“The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem
Growing up can be tough, especially when you have to come to terms with some harsh realities.
Earlier this year, while watching the BBC documentary Frozen Planet, I was stunned by the footage of killer whales working together to hunt seals. The whales identify their preferred species to hunt, the Weddell seal. Even though the Weddell seals make up only 15% of the seal population, the whales prefer them over their feistier cousins, the Crabeater seals, due to their docile and submissive natures. Upon finding their prey, a group of whales will coordinate to create a wave big enough to wash an unsuspecting seal off the ice floe it’s on. Once the seal is in the water, they work together to prevent it from swimming to safety, tiring it out until it succumbs to exhaustion.
Although it was captivating to watch the intelligence and teamwork demonstrated by the whales, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor seal struggling for its life. It was alone, defenseless, and taken completely off guard by the whales. Its desperate cry for help tugged at my heartstrings. I wondered how nature could be so cruel to such an adorable creature. The scientist who watched the scene unfold during filming had a more rational, albeit philosophical, take on it. He said that this is life – it’s how things function in the natural order. Meeker creatures have always been hunted by predators and they will continue to be hunted as long as the food chain exists.
His statement gave me an epiphany. I realized that no one, not even us, is excluded from the laws of nature. No matter how evolved and sophisticated our society becomes, there’s no escaping the natural laws that govern us.
The only thing we can control is our subjective reality, based on beliefs developed by what we learn and experienced while growing up. If you had a traumatic childhood, you can be sure that your view of the world will differ from that of someone who grew up in a safe, sheltered, and loving environment.
I fall into the camp of kids who had a privileged and sheltered upbringing. As I grew up and entered the Arena of Life, I realized how unprepared I was. Like balloons, my idealistic notions were popped by the sharp needles of reality. Even though each experience was painful, I experienced an awakening in my soul. The losses, doubts, struggles, and unknowns sculpted my character and whipped me into shape.
I accept that I’m ‘in process’, riding the crazy waves of life – learning, growing, and being. Instead of allowing tough reckonings to reduce me to a cynic, I transmute the pain into a more solid perspective on life that’s rooted in reality. You too can remove the sting from the process of maturation by committing yourself to truth and honesty. This will allow you to construct a personal reality that’s free from illusions, fanciful hopes, and fictitious narratives based on ‘how you wish things were’. No matter how disturbing, challenging, and hopeless your situation seems, acknowledging it for what it is is the first step to freedom.
Over the past three decades these have been the top five realities that I have learned to accept and grow from:
1. The world doesn’t owe you anything, you must earn your success: According to research, the younger generations, especially the Millennials/Gen Y, tend to have an inflated sense of importance and lack the solid work ethic and drive to make sacrifices to achieve their goals. This occurs because many of them were constantly told that they are special while growing up, and as a result, they believed it. Because of this, they develop feelings of entitlement, convinced that they deserve to be happy. Sooner or later the ugly reality hits them (as it did for me) that they are as ordinary as everyone else. It’s their responsibility to create the life they envision, and they have to put in the blood, sweat and tears to make it happen. Life rewards those who dare to dream and take action.
2. You can’t control what people think of you, or how they judge you: Everyone judges. It’s a natural proclivity of all humans. We’re first exposed to this painful truth during those awkward teenage years when we’re especially prone to self-consciousness, desperate to fit in and be accepted. An emotionally healthy adult should be able to shed those fears of judgement (or minimize them) by understanding that they can’t control how others see them. We can certainly influence others opinions of us, but we can’t change the beliefs, values, thoughts, prejudices, and personal history that create the filters through which others perceive us. This dawned on me after many years of trying to please family members with my accomplishments and potential. I soon realized that my attempts were futile because of the stark differences in our priorities and philosophies. Cultivating my strengths and skills would be a much better use of my energy, focus, and time.
3. Life is unpredictable and risky, so manage your expectations: If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve definitely experienced the unpredictability and inherent risks of life. At any point, a person can get an unexpected promotion or lose their job, find the love of their life or find out that their partner wants to break up with them, have a spiritual reawakening after going through many years lost in the dark night of the soul, and so on. The First Noble Truth in Buddhism states that in life, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” In other words, pain is an inevitability of human existence, yet we have the option to either let it control us, or learn how to manage the pain. Our existence is amorphous – the dynamics that surround us are constantly changing, shifting, disintegrating, and rebirthing. Once we truly accept whatever comes our way and embrace it with a positive mindset, instead of a defeatist one, we’ll find peace and harmony in the present moment.
4. You have to be selective about who you trust and count on: According to author, Brené Brown, “trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention and full engagement.” Based on Brown’s definition, trust is fragile because it’s connected to our sense of vulnerability. For this reason, we have to be careful about who we bestow it on. However, trust must begin with you first, because you can’t truly trust someone until you learn to trust yourself. People need to prove themselves before you can include them in your team. I’ve written about this vetting process in detail in this post. After being disappointed by certain friends, ex-partners, and family members, I realized the importance of boundaries and managing my expectations when it comes to dealing with people. After these lessons, I strive to surround myself with only those who are inspiring and encouraging.
5. Society is primarily driven by consumerism, competition, and the attainment of power: We live in an age where having more ‘stuff’, influence, and popularity are considered to be the holy grail of success. We’re indoctrinated with this throughout life. We are groomed to adhere to the pecking order of society based on one’s finances, career, attractiveness, and social standing. As the world gets more populated, there’s an increase in competition in all spheres of life. Everyone is competing for power while carefully crafting an image of success on their social media accounts. Competition can, unfortunately, bring out people’s darker side and their insecurities. I’ve seen this hunger for power cause people to gossip, manipulate, hurt, and sabotage others success for their own personal gain. This used to disturb me deeply as I really wanted to believe that we’re all compassionate beings looking out for each other. I realized that there are only two things that you and I could do to influence others to move towards love and kindness – accept this shadow tendency in our own character, and use our voices and platform to make change.
Whenever I find myself overwhelmed and in despair because of the apparent lack of fairness in our world, I look up at the twinkling stars in the night sky to find comfort and solace. I’m reminded of the incredible privilege of being alive on this vibrant planet. This tiny blue spec in the vast cosmic ocean has provided you and me with the ideal conditions to experience life in all its paradoxical glory. Existence on planet Earth is, indeed, a gift that should be cherished by us all.
All my best on your journey,
Question: What are some of life’s realities that you’ve had to learn to accept and grow from?