We spend a great deal of time trying to idealize our future and plan accordingly. It is no coincidence that as children one of the questions we get the most is “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Even as adults, one of the most popular interview questions is the famous “where do you see yourself in five years?”. Our answers may change quite a bit, from time to time, but the fact remains we keep trying to paint a picture of what our future should look like. Our ideal future. Our ideal self.
Then life comes along with other plans.
The problem is when our ideal self and our real self become so far apart from each other that our mind starts struggling with the incongruity of it all. When we’re no longer talking about a hypothetical future but about the present. Who are you? Are you all you were meant to be? Are you the best version of yourself? Better yet, are you the person you believe you should be?
In psychology, there is a theory defending that the lack of alignment between your real self (how you actually are, how others see you) and the ideal self (the person you want to be) is one of the main causes for mental distress. I have to say, this is something that I find perfectly understandable. After all, in other words, isn’t this just stating that if you disappoint all your expectations of yourself, you will feel unhappy?
We live in a world where expectations are all around us, there’s no denying it. What if we’re the ones adding even more pressure to ourselves? It may be related to your career or to your relationship status, to parenthood or financial situation. Whatever it is, we have an idea in our heads, like a rough sketch, of where our lives should be at each precise moment in time and, along with it, what sort of person we should be. Raise your hand if you think you are honest, hard-working, reliable, a good friend, funny, intelligent, successful… But are you, really, all these things?
Do you constantly say you’re going to make better use of your free time, give more to charity, help out a friend in need, only to procrastinate? Do you wish you were healthier, keep promising yourself this is the week the diet is going to start and the exercise routine is going to be implemented, but then never act on it? Do you believe you should have already been given that promotion you keep missing out on? Do you see yourself as being stuck in a rut, all promise and expectation but no pay out in the end? How frustrating can this be to a person?
How much do sentences starting with “I should” keep playing in our minds instead of those starting with “I am”?!
Personally, I feel like I am at a crossroads in my life. I don’t really know who I am. Not so sure about my ideal self either, it has changed so many times now! But I do know, at this moment, I am very distant from it. Why? Precisely because I feel like I should have done more with my life by now! I should have tried harder, done better! Why haven’t I? I feel like I’m in a place of indecision and inertia. Bursting to be someone else!
My one lifeline, the one I’m holding onto, at the moment : I know it’s never too late to change. It is never too late. I don’t like the person I am right now, my real self is someone I don’t recognise. However, I know my ideal self is not that far out of reach. I can be that person, I just have to work for it. Act according to what I believe, follow my instincts and my passion more, let go of petty resentment and foolish notions of success.
Right now, this pandemic is a nightmare and a half. It makes changing your life that extra bit hard and it is keeping everybody down, suffocating the world. Never, in a million years, would have I imagine that I would go through something like this in my lifetime. But I know it won’t last forever. We are lucky, we are resilient, we just need to wait a little bit longer and be patient. I am itching to go out there and do some things that I can’t right now.
So, what to do? Well, right now, the best thing is to take a deep breath and acknowledge there is a lot of self-work to be done. I sometimes wish I was someone else, yes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I know I can be better. And it all starts with me, with the little things. First of all, it starts with kindness. My ideal self is kind and confident. And so, I shall be kinder to myself, on the path to that desired confidence!
Here’s to hoping that one day we can all find our ideal self and our real self truly aligned!