Generally, we don’t choose to have trials and labours inflicted upon us. These things just happen. They may shake the foundations of our lives, but even small trip-ups can provide a sometimes needed shift in perspective. Such events serve to highlight the unpredictability and, yes, the occasional difficulties in life. While I have been blessed not to have had any life- or home-threatening events affect myself or my immediate family, the last four years were ones of extreme pressure for me, until I finally graduated from university with a degree in software engineering in 2014.
My final year was by far the hardest, with days and whole nights and weekends spent working, mostly on my final and honours project. Moreover, a major administrative shake-up at the university added further tensions, causing me to lose sleep, shed tears and neglect family and friends, and left me little time or willpower for hobbies and extracurricular activities. As a result, although I’ve been writing since the middle of high school, this passion fell largely by the wayside for the last couple of years when the completion of my education took priority.
Towards the end of 2014, however, life began rewarding me for the work I’d put in on many fronts. I finished my degree with honours and my final project turned out very well. I secured a job in my field that will give me an excellent start to my career. I was chosen to lead a local youth group that I’ve been a part of for five years. I got into a relationship that has been incredibly meaningful and cathartic. And, of course, a piece I wrote was accepted for posting online (for the first time), at The Writer’s Drawer, and then selected for inclusion in The Writer’s Drawer anthology According to Adam. All the parts of my life came together in an unbelievable way over such a short period of time that I had trouble believing it had happened. I do not list these things to boast; that’s not in my nature. Rather, I am mentioning them as an example of hard work paying off to those who might feel that such things never occur.
I myself realised afterwards that on some level I had never thought my efforts would pay off. I fully believed that I would continue to work fruitlessly, with minimal success. I had fallen into this mindset unintentionally, and as I am in general a quiet and withdrawn person, there was no one there to inspire me. It was only during the soul-searching that many of us do during the Christmas months that I realised how my outlook on life had changed. It was during this post-mortem that I realised that it is easy to run down and trivialise our successes and triumphs. “Heaps of people get a degree.” “Congratulations, you’ve entered the workforce. You’re now just like everybody else.” Et cetera, et cetera. These are just examples specific to myself, but it is possible to take any achievement and make it seem small and unimportant by comparing it to something else. I fell into this trap a few weeks ago when I found out unexpectedly that someone close to me had several publications to their name. My single one seemed minuscule in comparison, and I brooded over this unnecessarily for days.
It is imperative that we do not do this. Many use relativism to try to convince us that everything is meaningless. I, however, encourage you to use it to support the opposite. What are important are our achievements, our friends, our writing, our contributions to the world. There will always be someone better than us, just as there will always be someone worse. Let's not try and compete with others. Let's surround ourselves with supportive companions, and not view them as rivals. Life does not have to be a competition; living it that way is tiring and often unrewarding. Instead, let's keep trying to improve upon our own accomplishments, in whatever field, in whatever aspect of life we find important. The world will attempt to tell us what these accomplishments should be (usually with the promise of money), but we need not listen, if this does not suit us. Let's strive for unceasing improvement, using our own metrics for success. Where many measure success in dollars earned, we should evaluate it in words written, pieces published, kilos lost, games played, embraces shared, conversations had, meals eaten, songs sung, lives improved, smiles evoked, days lived, or however we define what is valuable to us. In this way we will see real progress towards the life we want to live. It may be in small shifts or large leaps, but by comparing ourselves only to how we were in the past, we can come to see that the tiniest changes can lead to great things.
Despite all the difficulties I faced, 2014 was a successful year for me by the end, and it has paved the way for a fulfilling, enjoyable, and vibrant 2015. I will no longer have to give up my nights and weekends, leaving me time to deepen friendships, write more, and bring to myself, and hopefully to others, the joys of travelling through dreams, telling stories of the unreal, and adding meaning to life – mine own and theirs.