• Mihlali Mbobo

Perfectionism: The Future Waits For You

The 20s - 30s struggle to 'hurry up and wait' the anxiety, fear of failure, fear of being left behind, fear of not knowing what your passion/purpose is, fear you'll never find love, have a family, get a better job, move out of your family home and fear of letting your parents down. If there's one emotion I would say defined my 20s, it would definitely be fear.

Perfectionism makes you think you have to have everything figured out right this instant or your life will fall apart.

In the last months of 2020 I started emerging from a cocoon of heavy introspection about being a 29 year old freelancer embarking on a new career - halfway to broke but also having the time of my life getting to know myself mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

We spend so much of our time worrying about getting to the next place and then when we get there we don’t even enjoy it because we’re already thinking of the next thing. We don’t make enough room for patience and unfolding but progress takes time. We also don’t make enough room for gratitude for the things we worked and prayed so hard for that we have now. A trick of Perfectionism especially in our macro-capitalist culture is the never ending pursuit of money, beauty, excellence, notoriety etc There’s always another level you’re not on that you need to level up to, it’s exhausting and leaves you not enjoying anything you work for anyway.

You find yourself in a constant simmering panic, a moment of silence overwhelmed with thoughts of what you could and should be doing with that time. You end up feeling like your future is a late train you’re about to miss.

The workaholic, perfectionist culture we live in offers little of much needed reassurance, especially in your late 20s when you’re deemed an adult who should have their sh*t together. Whatever your fears and anxieties about life, you’re told to suck it up because this is what it means to be a grown up. I don’t know about everyone else but I still felt like an overgrown teenager with a credit card until 2 years ago. When I think back even 5 years ago at 25 about to be 26, I thought there were things set in stone but so much has changed since then, now I see the immaturity and naivete of that younger self. At the same time I’m glad I gave myself the room to explore and change.

What I’m constantly learning is that the future waits for you. It’s already there and you can stress yourself all you want but you can’t change the unknown, you can’t assuage that fear with a specific action because what life is teaching us there is patience and faith.

We live in a culture that tells us the 20s will be the best decade of your life and it’s all downhill from there. We joke about how growing up a 25 year old was an adult, our own parents were married with multiple children, a mortgage and pension plan by then.

Sadly times have changed and that is not possible for many millennials, officially the people born between 1980 - 1995. The world has changed so many times since then but the expectations haven’t. So we’re killing ourselves with disappointment that doesn’t belong to us, suffering under the pressure of responsibilities bigger than our salaries can manage and because we have this subconscious belief that this is supposed to be the best years, it can leave one feeling so hopeless. Because if this is as good as it’s gonna get, get me off this train!

We're in such a rush to get to the future where everything is miraculously better that we forget, we are that future. You can't remove yourself from the present in order to get there faster, nor can you focus on it so much that it draws the time nearer. These are all futile exercises in control which only creates frustration and impatience.

Progress over perfection, trusting the flow of your life and your efforts to move you forward. Developing a growth mindset and seeing opportunity in every delay or failure, it's all cumulative.

I think awakening in the 30s is a bit of a matter of time because by then you’ve lived long enough to recognise and remember the patterns of your life and that allows you to let go and trust a bit more.

Mental Health

I’m glad we’re increasingly speaking up and sharing about the many mental health difficulties everyone goes through just living their basic lives. What no one tells you about growing up, starting a new job in a new city full of new people is that you will simultaneously be having the time of your life and be the loneliest you have ever been at the same time.

Life’s transitions are often seen as this progressive inevitability that will bring about positive change and progress to your life and that’s just not true.

Change is painful and dark and sometimes thrust upon us at the worst time, leaving us no option but to go with it. It’s rarely defined rungs on some golden ladder you thoughtfully and consciously climb up to reach a magnificent peak.

As it stands, in this very moment there is so much that has happened to you and so much more still that is yet to happen and we are in control of very little either way. The lesson I want to take away the most from my 20s is adventure.

I’m glad I did and said and went almost everywhere I wanted to go, tried the things I wanted to try because now my life has become more structured and I don’t want the same things I used to want because I’ve given myself the time and space to develop. Every single job and odd skill I’ve ever picked up helped me get here and create this work and so many other things.

Your life is always taking shape, there is no one final moment. There are decisions and crossroads of course, some leave you better off and some don’t. The gift of my 20s has been learning to take ownership of my life but also allow it to flow.

There are years when everything works out - good job, good partner, good health, good hair and the world is your oyster! Now I know to savour every second of those because soon enough, that season will be over. Then there are years of financial stress, family stress, burnout, crushing singlehood and being stuck in a job or degree with no promising prospects, sometimes for years. I think 70% of my peers have struggled with some form of Depression and Anxiety just getting through higher education alone.

Thirty, Flirty and Thriving

Often when we talk about peer pressure and wanting to be cool, we make it seem like it ends with the young adult years when the truth is it's a constant fact of life. We all have to grapple with wanting to assimilate, to be liked by the other kids, to be part of something with our peers because it’s also a marker of making progress. That you are somebody in life and other people see it too. We outgrow friends and phases chasing things we think we want just to fit in or find what feels like is missing from our lives. Do they make us happy and fulfilled or do they temporarily distract us from the things we’re avoiding facing. Perhaps this battle is more pronounced in our 20s, you go through so many changes at so many junctures that force you to decide who you are and who you want to be.

There’s a scene in the modern classic 13 Going On 30 where Jennifer Garner’s character Jenna is having a conversation with her mother about no regrets, making mistakes and learning how to make things right. Beautifully scored by one of my favourite songs “Vienna'' by Billy Joel, about how we’re in such a rush to have it all figured out that we don't give ourselves enough time and credit for growing up. There's no formula or manual, we're just winging it and of course mistakes will happen. So often we beat ourselves up for mistakes we made years ago or spend so much time wishing things were different that we miss the opportunities to create a new and equally fulfilling reality in the present we’re in.

Why do we judge ourselves so harshly for things we couldn't have possibly anticipated before that very moment. You can't know what you don't know until you know it, why not make more room for that?

We're understanding of children who nearly burn the house down or pets who destroy our precious belongings because we recognise there are things they don't fully understand yet. Their actions make you angry and you have to teach them differently but there's no blame because you understand there's no malicious intent. All of these are the normal learning curves and growing pains of life and we get to the other side of them and laugh because of how fearful we were when we set out, only to realise there was never any big bad monster.

When the movie came out in 2004, I was heavily into my first bout of clinical depression though I didn't know it at the time. There was a lot going on for a 13 year old mind to understand and live with, 17 years later and that memory is a bit faded and obscure that often it feels like it happened to someone else in another life I saw in a movie or read in a book. Looking at my life now I realise it's never too late to turn around and start afresh. Reconnecting with our inner child that we bury underneath our need to feel grown up or edgy enough to not care about silly things.

This whole life is silly, why do we deprive ourselves of simple joys, when we were kids all we dreamed about was growing up so we could have more fun and be more in control of our time. Granted adulthood comes with a lot more crushing responsibility than advertised but we still have a lot more freedom than we used to. We should use it to make our lives more meaningful for ourselves.

The beauty of the present moment is that it’s complete and the beauty of the future is that it’s open and unknown. When we detach ourselves from fearing and trying to control the future, we allow it to take any form that it wants. We give it the power to surprise us. Believe that you are always where you need to be doing exactly what you need to be doing and trust that your journey is leading you to your highest good.

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