When I look back at this summer further down the line, I think I will remember it as a symbolic summer. The beginning of summer meant the end of hopelessness whilst the end of this summer breeds of hope and a new beginning. At least this is how I feel, as I just finished the first part of my education and will embark the professional doctorate in psychology this autumn. This is something I have been striving and fighting for, for over a long period of time – longer than I feel comfortable thinking about.
Becoming a psychologist has been a dream for a long time, but when I finished secondary school, my grades were non-existing or embarrassingly low, and not near enough to enter even the most low budget or desperate university. At this point of my life, things were really bad and I was lost and deeply unhappy. I never thought about my future; I was too busy trying to make it through the day, and the word university was something only existing in movies or something that some nameless people did, and I never thought it was an option for me. Then, something happened.
I finished school and left my hometown, and for the first time in my life, I started to contemplate life and myself in general, and found that I was not as bad as people around me kept making me out to be. I re-took my secondary school courses and slowly my grades improved, but it was a difficult and frustrating time. My university applications were rejected year after year, and I felt nothing but despair. It took a toll on my wellbeing, my finances (as my studying prevented me from working fulltime), my social life and my relationships. I was stuck in a status quo. On a whim, I sent an application off to a university abroad and got accepted, thereby ending my long-term relationship, and left for a big city, where I did not know anybody.
Now, 3 years have gone by and I don’t regret coming here, although it has not been easy. Competition has been fierce and I had about every setback there is; teachers seemingly holding a personal grudge towards me, computer crash, you name it. I became depressed and my thoughts circled around how unfair life is; some people have so much for free whilst some (like me) have to fight for everything – we are the constant underdogs.
I was on the edge of becoming chronically bitter, when I realised that, the only thing that can keep me from feeling unhappy and angry is, me. Yes, life is unfair and there will always be people who glide effortlessly past you. I will never be that bubbly, pretty girl everyone loves, who has great contacts to fix them their dream-job, or have boyfriends or parents who pays their rent and tuition fees, or friends to fix their computers or help them with their schoolwork, or be that person who bats their eyelashes to the teachers, and writes what they wants them to. In fact, I lack contacts, I’m chronically single, I struggle to pay the rent for my council flat, I fell out with several teachers, and on top of this, my hair has lost its shine. But what I do have control over, is what kind of a person I want to be, and I want to know that if I succeed, it is because of hard work and competence, rather than luck or shortcuts.
When it comes to following your dreams, the trick is to maintain a balance between never giving up, yet being realistic. When we keep our eyes on the prize, we may overlook other options. We enter a slippery slope if we constantly chase something and forget or neglect other aspects of our lives, our relationships and ourselves. Thinking in the lines of I will be happy if/when this and that happens, we postpone our wellbeing to some vague, distant future which may not come. Instead, we should try to be anchored in the present, and find sources of joy in the big and the small in the here and now.
If things don’t plan out exactly how you want them to, you could ask yourself if there is something else you could do, that will still feel rewarding? In my case, if I cannot become a psychologist I could work as a therapist, support person or engage in charity, that in many aspects, are similar to being a psychologist. We should also ask ourselves why we want to achieve something, and for whose sake?
Striving towards something is positive and dreams really can come true, but it should not be at any price, and you should never postpone your happiness. Like Cat Stevens said, “…you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not”. Life is what happens now, and neither the past nor the future can affect how you choose to feel and who to be today, unless you let it. Do follow your dreams, but don’t forget to live meanwhile. Cultivate your interest and invest in yourself and your relationships, for at the end of the day it is not about what we do, but who we are. No luck or fortune in the world can decide that for us, only our own minds – top and underdogs alike.
Sara is our in-house psychologist. To ask her any questions, contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Words: Sarah Hellegren, Illustration: Matthew Williamson