Tag Archives An Opinion

Anti-bucket list

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While doing my Year Compass, I at one point started to freak out because “There’s still SO MUCH I need to do!!!” Freaking out like this is not new to me, it of course ties in with everything I wrote about last week. Let’s just call it a hard habit to break. At some point, I decided to write an anti-bucket list, a list of things that I at least didn’t have to do. And while I’m afraid that I’m the only person who thinks my list is hilarious, I’ll post it anyway.

The top 12 things that I, LP, will not be doing in the coming year:

  1. Backpacking (because a top three nightmare way to travel);
  2. Camping, not even to Texel (a Dutch island I’ve been wanting to visit for 33 year, but not in a tent. No tents ever);
  3. Start a housing corporation (because oh boy drama);
  4. Become friends with my upstairs neighbour of 20 years (because [redacted due to mean – ed.]);
  5. Skydive, bungee jump, climb the Kilimanjaro or stand on anything higher than an IKEA Bekväm (because fear of hights):
  6. Go to Nijmegen (because me and Nijmegen, we don’t vibe – Oh, unless the Zooz do a club show there, then I’ll reconsider);
  7. Listen to Africa by Toto (never again!);
  8. Buy Maison Martin Margiela tabi boots (because leather and also costing 2 – 3 times my rent);
  9. Get an extra cat (because Willa is the best cat ever);
  10. Walk in stilletto heels (because still limping around with a cane, more on that next week);
  11. Participate in stupid challenges where you blindfold yourself and do the Kiki dance next to a driving car on the high way or whatever the challenge du jour is (needs no explanation);
  12. And especially for the people who’ve been following me for a long long time: I also won’t be going to Lowlands this year. Like every year.

And because no utterance on the internet is complete without a call to action: dear reader, what will you NOT be doing this year? I am actually really curious!

New Year, New You

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Like every year in January, the slogan “New Year, new you!” was everywhere. Every time I read it, my first thought was “Nah, New Year, exactly the same you”, because we all know that the whole “changing everything that you are from one day to the next”-nonsense is just that: nonsense. I – deadline misser extraordinaire – presented proof of this as recent as yesterday, by letting the deadline of this post fly by like a comet.

But then there’s this little voice deep inside that goes: “But maybe this time it’s different?” Because being an Anxious Person, I of course am the ideal candidate for this type of magical thinking.

During some of the not so great times in my life, my entire existence was an obsessive quest for (self) improvement. My life was ruled by to do lists and productivity, improving myself by any (self help) means necessary. I did this to try and curb my fears, and it worked in the short term. I ticked off boxes and felt better about myself because I was “being productive”, which made me feel like I was worthy. In the long run however, it made things worse. I was never done “perfecting” things, instead my to do list grew with things that I could optimise about my home, my work flow and my personality. With the growing to do list my stress levels and fear level increased. A fear reduction strategy that ends up making you more anxious than you were before: how counterproductive can it get?

On top of that, I have this constant urge to reinvent myself. Part of it is the nature of the beast: I have an easily bored, creative mind that does not get enough artistic freedom and/or stimulation in my current life, so I just change my hair colour a lot instead. And I was of course also heavily influenced by Bowie and Madonna at an impressionable age.

So I understand the attraction of “New Year, new you” like no other. The belief in the illusion that you can completely determine and change everything that you are at all times, the conviction that you can turn yourself into something that you’re not, because you are convinced that if only you were different, you wouldn’t [insert thing here], is a perfect escape. While you dream about what your life would be like once you, magically and all of a sudden from one moment to the next, are completely different from who you are now, you don’t have to occupy yourself with actual change. The type of change that takes work, like therapy, working out, cleaning up your crap, taking a class, working on your projects or finally taking control of your career. The type of change that takes time, energy and might even cost money, and that doesn’t come with a success guarantee, but that is a lot more tangible than quietly dreaming about waking up as one of those cool fashion/music/diy/bullet journal YouTubers with 75k followers on Insta one Thursday morning. While not even having a YouTube channel to begin with. I am definitely not refering to myself here. No way. Not at all.

Failure 2.0

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Recently, I’ve noticed a new trend: failure is in. Where back in the day, you were expected to get to the top in one go, nowadays there’s a lot of attention for failure: articles that emplore you “Free your failures” and to “Fail better”, tenured professors that share their “Failure CV”. Last year, a “Fuck up night” was organised here in Amsterdam.

At first, I found this refreshing: finally there were people who dared to admit that sometimes things don’t work out and who proved that a mistake doesn’t mean the end of everything ever. It took the pressure off a bit in these days of “everything should be perfect at all times”. But as time went by, my feelings about this “failure” phenomenon changed. Where in the beginning it felt like a sincere attempt at comforting and encouraging people, it has now turned into a display of “Look at how epic my failure is!” There is an atmosphere in which successful people try to one up each other with stories of their best failures, with their “failures” actually being small to medium set backs at best.

Failing 2.0 is apparently only a thing for a very specific type of person. The type of person for whom the effects of their failures are relatively limited: I’ve never read a “failure story” in which a thing like losing out on 50.000 euros in a bad business deal ended with having to claim unemployment benefits, having to work shitty jobs, and paying off a debt with a very high interest rate for years. No, in these stories the “failer” just starts a new start up, because they have friends and funds.

And all the stories I’ve read from people who felt “completely destroyed” when they didn’t get into the Phd of their dreams, are always told – years later – by tenured professors. I’ve never heard anything from the “failed” Phd candidate who now works in the Cool Cat (clothing retailer – ed.) warehouse, and who struggles with severe depression. Because that would be considered an excessive amount of failure. Just like with authenticity and “being yourself”, there is also a limit to how much failure people think is acceptable. And you need to follow up your failures with success of course, because if you keep failing you’ll just make people nervous.

Failure 2.0 is a necessary, humbling step in an otherwise succesful life. It’s the thing that teaches you about yourself, which makes you better and stronger, after which you need to share your story with the rest of the world, stating “I did this, so you can too!” This of course with absolutely no regard for the privileged starting point of the “failer”. I’ll be the last to deny that it’s extremely painful when your franchise goes bankrupt, or if your academic career stalls. And I absolutely understand that these set backs feel especially huge if you have never had any sizeable set backs in your life before. But by presenting these set backs as catharsis and following them up with an “inspiring” call to action, you are basically repackaging the same old principle of “everything is always possible for everybody all the time as long as you really, really want it”.

Because apart from there being zero acknowledgement that a set back is not the same as failure, and that even set backs impact some people’s lives way more than it does others’, there is also a huge lack of support for people who can’t seem to come back from their failures. The people who don’t manage to become succesful (again), because they lack necessary resources like health (both physically and mentally), intelligence, money, friends, a network. Or the people for whom this latest failure comes on top of a long, difficult life path, and who can’t muster up the energy to fight anymore. There’s little compassion for them, they either get victim blamed (“Just do it!/Bootstraps!/You can do anything as long as you really want to!”) or just flat out ignored. Nobody pauses to consider their reality, because it makes us uncomfortable.

The current acceptance of failure is fake. It’s just one status quo being replaced by another: where back in the day you were expected to go straight to the top, nowadays you need a “good” type of failure on your path to success, that you can overcome and – once actually succesful – use as a way to demonstrate your personal growth and relatability, hashtag inspirational.

But if you stumble and for some reason don’t manage to get up, you’re still just an old school loser.