Dear Younger Self, I’m here to give you a bit of insight into why you might feel that heaviness from time to time, on your mind and on your shoulders.
I know from a very young age you’ve felt that sense of expectation; from being an only child growing up in a single-parent household where it’s just been you and mum for the most part, to being a son, but also growing up in a family where there’s a lot of entrepreneurial men—successful uncles and ambitious cousins. I bet you’ve thought there’s always been that kind of feeling of having to do more, that you had to amount to something, and you had to be someone—always to meet what somebody thought of you.
I know there have been times where you’ve thought about all those comments from aunties and uncles when you were in the room full of adults, comparing what your cousins have been doing and what grades they got. Whilst amongst this, feeling that there was a lack of consideration of the circumstances you grew up and the subtle differences between you and them, from family dynamics, household income, but just the general sense of hardship you’ve had to carry with humility whilst never having to use it as an excuse to not achieve. And I know you know that your cousins had abundantly more than you, but there were just some things that they were able to have access to that you didn’t. Regardless, you always wanted to keep up with them, always wanted to make sure that the things that you never had at some stage later in life you could have, or the things that mum might’ve been slighted for growing up, that you’d be able to right her wrongs or the ills that she may have had to endure. And those end up becoming the burdens of expectations on yourself.
You’ve always known you’re bright, with it constantly being reaffirmed with comments such as “he’s going to go far”, “he’s going to do really well in life” even to the point where both mum and Ba (grandma) have banked on you to change their lives around. It’s all those little things that end up adding further weight that you carry on your shoulders and you’ve been suppressing it. It’s not until you really come of age that you will start to build that self-awareness of how much this may weigh on you, how much this may limit or just how this may have built up a complex. Hopefully having read this far, you’ve felt a sense of solace and a bit more understood—keep reading.
I think for the most part of it, it’s family. It’s how fractured ours has been but also how much you’ve looked up to your uncles and your cousins. They have all worked hard and are now rightly benefitting from it. You could see how they built something for themselves. You can see that they had their own homes, cars and businesses (all that generational wealth stuff that you’ll end up speaking quite strongly about as you get older). However, for you, it was slightly the opposite, where it was you and your Mum in a council flat; you saw the hardships Mum went through. She didn’t have her own business. You saw her do odd jobs; she was a social worker, she was a cleaner, she worked at Safeways (by the way, it’s called Morrisons now) – all these different jobs which kept us afloat. It’s when you went on these jobs with her that you ended up seeing the two sides of the track, and when you see that you knew what track that you want to take your mum on and give her what we didn’t have. Again, adding to the burden.
There’s a lot of pressure on men or young boys sometimes when you grow up in that environment, to want to go one step better than what your parent may have not been able to do or that desire to keep up with the rest of the family, as I keep saying. Whilst these examples around you were aspiring—a group of men showing you what can be achieved and what can be done—you can’t help but feel you’re climbing a steeper mountain. You’re the youngest in the family, so looking at that was always an expectation in itself knowing there was a path to follow. But if we put family aside, school has mattered a lot to you. Teachers would say things like, “Chirag you’re so bright!”, and you realise that you did have that positive reinforcement and you want to live up to that also. You’ve always got good grades and will continue to do so; that sense of academic esteem won’t leave you. You want that to amount to something, but at the end of the day, you feel as if you’re living through the eyes of others rather than living through what your eyes see themselves.
I think expectations are like a double-edged sword. It gives you something to fight with, but sometimes it can be quite damaging with what it can do to you mentally. On one hand, expectations have suited you, where you are very goal-driven, and as you’re going through your academic journey, you know what your checkpoints are. You know what follows each stage; you went from SATs and from there you’ve gone onto GCSEs, followed by A-Levels and then University, where you fulfil one of Mum’s 3 wishes. So, it’s very easy to measure yourself against the expectations as things are very quantifiable.
