- Zuhra Al Yarabi
For a decade or more, I dedicated countless hours to schooling thereafter my career. Throughout that period, I would naturally meet people and engage in conversations. Some were fruitful and others, in an unforeseeable manner, drove me to question my life choices and experience jolts of sophomore crises. The latter types of conversations sent a surge of discomforting sensations almost similar to an ache. However, they were not too physically painful nor alarming to an outsider witnessing my reaction. I was oblivious to the meaning behind the physical discomfort my body experienced following those conversations. In other words, I did not know what those feelings meant or why I felt them. Yet, I certainly knew the conversations were unsought for and unenjoyable whatsoever.
You are probably wondering about the type of questions asked or what dialogues lead to such an outcome. I think it’s more than what question one poses, it’s how one would pose those questions. Imagine this: you and your peer are conversing and laughing about everything there is to talk and discuss through. Suddenly, a question pops up, and it has a tinge of sarcasm and degradation: “Is that all you do in life?” Depending on where your mind goes, you may start challenging your peer, respond defensively, or, among other things, shut down and retreat from continuing the conversation. Up until recently, a similar situation to that would not only elicit physical discomfort but would also lure me into a few seconds of silence while I attempted to decipher the question. The process was usually unpleasant due to the nature of the questions I asked myself, “Am I taking my life too seriously? Am I boring? Am I living a sad life? Am I not doing enough to enjoy and flourish? Am I missing something?” Over time, those questions began to lose their credibility and power over how I view myself and the life I strive to live. I started to believe that, like many things in life, how you enjoy it and spend time is subjective. Living looks and feels different for each person.
Although, this is not to say that I no longer have negative thoughts. I occasionally experience agitating and anxiety-provoking thoughts, as well as feelings. A number of them fall under the umbrella of good enough. Questions such as, “Did I travel enough? Did I explore enough? Did I go out enough?” A distinguishing factor for how I handled it then versus now involves the element of perception. I have choices, not just one. I can either view the situation as black-or-white and let it debilitate me cognitively, or take an opportunity to reflect and keep an open mind. I can ask myself a simple question, such as “Why is it that I’m feeling this way right now?” I can even remind myself of my desires and personal definition of concepts, such as pleasure and happiness, including others on the list. Part of the reminder could also look like a self-reflective and affirming thought, “What if what I did was enough for me? It is okay to enjoy life differently than how others choose to do so. It is okay.”
Perhaps the need to reach a specific standard is driven by the need to appear socially adequate and heighten the sense of belongingness within a given society. But is it worth the ache? Is it worth questioning one’s own happiness over what others would describe theirs?
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Satomi Shikano