writer and aspiring journalist from Kerala, India. He holds an engineering degree and works as a Business Manager in Bangalore, India. His work, which spans fiction and non-fiction, has appeared on multiple websites and online publications and has covered topics related to mental health, politics, mainstream media, pop culture, and gender & sexuality.
He also tries to use the platforms available to him, including his Instagram account (@kpgokul), to spread awareness about climate change, LGBTQIA+ rights, feminism, etc. He is an ardent 'horror' fan and considers Stephen King a source of inspiration.