What do I want to be when I grow up.

A message to fellow millennials.

The short answer — I’m not sure. The general things I would like to factor in my everyday working life; I can list them for you as I see them now but they are always growing and changing. Who can predict what sort of day job you’ll end up forming? Or what kind of life your job will be a part of?

It’s not a known path to get to where you want to be, it’s a journey you progress through that sometimes ends up changing direction in unpredictable ways.

I am hugely passionate about mental health, both my own and everybody elses. Becoming comfortable with where I am in life and my career has stemmed hugely from my own mental health journey (so far), what I’ve grown to understand about myself and what uncertainty, crippling fear, heartbreak and general anxiety have taught me.

“The Plan”

When I was in university studying psychology if had you asked me what I wanted to do after my degree I would have told you I planned to go straight for my PhD, start lecturing and continue my research in behavioural neuropsychology. Long story short, that didn’t end up happening and I’ve found myself working in HR (an area I never saw myself working in) and really enjoying it.

I’ve been in my position a year and a half now, and still get the constant FOMO of “Oh god, did I make the right choice?!” everytime I meet up with the girls from psychology who have continued their careers in the academic realm; working on masters, PhDs, or preparing for applying to the clinical doctorate. At the time when I chose to leave behavioural neuropsychology, after 7 years of “knowing” my career path I was distraught when I realised the life I had planned out in my head was not what was unfolding before me. In reality, I felt trapped. I knew I couldn’t continue down that path right now. I needed to take a step back and take stock.

Describing it now makes it sound like I very calmly sat down to look at what I wanted to do and then logically planned how I was going to make that happen. In actual fact it was about 3 years of bouncing back and forth between ideas with constant uncertainty and crippling anxiety. Blood, sweat and tears (LOTS of tears). Thankfully I lived with four friends all struggling through those first few years of adulting right alongside me. There was a beautiful sense of comradery amongst us and a true sense of empathy as we used each other as therapists daily after we had all sat down for a few episodes of the OC.

That time was actually wonderful while still being one of the toughest in my life. Every journey has its peaks and hollows. I’d go through phases of pure elation and everything would be going according the “The Plan”, but you could be sure through circumstance and bad habit Fionnula (the name given to my crazy by a friend when I was 14) would show up and everything would start to feel like it’s falling apart. The pure dismay felt when you realise you had actually been making progress in fighting the default mode of constant underlying anxiety, to find yourself tumbling down that negative spiral to the bottom of the hill again — the hill you have been consistently trying to climb for as long as you can remember. Now if you want to feel “better” again you’ve twice as far to go.

For me, after a tumble down there’s that “WHAT’S THE POINT!?” period of time. It’s when you’re standing on the ridge at the bottom of the hill. Up, you can start to try climb the hill again, or give in to the pull of the opposite direction — retreat and give in to the darkness. I used to find this to be much more dangerous territory than I do today. Lingeringly there endlessly, fighting with myself.

I’m happy to report these days I spend less and less time spent on the ridge. Don’t get me wrong, I still retreat. A lot. But when there has been a sufficient amount of time taken and I’ve managed to be kind enough to myself to get the resilience levels back up to a level worthy of surviving the outside world, I continue my journey up the hill. It’s in the tumble and retreat that we grow and learn. It took me a good few tumbles and stays in the darkness before I learned enough lessons to really start that journey up the hill.

During those 3 years I fought with the fear that I wasn’t doing enough. Everyone else looking like they have it all together — excelling in life, amazing social lives, travelling the world. Constant fear of missing out (FOMO). Should I just pack it all in and go travelling? Should I have stayed in academia? Why aren’t I doing more? Constant fear that I am not spending my time well. Constantly questioning “The Plan” and still trying to conceive an idea of my entire life from that moment fourth.

When it all came to a head I was left petrified about what the next step was and making the right choice. I finally surrendered and said through teary eyes ‘I am doing the best I can with the circumstances in front of me and that’s all I can do’. I finally gave myself a break. I was honest with people around me about what was really going on in my head. My thoughts, fears, insecurities and feelings of failure blurted out all over the kitchen table as I asked for understanding and support.

