“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ~Seneca
This is the first time I am admitting it: I was bullied in school.
I was thirteen years old at the time, and it went on for the one year that I lived in Dorm 11. I never acknowledged it because I felt bullying was too small a misfortune to complain about.
But now when I think back to it, I can remember exactly how the dormitory looked. I remember the view from the windows, the corridor in front of my dorm. I remember the faces of the other kids and I remember my face—vulnerable, confused, and lost.
It was the same year that I started showing symptoms of OCD. Things just went downhill from there…
I guess I got lucky because at one point, things started to slowly get better. At twenty-nine, my life isn’t perfect, but I’m happier than I ever thought I would be.
All the advice that I’ve received throughout the years and my life experiences come down to three simple steps. If you feel unhappy about your situation, like I once did, perhaps these steps will be helpful for you too.
Step 1: The Starting Point
The Starting Point almost never gets covered in the self-help community. I guess it’s a secret, and so I’ll whisper it:
Life is hard.
Fresh out of school, I finally started my journey toward a better life. (My goals were very modest: I wanted to have my OCD under control, better social skills, and a romantic partner.)
At the time I was deeply influenced by books that promoted extreme positivity. I’m thankful for those books because back then I wasn’t ready for the lesson of Life is hard. They gave me hope where I had none.
But those books also distorted my view of reality. They led me to bizarre conclusions: I thought that if I achieved my goals, then I would be guaranteed uninterrupted happiness.
When things didn’t go my way, I felt there was something wrong with me. When my goals took longer than expected, I envied other people.
I also failed to grasp that, ultimately, our desires are not finite. Reaching my goals would not lead me to a place of perfect happiness. Instead it would simply bring me new desires and obstacles.
Today, I still read self-help books, but I am biased toward the Stoic thinkers. Although the Stoics did work toward their desires, their actions came from a crystal-clear view of reality. They understood that even if you became as rich or beautiful as you dream of becoming, life would continue to be challenging.
The Starting Point brings you to exactly that—the starting point. It brings you to the firm platform of reality. Life is hard, and no amount of positive thinking or goal-setting can change that. This isn’t a good or bad thing. It just is.
Step 2: The Problem
The Problem is the gap between who you want to be and who you are today.
Growing up I had always envied my sister. She was socially savvy and had a lot of friends. And here I was—awkward, clumsy, and out of step.
My social isolation was painful for sure. Yet, just the realization that I was different from who I wanted to be, greatly added to my misery.
Step 2 is realizing that although a gap exists between who you want to be and who you are, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you are worthless (you’re not). It also doesn’t mean that you’ve failed yourself as a person (you haven’t).
I’m super aware of each and every shortcoming in me. I fuss over every small mistake I make. I forget to remind myself that everybody has shortcomings. And it’s human to make mistakes.
What about Nobel laureates? Yes, they too make mistakes. And presidents? Yep! Celebrities and sports stars? ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY!
I’m not saying that we stop working toward our dreams or that we stop trying to become better human beings. I’m only suggesting that we start our journey with a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
And this brings us to Step 3.
Step 3: The Solution
The Solution gives us two tools to build a happy life: hustling and acceptance.
Hustling is the brute force approach to happiness: You take massive amounts of action and leave no stone unturned as you chase your dreams.
And it works.
If you are consistently putting in the time and effort, you’ll probably get what you are after.
That’s how I achieved my original goals: I worked with a psychiatrist to get my OCD under control. I forced myself to meet new people so that I would acquire social skills. And one day, I met a wonderful lady who thought I was interesting.
And then, well, I started to want more. Contrary to my expectations, I didn’t slow down to enjoy what I had. I just kept wanting more and more.
I figured that living in the city was no fun unless you had a well-paying job… And it was quite impossible to look acceptable while wearing glasses… My relationship grew stale and I started to look for someone new…
To my horror, I realized that my life was nothing but a treadmill! My desires turned out to be completely meaningless. And happiness remained as far away as ever.
Acceptance is the exact opposite of hustling. Acceptance doesn’t need reality to change in any way. What is, is.
Acceptance is also the gateway to gratitude. You start to slow down and cherish what you already have.
I have accepted that my relationship may not last forever. This lets me appreciate what it means to be together today. (I make it a point to enjoy every evening we spend together.) Similarly, I’ve accepted OCD as a part of me. And now I am free to enjoy the benefits of being super detail-oriented.
Finally, acceptance lets you see that not all goals are worth pursuing.
To sum up:
Hustling all the time makes my life seem like a meaningless treadmill.
But relying only on acceptance is a very spiritual path. (I’m not ready for that yet.)
The solution, then, is a mix of hustling and acceptance. I still chase my desires. At the same time, I know that achievement and happiness are two separate things.
For my happiness, I depend on acceptance and gratitude.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found at least one idea that will help you.
I understand that everyone’s experiences are different. Maybe what I wrote doesn’t resonate with you. In that case, I pray the information you need finds you very soon.
I wish you all the happiness in the world!