If you’re anything like me, you’ve made a lot of mistakes throughout your life. Some of them are significant, others not so much, although they may have felt world-ending at the time all the same. There’s a myth that no one really understands and yet everyone seems to talk about it; people say they’re ‘running out of time’.
That is, they’re running out of time to do what they want to do with their lives. They’re ‘past it’, or close to it and they’re starting to feel like they’ve wasted their years. Or perhaps if you’re still young, you’re worried about making the wrong choices now that will narrow your options later in life and prevent you from doing what you want to do when you finally ‘figure it all out’. Have you ever heard someone say ‘I wanted to be an XYZ when I was younger but then life got in the way’? It’s not uncommon and there’s no doubt about it; not finding the right path when you’re young can leave you in crisis and make you feel like you’ll never get there.
But it’s not true, not in the slightest – not even just a little. This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in the last decade of my life – especially since muddling and failing my way through education, bad relationships and many, many jobs in many industries. I’ve always felt as though I’m drifting through life, waiting to snag on something that is right for me. Whenever I’ve felt something calling me, I’ve made the mistake of waiting for it to come to me, expecting it will. Regret soon follows when I see it rushing by and I’ve let it slip through my fingers, when I should have been actively pursuing it. Life is more of a hunt than anything else. You’ve got to chase down the things you want; you can’t expect them to come to you.
There is always another chance. There is always more time for you to take action towards your dreams. No matter who you’ve been, where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Finally I’m on the right track. I wouldn’t say I’m well-balanced, but I’m heading in the right direction no matter how rocky the road is going to be. My youtube channel is really taking off, with a following of 20,000 people, and I’m at the crux of running my own business – I’ve overcome many obstacles and I want to share my story with hope that it’ll help you overcome some of your own.
With that in mind, here’s a list of things that haven’t defined me throughout my life:
- Bad grades
- Mental Health
- Not knowing what you want to do
- Starting late on your dreams
BAD GRADES IN SCHOOL
I maintained high grades for most of my life, took 12 GCSEs whilst most people take 10 at most, was top of my Maths class for a while… and then everything took a turn for the worst. My mental health went seriously downhill whilst my underage drinking got worse by the day – and my education took the brunt of it. I was always of this belief – I think they hammer it home to you when you’re in school – that doing badly at GCSE or college level would ruin your life forever. The crux of it came when I was 17, two weeks from my exams, weeping to my mother about how I planned to drop out of school entirely. I’m glad I didn’t, but that’s not the point – a decade later, my school grades mean nothing to my life. I did too poorly to get into any university I wanted to go to but then, three years later than my school friends I managed to scrape into a bottom-feeder ex-polytech where I smashed through my joint degree in Film & Writing and came out with the highest 1st Class grade the course had ever seen. School is a rite of passage into adulthood, but it doesn’t define you. Once you’re out of those gates for good, you can start on the real path of your life.
Especially bad ones. Mostly, I consider all my past relationships bad. I got into my first relationship when I was thirteen, with a boy too old for me. He put a lot of pressure on me to act older than I was and whilst I didn’t give in to it, it shook me up quite a lot. I’ve been cheated on, had my heart broken, been confused about sexuality and at my very lowest point, severely mistreated in a long-term relationship that left several mental scars I’ve still not recovered from. But this still doesn’t define me – I refuse to let it. If there’s one thing it’s all taught me, it’s that you can’t control other people’s actions, and you shouldn’t let yourself be defined by anything out of your control.
They might have been awful people (or just people, doing awful things) but that’s their problem, not mine. It took time and healing and sometimes I realise I’m still not who I was, but it’s allowed me some serious self-reflection and I’ve realised the only person who’s allowed that power over me is myself. I control who I am, what I do, how I feel, and who gets to spend time with me.
It applies to being single too. Having a relationship isn’t the most important thing in the world. Looking for one should never be your top priority. Become the person you WANT to be, and love will come to you because people will fall in love with your truest and best self.
