Stop and Smell The Roses
A story about pressing the pause button and appreciating the life in front of you
When we’re little, we go to school to learn and to grow. From the ages of 3 to 23 we’re learning. Up to this point, our life is constantly measured through merits like grades and moving higher in ranks. We’re taught that success is defined by being better, having a higher ranking, or a higher grade in school. By studying and learning more, we’ll be more knowledgable; we will be better than we were before.
I’ve felt like an imposter my whole life. In school, I was always an average student. I was told “I could do better” as if I wasn’t trying hard enough. My first semester in college, I got a below-average GPA, feeling completely shameful instead of acknowledging the shift from the British to the American curriculum. When I found my passion for design, I was in my third year of college, I felt like I was behind for not having the resources to learn Adobe Creative Suite in Sri Lanka, so I was hard on myself, and took on more than I could emotionally handle.
Why are we always measuring ourselves by metrics; the grades we get in school, our title, or the company that we work for? More importantly, why are we respected more for getting higher grades, or our title, or working for the world’s best companies?
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Four months ago, I graduated from Northeastern University. I spent half a decade experiencing life away from my home, halfway across the world from Sri Lanka. For the first time, I was exposed to western culture. I met incredible people from different backgrounds, studied abroad in Australia, and worked at two global companies — Reebok and (RED). The experiences that I’ve had in the past 5 years have truly shaped me into the person I am today.
However, my last two years at Northeastern were spent preparing myself for “what's next”. In a hyper-competitive economy where everyone is highly educated, graduating with 2–3 years of work experience and an industry where visual imposters are at its highest, the fear of not being good enough pushed me beyond my limits.
Comparing yourself is the root cause of imposter syndrome.
It’s no doubt that I always compared myself to others, we all do, it’s natural human behavior. However, these comparisons channeled my inner imposter, creating intense pressure to be better than I was. The feeling of not being good enough took over every emotion, and I found myself going at 1,000 miles per hour. I was afraid of failing, afraid of not finding a good job after graduation, and afraid of not being “successful”.
When I did eventually graduate, I was so focused on finding the perfect job that I actually did not take the time to process the incredible achievement of earning a bachelor’s degree. All I could think about was “Whats next?”
The dream was to move to the Bay Area, get a fulfilling job that pays well, at a company that is mission-driven. I wanted it all. But if there’s one thing that life teaches us; is that things don’t always go the way we plan.
Truth is, I got rejected from that job, but received a really great offer elsewhere. However, I find myself in a rut because I’m constantly thinking “What's next?” Where will this job lead me to? What else do I need to be better?
As a designer, imposter syndrome looks you right in the eye. Even with a great job, I felt I should be doing more, designing more, improving my design skills, being smarter than I am, being more talented than I am. Always focusing on how to be better, than the good qualities I have now. Always focusing on what’s next, rather than what's now.
We live in this world where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Where social media drives intense insecurity and negative human behavior. Where success is defined by our job titles and the companies we work for. But who is it all for? Is it to impress acquaintances and people who really don’t care about us? Is it a conversation starter, or an ego boost? Success is not defined by what other people think of you.
Success is defined by what YOU think about yourself. Your job title and the company you work for DOES NOT define success, you do. Your soft skills, your acts of kindness, how you make people feel about themselves, who you are as a person, that should be the spotlight of what defines you.
The overarching definition of success has changed the way we look at ourselves. We experience negative self-talk, which makes us want more and strive to be more. Consequently, this results in focusing on what’s next, and not what’s right in front of us. We want a job that pays well, that is fulfilling and meaningful. We want work-life balance, we want a job that lets us travel and gives us great benefits. We ask for too much. But once we get it, it’s never enough. We want more. It’s a never-ending cycle that often traps us in the race.
We have the ability to change the way we see things, to better see ourselves. We have to stop and smell the roses that are right in front of us. So take a moment and see what's right in front of you. What are you grateful for? What’s going good for you right now? Notice the beautiful life in front of you, for it deserves to be lived.
Mindset Moving Forward
- Focus on the positive — If I haven’t already made it clear, focus on what’s going great right now, the things right in front of you. Realize life’s blessings in disguise and hidden gems tucked away in the small things.
- Catch yourself with that negative self-talk — this begins by not comparing yourself to others. How do YOU see yourself? What positive things can you say about yourself? What makes you a great person?
- Focus on what makes you feel good — if it’s playing the guitar or basketball, or dancing to old Bollywood music. Who are you outside the screen? Who are you apart from the resume and the LinkedIn profile?
- Begin and end your day with gratitude — when you practice gratitude, you focus on all the great things in your life and let go of any negative thoughts that arise.
- Breathe — take a deep breath in, and stop taking life so damn seriously. What is it all for? We’re all on this earth for a reason, and when the time is right, your calling will come.
- Do good and good will come back to you — The simple lesson of karma. Wish good upon others, and in return good will happen to you.
We’re still learning. Every day is an opportunity to be better for ourselves, to be kinder to ourselves, and let us live the life we want to live, for ourselves.