Victim vs Student

There is no utopia. Problems naturally arise. This isn’t inherently bad though. You gain experience overcoming conflict. Improving your response to the same conflict is growth. Responding to new conflicts in a peaceful manner by calling on similar experiences, is wisdom. And so I hear, wisdom brings peace. I aspire to be wise. When problems arise in my life, I welcome them as if a puzzle has been put before me. I am not ashamed to have problems and I am not afraid to attack them head on! I am excited to be a student and learn from my experiences. However, for a block of about two years, I fell out of my “student” mindset.

I have a very strong sense of independence. I would rather fail and fuck up on my own than ask for help. I’ve been told by others that it’s because I’m too stubborn or proud. While those qualities may be somewhat accurate, they are really byproducts rather than the root cause. I don’t ask for help because that would make life so BORING. I like to do things on my own. One of my favorite summers in college was when I worked 3 different jobs so I could afford rent and not need to move home. Had my parents just paid all of my expenses or if I moved home to not pay rent, what would I have done otherwise? I enjoyed my time at the Rutgers Dean of Students Office answering the phone, working at a liquor store, and being a bouncer at a struggling but lovely gay bar in New Jersey. (RIP The Den) Because I was fully independent, I got to decide how I responded to conflict when it arose. Sure, a few instances I was definitely wrong, but always the next iteration of the same problem later I grew and improved my response. I was learning, growing, and I felt in control of my life.

I am not the first, nor the last, to get my ass handed to me by New York. When my troubles in New York first started, while they were on a much larger scale than my previous ones, I approached them all the same. In a laidback and jovial manner, I mentally separated all the pieces of the puzzle and analyzed my options. You always have options. What was new to me though, was this time the solution called for a tool I was not familiar using. I needed to ask for help.

When I asked my family for help during that period of undeniable bad luck, my worst nightmare came to life. My family’s help was conditional on obeying their orders for the solution that they saw fit to the problem. I always viewed the option of help as a lifeline only to be used in dire situations, I wouldn’t ask for it unless I absolutely needed it. Help, to me, is the desperate request for resources or empowerment to assist you achieving your desired outcome. Unfortunately, my help was devoid of empowerment and conditional on dropping the charge of attack on the source of my problem, another person. I no longer felt like a student learning from the experience. Ripped of my agency, I felt like a victim. Those I called on for help unintentionally tied my hands behind my back and instead of overcoming and conquering this experience, I was instructed to endure it. I was unaware of the long term consequences this would bring. I felt discouraged and unable to stand up for myself; and that is a very dangerous thing in New York. I carried on but anxiously. Internally I fought to retain my student mindset and not be a victim. Due to a fun mix of being stubborn and having “blindspots”, I pushed myself to the wrong conclusion. I walked away thinking that when I stick up for myself it’s me being difficult and high maintenance. Believing this was the lesson to be learned, I unknowingly shifted my mental paradigm to a victim.

You will not last very long as a victim of circumstance in New York. (Unless you have rich parents, but that’s another essay.) No longer certain in my right (note: not ability) to stick up for myself, things got exponentially worse and I am so glad they did. If you are going to fail, do it big and do it fast. In January of 2021 I found myself in my own personal hell: unemployed, untrusting of my family, in a dead end relationship, and leveraging my downpayment I was saving for a house, on a car loan instead.

“When we are at our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”

During my stay in hell, I told my support system that I loved them, I am ok, but I need time to be alone. During the day when everyone else was at work, I started going for 10 mile hikes with my brother’s dog and got lost deep in thought. I decided this cannot be life, because if it is, I can’t live like this. Just as unknowingly as I entered the victim mindset, I took my first step out. I made a decision.

The first choice I made was to trust myself again. I rejected everyone’s dismissive advice to “stop living in the past” and instead do the opposite. My support system was asking me to move on as a favor to themselves rather than what was actually in my best interests. I needed to find meaning in that rough patch otherwise it was all just useless suffering. Back in my student mindset, I began sorting through the mental puzzle pieces of the past and putting them together. It was not long before the larger picture they made became clear. After putting the pieces together, I was certain what to do next.

No longer believing I am helpless, I have no reason to be anxious for the future. Sure, problems will arise. However, I’m a student again and not a victim. I am so proud of myself for escaping that helpless headspace where, like in a board game, problems are unlucky chance cards where you pay fines and move backwards. Problems have returned to puzzles, lessons, and opportunities for growth. I am doing a lot right now. I am growing a construction business, fixing up a house, and managing renters. I can’t imagine taking all of this on without believing that I can overcome whatever lies ahead of me. I am a happy student moving through life.

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