ESPECIALLY bad ones. Toxic people can’t be saved and they can’t be stopped. If you’re in a friendship where the other party doesn’t treat you as well as you treat them, it’s not a friendship. I wasn’t good with friends when I was younger – I was frequently having to make new ones because I wasn’t a very likeable person in my teenage years, and this led to me clinging to a lot of toxic people because they were more willing to spend time with me. They could get something from me (most frequently, a place to go off the walls without adult supervision – my parents were often away and our house was like that Project X movie – but other times it was just advice, a shoulder to cry on) and I took that as friendship. Until they weren’t there for me in return when I needed them. That is not friendship.
For a long time I thought I was the issue. There must be something wrong with me. But there isn’t. The world is just full of people out to use other people. It hurts, but they’re not worth your time – not whilst you know them, and not after you’ve parted ways. People who upset you aren’t worth the energy. Cut them loose. Don’t feel any guilt.
If you’re worried about not having many friends, the same thing I said for relationships applies here: work on being your BEST and truest self and real friends will come to you. True friends love and respect you. They support you no matter WHAT you do and you should give them that in return.
Or bad habits of any sort. Now there’s something to be said for overcoming addictions. I allow it to define me a little, I suppose, because I’m proud of myself. It’s an accomplishment I’m happy to make part of me. What I mean here is more that whilst you might feel that addictions and bad habits – whatever your poison, be it drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, self-harming or anything else you might be addicted to – put a blemish in your past you can’t get away from, it’s actually a positive. You’ve won. You’ve defeated the beast.
Just because you were once at the mercy of it, it doesn’t make you any less capable now. In fact, I’d probably say it proves just how capable you are. Wear it with pride. Or just pretend it never happened. It doesn’t define you, so that choice is yours. I’ve been addicted to plenty of things in my life. I’m not proud of what they were, but I’m proud of where I am today. I don’t wear overcoming addiction on my sleeve, but internally I know it’s made me stronger. I know I can defeat whatever life throws at me.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
This is a huge one. I still struggle with poor and fluctuating mental health to date. As recently as this past weekend I’ve come so close to a relapse it frightened me and I spent years searching for an answer – ‘why am I like this?’ – to no avail. I wanted a definition to what was wrong with me, so I could be ‘cured’ or at least have a label for what was going on in my head… until I didn’t want one any more. I don’t want to be defined and labelled because it gives me an excuse for who I am.
Unlike many physical ailments that can be cured with a short course of medicine, mental health is an on-going issue and you can choose to let it define you, or you can choose to treat it like a negative aspect of your personality. Perhaps you’re also overly sensitive, short-tempered or extremely messy. Do you let it ruin your life? Probably not. You might not be proud of it, you might have to work constantly on keeping it under control, but your mental health only defines you if you let it become an excuse for the way you act.
Now I know you might say ‘but my mental health issue makes me act out’ and I understand, because it’s the same for me. But there’s a difference between admitting you need help sometimes, that you need to take time out for an hour, or that you’re having a really bad mental health day and using your diagnosis as an excuse for your bad behaviour. I used to use depression and impulsiveness as an excuse for my shitty behaviour towards others until I realised that wasn’t who I wanted to be. I don’t want to be someone who hides behind their mental illness. I used to be upfront about it with people – ‘well I have depression and anxiety, so expect me to be awful’ but now I don’t tell people unless it’s really necessary they know. I’d rather NOT label it. I’d rather NOT let it control how other people perceive me. And now – whilst I still struggle with it daily – it doesn’t have any sway over who I am as a person.
Me and my family enjoy a great relationship. So I can’t speak from personal experience on what it’s like to have an awful family who don’t support you in anything. But I can say from advising friends and loved ones, your family are not allowed to control you. Especially not once you’re an adult. Another ingrained belief in us as humans is that you have a responsibility to be loyal to your family forever just because you’re related by blood. But if they are awful, they are just as toxic as bad friends or relationships and should be treated as such. If it has to come to it, cut ties.
Don’t let your experiences with family define you. Don’t let yourself become your parents – I know it’s easy to be moulded by your parents fears and wants and they probably have the strongest influence over you of anyone in your life, but it is still only an influence and not a finite definition of who you are. You can change anything you dislike about yourself if you want it enough.
