The Reality of Life

When I was studying at university, the media was full of tales about job losses, predicted market crashes, and how the millennials would bare the brunt of a declining economy. I completely understood, even accepted, that I wouldn’t simply swap my graduation gown for a suit and tie and land a job straight away. Part of me quite liked that, after three years of hard work and dedication a few months of working in a restaurant and doing some travelling sounded perfect.

But I didn’t really comprehend that I would find myself in the same predicament more than a year on. That doesn’t fit in with the story we’re told when we’re younger; get a good education, get yourself a degree, and then you start your career and live happily ever after. I suppose for many people today, the story reads something like ‘get a good education, get a degree and then…we’ll get back to you.’ We are the generation of failed graduates, or at least that’s how we’re made to feel.

When you live in a neoliberal society that is constantly reinforcing the idea of wealth and self-satisfaction through a plethora of mediums, it’s entirely normal to feel let down when you find yourself out of that illusive inner-circle. You question why you’re behind in the game, and whether you should start to come to terms with the fact that you’ll be in a rubbish job for the rest of your life. But how we surround ourselves with things we like and people who we feel are similar to us can go some way to watering down that disappointment and numbing the pain. In my day-to-day life, I don’t feel the pressures of needing to get a graduate job, or needing to be a homeowner, or needing to be in a steady relationship. That’s because I have, perhaps subconsciously, chosen to stick alongside people who are in the same position as me; from my flatmates to my work colleagues, we all have underlying things in common – we’re all millennials, most of us have degrees, and we’ve all found ourselves locked out of the dream factory we so desire to be part of.

We are further united by a common enemy in the system. If a group of people have one thing to focus their pain on, be it a person, an object, or an idea, then the pressure they put on themselves shifts and is promptly replaced with blame. If you don’t see something as being your fault, then how can you be held accountable? “I’m looking for a job” suddenly becomes “I can’t get a job because…”, and this can be an incredibly dangerous mind-set – the more things you pass blame onto, the less motivation you have to change because you feel that it’s in vain. In this respect, it’s easy to slow down and take a ride down the slope of being content – everything is fine, and fine is ok, so let’s stick with this for now. But with this comes the danger of conformity and reluctant acceptance. One of the problems with life is that it’s just too easy to fall into a mundane existence. Humans are, by nature, programmed to fall into a comfortable routine and follow it through daily. The desire to change lives in us all, but it wrestles with the fear of failure. Why give up comfort for the potentially terrible? Perhaps, when all is said and done, actually achieving your dreams isn’t in the status quo. Maybe, having ambitions is just another unreachable part of the story – the reality of life, if you like.

But what happens when you find yourself in a place surrounded by people who are actually doing well for themselves? Or at least who tell the story that they’re doing well, because after all we’re all prone to exaggeration. For me, this is what happens when I go travelling – I find myself meeting new people, getting to know them and coming to the realisation that in front of me is yet another person who has somehow managed to win the game while I stay on the sidelines eagerly waiting to be tagged in. There’s been countless times that I’ve had my energy and enthusiasm zapped out of me from listening to someone tell me about the global company they work for, or the volunteer work they did, or the four months they spent travelling around Venus. That sharp, dull pain of self-disappointment is hard to take. Back in Liverpool, I can tell people about conquering the travel map of Europe and people will seem genuinely engaged or impressed because it’s practically unheard of. When you’re in the middle of Tbilisi or Chisinau, though, that feat loses a bit of its charm because, well, these new friends have all been to those same places too – the unique selling point is stripped away, and I’m left scrambling to think of other great things I’ve done.

Having said that, I’m not naïve enough to believe whatever anybody tells me, especially when such tales are often told over a table full of sticky beer mats and hi-balls holding nothing but chewed straws. It’s almost too easy to create a fantastic life for yourself, and then relay it to a stranger you’ll never see again – you can be whatever you wish to be and nobody will ever know. Alarmingly, though, it’s becoming increasingly easier to do the same to those you know and love. Nowadays, we are all constantly connected to one and other online through the realms of social media; we can see what everyone has been up to, where they’ve been, and what they’ve seen, and find out almost anything we want to know without ever having to actually speak to them. It is now accepted, even respected, to share everything we do with our friends and followers – except we don’t actually do that, do we? We share what we want people to see and know, to fabricate a narrative that paints us as the best version of ourselves possible, and we’re all guilty of it. When I’ve bumped into people on the street that I haven’t seen for a while they have an air of shock and surprise that I’m in Liverpool because I’m always travelling. I’m not always travelling; I just mainly post pictures of my adventures on Facebook. I’m actually in work for five days of the week, just like everyone else, but writing a status about clearing a table or posting a picture of me stacking up outside furniture doesn’t exactly make for great content does it? In our online profiles, the reality of life isn’t actually reality at all – it’s a blurred reality with only the bright, exciting things visible and on full show.

Maybe the whole idea of living the perfect life is also an illusion, a grand idea which is completely unattainable to the masses and instead acts as a placeholder designed to make you feel your hopes have been crushed only then to eventually find your way. Perhaps the reality of life is making your own story, doing your own thing, and going against the unconventional. Living in a world with open borders, one that is connected throughout, and who’s lingua-franca is English certainly comes with its benefits to the new breed of graduate. Sure, our parents and their parents had financial security and job safety for their entire working careers, and they could buy a four-bedroom house in the city for less than £10,000, but we have something much more powerful – we have the ability to go wherever we want and do whatever we want. Rather than agonisingly aspiring to reach the same milestones as our parents did, perhaps we should concentrate on setting up our own stories and paths. Perhaps we should aim to live in inspiration and not fear.

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  • Reply Jade 1st November 2016 at 12:28

    Perfectly put Michael. Most of us have been brought up in a society where the idea of happiness and success is the same thing for everyone and that leaves us constantly comparing ourselves with others. I’m starting to understand what makes me truly happy and the only thing that stops me is the need for the materials and money in life that I think I need to survive. I’m pretty sure I can live without most of the rubbish I consume on a daily basis! Tar Lar for your lovely posts xx

  • Reply Jules 21st October 2016 at 17:08

    Nice post Michael!

    I will say this: as someone who has “made it in” in the eyes of others, it can mean shit all in terms of actual happiness. I know that sounds like a cliché but it comes from experience. I too meet other people and am so much more impressed by their achievements than my own (in terms of the things they’ve done/places they’ve been, rather than the stuff they have. Few people I meet are really impressed by stuff). But then I talk to them…and they feel the same about somebody else.

    Although we haven’t spoken in a while, I am one of those people you refer to who follows your travel photos with jealousy. If the freedom to do that is what brings you happiness, then that is more valuable than having something “real” such as a house (trust me, I know!)

    • Reply Michael Lowther 21st October 2016 at 18:20

      Thanks for sharing you own experience, Jules! Reading what you have to say has inspired me to think about materialism and whether the concept of happiness can actually be achieved from ‘collecting’ things.

      I suppose freedom, and the idea of being free is what we should actually aspire to be instead. To use a cliché myself, if the goal of life is to be happy, then perhaps we should indeed simply just do things that make us happy.

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