Belief

question nothing // question everything.

Belated lessons and new questions.

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Oh, hey there world. It’s nice to see you, too.

It’s been over ten days since I last wrote – which is, in relative terms, such a long time that I was starting to become mildly concerned. But you see, I was being hyper-aware of not forcing myself to write, particularly after having written this recent piece (skip to the second half). Instead I’ve been waiting until it… just happened.

Trust me, I tried to write over the past ten days. It’s not like nothing has happened. Lots has happened, actually. My drafts have ranged from Eleanor Roosevelt to lying, dating to racism, feminism to vegetarianism, career progression to ethical trade. Naturally. My mind has been teeming, but my fingers have been spilling all over the ivory keys of the piano, rather than onto this, their usual, keyboard.

So, here we are after ten days.

I haven’t actually got any idea where this post is going, by the way. Which is somewhat exciting. Living on the edge.

I’ve noticed a shift over the past few years, but most acutely over the past few months.

In many ways I personified the “goody two-shoes” stereotype as a kid and a teenager. Sure, I was sometimes a mean older sister who was selfish and threw temper tantrums, but on the whole I was a Good Girl. I was the kid who loved nothing more than receiving her teacher’s approval. The kid who didn’t ever receive a detention or bludge school. The 13 year old who actively chose to hang out with the lovely yet “less cool”, conservative girls. The teenager who didn’t go to dances at the local boys’ school – not from a lack of a desire, but due to paralysing fear. The teenager who preferred to go to youth group rather than pursue the older boys, Bicardi Breezer in hand. Trust me, I could go on, but I’m going to spare myself any more cringes.

Looking back, I guess I understood the (power) structures which bound my life and I only ever worked within them. I barely even contemplated rebelling – well, not in any traditional sense of “rebellion”.

And, look, there’s nothing wrong with that; it may not have been a crazy, wild teenage experience, but it was authentic for me at that stage of my life.

There is, however, one huge issue with my younger self: she accepted everything that those in authority told her was the truth.

I lapped it up. I believed everything. I guess I was incredibly trusting and, in relative terms, I had no independent thoughts. My thoughts were always someone else’s.

Is this normal? (NB: Not a rhetorical question. I actually have no idea. Was everyone else like this and I’m just sitting here thinking I’m vaguely unique, but actually we’ve all been through this?)

Either way, I guess it all started changing when I came to the realisation at 19 that, in some ways, I was living a lie.

See, up until that point I had always identified as a Christian – the type that, insensitively told my boyfriend at the time that, actually, he wasn’t a real Christian. God, I was charming. If that former boyfriend is reading this, I’m sorry; I was such a twat.

Anyway. I was a Christian. It was what I had grown up with; it was what I had been told from a very young age was the truth. And look, my parents’ intentions were and are good – of that I have no doubt.

But then I came to realise that I had never actually stopped and thought any of it through; I had always just taken what others had taught me to be the only truth and the only way of seeing the world.

I had never stopped to intellectually, methodically work through the belief system which I was meant to be trying sharing with others for myself. (Scary, I know.) I had never questioned it. I had never questioned anything.

And so began the peeling away of layers – not because I did or do have any issues with those things – including the Christian faith (well, actually I do have some issues with that) –  but because I realised that if I’m going to bother to believe in something then I want to do both myself and others the service of taking it seriously. And taking something like a belief system seriously, I would argue, requires thinking it through – thoroughly – and asking questions. Why invest your life in something which you’re not sure, at your core, that you understand or believe in?

I’ve become acutely aware of this again over the past few months. It all began with my psychology lecturer charging us to “question everything”. In many ways, it was just a throw away line in a junior lecture, fruitlessly hoping to resonate with hundreds of first year ears. Sitting in the second last row of the crowded lecture theatre sat this slightly jaded fifth year student. There was no grand initial impact, but something began to simmer under the surface.

A few weeks later I started noticing things – thoughts, to be more precise. Little additions at the end of a paragraph. Little post-it notes at the end of a sentence.

Why? 

Really?

How?

Why?

How?

Really?

Is that actually true?

How?

What evidence is there? 

Does this actually matter?

Why? 

Do you really think so? 

But how about…? 

Why?

Tell me more.

That which was never part of my nature has suddenly flooded my cerebral cortices (making up for the past two decades, no doubt).  What was absent has quickly become inherent. And I love it. I am finally getting to grips with those “critical thinking” and “analysis” things that my various teachers have been talking about for years. I think I am finally thinking about new things in new ways. Whatever it is, it’s surprisingly exciting and exhilarating.

You took your time, Alex. True.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but at least I have begun posing some questions… right?

Alex x

four little words and a lesson in self-belief.

