Why you should forget everything you have ever learnt
Authenticity, purpose and throwing off that which no longer serves you.
Nowadays it can seem that everyone is looking for their special purpose in life. Call it destiny or simply a reason to get out of bed in the morning, the shops are filled with books claiming to have all the secrets to living a successful life and fulfilling your dreams.
‘Be your best self!’ they cry. ´Follow these 5 easy steps to discover your real purpose in life!´
And then there are the inspirational blog posts:
‘How to find your dream job in 3 easy steps’.
My dream job in 3 easy steps? Sounds too good to be true! But we click on it anyway just see if there we can find the answer to that old age question:
What should I do with my life?
Now, I am no author and I may have a blog but unfortunately, I can´t for the life of me think up 3 easy steps to discovering your real purpose in life and god knows how you can find your dream job!
But I do have one piece of advice that I can share that is the most important bit of wisdom that I have gleaned over the last 10 years of life here on planet Earth, which has helped me get closer to what I feel is my real purpose and most authentic self:
Forget everything you have ever learnt.
Forget it. All of it.
Everything that you have ever been told about how to live, about the meaning of life, about good and bad, about what it means to be successful- forget it all with a capital F!
Or at least, weed out any ideas that are not life-affirming, i.e. anything that keeps you playing small, following the status quo and generally sticking to the safety and security of your comfort zone.
Better to keep yourself wide open to life! Forget the prescriptions, the strategies for success, the 10-year plans. Forget the need to control what happens.
Just be wide open to the immense possibility of life. Our ideas are so small in comparison to what is possible, so why bother plotting and planning? Save yourself the effort and just throw yourself into the arms of life and get carried away by the waves of adventure!
Sounds ridiculous? Like something from Alice in Wonderland?
This is where I have arrived at after 10 years of unlearning and letting life show me that another way is possible. And if it is possible for me, then it is also possible for you.
The Journey into Unlearning
My journey into unlearning began when heartbreak propelled me to the other side of the world at age 22. After a short but intense romance with a guy who then seemed to be my ‘dream man’ (strong, muscular, with a ‘good’ job and a car) ended with disappointment, I decided that enough was enough, got my act together and went off to Hong Kong for a year teaching English.
This was my first time so far from home but it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
As I wrote in my previous post, the first post-uni year wasn’t an easy one as I indeed grappled with the question (and my mum’s questions!) about what I was going to do with my life. I had a 2:1 psychology degree in hand and there I was folding endless pairs of jeans whilst working in Levi’s in Manchester Arndale Centre.
To say I felt lost and disillusioned is an understatement. I also felt ashamed that after those 3 years studying, I was not experiencing the success that I had hoped for or expected. I had been a straight-A student! What had gone wrong?
As my short-lived romance disappeared down the drain, taking my misplaced dreams of my future husband with it, a new fire was kindled inside of me. A thirst for the unknown, for adventure, for new experiences.
So thanks to the disillusion of a broken heart I embarked on a journey that was the beginning of the rest of life.
Living in a culture so different from your own helps you to disassociate from the ideas and norms of your own country. Every day is fresh as you are seeing things for the first time, with the eyes of a child. Also, you feel so free to do as you please! With no friends or family around, and being a long way from home makes you so much more open to different ways of doing and looking at things.
My initiation into unlearning came as I realised that I was observing the Hong Kong culture with objective eyes. I was physically there and part of society but it wasn’t my culture, so I could see all the things that I suppose that the majority of Hong Kongers take for granted.
Their culture wasn’t my culture. The billboards in the metro stations of beautiful women didn’t affect me; nor did the girly-girl cutesy image of women that they seemed to value. I was a Western woman and was therefore exempt.
Where are all the beautiful people?
Then there were the women’s magazines. I picked one up out of curiosity and the pictures spoke for themselves. Obviously, I couldn´t read the text but I didn’t need to in order to understand what the content was about- beautiful celebrities and their lives. Sound familiar?
The main thing that struck me was the fact that in 6 months of living in Hong Kong I had never seen anyone who looked like those people in the pictures! Where were all these perfect looking people hiding?! In the most expensive bars and restaurants no doubt- way out of my humble league. But still, it was so apparent that it was all so false- real people don’t really look like that, and that includes the people in the pictures!
