A few months ago I went for dinner with my uni friends. Over a glass of wine (yes, it was back when we were still allowed to consume alcohol at restaurants – thanks Uncle Cyril) we shared stories. Everyone was either engaged or newly married and one had even bought a house! The conversation was so grown-up, and it seemed like their lives were sorted. They reached all the milestones, and I was there contemplating quitting my job without a plan, single and financially fucked. I was so aware of my lack of growth and my inability to join the conversation. It was horrible. I was super happy for them, don’t get me wrong, but I felt inadequate and very behind. That night I drank more wine when I got home, put on Netflix and eventually cried myself to sleep. I accepted my failure.
I love to think that each one of us have experienced these thoughts at some point. I know we aren’t supposed to compare our lives to others’. I am the first one to tell a friend that they shouldn’t, but fuck, it’s much easier said than done. We compare our lives to our peers. It happens. It’s natural, but it is still wrong, because it makes us feel like failures when we actually aren’t. So, I like thinking that I’m not the only person not listening to this brilliant advice.
The next morning, with a headache and a little nausea, I figured I should just continue comparing my life to others’ lives. So, I looked to more people and where they were and I realised I was not a failure. According to Patriarchal, Calvinist tradition I was, but in all realistic ways I was actually okay. It made me feel a little better – okay quite a lot better.
A few weeks after this I decided to really quit my job. I didn’t have a plan. My colleagues assumed I had made a rash emotional decision and management expected me to withdraw my resignation within a week. It did not happen. I realised that living that life, one I didn’t love, one that didn’t excite me, was me failing. I had to make a change.
According to my psychologist I work in extremes, so I either do something with abandon or I don’t do it at all. I quit everything. I decided to leave the city and eventually the country and work towards changing careers. I get now how this might’ve seemed rash to my colleagues, but it was well thought out, I promise.
When management asked why I made the decision my answer was, “because I refused to drink any more pills.” Teaching was exhausting. I loved the kids! I loved being in my class entertaining my audience and being myself completely, but everything outside that moment of teaching sucked balls. Teenagers can be rude and disrespectful; they kill your joy and creativity. Teachers can be extremely negative (sorry guys). Their negativity and – very fair –frustration can make it difficult to manage my already growing depression.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I will now rant about the horrors of teaching, please bear with me. Do you realise that teachers never switch off? We are paid to teach from 07:30 – 14:30. This does not include planning, preparing and grading. I worked well into the night most of the time and we did not get overtime for that. Besides the actual work (because I know I chose it), the emotional strain is ridiculous. Your mind never switches off. Questions like, “How can I get John to focus in class?” or “How can I explain finite verbs again so that Suzie will understand?”, and thoughts like “I hope Carl has a better night’s rest tonight, I am really worried about him” flood your mind every second of the day. I am not even going to mention parents. It is not an easy job. I loved it, but it was often so, so bad. RANT OVER.
My decision to quit was my milestone. I chose myself. I chose my sanity, health and dreams over the comfort of what I knew, but it was scary! It was a big moment in my life. One that I think warrants a monument – I am thinking a big statue giving the finger. One as document-worthy as having a baby or getting engaged would be.
Now I’m in Pretoria, unemployed and living with my mum. Okay laugh if you want. This is regression not growth, I KNOW. And it is so frustrating. I have complained about this and really fell into a dip these past two weeks and then Melissa sent me this.
It changed my whole view and inspired this piece. It also linked beautifully to my realisation after the aforementioned dinner with friends. My decision to quit was just as amazing as a friend getting married. It is growth. It is a milestone.
I have always been scared to make big decisions. I would rather stay comfortably in the safety of the known than choose to move for my sanity. The greatest thing was that with the courage and acceptance of my abilities and potential, things just fell into place. I signed a contract to teach overseas. I registered to study again. The move was easy. And now, I will travel and be paid MUCH MORE! I am making progress. I am on my way to do what I want to do… it’s so strange, but amazing!
I know we compare our lives, and I don’t think we will get away from doing that so easily, but what I think we can do is change how we interpret the comparison. Yes, they are married and I am single AF, but there is joy and beauty in both. I can quit my job, travel and pursue my dreams easily. They have stability and partnership. Both those things are wonderful – they’re just different.
Milestones do not have to be big. We can celebrate the small victories as well. I know your friend is super fit and manages to eat really healthy. You, on the other hand, struggle to climb two sets of stairs and cannot say no to the milkshake. It’s so difficult if you want, with all your might, to be healthier. I know it’s frustrating but celebrate that one time you were able to say no to the milkshake. That was a wonderful, small victory for you.
Your growth, progress and timeline looks ridiculously different from those around you, but that is where the beauty of life lies. How boring would it be I we all grew up and lived in exactly the same way? Ewwwwwww! No thank you.
I know now, and you should too, that we are not behind – but just on a different path.
And that is beautiful.