My Failings as a Millenial and the Lessons of an Unexpected Year Off

I’m sharing this video because, in my opinion, it has an unprecedented amount of truth about the way that myself and many people my age act, think, and feel. This isn’t applicable to all people of my generation, it is however applicable to how a lot of us act.

As a kid, I excelled at pretty much everything. I was told constantly how good I was, or how special, and the effect that that had on me was that I consistently needed other people to tell me what my value was. I had people tell me I was special at church, at school, at home, and I want to point out that it’s not actually their fault how I internalized that to mean that my only value was when I was excelling, but that came to be the only way that I viewed myself as having worth. A lot of the problem for me is that none of it really required any effort. I’m not a super genius, I’m not better than anyone, one of my talents though is that I learn extraordinarily fast and I retain things very well. I’m the kid in class everyone hated because with little to no effort, I would get As. Don’t get me wrong, I helped friends with homework, I helped them study, but I never put real work into things and it has frequently caused me problems.

I spent most of the time from 14–23, thinking, plotting, and planning to die. Not a pleasant admission, but I honestly saw no value in myself as a person. I thought the only value I had was in other people’s use of me. It’s a terrible way to feel, and I know far too many people that struggle with that particular problem. It’s not that I didn’t still excel, by my senior year in high school, I was offered to represent the state of Utah in two different programs, one in D.C. and one in New York. I graduated from high school with honors. I was a gamer, I was good enough that people named tactics after me and tried to recruit me to multiple teams. I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I did all of this for a few reasons: 1) I, just like everyone else, have innate talents and when focused on I can achieve amazing things. 2) I did it because it was expected of me. 3) I did all of these things because I thought, foolishly, that piling up the accolades and praise of others would fill that hole in my heart of worthlessness.

Do you know what I felt after all of this? After all the praise, after all the accomplishments, I still felt worthless. I’m not, never was, never will be. Worthless isn’t even something that I would attribute to the worst people ever to walk the planet, because while they may have done horrific things, they had infinite value in teaching the rest of us how to be better. I felt how I felt though, and it wasn’t until a frankly miraculous culmination of events led me to the year that I’ve had. Last year, I started a new job, it was a good job, good environment, good people, good focus. I met a girl, that I fell in love with, we planned on getting married. Everything was great. This January, I got sick. I got massively sick. I’m still recovering, haven’t really been able to work, have dealt with the worst bout of depression I’ve ever had, and I am frequently so exhausted from the illness that I’m incapacitated large portions of the day and any mild physical effort wipes me out and puts me down for the next several hours. I would still call this one of the best years of my life, because of all that I’ve been able to learn, about myself, about my worth, and about the goals I set and where they’ll take me.

Lessons Learned

I in no way, shape, or form believe I’m the smartest, wisest, or most amazing human being (despite what many people who knew me as a teenager would say). Here are some of the very life changing, and happiest lessons I’ve learned in my life.