Around the same time a colleague brought in some popular British magazines- you know the ones- Heat magazine, Hello, O.K magazine, Glamour… It had been 6 months since I had seen one of these- not that I had been a big fan before but they had definitely featured in my life.
Many years working in retail and having them around the staff room had made sure that I was more than accustomed to their contents. Celebrity gossip, a few embarrassing beach shots, ‘torso of the month’ and ‘must-have fashion- everything that supposedly every woman wants…isn’t it?
They’ve been tangoed!
Whereas before I took all this as normal, this time I opened them up only to be completely shocked: how orange the people were!! How much make-up they were all wearing! The false eyelashes, the dyed hair straightened to within an inch of its life! It all seemed totally bizarre!
6 months out of the UK was all it took to be sensitised to these cultural norms that educate us and teach us how to be in the world but are completely taken for granted as part of ‘normal life’.
As a consequence of having different influences and having space to really discover who I was outside of my culture, over the course of the year I stopped wearing so much makeup, let my blonde highlights grow out and generally became more relaxed about my appearance. Not that these things are bad, but for me, they were no longer necessary. They were not reflective of who I was becoming and who I aspired to become
Needless to say, I returned to Bolton a different person.
Feeling like an alien
This was both challenging and beautiful at the same time. I felt so amazing but it was difficult to share this with my friends and family that couldn’t relate to this experience. Bolton felt strangely new and fresh yet familiar at the same time. All those normal things that were taken for granted before were now being called into question.
Just like when I was in Hong Kong, I was able to see my own culture with objective eyes. But unlike being in Hong Kong, the cultural messages of the news and the media did affect me. I was no longer an outsider to a culture and so I was no longer exempt- this was my home culture, the one that I had grown up in and therefore had been totally conditioned by.
Therefore, I was suddenly thrown into an existential crisis. Who was I in this new yet familiar world? Who did I want to be? How did I want to live my life? It´s not easy when you begin to swim against the tide.
However, my mission was clear- keep the flame that had come alive inside of me alive.
A conversation with life
I spent a lot of time in nature and read everything that I could that inspired me and fired me up inside. I also spent a lot of time observing the people around me and how they acted and behaved.
I remember watching ‘This Morning’ on TV and feeling absolutely astonished to hear the presenters talking about getting older and how ‘it was all downhill from here’.
Their attitudes were so grey and depressing- was this the destiny of all human beings? Are we all destined to gradually fall into the supposed bleakness of middle age? Do we really have a ‘peak’ and if it is all downhill after that, what is the point of continuing at all?
‘What kind of attitude is that?’ I thought. What a crap way to view life! Sure life is not an easy ride, and for some more so than others, but come on! Who says that joy stops when you get to middle age?
If you believe it will stop, then it will, but realise that it is your choice!
I remember that I wrote a letter to my best friend trying to explain to her what I was experiencing. I imagined how Life would respond to the attitudes expressed on the TV:
Life: ‘Well, if you really don’t want to get old, there is another option. You can just die now. No problem, it can be arranged!’
To which the presenters would reply:
‘Oh no, no, no! We don´t want to die!’
Life: ‘Well stop moaning then and live! Enjoy the life you have whilst you have it!’
And so began my journey into unlearning. It is a journey that continued through the next few years living back at home and has continued throughout my years in Madrid.
Letting Life lead the way
It hasn’t been an easy journey- sometimes painful, sometimes lonely, sometimes challenging. But ultimately it has truly been a journey of a lifetime.
It is only because of this journey that now, after throwing off the cultural conditioning of my past, that I can clearly see what I want to dedicate my life to and what my purpose is.
It is only for this, that I have the courage to do the things, express the things and explore the things that previously I wouldn’t have dared to.
It is only for this, that I can joyfully proclaim that I leave my life in the hands of the Universe in unashamed abandon, in complete trust that what comes my way is going to be far most beautiful that anything that I could ever think of.
And a big thank you to that rugby boy for breaking my heart- if it hadn’t been for him, maybe all of this would never have happened and I would still be wondering what to do with my life and what my true purpose is.
So dear reader, this is my wish for you:
May you unlearn everything you have ever been taught,
May you throw off the ideas and beliefs that hold you back,
May you live in the light of discovery, adventure and true purpose,
May you be your most authentic self, unashamedly!
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