How To Be Great At Everything, or just make people think you are

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Whenever I leave the Writing Cave of Doom* and venture out into wider society, people who are older than me say things like 'I hate to think what I was doing at eighteen, you really have your act together!' People think I'm successful for my age! That's great.

So I have been thinking about what success means. I think success means being happy, and contributing positively to society, and having financial security. And writers are notoriously miserable, and I think they contribute to society but probably not in an easy to recognise way like, say, a doctor does, and financial security is not really something you associate with being an artist**. But some people obviously think being a writer is a good thing!

So mostly people who find out what I'm up to treat me as if I am doing quite well at life, and as if I can teach them how to fix the wayward youths. Which is nice! I like that. Unfortunately I seem to exist in a different reality to about 90% of people my age, and am not rebellious, and really I am not that concerned about wayward youths (every generation has been terrified of wayward youths, guys! Am I the only person who's noticed that teenagers have always seemed badly behaved to adults?).

Here is the thing: I actually don't have my act together. I don't know what I'm doing this year, or next year. I don't even understand how I've managed to achieve what I have already. I constantly panic that I have already peaked, or that I am not actually even remotely a smart person***. I was just as uncertain as every other kid finishing high school as to what I wanted to do with my life (I still am).

But it's pretty easy to fool people into thinking you are really great at everything. Or at least, that you know what you're doing. And if you can fool other people, you have already half-fooled yourself! Or something? I'm not qualified, I can't tell you percentages.

So! If you are a teenager or an older person who is still vaguely panicked about life, this post is for you. 

A brief, dot-point guide to giving the illusion that you are really brilliant at life and have an excellent five-year plan which you are currently implementing: 
  • When you are young, people are constantly telling you that this part of your life is the most important! You will only be young once! Etc, etc! People put a lot of pressure on you to be having the best time ever and also accomplishing amazing things and also managing to fit in basic stuff like brushing your teeth twice daily. It's a lot to balance. I haven't been a middle-aged or elderly person yet, so I can't tell you whether this is the most awesome part of life, but it would be kind of depressing to admit it is, wouldn't it? Next time someone says to you "Ah, those beautiful halcyon days of my youth! You better be carpe diem-ing the hell out of life right now!", tell them that they should be treating every day of their middle-aged/elderly lives with the same value. And then wink. Because really, aren't you going to be having an awesome time your whole life? You're great at life! Of course you will!
  • Realise that hardly anyone has any idea what they are doing with their life, especially when they are seventeen. Unless you are in a YA novel, in which case you are probably saving the world or marrying a vampire, either or. Good on you! Keep it up! Anyone who asks a seventeen-year-old what their five-year-plan is (except your parents/grandparents. They can ask a maximum of three times) is a mean person. When someone does ask you what your five-year plan is, it hardly matters what you say. Just say it with a lot of certainty and conviction. If you tell someone you're going to be a writer and they immediately tell you that you won't make a decent living, just start aggressively quoting Oscar Wilde at them. Shout "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative!" There are lots of Oscar Wilde quotes that will work.
  • Remind yourself, whenever you get uncertain about what you're doing or other people tell you you're not doing the right thing by choosing a certain degree or a certain job, that you're in charge of your own life. This is a lot of pressure, I know! But in the instance that you only get one go at life, wouldn't you much rather pursue your dreams than do what people tell you is a 'safe' choice? I'm not encouraging poor decision-making here, rather that you should absolutely go for whatever crazy, out-there, impossible-to-realise dream you have, sooner rather than later. Have you not seen enough motivational speeches in American movies? Come on now. You tell people that you are going to become a rockstar with enough conviction, they'll believe you. Even if you're terrified. Steph Bowe has faith in you! You don't really want the faith of someone who refers to herself in third person, but you're getting it anyway.
  • Whenever you look at other people and think, "hey, they are doing so well!" realise a big part of that is probably a public face they put on. You can only really see the interior of your own life properly. If you do worry a lot that you don't know where you're going or what you're doing, but everyone else seems to have their life in order, realise there are lots of people who can relate to you. And lots of people who you can talk to about it. I think it gets easier as you get older (well I certainly hope it does!) to convince yourself that you are doing well and making good decisions, but reassurance can be useful! (People probably see you and your crazy-great Face of Confidence and think you never doubted yourself once in your life!) Pretend you know what you're doing, and everyone will pretty much be fooled.
*Writing Cave of Doom doesn't actually exist anymore, since I live in a sunny state now and my room has enormous windows. It's the most awful thing. How is one supposed to write emo stories in such cheerful weather?
**I don't actually refer to myself as an artist. I hardly even refer to myself as a writer. I say, "I've got a book out." Because I am super cool.
***Normal people want to be attractive or fit. I am insanely jealous of smart people. It's terrible!

Advice for carpe diem-ing, five year-plans or pretending to know how to live life, always appreciated!
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