Being Happy Being Normal

Being happy is not something that comes naturally to me. Being content is just as difficult.

It should be possible to reach a stable point in life where you say, “Yep, we’ll run like this for a while and be happy to have achieved it”. Most people do that at some point. Most people accept their place and go with the flow.

Ever since graduating, I have had to modify my mindset to try to capture this. Ever since I stopped believing in my own hype, probably about age 21, that, actually, not everything is possible, and that the world is definitely not my oyster, I have had to batter and abuse my mindset to try and set it into a path of Normal.

I remember when I was young I was obsessed with the concept of normal. I think at about age 13 I decided I’d had enough of trying to conform, and I despised the vast majority of the people in my school. I didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone but my tiny amount of friends. I wanted to be different.

The trouble was I was anything but. Being shy and introverted, suddenly launching into outward displays of “look how abnormal I am” just wasn’t me. I liked to think I had a different mentality to others, that I was clever and astute and with wisdom beyond my years; that was what made me different. I clung onto that.

I tried to think I was different because I didn’t care what others thought. That was always my shield. I tried to think that no matter what others thought of me, how geeky or nerdy or weird I was, I would plough on regardless. I would be the winner in the end.

I liked to think that this was all unique to me, but I realise now when I look back that everyone goes through this feeling at some stage. Some point at which they pull one of their own “talents” and turns it into a way of feeling superior.

This attitude stuck with me for a long time. Through college I enjoyed it, and got some surprising kudos for it. I clung onto it during my gap year, kept telling myself that I was better than what I was doing.

Then university arrived, and, being surrounded by both nerds and idiots (yes, they even make it university), my attitude stayed resolute. I was up the grade. I really would use my intelligence, my abnormality, to achieve something. I relished the positivity that I enjoyed from being good at being good.

As time wore on though, and Iwas ground down with a year in London, I started to change my mind. It was briefly halted when I achieved a first class honours degree. That made me again feel pretty special. But it wasn’t to last. Within a month, sitting in utter horror back in my family home, I realised how much of a charade my mentality had been.

The trouble is that, since that day, I have not really been happy. I decided that I really must try and carve out something resembling normal life. Normal life for people is work, family, friends, social time in moderation, then back to work. Repeated endlessly for decades if you’re lucky, then you retire, and then you die.

I have never wanted that. I have always wanted there to be no normal. That every day is another challenge. Every day is another opportunity. Every day is another chance to make progress to being something different to what everyone else is doing.

As such, I am never happy. I continually say to myself that I should just be content with where I am, and accept that I have actually done pretty well to achieve what I want. But I cannot do it. My mind resists. I just can’t be happy.

More on my various neuroses next time…

Clever Trevor No More

A long time ago back in school, I was a rather clever kid. In my primary school, there was absolutely no doubt about it – I was the most intelligent there. I got everything within seconds, and excelled in every subject, no matter what it was. I could apply my smarts to anything.

I moved on to secondary school – where the level was higher, and so was the competition. It took me a little while to adjust, but I soon got into my stride. However, I was no longer the best there. Now being one amongst 100, rather than one amongst 50, it was always likely there would be a challenge. And it came from all different angles. My enemies were from much wealthier families – which gave me a certain sense of “I may not beat them, but I’ve come a lot further than they have”. I was probably amongst the top 10 in terms of academic ability though. That showed when I came out with five A*’s and five A’s in my GCSEs.

I then moved on once more to a different school. Well, a college, to do my A-Levels. This time I was one amongst 1200, if not more. There was no way any more that I could make a fair comparison with my peers. I had a feeling I was pretty clever still, but it did seem to me that I was steadily being caught up. That those people who I’d left for dead in primary school were slowly coming back. I ended with three A’s. Still much better than most, but there were many other people who achieved the same (and even more today).

Hence to university – where, if statistics are to be believed – I achieved something that approximately 10% of other students did. But only just as I was on the edge of it. But to me, whilst I was there, I got the unmistakeable impression that of most of my peers, there was very little to choose between us. They were sharp and erudite too. Maybe I am just better at absorbing and retaining facts for later analysis? But essentially, we were all pretty damn good at that analysis.

