You know how the age-old story goes – when we were 14, we thought “turning 16 will be awesome”. Then we blinked and turned 16 and we thought “man, I can’t wait to turn 18”. We made the mistake to blink again and we turned 18, only to find ourselves looking at 21 year olds and think “wow, I can’t wait to turn 21”. Stupidly, and because time is just such a spectacular sonofabitch, we blinked and we turned 21. You’re having the time of your life at university if you’re lucky, living the dream, parents paying bills while you need to study just enough to pass and for the rest of it, enjoy your days. But our ambitious culture told us that we need to start looking for the next amazing thing, so you start to think “I can’t wait to graduate and change the world with my degree and vast knowledge”. And as soon as that happens, each time we are filled not with the feelings of accomplishment we expected, but with anxiety and fear and self-doubt.
Since we were young, we were placing these milestones on pedestals. Not only milestones – but all kinds of tangible and intangible entities: people, celebrities, degrees, material possessions, careers, fields of study, friends.
This discussion, to give some context, started between Dylan and me when talking about my Master’s degree. When I was an undergraduate, very ambitious about my academic career, I looked up to MA and PhD students and thought “wow, that must be amazing to be so accomplished”. I blinked and suddenly I was at the graduation ceremony receiving my Master’s degree and found myself thinking “really? That wasn’t so hard – what’s the big deal?” Naturally I’m enrolling for my PhD in January 2016 to get my next fix. The one I’ve been missing out on since turning 16, then 18, then 21, then graduation, graduating again, and graduating again.
Dylan suggested it’s because we place these accomplishments on pedestals. We build it up in our minds to be these amazing achievements and we are left disappointed each time. So after our conversation, I was bothered by this thought… Had I placed my accomplishments on too-high pedestals, which means this… dissatisfied feeling is self-inflicted, my own fault for having too great expectations? It took me a few days to gain perspective on this.
Now bear with me while I make a 180-degree turn: Yes. It is our fault for placing things on pedestals. But the only mistake we are making is that, once we reach the top of the pedestal, it doesn’t seem as high to us anymore and we dismiss it. Truth is, our accomplishments matter. The milestones matter. We diminish our own achievements because it doesn’t feel as high as it looked when we were still at the bottom of the pedestal. But we are quick to forget that feeling, and quicker to forget that others can still see the massive climb we made even when we can’t see it ourselves. The gist of this post is this: CLAIM IT.
Do you think Coca Cola would have gained such an amazing reputation if they constructed advertising campaigns with the tagline “Meh, we’re okay”. No. They animate a completely made-up world and placed themselves right in the middle of that world and say “We are effing awesome! Seriously, even our advertisement is better than most of the movies trailers you’re going to see in this cinema”. Apple gets up there saying “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone” and placing movies people took with their iPhones in an advertising campaign saying “look at this really cool thing you did!”. Claim it.
We tend to do this with every aspect of our lives. My job isn’t as cool as one of my fellow-graduate’s job, because it’s not in Sandton. My flat isn’t as cool as my colleague’s place, who has an @Home designer couch. I earn a market-related salary and I get by each month with a bit extra to save. I’m still going on holiday with my parents, so it’s not that great. We easily diminish our entire life. And I don’t think this is healthy. You have a job with nice people earning a decent salary? Claim it. You received your degree with honors? Claim it. You set out to save up and buy yourself a 55” TV? Claim it. You did those things and nobody can take it away from you. We can all take a lesson from Coca Cola or Apple and because we clawed our way up that pedestal, once we reach the top we should stand up straight (as opposed to sitting down slouching) and claim that freaking pedestal. Next time someone asks you what you do for a living, instead of saying “I just work in an office doing (insert vague title here)”, we should tell them exactly how awesome our job is. Our personal brand will be right up there with Coca Cola and Apple and people might say “geesh, that’s really cool!” instead of thinking “shame, that’s gotta suck” when looking at your life. Pretty soon the most amazing this will happen – you will get that feeling of achievement. You’ll start looking at your own life and see the climbs and leaps you made and the elusive feeling of satisfaction will come and curl up in your lap.