I see life through a lens of optimism and opportunity. I get confused a lot about what is right, but I ultimately have a view that you really can achieve whatever you want if you try hard enough. I tried to sit down and figure out where this comes from. What moments in my life led me to think this way instead of being Ok to follow someone else's lead and do what was expected of me. To be honest, I don't know, and maybe it's oversimplified, but I think I have a pretty good idea of two hugely significant revelations I had as a child. I thought maybe this could give context to show how you can very easily realise behaviours that can immediately contribute positivity in your life.
THE SEED I FORGOT I PLANTED
Growing up I was liked. I wouldn't say popular because among my peers it was never a "you're cool" it was more like "you're nice and kinda funny". I felt smart because I had been told I was and because some things like spelling and math came relatively easy. Socially though, I felt awkward. I remember thinking nerdy things and knowing they were nerdy but not knowing how to think another way. Like being stressed out when people asked me the time.
"Should I tell him it's 4:48, or should I round down to 4:45 or up to 4:50?
Quarter-to or :45, Half-past or :30?!"
This was a time in youth when video games were awesome, political correctness meant nothing and validation from teachers, parents, and friends was everything you could ever hope for. So being a nice, smart, kinda funny, kid with good manners who didn't smoke, drink, talk about sex or get into trouble, that seemed to me like the surest way to succeed in life. After doing well at school and being what the system would define as "successful", you start to realise that something is wrong. You realise that your reputation depends on the definition that someone else chooses, that is out of your control. It depends on your success, relative to a standard or to another person.
You are good at Maths...compared to Billy, but compared to Einstein, you suck at Maths.
You are popular...compared to Jessie, but compared to Kylie Minogue, basically nobody likes you.
You are the fastest!!!....student....in your age group....at this school...who is a male.
On the very last day of primary school (elementary), as a 12 yr old kid, I had a profound revelation;
Today is the last day of your childhood.
I became self aware of my youth, and of my opportunity and potential. Adults all around me would always say "Oh man you are a kid you have nothing to worry about, wait til you grow up" and I remember never wanting to grow up and be angry like adults got, or stressed like adults got. I lay in bed on the morning of my last day as a young person and thought "Wow I had better enjoy today, It is my duty to make this world a better place and be happy and make the most of it". I wasn't just saying goodbye to people I had seen everyday for most of my conscious life, I would be saying goodbye to my childhood identity. It was not an overwhelming shame or sadness, it was a moment of true motivation. From this day forward I will appreciate everything I have, and do my proactive best to make the most of it.
Willing Myself Visible
High School went well, I was getting good grades, some people still thought I was nice and kinda funny but overall I flew under the radar and only had a close group of pals in and out of school. I appreciated what I had, but like most teenagers, I was distracted with the general desire for acceptance. My social life consisted of playing Nintendo 64 with my best mate Ben and trying not to awkwardly stare at girls while I failed at surfing on the beach. Smoking and Drinking were synonymous with growing up, so I avoided them at all costs. Girls were nice to look at but I don't remember once being interested in having a girlfriend and certainly not in having sex. Overall I was basically content with being a quiet person, doing my own thing, and just trying not to be mean or do anything wrong. I remember being in Year 10 at School Camp which I considered the best days of the year as you got to be outside, not wear a uniform, and talk to people who weren't in your class. It was a 3 day retreat which was designed to make all the students vulnerable and open then leave feeling more empathetic, caring, and aware of each other. I took pride in knowing people's names and getting to know other people in the grade. It was the second day and I remember overhearing one of the popular girls ask who Matt McLean was, and the girl she was speaking to didn't know either. It was two girls I had been in a bunch of classes with each year for 3 years and they didn't know who I was?! It didn't matter we weren't friends and that I didn't want their attention, but how could they not even know I existed. I was nice, I was polite, I made an effort and had good grades. I may not have been a stud but people who I passed everyday at school didn't take notice of me? Things had to change. If I wanted to be successful, and wanted to make the world a better place like my 12 yr old self had realised 3 years earlier, then I needed to become present and start making a difference. It wasn't about popularity, it was about making an impression on the world. I went on to write personalised post-it-notes to everybody in the grade, 105 in total, all stating one nice thing I had noticed about each of them and signed it "Macca", a nickname I adopted to help foster my new identity. From this day forward I will be outgoing, I will do good, and I will make a dent on this world!
But what does it all mean?
Looking back, I see these moments as the first few times I consciously took control instead of just bumping into the walls. I eventually dropped the nickname and I created my own future. Each profound realisation or achievement came from forging my own path of least creative resistance and I eventually ended up travelling and working around the world.
Realising your potential and the power of decision is so crucial in being aware of what is and isn't working. Looking at where you came from doesn't make you a suck or a reminiscent daydreamer, it reinforces what you learnt and lets you prevent yourself from making mistakes in an endless loop. Reflection is the single greatest way to internalise anything, and without it, you are basically just chewing up ideas then spitting them out, when you could be swallowing the information for digestion and reusing the nutrients. If you are having trouble with what to reflect on, try answering some of these questions:
- What is a behaviour you see in others that makes you mad? What angers you about it? Why do you think it affects you so?
- What are three of your 'life rules' or morals? Who did you learn them from?
- If you could have $200 to buy a material gift (toy, ipod), or $100 to buy a physical 'experience' (whale watching, a play), which would you choose, and what would you do? Why is one more important than the other?
- When is the last time you stood up for somebody or something? Or disagreed with somebody about a certain topic? What led you to make a stand?
- When is the last time you changed your mind about a person, or group or event or idea? What changed?
- If you could have one new attribute (eg patience, be outgoing, honest) within one month, what would it be? What's stopping you?
and a final big question:
- If your life was a movie, and you were the director, which 3 'scenes' from your life would absolutely have to be included?
Think about how you think, then think about why you got this way. Once you find the seed, you know where the plant is going to grow, and you can put all the water and fertiliser and energy into that.