But there will be a world beyond academia when you graduate and into the real world, where you are now having to shape who you are in much as where you stand within it. For most of your school life, you’ll pretty much be running at the same pace as your peers. When you’re in Year 7, your peers are in Year 7. When the person who was the smartest in the class is in Year 10, it doesn’t really matter because you’re also in Year 10 and you’re both going to do the same exam at the same time.
But when you leave education formally after you graduate, that’s when it becomes a completely different challenge, because life can and will go in so many different ways and the decisions you may have made at 18, you see the manifestation of those at 21 when you graduate (Stick to IT, trust me). And you might think that’s when the road of expectations ends but you’ll be faced with a different set of expectations, some that are actually self-inflicted. You may end up thinking, “Wow, have you lived up to what you’ve worked for?”. And you’ll think of one moment when you were 18 where your teachers would say, “Chirag, we can’t wait for you to make your millions by 21”. It was those kinds of lofty expectations that’ll weigh on you.
21 will have passed on and you don’t end up a millionaire. As 23 comes, you’ll go through that postgraduate distress where you’re not in the job that you really want to be in, and you’re working at William Hill. The money you earn there, in comparison to how hard you’ve worked, and in terms of your aptitude you might feel like you’re falling behind all those expectations. And it’s those thoughts that start to become quite corrosive, where you don’t even realise how insidious it becomes to affect how you see yourself but also in relation to your peers.
But here’s the trick and the lesson. Sometimes all it takes is a moment to just stand still and appreciate where you are and remove yourself from that comparison so that you’re no longer stealing from yourself. “Comparison is the thief of joy” is how the saying goes, but it can feel like expectation is comparison’s partner in crime, that’ll rob you of your peace of mind, along with joy.
Once you suspended that element of measuring yourself against other people’s clock or this kind of arbitrary clock, you started to create your own life clock and your own pace of life. This meant that you can build a mentality and a set of visions that were truly made for you without the interference of anyone’s views, perceptions or opinions. Even if you don’t initially achieve something, that’s okay. Because you’re only as good as your last decision, and so long as you continue to make the next decisions without burdening yourself with the weight of the last, in the end, you’ll find redemption and those shoulders will start to feel lighter too.
But I also want to remind you of a few things; your work ethic will never fail you, that you’re always going to be one job better than the one that you might lose, and that you’re always going make one more pound in the pound that you spend (might not make sense now, but when the time comes, these words will help you to keep going).
You will always carry those elements with you and that actually, there is no pressure. Mum will continue to love you the same when you were 7-years old and even when you turn 27-years old. As you get older, your wishes for yourself will become simpler and you’ll learn that you were still able to provide for yourself, still able to enjoy life, and still able to build momentum—but at your own pace.
Of course, there’s always more you could do. Yes, there’re always additions that you improve on. But, you’ll live the life that was meant to live, and you’ll live a rich set of experiences that were true to you, that you at least did on your own terms. And when you do it on your own terms, there are no regrets. And just one more last thing (there’s actually a few more), constantly remind yourself that “you’re doing okay”. You’ll have moments of impatience, but patience will be your most rewarding virtue towards yourself but also others. So, don’t measure yourself on how much you’re earning, in fact, don’t even measure at all; simply live, experience, and give your all. Life will teach you who you become, rather than pre-emptively thinking this is who you are and this is who you need to be, because the person you see yourself now (at whatever young age of reading this) I can guarantee you in 20 years’ time, you’ll be a completely different person who you might have thought you’d be (give up on that growth spurt though, no amount of milk or cycling will work). But that’s the beauty of growth, that no two trees grow the same. Yet you will still be able to stand firm because you’ve planted your roots. Nevertheless remember, irrespective of what you do, so long as you do things with good intentions with the desire to give back, your good deed today will be a reward for tomorrow. But whilst tomorrow may not exactly mean the next day, that tomorrow will come, and you will get your due reward for it.
You’ve now reached the end, and for being able to get through all of that I know you’ll be just fine.
Contributed by Chirag Patel