The moral of this tale is fairly straightforward. It’s one that is not fully explored in society – though I was very pleased a few months ago when the C4 programme Child Genius looked like it was going to investigate it. Not that I’m trying to say I was a child prodigy, but I certainly was right up with the brightest of the bunch.

No – the purpose of this story (and what I expect Child Genius to eventually conclude) is to say that for most child prodigies, the promise of youth invariably ends in failure. Failure is relative, of course, because people set the bar extremely high. For some reason we expect our child prodigies to become consultant surgeons, research experts finding the cure for cancer, or, worse, the Prime Minister. But we should come to realise that there really are only an extremely small number of these people in the world. And there can ever only be one prime minister at a time! Leaving the rest of them to have a relative failure when they “only” become excellent administrators or creative designers/engineers, whatever.

This is sort of what I’m coming to terms with. What is success? What should I achieve? Where should I be relative to the extremely high expectations that have always been upon me? And if I don’t meet them, have I failed? In school and university, it was easy to measure success in terms of grades. In life, it is not that simple.

Unfortunately, there is a side of me that is saying maybe I am not succeeding. I haven’t exactly lost my intelligence… but what I have lost is the degree of advantage over others this used to give me, because everyone else has caught up – and also because there are many other ways to have a talent, not just through booksmarts. It’s my belief that childhood intelligence is mostly a product of earlier development, which one’s peers will catch up with eventually. And then those peers will probably end up with better “people skills” or something.

Then you really are up shit creek.

Post-Birthday Blues

I’ve spent a very long time lately trying to work everything out. It seems that everything has come together at just the right moment to make me shake myself up.

First, there was the First. That was unexpected. I have been meaning to write a post for some time now about child prodigies and intelligence in young people. If I had this would all make more sense now, but I will come back to it at a later date.

Suffice it to say that the First has made me think I am reasonably clever after all. I’ve spent many years thinking I’d gone backward and others have caught up with me. It’s probably true to some extent, but I’m still smarter than the average bear. And modest too…

Then there has been my birthday. I’ve suddenly realised that I am actually quite old to be still doing bugger all with my life. Nothing concrete anyway. Most 23 year olds have started work by now. This has made things very complicated for me. I am sick of living off my parents’ back. I want to be of independent means at long last. I got used to it while not living here as a student… but the difference there was that I wasn’t earning the money myself. Mr and Mrs Taxpayer were handing it to me in loans and grants.

Having a taste of that, I want to go further. Plus, I see the sacrifices my mum and dad have made for me. I don’t want to keep asking that of them. I want to give them something back.

I can’t do that while I’m poor. And it’s highly unlikely I’d ever be able to do that as a teacher, either. It’s not a well paid profession unless you become a headteacher. And then you have to put up with government targets, league tables, assessments and inspections in a massively high pressured environment. And then after all that you don’t get to teach any more, which is what most people ostensibly go into the profession for. Not much of a reward, is it.

Suffice it to say that in the past few days I’ve become quite sceptical of the idea of becoming a teacher. This is quite a radical turnaround.

So I’m getting older. I’ve got less time to make a go of life. But I have the tools to do it now. I don’t necessarily need to spend another year doing the teacher training. I really should only do that if I definitely want to be teacher. I had originally thought that it would be good to do it even if I don’t become a teacher, because that way I keep the door open. But after all this time, it might not be sensible for the reasons above. It may not be my life’s ambition after all.

It gets worse when I consider the best plan for leaving this country, if ever I chose to do that. But then it means me making a career choice with emigration in mind. I could probably turn my hand to most things, though… which means that if I want to leave I should choose the career that is the most in demand. Teachers are always in demand. But it’s very difficult to transfer knowledge of one country’s curriculum to another country.

This is serious reflection time. My thoughts on this are all still very muddled. I don’t think I’m quite in a “blues” situation… but I will be if I can’t turn all of this into a logical plan which will stand up to scrutiny. I just know for certain that for a multitide of reasons, not least being fed up with feeling like a drifting, aimless student all the time, I want to reject teaching.

Will it stretch me enough? I don’t know.

I need to get some answers and quick.