The importance of honest conversations

Gods own junkyard London

In my cold, dark distant past I did a psychology degree. I know, total basic. Apart from now understanding jokes about Freud, what stuck with me was that unhappiness/stress is caused by the gap between reality and expectations. Stick with me here, its important.

I’m talking about you being unhappy because you expected London to be life-changing, but the reality is that you are the same person as you were at home. The expectation that before you are 30 you would have your life figured out, a solid career and be living by yourself…but the reality is you are still skint and finding happiness in the bottom of a coffee cup.

I always thought that this concept was an aspirational one, that to solve this cognitive stress it was important to recognise your expectations so you could strive for more. That part of life was trying to achieve those expectations running around in your head. It is one way to go about it, and has the added bonus of making you feel like you are working towards something big, like there is a horizon to reach.

The problem is the expectations that we have in our heads are getting wilder and wider reaching. Before social media, before feminism and global travel being reachable to many the expectations were more consistent. School, OE, marriage, house, babies; yes there were variations within that but for the most part the expectations were all along the same path. So, because of conformity and lack of options, your ‘reality’ would fit somehow into the same expectations as everyone else you knew.

Artificial neon sign

Now days, well. I follow an American cat called Norman on Instagram. In this world of increased travel, freedom and the breakdown of social norms people just aren’t leading similar lives anymore. I don’t think I could even begin to compare the careers of friends at this point, we each have our own definition of success and different options available to us. As an example the legendary Talon-ted Lex wrote this post about turning down a promotion, and yet I have friends who are firmly (and happily) on the accountant/lawyer traditional career path. So whose ‘expectations’ am I meant to compare my reality to anymore?

Sadly Facebook and Instagram have, as always, a part to play in this (not Twitter, twitter is like a kindergarten that is drunk on sugar at 3am, a place to commiserate the horror of life rather than crow over accomplishments). Every person, on their own different success paths, will post when they reach a milestone moment. All these posts filter into the back dark corner of your brain and set up an Everest of expectations. This new massive wall of expectations uses midnight as a perfect time to tell you that EVERYONE you know is happy, travelling the world, having incredible career opportunities, a wide circle of friends, buying a house, and being a little bit quirky. With the power of social media you can’t define the edges of people’s lives, all the big bits just form a frightening mountain of expectations that you will never, ever, be able to live up to. Seriously, not even Jennifer Lawrence would be able to achieve the ‘good’ bits of everyone’s lives all at once.

This is why honest conversations are important. I mean those conversations that are hard and make you feel a bit squeamish. Those conversations that might happen after a few gins or after an overdose of sugar. The honest conversations about the hard edges of life.

Aspire and Admire

It’s so important to hear that your bohemian friend who is travelling the world feels a little lost and disconnected. That your friend living the start-up dream worries about burning out from the long hours. That your corporate friend making all the money is crying from a lack of creativity. That your friend ‘living it up’ in London struggles with loneliness. That the girl who has the house and the family feels trapped sometimes, that she is missing out.

This is not a pity party, that’s not the point. It is just the other way of looking at the realty vs expectations problem. Instead of striving to improve the reality, you can also re-assess your expectations. Add in those hard edges to put the green grass into focus. These honest, awkward conversations will make that gap between your expectations and reality so much smaller.

They are hard conversations to be a part of, as an age/society/internet generation we are not that great at just listening. If someone is open about their struggles or worries generally either people try to ‘one up’ the bad bits, competing for Best Loser, or they will try to make them feel better. But actually what friends and your expectation need is to just get the edges out with no comment, no competition and hopefully a large glass of wine.

I know where I am in life. No it is not everything I dreamed it would be, but I don’t think those dreams would actually make me happy. It’s taken me a hell of a long time to get this reality, and honest conversations with friends have been an incredibly important part of it. We are human after all, each of us is a living breathing ball of happy, sad, inspired, striving and desperate for a coffee. All you need to do to give your happiness the best possible chance is to cut through the bullshit that Facebook tells us, that our own little minds tell us, talk to your friends and set your own expectations.

 

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Honest conversations

5 Comments

  1. January 4, 2016 / 11:59 am

    Boy or boy did I needed this post today.
    As a fellow Kiwi lass on her UK OE, trying to figure it all out/have it all/meet a nice fella with a European passport so I can get hitched and stay here indefinitely*, this really resonated with me! So easy to get swept up in the wealth of ‘humble brags’ that cross our paths day to day and to become part of that milestone moment rat race – and more importantly to start beating yourself up when you’re not hitting the same marks as your peers at the same time! Honest conversations are the best. Thanks for the reminder!!

    *not really! Well.. it has crossed my mind but I’m only human.

  2. January 4, 2016 / 11:59 am

    I totally agree with this and am lucky to have a really open and honest friendship group, where we can admit when we are struggling. I think it’s definitely getting harder for people to admit that their life isn’t perfect and social media and the ‘edited versions’ of our lives that we show to the world has a big part to play in that. Thanks for sharing!

  3. January 4, 2016 / 12:07 pm

    Glad I can always be honest with you 🙂 About my love for Kimmy Schmidt, that is. SEASON 2. COMING SOON.

  4. January 4, 2016 / 1:14 pm

    Hi Rebecca,

    What a well-written piece. And very well said. One of the tricks of growing up is accepting who are and, as part of that, accepting the reality of where you are. That doesn’t mean giving up on your dreams, but it does mean not getting down about all the things you haven’t achieved (it’s such an easy trap to fall into and one I still periodically slip up on!).

    Perhaps more important is your point about honest conversations. Years ago, I was at university with an American student on an exchange year. She was miserable and really struggling. What didn’t help, she told me, were the letters (yes, it was that long ago!) from her other friends about what a great time they were having on their exchange years. She felt such a failure. So, I asked her what she told her friends when she wrote back to them. Did she tell them that she was having a great time too?

    Yes, she said. Whether that helped her or not, I don’t know, but it’s stayed with me. Never judge yourself by the (perceived) achievements of others.

    Thanks,
    Brian.

  5. January 4, 2016 / 4:00 pm

    it may not have been your intention, but you’ve made me realise why I love Twitter more than the other social platforms; it’s for the cynics! 😂