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Ughh. Yuck. Thanks, but no thanks, Weight Watchers.

If you are a female over the age of 12 I think I could safely guess that you have read a magazine interview with a pretty, successful celebrity (most likely an actress or popstar). The interview will conclude with the starlet sharing their advice for anyone wanting to emulate their success. They finish by imparting their Words of Wisdom with their teenage audience, “Just believe in yourself!”

Just believe in yourself.

Please excuse me whilst I go and ease my nausea.

Believe in yourself?!

Please, kindly, piss off. I don’t need your cheesy, meaningless, insincere drivel in my life. Particularly because I have quite literally just eaten some delicious cheese and I am not in need of any more at the moment, but thanks anyway.

It is mildly infuriating, isn’t it? “Just believe in yourself” reduces success down to something as flighty and intangible as self-belief. I find it frustrating that it glamourises and minimises all of the gruelling work which goes into achieving goals and dreams. It trivialises something which is probably really amazing and turns it into another throwaway catchphrase.

And this is a shame because it means that we miss out on appreciating all of the effort and dedication which does go into achieving great things.

Perhaps some more useful advice would be to say, “Be prepared for really difficult times, but know that they will be invaluable to the person you will become”. I dunno. Just an idea.

In one of my business subjects at university this semester we have learnt about what is known as the Locus of Control. It is essentially a measure of whether an individual feels that what happens in their life is determined by internal forces – their own actions – or external forces – by chance and figures of power and authority. The former of the two is known as an internal locus of control, whereas to be of the latter is to have an external locus of control.

It was an interesting exercise despite some diabolically dry compulsory readings and from it I have realised that I have a strong internal locus of control i.e. I believe that I predominantly determine the course and outcome of events in my life. Since then it has caused me to think about how my own internal locus has impacts upon my life, as well as the effect of our collective loci upon wider society.

And so what does my locus of control mean for “Just believe in yourself”? Well, my perception of control over my life suggests, due to its focus on the individual’s ability as the source of power, that “Just believe in yourself!” is, in fact, the perfect catchphrase for me.

Oh, lord.

How can this wishy-washy bullsh!t be relevant to me?!

I’m not sure. But let’s hang in together for a few more sentences, ok?

Despite only developing my cynical streak within recent years, reading “Just believe in yourself!” was one of the first instances which elicited a cynical response from me as a young(er) chipmunk. Believing in yourself just seemed like a whole load of glittery crap.

But over the past few months my slightly cynical 23-year-old self has begun questioning my dismissal of this oft-repeated tidbit of advice.

It all began with a surprising and exciting opportunity presenting itself.

For some context fun: I left high-school as a bona fide over-achiever who, with the help of some mental illness, has since learnt to be an average (or under) achiever, among other things. I’ve talked about how much non-fun depression can be in previous posts, and something which I’ve experienced on a regular basis is being stuck in a rut. Ruts feel endless and awful and hopeless and it’s all rather miserable. Everything – even the simple things – feels like a strain. It’s somewhat the opposite to the plastic fantastic, perky optimism of “Just believe in yourself!”

And I may not have believed in myself a few months ago, but someone else did. And it was both disconcertingly foreign and incredibly powerful.

Someone thinks that I can do THIS?! Someone thinks that I am up to this challenge? You’ve got to be kidding me!

I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I had so consciously felt the encouraging push of someone else’s belief in my ability and my potential.

And it was mesmerising and surreal.

I continue to stumble along my way, but I now have that little reminder that someone believes in me which encourages me as a muddle my way through the day.

I would be lying to say to you that I’m not scared. I am scared. I am officially very scared. This opportunity is exciting, but it is also petrifying.

I am scared of how I am going to cope in certain circumstances. And I am scared of re-triggering sources of pain. And I am scared that I won’t be ok.

But someone believes in me.

I would be lying to say to you that this opportunity came about easily. It didn’t. It’s the result of many years of slogging through tough times. There has been a surplus of slogging.

But other people believe in me.

And from their belief I have noticed a change within myself:

Someone else believes in me… and that someone is me.

Being the cheesy critter that I am, this has manifested itself in a mantra of sorts:

“I believe in you.”

Four little words.

They are neither revolutionary, nor original, nor exceedingly elegant words. But they are words which are accessing a long-neglected source of internal willpower and which are helping to lift me up out of those ruts.

Perhaps these four little words are an essential I have long lacked, for I am delighting in the hope and comfort they bring.

Perhaps they can help me smother the heavy fear on the horizon.

Perhaps they can help me to achieve all of my goals and dreams.

Perhaps I should dull my cynicism and listen to celebrity drivel more often.

Mmm. Perhaps.

Alex x