We are all Works in Progress.
It’s easy to get frustrated with ourselves and where we’re going with life.
Women in their 20s have more panic attacks than any other group – and it’s no wonder. Our 20s are a huge transition phase in our lives. We spend this time trying to decide what to do with the rest of our lives. We spend this time trying to prove ourselves – to make good from all those years of education and upbringing and college tuition and debt that parents have landed themselves in. It’s a huge burden to bear, to say the least. And there are the goals and expectations we set ourselves – or that others have set for us. A six-figure pay cheque by 25, married with a dream house by 26, first kid by 27. It’s a wonder that more people don’t have panic attacks.
I had my first panic attack the year I graduated from university. I was in the midst of job hunting then, sending out cover letters and resumes. I was beginning to panic, to realise that maybe media wasn’t the best field to study, that maybe I should have spent more time working on assignments and seeking internships rather than goofing off, partying with my friends. That perhaps my life wasn’t going the way I thought it would, that I wouldn’t land my six-figure dream job almost at once. This on top of other factors – I had just moved out of student housing and into a tiny little bedroom with a corner window facing an aluminum fence. I missed my friends, and I didn’t have a car or the funds to go see them. I was adrift on the sea, cut loose from the anchor of university and parent funds.
I had my first panic attack while watching Oprah.
At that time, I had no idea what panic attacks were. I thought – like most people did – that I was having a heart attack. My heart wouldn’t stop racing and I couldn’t breathe. No one was home. I thought I was going to die.
I called my boyfriend.
He told me not to get hysterical and hung up.
Needless to say, that relationship did not last. Though it did take me at least another two years before I broke it off. But more, if any, on that another time.
I called my other friend, G. Thank goodness, G knew exactly what was wrong with me. “You’re having a panic attack,” he said. “It feels like a heart attack, but don’t worry, you’re not going to die. Take deep breaths. Concentrate on calming down.”
I sat down and tried to do as G did. I took deep breaths. Gradually, the panic attack subsided. I then switched on my laptop and began Googling panic attacks.
It was then that the then-boyfriend called back, wondering if he should have been a little bit more concerned. I told him the panic attack was over, that I had identified it as panic attack, and it didn’t matter anymore because it was over.
I got hit by a panic attack every few days for the next couple of weeks. It was not a nice feeling. And oddly enough it always came on around the same time – early afternoon, around Oprah and Dr Phil time.
Eventually I got a job. It was a crap job that paid below minimum wages, but it was a job. And it gave me the experience I needed to move on to a better job, with better pay and a much better work environment. Unfortunately, that company decided to outsource its staff and made most of its workers redundant in another two years, including me. I took a month-long, soul-searching trip with then-boyfriend, returned home and got a job, this time transcribing court cases for pay that was just above minimum wage. Transcribing court cases are not for the faint of heart. It’s like being walloped in the head by a particularly violent episode of Law and Order: SVU for seven point five hours, five days a week. And it certainly did not pay enough to warrant that stress. I ended up quitting the job within less than a year. “What are you going to do now?” my boss asked as I handed him my resignation letter.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.
“Most people have another job lined up before they quit their current job,” he observed.
I shrugged. I had no answer to that. I wished I had another job lined up, but I didn’t. I knew I was taking a risk but I had no answer to that either.
My sister always said I followed my heart too much, and not enough with my head.
It was around this time that I finally made the decision to overthrow the relationship with then-boyfriend, cutting off yet another link with a promise of security. So basically I was jobless, boyfriend-less, and my savings were definitely running low.
It was also around this time that the panic attacks threatened to return, but not with the same vengeance as they previously had.
In the end, I did find another job. And it was a good job. With great pay. In an environment that I could thrive in. I was just thankful for a secure job that would allow me to pay my bills. I could go out with my friends. I had time to work out and money for a healthy, nutritional diet. I began to meet guys, to date again (and boy did I enjoy that!).
But it wasn’t long before the cloud of discontent began to creep over me again. Yes, I had a secure job now, which believe you me, is something I am thankful for everyday. But am I as successful as I ought to be in my late twenties? Other people were getting married, merging businesses, building houses, setting up new ventures. What was I doing? I was no better than what I was in my early twenties. In fact, this is where I should be in my early to mid twenties. So I was way behind schedule.
But to be honest? I don’t think it really matters what I do, I’m never going to be happy where I am. There’s always going to be some other goal that’s just out of reach. People are always going to be richer, fitter, cooler, more beautiful and more successful than I am. And probably they too feel that they could do better.
The thing to remember is that we are all works in progress. There’s always something we could strive for – and that’s pretty awesome! It gives us new goals, new challenges. Appreciate the fact that there’s something else to strive for, to fight for, otherwise we’ll just fall back in apathy and boredom. Perfection is boring. Love the challenge. When things get hard, look back and see how far you’ve come already. Congratulate yourself for this. Half a step forward is better than no step at all.
In the meantime, appreciate what you’ve got already. Look back and congratulate yourself when you see how far you’ve come. Don’t compare yourself with other people – they too are works in progress, some progressing a little further along the way than you are, others at a much slower pace. Everyone works at their own pace – and the results will yield, one way or another. Hard work and perseverance always does. Don’t worry if what you’re working on doesn’t turn out quite the way you want. Our twenties is the time when people chop and change careers the most as they try to find their niche in the world. Some people don’t find their niche until much later, and that is all right too. In the meantime, gather all the skills you can learn in whatever field you have chosen at the present, for you never know when they might come in useful in the future. Penelope Trunk wrote a great article about this here.
And remember – never let anyone stop you from doing what you want, or working hard to get where you want to be. A case in point is one of my new favourite singers this year, Lana Del Rey. She’s worked hard to get where she is. She made the big time through her awesome song, Video Games, and its super cool Vintage LA video. But on the flipside, she’s come up against a lot of criticism. There are about a bazillion negative comments out there about her, suggestions that she’s had her lips done, her face done, that she’s selling herself out, that she’s not authentic, that she can’t sing live.
But you know what? If Lana were to listen to every negative thing people said about her, she might as well just roll over and give up right now. But she doesn’t do that. Instead, she capitalises on the success of Video Games, and concentrates on putting out hit after hit – Blue Jeans, Born to Die, Diet Mountain Dew, National Anthem, Ride. And it’s paying off. People are warming to her, finally understanding that she’s not just a one- or two-hit wonder. That she’s more than just her looks. Everyone’s loving her current new song, Ride. And for all the comments about her live performance, particularly the SNL one? Hey, give the girl a break. She was probably nervous. And yes, perhaps some of her critics are right, and she isn’t quite there yet with her live performances. Perhaps she needs to get more comfortable on stage, to practice hitting the right notes live. Perhaps in time, she’d gain more spontaneity and variety in her live performances.
But, hey, guess what? Lana’s a work in progress, just like the rest of us. She’s working hard, proving herself every day, getting better bit by bite. She’s already more than halfway there, because she knows what she wants and she’s going to get it, never mind the criticism. Hell, maybe all the negative comments are pushing her forward, allowing her to strive and better herself in a way she might never have done before! She doesn’t need to answer back to her critics because she’s already proving herself. And some day, I hope I will be as good in my personal metier as she already is in hers.