My family are personally extremely supportive of me which is absolutely wonderful and I couldn’t be luckier. We didn’t always see eye to eye and there was a handful of years associated with some of my previous points where our relationship was strained and almost destroyed, but I saw sense and saw it was worth salvaging because I loved them. I made that decision and now I’m so incredibly close to them and so thankful for their support. Family is a tough point, but I can’t stress enough what I stressed before: you are the only person who gets to decide what you do and who you are. If you want to maintain family relationships, by all means do it. But if your family are hurting or upsetting you, you don’t have to tolerate it. Ever.
Because you’re never too young or too old. Again, like it’s spoon fed to us how important our grades are, it’s spoon fed to us how important a career path is. This information comes from a generation where it was true (we can’t knock ’em for not knowing better, I suppose) but the world is a very different place now.
Here are some false beliefs I held for a very long time:
- that certain career paths weren’t good enough for someone as smart as me
- that earning the most money was the most important thing
- that when I started in a career path I had to stick to it
- that bad grades would result in never getting a decent career
- that a degree is the only way into a good career
I mean, a degree helps you get your foot in the door, I won’t deny that. But a degree is just a piece of paper that proves you’re willing to stick something out for 3+ years and work hard at it – I’ve not once used my degree to get a job relevant to the subject I studied. Anything you can put on your CV that proves you can put your head down and work hard on one thing for a long stint of time will have the same effect.
- that once you’re in one industry, you have to stick to it
- that just because I had talent for one particular thing I should pursue it as a career
- that working was more important than chasing your dreams
- that I was too young to try and run a business myself
You are never too young or too old to do anything. If you take anything away from this post, please let it be that. You can change your career path at any moment. You can retrain. You can go back to college. You can quit your well paying job in corporate finance and go backpacking in New Zealand then come back home and start over doing something completely different with no experience (that’s my personal experience, by the way!) and still make it work.
- that finding a job you love means you’ll never work a day in your life
Also so false. I mean, it’s much better to enjoy your job and it feels a lot less like work than doing something you don’t want to do. But if you think the end result of that is not working you’re making a terrible mistake. The difference is that finding a job you love means you don’t hate every moment you have to work, and that’s the true goal. It still gets tough. It still feels like work. But damn, do you enjoy it.
And finally, the one that almost held me back from everything I’ve achieved in the last two years:
- that quitting your job isn’t fair on the company because they need you
Whoa, slow down there. It’s good to feel like your role is important, that the company loves you and appreciates you – you’re already rocking it if that’s the case. But you’re not irreplaceable. If you’d rather do something else, DO IT. The company will carry on without you. Someone else will take over your role and you’re not responsible for whether or not that person is as good at your job as you are. Once you’re out of those doors, you’ll realise you just don’t care any more, no matter how much you thought you cared at the time.
NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
Aka procrastinating on your future, by choice or by design. How many times have you heard in your life that you should know what you want to do by now? Or that ‘surely, you’ve got some idea?’ Like with my career path, I’ve held so many false beliefs over this in my lifetime. The main one is that everyone else knows what they’re doing around me. I’ve always looked at others and thought they had their lives so together, and wondered why I couldn’t be like that.
But you know what? No one has their lives together. Not your parents, not your friends, not the people in charge of our countries. Everyone in the world is drifting and hoping they’re making the right choices.
In my A-Level tech class, there was one boy who was taking 5 A-Level classes including Further Mathematics and Art because he wanted to be an architect. He was planning on going to Oxford to study it. It seemed like he had everything in his life under control age 17 and I was not only jealous, but extremely worried about not being in the same situation. Where was my perfect life? Why hadn’t it been laid out in front of me just like his? I took classes, dropped classes, wanted to be an actress, a bartender, a cop, a marine biologist – you name it, I’d thought about pursuing it as a career. And at 17, I was floundering around trying to decide what to apply to study at University because I felt like I had to know exactly where my life was headed.
It turned out the reason he was aiming to study architecture is because he believed he was relatively good at architectural drawing and it was a half-decent career path so he figured he might as well pursue it seeing as he had no other ideas about what he wanted to do with his life. And it turns out my mother, who made her fortune in recruitment consulting, wanted to be a doctor when she was 17, and my father only knew that he didn’t want to be a banker. Their futures took them very far away from those things and they’ve both had wonderful lives.
