The worst kind of conflict is one that you have with yourself. It might be on a decision, taking a path or making a move on something and oftentimes, it leaves one more devastated compared to when the conflict was with someone else. For a while now, I have battled with endless episodes of anxiety and fear of meeting up with people’s expectation. That has kept me more agitated more than ever and I had myself stretched, applying to different competitions, programs with the hope that I would meet up with these standards. Not for once, did I ever stop to think and ask, ‘whose life is it exactly?’
I think it is human to be scared of failure. To be scared of not being the best version of yourself but whenever I reflected on my fears, I realized they weren’t about me being scared of failing or not achieving certain things but because I cared much about what others have to say about me. I cared much about they would see my action has something worth celebrating and in all of that I lost myself. I began to define happiness in terms of other people’s perception. What other people thought about me would often leave me heightened and sometimes broken.
These fears riddled my self-esteem and it made me see myself inferior to people that had good public reception. Thus, my thoughts were directed towards doing exactly what they were doing or doing it more than them. Going the extra mile hoping that along the line someone would celebrate me too like they had done to those people and I would be accepted. It became so bad that I rarely thought of myself, my opinions on a particular thing nor consider the harmful effects of my acts on my own mental and physical wellbeing.
Lately, I have had several rejection letter pile into my email box and for every one of them that got delivered, I cursed myself for not being up to the standard. For not being smart enough, for not being good enough and for not being the best version of what people would have considered successful. On one of those days, I stumbled on my own write-ups on happiness. The post started with a quote by Joseph Addison. It reads: “True happiness arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self, and in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions”
That quote did a lot of things to me. For one, it showed me how I had tried to ironically gear people up to be happy yet I wasn’t happy myself. I had written extensively on it yet I was the one who needed help the most. And through that I realized I had been working in the service of others who might not know that their actions must have caused me pain in anyway. Further, the quote laid emphasis on true happiness being enjoyment of one’s self and I asked myself that question; ‘Have I taken time to appreciate myself?’
After reflective thinking, I realized that while I thought I was striving to become the better version of myself, I was hurting myself within. I became blind to little victories worth celebrating just because I thought people might see them as insignificant. I failed to realize how much I have grown as a person and all the wonderful skills I had picked up in my journey in life. Little by little, I started picking up the shattered pieces, asked the important questions and decided once and for all that my happiness and my victory comes first before any of that someone else’s.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go smoothly. I found it difficult breaking the wanton for people’s attention and their recognition. Even though I wanted things to be different, I couldn’t get myself to stop thirsting for the attentions. In fact, it got worse somewhat and the panic attacks set in. I became withdrawn and unable to make anything public just because of the fear of what people would think about them. Worse, the post on happiness I wrote and I have found motivating suddenly seemed irritating to me.
The relapse came swift and it almost broke me. There was the split between the addictive behaviour I had built up over time and the new change I wanted for myself. It was almost like a drug addict going through rehabilitation and hoping to make mental correction but in this case, without the help of a professional. I saw reaching out to someone as something that could negatively impact people’s opinion of me and consequently, how they would deal with me. So I suffered in silence and got myself torn between two choices; stay true to yourself or satisfy other people’s needs with all my actions.
Along the line, a friend noticed the withdrawal so she put a call through and we spoke. For the first time, I felt comfortable having that conversation and explaining how much I wanted that change. How much I wanted my life to be about myself and not about satisfying another person or whatever their need might be. The conversation stretched on for a long while and at the end of it, I realized not everyone is with you or yours because of the records you have or the accolades you have gathered. They are there because they care, sincerely.
Why this is significant is because a lot of people fight these inner battles for acceptance, success and recognition. A lot of people work arduously day and night not because they would have wanted to naturally but because they want to please people. They want to be celebrated and hailed but what is the worth of the celebration if you yourself fail to see it as a victory? Those were the questions I asked myself repeatedly and the answers are what set me on path to making better choices.
The biggest disservice anyone can do is trading themselves just to satisfy another person. Doing so blinds them from the things that matter most to them or the decisions that would benefit them positively. What came afterwards after I overcame that conflict was tranquility and bliss. I was at peace with myself. The little victories started meaning a lot and to be honest, the feeling that came with them was enough to motivate me to do more. And surprisingly, I realized that the respect of people I so much yearned in the first place came with ease. Even though I never asked for it, people praised me for the little victories and the recognition came albeit brief but it felt true. It felt real and life has since become more enjoyable.
Abdulrasaq Ariwoola is currently a 400 level law student at the University of Lagos. He has interests in creative writing and has published on The Kalahari Review. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org