5 Things I’ve Learned Since Leaving School (About Myself, Others, and the World)

All I ever seem to do these days is write posts about ‘5 Things’.  And I mean that quite literally – no job, no social life, nothing.  It’s weird to actually type that out so bluntly; I know I’m not the only one in this position, but when we talk about it with one another or to other people it’s normally in different terms.

“I’m between jobs”
“I’m looking for the right job/career/opportunity”
“I’m trying to find myself”

You might use one, two or all three of those phrases.  I tend to use all three.  It doesn’t matter how I say it though, it all means the same thing.  Right now, I’m not where I want to be – I’m not sure I’m even who I want to be right now.  But those are some pretty deep thoughts, and I want to just look at some things I’ve learned in the last few years about the people I know, the people I thought I knew, and the world around us.

1. It’s okay to be a lone wolf

“I sometimes go to my own little world, but that’s okay, they know me there” – Joel Hodgson

I love it this quote, partly because Hodgson is responsible for one of the greatest shows in the history of the world, and partly because it really sums up how I feel sometimes.  At school, I was always friends with everyone.  In primary school, middle school (our borough had a strange school system up until a few years ago) and high school, I was someone who had a solid group of friends but knew everyone and could get along with people no matter what their background.  My way of making friends has always been to suss out their sense of humour as early as possible and then spend time trying to win them round by making them laugh – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t, I try not to care and I move on, because you can’t win every time. I’m far from a wall-flower.  Sure I can be shy at times but I’m mostly pretty confident when I meet people, and can hold my own in a group discussion.  Although more than once things have ended like this:

But just because I’ve always had lots of friends, it doesn’t mean that I necessarily NEED to be in the company of a big group, and quite often when I’m in social situations like parties or gatherings, I have a tendency to wander off by myself because no matter how interesting the company I’m in is, after a while I strongly feel the need to be by myself.  I only realised it when I got to university.  I’d be in the company of great friends and flatmates but I’d start to yearn for solitude, to just be able to chill out and not be ‘on’ – not that I put on an act around others.  There would be times where my flatmates would express mild annoyance at the fact that whenever I went into my room to be by myself I would lock my door.  It was never and will never be anything personal against any of my flatmates, it’s just that my time is my time, not a time for someone else to hijack and make about them.

I feel like we’re lead to believe that the most important thing in life is to fit in, find your role in a secure group of friends and stay there.  Once you turn 18 you’re supposed to spend every night out clubbing instead of watching clips of Saturday Night Live on the internet; you’re supposed to start going on holiday to do fuck all on the beach instead of spending your summers working in a grown-up job and reading up for your next term at university; you’re supposed to spend hours getting dressed up to take photos with your friends in the toilets of a nightclub instead of learning how to play Steely Dan songs and trying to write a musical about a serial killer.  Okay, I think we can all agree that I’m sort of an extreme case but my point is this: If you’d rather sit in your room and read, write, or just partake in whatever your hobby is, then do it if that’s what makes you happy.  Susan Cain has written a book on the power of introverts, and her TED talk  is one that I think everyone should watch.  In her words, “Solitude matters and… for some people it is the air that they breathe” and I totally agree.

2. People change

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward – Ellen Glasgow

This is pretty self-explanatory.  The people you grew up with will become different people, it’s inevitable.  The girl you used to sit with to laugh about the self-obsessed, boy-crazy, make-up abusing bimbos becomes one of them.  The care-free, happy, funny friend becomes a self-aware, hyper-ironic hipster.  The loveable geek has their first sip of a watered down orange Bacardi Breezer and becomes a lecture-skipping party-animal.

From awesome 90s kid…

… to weird, hipster, fish-Jesus

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it takes a change of scenery to realise what really makes you comfortable, sometimes the change can come completely out of the blue.  What matters is that you respect people’s choices.  In the last few years I’ve had friends find religion, lose religion, come out of the closet, come out of their shell, and various other big changes that I often hadn’t anticipated and occasionally met with disbelief.  Some of those changes were permanent, some not so much – the point is that when people change, you need to let them discover whether it’s right for them or not.  If it isn’t, they’ll change back.  If it is, you’ll have given them the opportunity and the space to become something that they’re happier being, and that’s a really important responsibility that you have as a friend.

3. People never change

Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody – Stephen Chbosky

So some people might need a nudge or take a while to become who they really are supposed to be.  But then some people are pretty self-assured from a young age for whatever reason.

It’s taken me a while to talk about this or write about it in some capacity, and I’m going to have to remain pretty vague because I don’t want to post specifics about people in this post.  But here’s the story.  In January of this year I took some time off of Facebook; it was just for myself, I spend a hell of a lot of time on the internet and at that point I thought that closing Facebook would be good for me, I’ve done it before when I was busy with final year projects for university and it worked a treat.  So I took a break.  In this time, I still socialised, texted people asking them how they were, if they were free and wanted to meet up – I mean I wasn’t dead, I was just off of Facebook. After about 6 months, my mobile phone drowned in a tragic English climate related accident, and I decided to reactive my account while I sorted out my phone, just as a means of keeping in contact with people.  I’d expected to find myself way out of touch with people’s lives but I was wrong, in more ways than one.

The whiny people were still whiny, the smug people were still smug, the attention-seekers were still needy as fuck.  But it wasn’t just people’s Facebook personas that had remained the same.  Someone I’ve known for a long time had stopped replying to text messages for a while, and after a few ignored Facebook wall posts I figured a private message might get more of a response.  The response I got was that I hadn’t been a supportive friend to this person through a time of illness, despite having been told by them that they didn’t want people knowing about it and didn’t want a fuss being made.