  1. Don’t give up on the important people in your life. I’m not here telling you that everyone in your life needs to stay, or that every important person in your life has to be a constant presence. Some people are toxic regardless of how important they are, they make you doubt yourself, they destroy your confidence, they drag you down because they don’t want you to succeed. Get rid of those people. The important people, your “family” (defined here as the people that love you unconditionally and push you to be your best self), are people that you need to hang on to. Unconditional love and support is rare, no matter the distance that comes between you, or the obstacles in the way, make sure that the people that are best for you always have access to your life. Bonds and relationships bring strength and build both parties, hold onto those. Don’t grab so tightly that you become toxic, just leave the door open so that when you’re both available to be in each other’s lives, you’re not stopping amazing things from coming into your life.
  2. Don’t make excuses or blame others. I have been handed a veritable treasure trove of excuses and people to blame. I can shift the blame for how I felt as a teenager and in my early twenties on everyone around me. “Well if they hadn’t made me feel the need to excel all the time, my self worth wouldn’t have been tied to their opinions.” Sorry to burst the bubble of whomever thinks like that, but it’s a false perspective. The problem is that I chose to perceive things like that. I chose to base my worth off of other people’s opinions. I had to be succeed and be praised simply because that’s how I perceived my value, it was directly equivalent to the level of praise others gave me. We make all sorts of internal traps like that as kids, I fortunately found a therapist this year that has pointed me in the direction of fixing those misconceptions, but ultimately I’m the one that made the choice to perceive my worth that way. Once you learn to take accountability for the world around you, the choices you’ve made that led you to where you are, you will find a new sense of worth. You’ll realize that the person that has the power to define you is you. It sounds cliche, and simple, but it’s difficult to master.
  3. Be grateful. Last year, when I met the woman that changed my life for the better, I was extraordinarily frustrated. When I served my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I wasn’t out for the full two years. Due to depression and a few other issues, I came home after six months. To me, that was an unbelievable failing. I had failed at something I loved. I failed at something that I had lived my whole life for. I pressed pause on all of my potential, on all of my growth, and on my willingness to even be part of the religion I believe with all my heart, because I had failed. I was that way for eight years. I met this woman, she had just gotten back from her mission, for the first time since I got home, I could actually talk about my mission experiences, the people, the challenges, the trials, and be happy. I’ve never been angrier about something in my entire life. It’s extraordinarily hard to take pause off of your life, it’s hard to change your life, your perspective, and your goals to line back up with what you knew they should be and acknowledge that you had made a choice to just drift for years. Don’t get me wrong, I did good, I met a bunch of amazing people and close friends during that time that made me who I am today, but I was mad because I felt I should have been better. The first time she and I talked about missions, that night that I was insanely angry and punched the wall in my shower out of sheer frustration with myself, I took some advice from a mentor that gave me a job last year, I decided to be grateful. I went back, and I looked at all of the things I have gained since I hit pause: the friends, the family, the experiences, and the growth. I counted all the things I had to be grateful for, the good I’d done in others lives, the good they had done in mine, and in being grateful for all of those things, I even became grateful for “failing.” When you choose to be grateful, your whole paradigm shifts. You see good in the world around you, which when you’re depressed is still insanely hard, but it was a start for me and one that continues to make my life better day by day, even through the hardest times. There will always be things in life to be grateful for, and those things add value to us and the world around us when we acknowledge them.
  4. %*&$ other people’s opinions of you. I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect follower of my religion. I’ve never been a perfect worker. Despite one very wonderful person’s opinion that I’m “practically perfect in every way,” I’m not. I have disconnects with my religion, and I’m fortunately part of one that encourages introspection, study, and finding answers for yourself. I frequently know that I should do things, the laundry on my bedroom floor being a prime example, and I don’t do them until they become a bigger problem than they could be. Some people tell me I’m terrible, some people tell me I’m a saint. My value is determined by me, who I am is defined by my opinion and my choices, not through anyone else’s perspective. Be grateful for the people that voice their opinions of you, those that truly love and support you express gratitude and positive opinions of you are doing so to support you, those that seek to tear you down are trying to make you fit their perspective of you. All of these opinions can help you see where you need to improve and what you’re doing well, but they should never determine your value.
  5. Take it easy on judging others. Most of us are having challenges that no one else will ever know about. I’m not always the best at this, I can be stuck in my opinions on others because I personally feel like I’m a good judge of character, I also acknowledge I have a hard time giving people credit for progress that they’ve made and changes they’re making. When I catch myself doing this, I remind myself that everyone, even the guy that cut me off on the freeway, is human and has their own challenges. When you give others leeway in your judgments of them, you’ll find they generally return the favor.
  6. Accept genuine offers of help. Personal admission, I’m terrible at this. I like being independent, I like thinking I can do everything on my own, and I like being in control. Example: I’m sick one day laying in my bed with a fever, haven’t been able to do anything for days, and my (then) girlfriend starts picking things up in my room to help me out, after bringing me ice cream and juice and her genuinely kind personality to make up for my depressive one. My immediate response? Freak out and tell her I can take care of my own stuff. I’ve done that with a bunch of offers of help. I’ve realized, I was wrong. Being willing to accept help is a sign of strength. It means that you are acknowledging where your weaknesses are and that you need to overcome them. It is great to be independent, but when people are offering help of their own good will and trying to help you when you’re down, you’ll go farther and build better relationships by accepting the help than you will by being stubborn.
  7. Do your best, and acknowledge your best can fluctuate. My best most days right now is reading, and trying to find ways to take control back of my life little by little while I’m recovering. My best before I got sick, was being able to work a bunch, then go to the gym, read, help friends, and basically be the unstoppable powerhouse that we all take for granted when we’re healthy. When you are genuinely doing everything you can to make your life the best it can be, that is enough. You will not be unstoppable every day, you will not be sick every day. You will however, be able to achieve the most and build the most out of your life if you acknowledge that you’ve done your best. You can always improve, but you have to give yourself the credit you deserve or you will become nothing but a ball of nerves.

In learning these lessons, I realized that I failed to take account for my own worth, my own progress, and all the good that has come my way. None of us are perfect. I can blame everyone, I’m a Millenial, I’m entitled, I was failed, but ultimately, the only one responsible for me and my life, is me. My failings are my own. Your failings are yours. We can overcome anything if we actually decide to take responsibility for our choices. You only have the mindset of someone that is acted upon for as long as you choose to give others the power to act upon you. Everyone around you will make their choices, everyone around will influence the world around you, but whether their choices control you or not is entirely up to you.

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