The notion of every single aspect of your life being planned, prepared and predisposed for success is one we all inevitably fall victim to at some point in our lives. But when this notion consumes you to the point that you develop a mortifying myopia to actual experiences, crucial relationships and personal priorities, you begin questioning your perception of success, dreams and the fulfilment of your future self. For type A personalities like myself, this can be one of the most monumental challenges you undertake.
Before coming to university in England, I took a gap year (yes, cue the cliché of self-discovery through travelling and learning new languages). After seven years of academic rigour and infinitely high expectations from parents and teachers, a respite was much needed to recuperate and figure out my next step.
I was not deluded with the expectations that this time spent away from an academic regime would invoke a miraculous process of reinvention. Nevertheless, I expected that growth would be the order of the day since I would be working, forming new relations and exploring my professional capacities. Such a change I was ready to embrace.
I have always believed in self-actualisation, that continuous process of taking action to become a more improved version of one’s self. However, with acquiring a job as an assistant at an insurance company, helping edit a book for one of the managers and applying to universities regionally and internationally, I realised that my perception of self-actualisation was nurtured within stringent constraints. I was always a box checker, a meticulous list maker, ‘pros and cons’ fanatic who values order and structure so I planned my year ahead and goals I wanted to accomplish. I won my government scholarship and could go to my university of choice. This was the first step to the career I wanted.
I was always a box checker, a meticulous list maker, ‘pros and cons’ fanatic who values order and structure so I planned my year ahead and goals I wanted to accomplish.
Clearly, my notion of becoming the best version of myself and harnessing such potential was through systematically arranged activities that conflicted with spontaneity and unpredictability, the very infamous characteristics of life. God forbid something went wrong and I did not accomplish the task on my list! A blasphemous thought! Fortunately, that is exactly what happened.
While I was accepted into Warwick, which was where I wanted to go, my high school encountered difficulties confirming my grades on my transcripts, my job was not going as well as planned because I was getting bored of the monotony of certain tasks and my relationships with high school friends were suffering because of my lack of virtual communication.
During school, I would not need to communicate through social media because we gathered there all the time. However, with distance now, such communication was warranted. The goals on my list seemed to become a wavering memory as I grappled with collapsing ideals. How could everything be going wrong when I did everything right?
Nonetheless, I slapped a smile on my face, suppressed my concerns and hoped for the best. Positivity must be a suitable remedy and it was, until I had to face a jarring reality. I went to the hairdresser for my usual trim and was startled when she said “Do you know you have a bald spot?” I was aghast when she showed me the mirror and a bald spot as large as a coin stared right back at me.
I arrived work one day and my hands were shaking uncontrollably, they had been for a while out of nowhere and I was losing weight at a surprisingly fast rate. These symptoms warranted a visit to the doctor. After a series of questions and tests, I found that I was physically fine but my doctor diagnosed me with anxiety. He explained that I was a type A personality and that the stress and anxiety of the entire situation was triggering physical manifestations like my hair loss, weight loss and shaking.
Sure enough, this was not on my agenda. I did not cater for anxiety. No one in my family had this and you try telling your Caribbean parents about anxiety without their instantaneous assumption that you are “mental”. This was not part of my plan. How do I factor this in? This is going to hinder my potential, would it not? After a painstakingly difficult conversation with them, they understood though I believe it was a superficial understanding of what I was going through.
I began taking Ayurvedic medicine to calm down and going to Hypnotherapy to release my subconscious fears of failing, being insufficient as a young woman in the modern professional world, unfulfilled potential and dreams. There was a gradual realisation that perhaps I did not have to check every box on my list and moreover I began questioning the existence of such lists.
I tried to account for everything I possibly wanted and mindlessly omitted a vital pillar of the entire process of self-actualisation, myself. Looking at my lists and focusing so much on what has to be done to be the best version of me transformed me into a controlled, uptight machine that made me momentarily forget who I was and even who and what mattered most to me.
It was at this point I decided that a mandatory revision of my perception of self-actualisation was to be done. I discarded what I called my “Type A” self-actualisation and opted for a process that involved unapologetically forsaking the regimental list and boxes to be ticked. I do have my list of goals but in this process, I do not predict what is to be, instead with every circumstance, I embrace, learn and change. I improve and fulfil my potential in realising the value of unpredictability and just going with the flow.
We all have our own perception of self-actualisation moulded through our own expectations and conditioning but that does not mean the process is standardised, rather it is personalised. The meaning of self-actualisation to someone, much like any facet of life, can evolve as individuals evolve at different points in our lives when different things begin to matter more.
My point of change was when I started to prioritise my physical and mental wellbeing as well as my future and education. Now, I have not fully departed from all of my detrimental tendencies, I still do hold on quite a bit. But at least now I know that there are some things out of my control. In releasing and admitting my weaknesses, fears and misgivings, I gained peace in this paradox: assurance and security that my future would be uncertain but full of surprises and I would not have it any other way.