So, 2019 was a bit of a wet shit-stain on the Calvin Klein’s of life, to be honest. I turned 27, got promoted for the first time ever and became a single man for the first time in a long time. By the end of the year though, my outlook had picked up. I felt free from a lot of shackles. I’m looking forward to living life on my terms in the 2020s.
I’ve spent my twenties up until this point wondering if I’ve lived my twenties right. If anyone was given the choice to relive their twenties with the benefit of having already lived their twenties, they’d take it in a heartbeat. However, instead of pondering hypotheticals until all the blue curacao in my flat has been decanted into despairing, crudely-made cocktails, I’m going to live the remainder of my twenties and my thirties with all the life experience I’ve acquired in my life to carry me through on the straight and narrow.
I don’t really consider myself an expert on giving advice or lessons, and I think anyone who does is an asshole. Still, it can’t be worse than this.
LESSON 1: Don’t be a prick
Right OK, this one should be really obvious to anyone with even a little bit of goo between their ears, but too many people in this life are complete and total cheds who don’t realise that their attempts to enrich their own lives often piss directly on the chips of many others.
It really isn’t terribly difficult to successfully not be a prick, but it is really easy to be one. Just look at wrestling and how easy it is to get a crowd to hate your guts.
You don’t need to be a particularly remarkable human being to tick this one off, either. You don’t need to donate thousands to charity or go the extra mile for everyone. Just don’t eat other people’s lunch, pay people back when they lend you money, don’t steal from the poor, and for the love of all that is good and right in this world wipe the pubes off the seat before you leave the office toilet.
Just get the fucking basics right.
Respect different cultures.
Don’t go around actively trying to fuck with people.
Don’t thrive off being the most insufferable bag of dildos in the known universe.
Scott Hutchison, the late lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, has provided torchlight in some of the darkest moments of my life, and enough stamina to find the exit of many a meandering cave. The lyrics he wrote and the music he composed live on forever as a resonant, nervous rallying cry of support for every person of every background who thinks today might be their last. Some of his last words sum up this point more poetically than I ever could.
SIDEBAR: Tiny Changes was set up last year in the wake of Scott’s untimely passing to grant money to projects promoting better mental health among young people. Read their mission statement and donate if you want to: https://www.tinychanges.com/
LESSON 2: Stay positive by confronting the negatives directly
We’ve just left the, err, “teens” I guess, and the “teens” really was the era of the 15-minutes of fame class of celebrity releasing a tsunami of podcasts and self-help books unto the thirsty, malnourished consumer.
In almost all cases, self-help books talk about focusing on your positives and taking lessons from your failures (a notable exception is Matt Haig’s Reason To Stay Alive which you should go and read right now. Go on. Go read it. No, I don’t care if you’re busy tending to your nephew who’s fallen down a well, go and buy the fucking book).
OK, but that doesn’t really work all the time, does it?
Fucking up a spreadsheet for your boss at work? Take the lesson from the negative. You’re still alive and you’ll be at work tomorrow to rectify the situation.
Fighting addiction? Coming out of a relationship? Failed to not be a prick? You can’t just “take the lessons”, because the nature of the negative is too big and often ongoing. You can’t just fix it the next day – there isn’t a chance to do so.
I was a shithead of a child. I didn’t accept how everyone else wanted to imagine their own world. I’d cry if I was ‘it’ in tag rather than see the opportunity in front of me. I was oversensitive as a teenager. I let everything get to me way too much. I came out of my shell towards my sixth form years and ended up alienating a couple of my best friends at the same time as I pursued whatever “popularity” was. I got into university. I didn’t put the effort in to meet as many new people as I should. I gave myself cabin fever. I alienated more friends because I couldn’t get my shit together. I never reached out for help. I went on anti-depressants. I got fired from my first job out of uni. I barely tried in my second. I nearly got fired from my third job three times. I had the opportunity to do a PhD snatched out of my hands at the 11th hour. I’ve been a crappy friend too many times. I’ve been a crappy boyfriend too many times. I’ve been a crappy son too many times.
Putting it more bluntly, there have been many points in my life where I either sucked as a human being or something sucky has happened to me. I’d wager that this is probably the case for everyone to varying degrees.
The difference is that I’ve not learned from any of these things: I’ve weaponised them. They are as much a part of me as all of my good deeds and positive experiences. Why would I just crumple them into a ball and fuck them in the trash? They happened. That won’t change.
Being vividly aware of your own shortcomings and past bad experiences, and spending time with them, allows you to do so much more than “take the lessons”. It allows you to properly come to terms with them, but also use them to more productive, positive ends. Never bury your negativity. Properly understand why some things make you so miserable and use that to your advantage. Properly understand why you were a douchebag and be fucking better.
Nothing is stronger than a man who knows how much he fucking sucks.
LESSON 3: Confidence is for wankers
Self-help books also fall into the pitfall of saying that you need to boost your confidence.
Fuck. Right. Off.
Confidence is a fucking myth. No one really has it.
Confidence is simply how you carry yourself around other people. It’s how other people perceive your sense of self-worth and belief.
Confidence is the catalyst for imposter syndrome.
For too much of the last decade, I’ve conflated self-belief and confidence to the extent where I had a huge shortfall in the one that matters: self-belief.
Yes, the two things are actually completely different. Confidence refers to other people’s perceptions of how highly you view yourself. Self-belief is how you view yourself.
You can have bags of confidence, ooze charisma and be legitimately awesome at everything you set yourself too. But only one person’s opinion on all this matters: your own. If your own opinion of yourself is that you’re a clown who doesn’t deserve anything they get, you can take your dump trucks full of confidence and tip them into the fucking sea.
I got to work every day wondering if I’m worth my salt or deserving of any of the compliments I receive for what I do. I wonder if I’m a worthy manager. I wonder how many of my friends and loved ones despise the ever-loving fuck out of me. No matter how highly I’m rated by my peers, the sprinklers will always water the seeds of doubt in my mind and they’ll start sprouting. All because I failed to build my own self-belief and relied too much on external perceptions to get by.
Who is arguably one of the greatest performers of all time in any arena or artform? Eddie Guerrero springs to mind. Known for being one of the funniest, most charismatic, charming, athletic and entertaining men to ever step in front of a camera, let alone inside a squared circle. I mean, just look at this guy.
He soared to heights most people could only ever dream of, and achieved legendary status. The only person who would even consider disagreeing with that statement? Eddie Guerrero himself. He was riddled with imposter syndrome. He thought he was more useless than a Boris in a fridge.
Olivia Coleman, Ric Flair, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Serena Williams and Maya Angelou have all spoken openly about their own experiences with it.
People who have praised your confidence have only ever seen you in action, doing what you do best. You have to be so much more than that.
Back yourself first. No one else has the right to if you don’t.
LESSON 4: The most misguided piece of advice ever? “Just be yourself”
OK, this may sit on a direct collision course with the above, but people throw this one around like bowling balls down everyone’s lane except their fucking own. Chicken fuckers.
Being yourself, for the most part, works. Contrary to what I’ve said, it’s reasonable advice. It’s just chucked around like a fucking blunt at a really, really shit student house party.
In normal, everyday situations like conversing with a friend, or buying a train ticket, or kicking a football, or eating a pie, being yourself works great.
First date? Big interview? Boardroom presentation? If you ain’t hamming it up, you ain’t getting through.
Trust me – it blows ass not being genuine or true to yourself, especially if you’re an introvert. Introverts drain their social battery faster than a 14-year-old drains his own loins. I find myself needing every third weekend locked away in my flat, just to cook a meal or binge a TV show or kick ass at a video game just to realign myself for the coming week.
But a lot of the success that has been shingled over my “teens”, be it in employment, meeting new people or hosting a long-running student radio show, has come as a direct result of hamming it up for a couple of hours at a time.
This isn’t to say be someone else. Just don’t be you exactly. Be you but turned up to 100. Amplify your good qualities. Hell, even your obnoxious ones; lots of people find that shit hilarious. Laugh at yourself and others will laugh along.
The one situation where the advice “just be yourself” does work though, is when driven directly into the eye of the storm of a different, shittier piece of advice: leave your personal life at the door.
Anyone who says this to you is a lesson 1 breaker.
Bring some of your personal life to work, especially if you’re having a rough time. If you have a boss who isn’t a complete and total chode, they’ll pick up on the signs. They’ll want to talk to you for 10 minutes in the morning to help you out and help you get through the day as smoothly as possible. Your body language is your way of communicating that something isn’t right and that you need help, especially if you aren’t brave enough to speak up. A shitty boss will fire you for daring to have problems that aren’t making a sales target or running a shit report no one reads. Trust me: I know that from experience.
LESSON 5: Life is absurd and pointless – revel in it
I’m not an optimist. I’m not a pessimist. I’m not a realist. I’m not even a nihilist.
I’m an absurdist.
Everything about the lives we lead is fucking absurd.
That you spend 40 hours a week for 40+ years grinding your brains and bodies to dust just to earn one man another Lamborghini he’ll drive twice a year? Absurd.
That the leader of the UK is an unqualified, compulsive liar who can’t even tell the public how many children he has and has a track record of fuckuppery wherever he treads? Absurd.
That we’re more concerned as a race with the cult of celebrity than our oceans swelling with plastic and sewage? Absurd.
That we’re willing to dismantle so much natural beauty on this planet in pursuit of the next big score? Absurd.
That anyone driving down the road right now wields the power to kill multiple people, and that we put our trust in stranger’s hands every second of every day to not do that? Absurd.
The world we have created for ourselves is ridiculous.
Instead of lamenting how we got to this point, thrive on it. Drink it in. Don’t waste a breath of it. Get out there and experience it. There’s so much to see and do. The one thing that will always separate us is our own lived experiences. You are the curator of your own museum. The architect of your own monument. The scribe of your own story.
Don’t wait for chances to come to you. Don’t wait for your squad to join you. Get out there and do what you want. Seriously, just do it.
You wanna go travelling? Knock yourself out, bro.
You wanna learn the guitar this year? You go, girl.
You wanna take an acting class? Break a leg.
You wanna drive a rental Ford Focus into a tornado? I mean, I’m not saying you should, but you could if you really wanted to.
Canal boat jousting? Best idea ever, you should definitely do it!
If you want to do something, so long as you aren’t a prick about it, just fucking do it.
Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to live your own life. It’s your own time you’re wasting.