I was shocked.  I’ve spent my life chasing after people, always being “not as” to the cool ones or the smart ones, but being an un-supportive friend? It made me wonder if my other friends thought of me that way, and I responded to the message with a succession of heartfelt apologies.  Then it struck me that all through our friendship I’d seen this person cut people out of their life for the slightest grievance, taking things too personally and seriously, holding grudges when a simple misunderstanding had taken place.  I spent nights actually losing sleep over what I had thought was my fault, only to realise that it wasn’t.  This person had always treated friendships as functional connections as opposed to the sentimental and emotional attachments I’ve made throughout my life; I’d witnessed them sever ties with people once they no longer had a functional place in their life – I just never thought that it would happen to me.  But it did.  And I figured, if someone is happy to dismiss over a decade of friendship for something as simple as a lack of “omg babes hope ur ok” Facebook posts (I might add that during this period of unsupportive friendship, I texted this person many, MANY times with no response), then the problem is with them, not me.  I’ll always give my friends the benefit of the doubt – I’ve been mildly hurt by the actions of some of my friends in the past, but my good times with them always outweigh the bad, and I’m not so quick as some people to cut friends out of my life.

And that’s how I came to realise that some people never change.

4. Your future is open

The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create –Leonard I. Sweet

I’m 23 years old now. I’m unemployed, overweight, and live in my pyjamas. I went to a good school where the alumni are all expected to go on and do great academic things, not sit in their bedroom and write shit all day to post on the internet for no-one to read, while eating even the slightest hint of bread in their parents’ home.  I even went to university.  Twice.  Okay, when I say twice, I mean I’ve enrolled in university twice.

When I took my A-levels, I kind of just assumed that I should go and study English.  It was more or less my best subject at school apart from music, and I figured that a music degree would entail lots of performance modules, meaning I’d have to spend ages practicing the piano which was something I hadn’t done properly for about a year.  So English it was.  I chose to do a degree that involved comparatively studying American literature and history, alongside English literature; I thought it would give me a chance to indulge my Yankophilic tastes.  But long-story short, when I got there, despite making some wonderful friends I found I was desperately unhappy and wanted to get out of there.   I applied for a place on a different course , studying music at a different university closer to home starting the next academic year, and was much happier there.  The combination of studying a subject that I wasn’t wholly passionate about (classic literature, no thanks) and being so far from my family and London made me unhappy.  It just wasn’t for me.

These days I get that feeling that “it just wasn’t for me” isn’t considered to be a legitimate reason to decline something.  Let me tell you now that it totally fucking is.  Your future is YOUR future and no-one else’s.  If I’d stayed on at that degree, one of two things would have happened:

1) I’d have stuck it out right to the end and ended up as another English graduate with the ability to dissect a text but hardly anything to offer an employer apart from a piece of paper that thousands of young people get every year
2) I would have left at the end of the first or second year, essentially wasting more time than necessary and getting into more debt.

And end up like this jerk. Yeesh. Not today, Milton, not today.

My year out gave me the chance to work, earn some money, and grow up a lot.  My music degree enabled me to discover that I thrive on being creative under pressure, it gives my cluttered up mind a challenge to focus and work on.  If I’d been resigned to the fact that an English degree is a good prospect for the future, I truly believe I’d be a different person today.  Better or worse?  I couldn’t say, but I can say that I honestly don’t care.

And now I’m trying to make something happen for myself by writing.  If I looked at the sensible prospect for the future it would be to go and sit back at the desk in a job at the NHS where I worked on and off for 5 years – that’s what makes financial sense.  “Show them your potential and you could be a supervisor or a manager in the next 5 years!”  Oh joy!  That’s not what I want though.  When I think about the future, I see myself writing, creating, and above all happy.  That’s my future.  And I’ll get there.

5. It’s important to never forget who you are

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different – Coco Chanel

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be – Kurt Vonnegut

Ooh two quotes for the final point, which is also the shortest one.  I’m just going to list the things that I think will get the idea across.

  • Don’t take criticism that is based on one person’s opinion.  “I wouldn’t wear that” “I don’t like that style” “I thought it wasn’t very good” – make your own opinions and stand by them.  Represent yourself, not someone else.
  • Guilty pleasures are fine, but denying your enjoyment of something because someone else disapproves?  Well, that isn’t proper enjoyment.  Everyone is different.
  • It’s okay to prefer Toto over Tinie Tempah.
  • Don’t chase affection too hard.  Some people are so caught up in their own need to be showered with attention all the time that they don’t consider other people’s needs, and sometimes they quite simply don’t care about them.
  • Sleep on it.  If something gets you angry, you’ll act impulsively and your actions won’t be representative of the rational person that you really are.  Take your mind off of whatever it is, and go back to it later with a fresh and sane perspective.
  • Don’t become a doormat.  If it’s in your nature to be there for your friends then that’s great – but as I’ve learned and told you about here, there are people who only see others as resources to depend on rather than to provide mutual support.  Sometimes it’s best to walk away before they walk over you.
  • People won’t always agree with you on things, even your friends.  Respecting someone’s opinion is important while you’re defending yours.
  • Most importantly, learn to let the little things go.

3 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned Since Leaving School (About Myself, Others, and the World)

  1. Fab!! I totally relate… Some great advice there too…

    I think you have found yourself… Writing in your pyjamas… You seem to do a damn good job at it!! Stick with it!!


  2. Pingback: 52 Books in 2013 Challenge – January Update « Damn, That's Some Fine Tailoring

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