How I discovered the greatest obstacle to happiness

I have been living in and around Birmingham for just under 2 years, and in that time I have gone through several periods of change. I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t some blind stumbles, because there have been many. There have been competitors, obstacles and challenges, as all graduates experience in their post-university life. It is with both shame and relief that I can finally confirm what the toughest obstacle was over the past two years: myself.

The generalised process that stems from university is: graduate – get a job – move out of the family home – live life. I would say that this – for the majority – is a fairly accurate template. The difference with myself was that instead of moving home, I moved to Birmingham: the rising star of British cities, the epicentre of the upcoming HS2, the international business hub, the second city. Birmingham is a land of opportunity for young people, and is becoming increasingly recognised for this. After leaving the safe haven of university, where friendships and social groups were available on-demand, you have to re-calibrate as it can be very lonely and challenging to cope with not having your friends around. I have seen friends of mine succeed at this change and have a booming social life, and I have seen others struggle and exist in a constant state of boredom. I, unfortunately, fell in to the latter. I had no friends outside of my relationship, and I didn’t know how to make them when there were no societies or university groups to join.

After securing a full time job and progressing through the initial stage of optimism and excitement, I slumped. 2016 was a very difficult year for me, where I once again struggled with depression and a feeling that I was never going to live an original life. Because of these negative mental thoughts, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the troubling factor was. For those who don’t know me, I have great frustration and difficulty in decision making and not being able to understand myself. Not being able to understand my unhappiness made me bitter and resentful of those who were seemingly living a full and rich twenties, like I should have been. At the time I felt that my feelings were justified, and it is only now when I look back that I realise I was ignorant to my own self-harm. I’m quite an avid believer in the ‘Quarter-Life Crisis‘, yet when I read about it and the support and guidance that authors offer, I refused to believe that any of their solutions could work for me. I thought I was a unique case and that there was no solution for my issues. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to socialise, to create networks, to volunteer, to learn a new hobby and much more. The one opportunity I did take advantage of (and one that has continued to be a great source of enjoyment for me) is the Future Faces Chambers of Commerce – a group of young professionals from a variety of sectors in Birmingham, who come together once or twice a month for either informal socialising or leadership and self-development events. This taste of a social life with other young professionals in Birmingham was exciting, and it opened my eyes slightly to the opportunities that I had to take advantage of. Naturally, any attempt to widen my social participation ended here. It was like someone passing me a cup, but I refused to grip on to it – if my social life were the cup, then it indeed smashed.

Fast forward to August 2017 and, despite going travelling on a wonderful trip with the intention of ‘self-awakening’, I was still stuck in a rut. After one day of being particularly reflective and investigative of why I was so unhappy, something clicked. I’d been searching for a larger, more complex web of problems that were preventing my happiness. The answer was underwhelming, yet a huge turning point for me. I realised that I had let my mental health strip away my personna. I projected my sorrow and frustrations on to others, and became an entity of self-loathing and hopelessness. I denied myself the opportunity to be happy, no one did that for me. Although that was only a few days ago, I feel like I’ve been cleansed (I’m mindful to not create a cliché) and I have a more optimistic and honest approach to my life and my decisions. I can see where I have sub-consciously upset myself, and others that I care about. I’m not for one moment saying that I am now cured and have all of the answers, because I really don’t. I am just in the process of registering for different opportunities and arranging more social outings, but it feels really good to know that I am taking action. From talking to various people my age, and more importantly listening, I have come to understand that there are many who are in my situation themselves.

My advice to you is to not let your critical voice inside your head dictate to you or prevent you from living your life. Challenge your mind and go with that gut feeling that we all know exists, but sometime refuse to believe is there. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that there is nothing out there for you, as I did. Even if you are just finding a group of people to go for a drink with, it is enough. You are actively trying to live a better life.

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