Just like that, a weight was lifted. I let go of all that self induced suffering I had been prodding myself with endlessly for years and just reminded myself that I am doing the best I can.

I am still tumbling all the time but it’s the recovery from the tumble that’s changing. I’m faster to get up and dust myself off when Fionnula and I go to fisty cuffs. Reilencey is growing.

So what does this have to do with what I want to be when I grow up?

Now it’s more of a question of who I want to be, and how I’m planning on getting there while (most importantly) enjoying the journey.

Repetition of an idea or habit literally ingrains in the neuroanatomy of our brain (basically how brainwashing works on a more extreme scale). The more we repeat something, the better our brains get at replicating the brain activity associated with it. More and more we’re seeing people opening up about their own journey and we are chipping away at the stigma around mental health. Talking about the topic gets people’s brains thinking in a different way. We’re moving from a place where metal health was a taboo subject to a more open and honest conversation about it. It’s making it okay to not be okay all the time.

On a side note, I notice some authors frame their journey as if it is done — when they had to do something about their mental health. As if it was broken but now it’s fixed. Mental health is not like physical health and we need to stop viewing it that way. It is not mended in the way a bone heals. Keeping it healthy requires constant work and maintenance, and you have to work extra hard if you have your own Fionnula to contend with. In my opinion,an author sharing their story (so far) and contributing to the conversation on mental health is another piece on their continuous journey of mental health maintenance.

Part of the fight against Fionnula is reinforcing the good in my head. What I mean by that is trying to silence the inner critic passing comments about myself and others, therefore actively changing from the default negative thought loop and then continuously trying to make choices that help the fight against the pull to the dark. Some days are easier than others, but the more I do it the more it’s getting easier overall. I try to engage with things that overall are trying to help with the never ending human pursuit of happiness; people sharing stories and viewpoints by whatever means available.(I’ve included some of my favourites at the bottom). Podcasts, videos, books, articles, posts and inspirational quotes all reinforcing the same message of positivity and choosing to live your best life until it is ingrained in your neurobiology. All contributing to the little steps up the hill and trying to change the shroud of negativity that sometimes covers our perception of reality.

Of late, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on mindfulness and being present — the constant struggle for consciousness. Trying to consistently recognise that life is a choice we make everyday and all we actually have is this exact moment. Trying to remind ourselves we have the power to make a choice, to look on the bright side so to speak. Over time I have learned to catch myself when Fionnula arrives with a big bag of FOMO dripping in anxiety, and simply remind myself I am doing the best I can.

Through countless open and honest conversations with people about my own struggles and theirs (yes, I am that girl at some point of the night having deep meaningful conversations in the kitchen at house parties), I’ve learned that really, a lot of us feel the same. We’ve all got FOMO and are constantly questioning ourselves. Comradery once more! When I realised others echoed fears of career direction and life in general, it eliminated the idea of “Everyone else has it together. I’m the problem, I’m the one who can’t cope.” Once that was gone I could really look at all the negative and nasty things I had been saying to myself about my seeming lack of direction. I could ease on the worry about choices and progression.

It wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch and deciding to just “Be more positive”, especially when you’re brain has become an expert in the art of negative spiralling. But through consistent reinforcement of the idea that I’m doing alright, I am spending less time on that ridge.

I wrote a vision on new year’s day this year. The exercise really helped me to look at what is achievable for me this year and how can I make choices to help my vision become a reality. I finally have started to live by the analogy that I so often quote to people.

When driving at night, you may know your destination but all you can see is the distance of the headlights in front of you.

For me, my destination is who I want to be when I grow up. I will continue to try to make the best decisions I can in every part of my life, to work whatever’s in front of me with passion, and to live the best I can today. Rinse and repeat.

I hope I can encourage others to do the same by sharing my story.

All we can do is try our best and hopefully we’ll “get there”. Or maybe you’ll recognise how hard you’ve worked to be where you are in all parts of your life and you’ll see that actually, you’re 14 year old self would be proud of who you are today. And 26 is a grown up to a 14 year old…so maybe you already are who you wanted to be.

Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace

The Guilty Feminist Episode 87: Mental Health with Milly Thomas

Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler The Art of Happiness

The Secret

Insight Timer

Vision Writing

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