The truth of it all is, no one knows what they’re going to do, who they’re going to be or whether they’re making the right decisions. All any of us can do is be true to ourselves and do the things that feel right. The most important thing to know is that whilst school > college > career > get married > have kids > retire is what we all believe to be expected of us, it rarely happens like that for anyone.
If you’re procrastinating on what you want to be, it may well be because you’ve never even heard of the thing you’re going to do in the future yet. Hell, in this modern world we live in the thing you’re going to do with your life might not even EXIST yet. When I was 17, Youtube was 2 years old, had just been bought by Google and no one really used it yet. How could I have possibly have known I’d be pursuing a career in it?
Which leads me to my final point…
STARTING LATE ON YOUR DREAMS
I’ve probably made it clear by now that I have a Youtube account (called NyxRising Industries). It’s been a big dream of mine for about 8 years (since I was 19) to make videos and share them with my community (we, the freaks and geeks) and I first attempted it back in 2009 but I shied away from it very quickly because I wasn’t confident in front of the camera.
Since then I’ve tried on multiple occasions to get started on a channel only to give up very quickly because I never had much faith in myself. I would listen to those intrusive thoughts saying no one cares and who would even want to watch you anyway? The more time went by, the more I felt like I’d left it too late to even try. I made excuses for myself – it’s too hard to make it on Youtube nowadays, you should have started five years ago, there’s no point even giving it a go – and stomped on my desire to do it every time it arose again.
Finally I’d had enough of telling myself no. With my dreams, and with everything in my life. I was sick of putting myself down, of trying to force myself into this ‘normal life’ box that I thought I needed to live in – ‘gender appropriate’ role in a huge corporate office (I was an administrator, doing the work of an office manager for the pay of an intern) and a three bedroom house in the suburbs with a cat and a flashy TV that kept me entertained from 6pm until 11pm every night after work. Paying bills for my car, my home, my TV license. Hoping one of the handsome sales guys in my office might notice me, watching my colleagues having kids and wondering whether that would end up being me in a couple of years.
Thank god I escaped. I quit my job, bought a flight to the other side of the world and flew out to meet an old friend I’d lost touch with for over half a decade (who is now my long-term partner, which is the moment I knew I’d made the right choice) and then came back to England with no plans and no responsibilities and no idea what to do next.
At this crux of a moment in my life when I was throwing caution to the wind and with the help of my best friend, in August 2015 I managed to put up a video we’d made that I was proud of and four months later we managed a second one. It took until May 2016 for us to find our groove, but by then a small handful of people were watching, and then by August we’d hit 1,000 viewers, and we’ve just surpassed 20,000 this week. We post at least twice every single week, and our channel has nearly 1.5 million total hits. We sell merchandise, receive support from our incredible viewers on Patreon and have been invited as guests to public events. Would this have happened if we’d started 8 years ago, or if we started tomorrow? Who knows. No one could possibly know that. As far as I’m concerned, we started the channel at the exact right moment because it’s working.
We’re still growing, but we say the same thing every time we hit a landmark figure: we never thought we’d get 10 viewers and here we are celebrating a huge milestone with the support of thousands and thousands of fans. We’ve got big plans for the future. Every single week, something new takes us by surprise and we couldn’t be happier with NyxRising Industries. So I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it is never too late to start chasing your dreams. If you have the passion to do it, the willingness to learn the skills you need and the dedication to continue when it gets tough, you WILL succeed. Start today. Start next week. Just make sure you DO start. I promise it’ll be worth it.
I think I’ve stressed it plenty in this post, but the most important thing I want you to take away from this post is that you are in control of your own life and you can change anything you don’t like about it at any time. Nothing in your past is allowed to define your future unless you let it.
Be proud of who you are today, of what you’ve overcome. Don’t hide behind your failures, use them as stepping stones for the future. Learn from your mistakes and reflect on your experiences – one day you’ll look back on everything that’s happened to you and know that whilst it felt like the end of the world, it wasn’t. You’re still standing. You’re still fighting. And tomorrow is another day – one where you can do and be anything you want.
What am I going to do tomorrow? Who am I going to be? I can’t say for sure, but I cannot wait to find out.