The taste of success
I got my library card renewed today. I know, woot woot, but seriously, this is an important achievement. I used to go to that library every single week, take out the maximum amount of books (which I was pleased to find out today has been doubled to 20 items), and race through them in a couple of days. And then school happened. Ironic how four years of literature studies actually reduced my library time (that is, voluntary library time) to zilch. Somewhere in between Denmark and writing a thesis and Canada, people and passions that used to take center stage slipped through the cracks.
Last month this exodus finally caught up with me. I was meeting quite a lot of new people here in Belgium who'd ask me to tell them "something about myself". And even though I think that's a pretty lame question - I can't remember ever playing this game with anyone who went on to become a friend - it bothered me that I couldn't think of much to say in reply. In Canada I always seemed to get away with "I'm an exchange student". That would generally spark a lot of "I've been to Europe!" or "What's Canada like in your eyes?" conversations, which I always enjoy. But here I get stuck at "I go to KUL...still. Umm. I'm from here. I like stuff and things, but not to the degree that I get offended by anything or go nuts for anything". And that left me feeling pretty damn depressed. Is my life such a sad collection of events that that's the best I can come up with? What happened to enthusiasm? To gushing? What do I really like? What am I about? Is my life relevant in any way? Have I failed?
I remember going to see a Dutch cabaretier called Youp Van 't Hek a couple of years ago. One of the red threads of his show was the idea that there can be no such thing as a failed life, for the simple reason that there is no such thing as a successful life. Take, for example, an Olympic athlete. This person forewent delicious food, late nights and motorcycle rides for years on end - the most vital of his/her life - to slice 0.6 seconds off of a record which will one day undoubtedly be broken. Was his or her life a success? Joe Shmoe who won't go down in any history book comes up, opens a can of beer and sits down in his favorite chair. Does he consider his life a failure in this moment of bliss?
Though I can see what he was trying to say, it can be pretty hard to deny that certain people's lives drip with the smell of success. Take Oxford, for example. There are students skipping around those grounds who are unusually clever, good-looking, athletic, musical, socially adept and come from a very happy family. They may go on to invent a new medical treatment, write a brilliant play or go into politics and prevent a brutal conflict. How are their lives not the epitome of success then? The only way they wouldn't be, that I can see, is in their own minds. Because yes, even at Oxford, I met people who described themselves as "mediocre". Who felt like they had spent the last few years "in school" but not doing much else. Who are disappointed with their resumes, their (lack of) achievements and can't muster up a lot of energy to keep going. So maybe success does not necessarily work with objective standards (just look at all the people who appear to have it all to their friends and neighbors and seemingly "out of nowhere" take their own lives) and it is all about how you judge yourself.
Now that I'm flat broke and home again after some extremely fun city trips, I've got some time to ponder this issue and, more importantly, to take steps towards dealing with it. Step one: think back to when this issue did not yet exist. What made me tick back then? (Reading did. Hence the library card) Step two: what am I good at? (Languages. But I've been slacking in that department. Hence getting out two German novels from said library - "Nimm mich mit" by Anke Stelling and "Die Mitte der Welt" by Andreas Steinhöfel - as well as tracking down my lecture notes from the Danish course I took in Aarhus). Step 3: Where do I want my life to go? (Somewhere interesting. Hence the continued applications for unpaid internships across the country). Step 4: Chill. If some obnoxious dude at a party puts me on the spot by challenging me to sell myself in 3 sentences or less that should not make me doubt myself. It should make me get up and go talk to someone else.
I don't know to what extent my little plan will help me regard my life as mildly succesful again. But here's hoping.