This is a thought I had while brushing my teeth earlier, not something I arrived at through years of careful deliberation (although, maybe?), so I’m not claiming it as a great philosophical breakthrough or anything. I just love a good metaphor*. Anyway:
Life is not a game.
Since life is not a game, you cannot possibly win it. You can’t win it by
- Getting to the top of a career path or
- Having a “perfect” family life, or
- Finding your “true” love, or
- Being the most popular, or
- Being the best at something, or
- Collecting the most stuff, or
- Collecting the most money, or
- Anything else
Not only do you not win the game by doing these things, you don’t get any points for doing them, either. That is, those things all lead to rewards, if they’re things you value, or are rewards in themselves, but they are not quantifiable. In particular, they are not quantifiable against what other people have. You cannot tot up your progress through the “career” questline, your accumulated skill points and the value of the contents of your inventory to get a number that you can compare to other people’s numbers to see who is playing the game better.
To be honest, this is a little scary. For me, a big part of adulthood so far has been coming to terms with the fact that nobody is ever going to hand me a piece of paper with a score or a grade or a percentage on it that I can use to prove to my parents or my peers or myself that I’m successful. It turns out that there is no universal definition of success in the adult world. That means no quest markers, no map and no paths to follow (and, regrettably, no god mode). No promises about what will happen if I follow all the rules and do everything “right”.
But, you know what it also means? FREEDOM. It means that I get to set my own rules, make decisions based on my own values and choose my own definition of success. At the moment, that definition is “being as happy as possible for as much of my life as possible” and so far I think it’s the right one.
I’m not saying this is easy. I mean, there’s still the flailing and the anxiety and the self-doubt about whether I’m making the right choices to achieve that success. Also, as someone who used to get a lot of pieces of paper with large numbers and friendly letters and sometimes even smiley faces on them, it’s probably been especially hard to break my dependence on regularly being told that I’m doing great.
But I’m happier than I used to be and, in the future, I think I will be happier still. And that’s good enough for me.
*I learned this about myself during a period of counselling. I was knee-deep in a metaphor about chocolate or something and the counsellor was like “You… seem to really like using metaphors?” and I realised that I was explaining literally all of my feelings in terms of things that were not feelings, which was a weird mixture of “impossible to understand” and “really, really helpful (to me)”. I still do it, but I try to keep it mostly in my head. It’s like** my head is a bar of chocolate and the metaphors are a sweet caramel filling…
**What do you mean, that’s a simile? YOU’RE A SIMILE