Being brought up in an Eastern European country means, for most people, a series of events and happenings of keeping up appearances. Your path in life has to be successful and it is, for the most part, already determined before you are even born. The decisions you make, have to be very similar to the ones everyone else makes, you need to stick to the rules and patterns of the natural flow of things, and you can’t possibly desire to have a lifestyle that is way out of the path set by social pressure.
The most important part is however, to no not let anyone know that you failed. Shame is kept behind locked doors and it is to never be mentioned to anyone ever again. No one wants to be the one who failed or have a child which failed. Failing is not socially accepted and once it becomes obvious that you failed, the stigma you carry is quite heavy and follows you around for the longest time.
Finding a new hobby, starting a new career path, studying for a new degree, learning a new skill or language, and you have to do it perfectly, in one go. You can’t be slow, bad at it or fail. Failing is not part of the normal life cycle of a human being. We all have to be perfect, fast and efficient.
Making your relatives happy with all your amazing accomplishments, keeping the neighbors in the constant illusion that your life is dreamy and without any flaws, assuring everyone around you that your kids are prodigies and overachievers and that you are leaving the dream of having a perfect house, partner and career can become quite exhausting. You sacrifice your own peace of mind and happiness in order to satisfy people who don’t even matter that much to begin with.
The possible career options in the European Eastern cultures are quite limited, mostly by social pressure which sees success in money and valuable assets. This is how it all comes down to 4 major categories: doctor, lawyer, engineer or disgrace to your family. