Lying in bed last night, I caught myself asking the question “What if I’ve fallen too far down the rabbit hole?”
First of all, it’s not actually fallen down the rabbit hole. For as long as I can think back, I’ve purposefully climbed my way down there. I’ve always been hungry for knowledge. For whatever reasons, the full truth is important to me, and I think that many people blissfully go through their lives never questioning many elements of our living reality. Elements which are certainly questionable.
For example in high school, amidst discovering alcohol and baking batches of penis cookies, I was reading books on quantum theory and the possibility of a holographic universe. These books really shaped the way I perceive reality – but I must ask myself what all that devoted time really has done for me. I haven’t lost sight of the here and now, and am still able to focus on things that are more important and relevant on a short-term basis. However I don’t see myself going into a career of intense science, and I’m just not sure how all of that sort of exploration makes me a better or more evolved person. It makes me feel more fulfilled, yes. But does it make me lack/miss out in another area? Sometimes I think it would be easier to live life “blissfully ignorant”. This has led me to question whether I’ve found myself too far down the rabbit hole.
Sometimes I think my life would be much easier had I simply “conformed” – stayed in med-school, found myself a doctor/lawyer-type of boyfriend (no offense intended to people in those professions!), and chased that white picket fence dream. I come from a fortunate background in which my parents slaved away to place opportunities at my feet, and I would grab these by the horns and use them to my advantage. The combination of opportunity and potential seems to be a winner in the way the world works today; and the world really was (or still is?) my oyster. Leading that conformist life – and I’m not saying there is anything innately wrong with this – was (is) a very real probability for me. Is it a shame if I don’t shape my lucky lot in life to fit today’s mould for “success”? What if tomorrow’s mould is different?
I could still make it happen if I wanted to. Settle for an easier path – I have sufficient capacity and opportunity. But I know that there would always be a part of myself asking many questions which others ignore/avoid. I foresee myself being surrounded by many “switched off” people who would never understand what I’m rambling on about here. Is being a thinker/questioner compatible with the “adult working world”? Could I survive in a 9-5 job (in which I could thrive career wise) and still have the time to fill my mind with knowledge about my vast interests? (Let alone get out and have enough new experiences?) Do I accept any job offer from a company even if their values aren’t aligned with mine, simply for that fear of “never being successful”?
I’m not sure about my peers, but I certainly feel that back in South Africa, if I am not the best of the best, then there really is no place for me to be “successful” and to support myself one day (let alone a family). Rationally, I know that this is probably not true. But I do feel that it is a very common fundamental belief amongst many of my peers. How tragic it is to have spent years of my youth realising my potential and capabilities, even having a reasonable self-esteem and -efficacy, yet still somehow feeling totally unworthy and undeserving of success…
I also worry that all of these thought explorations make it less easy for me to connect with the average person. The more I think, the more I deviate from the more common, “surface-level” mindset. Especially with people my age. What if I will never find an appropriately-aged companion who can connect with me on my level? I have met a fair number of “switched on” guys, but they have all been far older than me, at a totally different stage of life.
I know that for many people, including some closest to me, connecting with a partner on this sort of level actually isn’t that important. But for me it is fundamental – non-negotiable – before I can even start considering any sort of relationship. Am I being too picky here? Why do I almost never enjoy “letting loose and having a bit of fun” in this regard? I only end up feeling emptier on the inside.
Am I digging my own grave in many aspects of my life by venturing down this less-traveled road? I guess my question is “at what point do I draw the line?” Do I sacrifice some of the deeper levels of this rabbit hole in order to be a more functional, “normal” (and therefore happier?) person in our society? I think I’d have a far bigger range of social support and mutual understanding from others available to me.
I’ll give an example of something that happened just yesterday. Someone from my sort-of-distant past was tagged in a certain photo on Facebook, and this evoked an unexpected negative reaction in me which hurt. It was a totally unwarranted reaction and immediately my usual calm and rational perspective told me to not be unfair. This is a perspective that I’ve found to be very useful in many situations I’ve found myself in, and it’s helped me avoid a huge amount of unnecessary pain and drama. I try to not let my ego influence any thoughts or decisions that I make.
However yesterday was a first for me in what was possibly many years. For reasons unknown, I decided to not internalize/brush off this reaction, but rather to message two of my very close girlfriends from South Africa. I had a vent and allowed myself to be unnecessarily bitchy. This technically didn’t harm anybody – as I said nothing directly to the person himself – and yet allowed me to get it out nonetheless. Both friends were SO supportive, even though this person did nothing to deserve anything I was saying. None of it was too horrible, I really can’t be an awful person (at least not intentionally!), but I was making fun big-time and acting like I was in high school. And the thing is, it felt good. It felt so good to have a really big laugh with my friends, and have them back me up completely – unconditionally – and also contribute to this joke.
I remember that the first essay I wrote for my psychology degree was about the importance of social support. Throughout the years, and now especially, I have come to truly understand this. I carried on with my day feeling not only much lighter having had such a good laugh, but also I felt bonded and connected to my friends. I guess it was through this that I have started to understand the dynamics of those tight-knit and – dare I say – insecure groups of girl friends that I sometimes criticize and struggle to identify with.
I guess from yesterday’s trigger I have just wondered why I am trading this all off to be completely “mature, fair and rational” all of the time. As far as I can see, venting to my friends and (unfairly) making fun of the person did not (directly) harm them. At the same time, I also gained a huge amount of support and strengthened my friendships.
This is indicative of the bigger issue that I am addressing in this post. Where do I locate myself in all of this? What kind of person do I want myself to be, and at what sacrifice will I achieve this? I have lived my past years feeling that I can have it all – I can be as deep as I want to and when I want to, and still have functional platonic relationships with those who supposedly sit on a different level – but I’m not so sure anymore.
Being abroad has been really interesting for my identity. As I was saying with a close friend during a Skype session recently, traveling really makes you have to think about the person that you come across as. You are meeting so many people so often; what elements of your story do you tell them? What does this communicate about your personality, values, and aspirations? What sort of questions do you ask and conversations do you have, and what does this communicate to them about who you are? I’ve met a countless number of people whilst abroad, and people are generally comfortable on commenting things that they realize about you. A few weeks ago I had an Indian man in his 50s literally with his jaw on the ground when, through a simple conversation at a bar, he discovered that I am traveling alone, that Pink Floyd and Dire Straits are amongst my favourite bands, and that I’ve recently been questioning what function language serves in forming both our identities and worldviews.
I actually don’t mind being initially categorised into the “young naive blonde gap-yearer” because I enjoy smashing those stereotypes. But I’ve realised that it’s through these sorts of conversations I have with people that I leave an impression of who I am – and through their reaction to this impression, I actually learn more about myself as well as how I come across. Does this make sense?
I often think back to a paragraph in Tao Te Ching that I read many years ago – I’ve only read 5 pages of the book thus far! – and the idea was that by defining something, by assigning a word to it, you are then automatically limiting it. By giving it a word, that name and its associations thereby imply also what it is not. I think I’m very bad at explaining this. I need to re-read it. But not only has it contributed to my theories of language (touched on above, and to be explored more in another post), it has also made me question that when people say a comment such as “Wow Kirsten you are really deep” or similar, what is it that they are implying that I am not?
In the midst of my chaotic confusion, there’s one thing that I do know with absolute certainty. I go to sleep every single night feeling fulfilled and complete. How many people can say this? It’s a somewhat paradox because I don’t think that ‘my work here’ is complete yet. I go to bed every night a different person to the one I was the night before, and I know that on all subsequent nights I will again have evolved. But that’s the thing – even with this knowledge, it is still possible for me to feel complete in the ‘now’. I have felt like this every single night for about two years, and although at times it may come across that I’m a little lost or confused, I know for a fact that everything that has happened and will happen, all of my confusion and questioning, all positive and negative experiences, flaws and mistakes, is all absolutely exactly as it is meant to be.
I think it’s time to wrap up this mother of an essay! This blog post is a very introspective one, but it’s also important for me to keep track of the things that this year is really making me question/consider.
Well done if you got this far, reader 😉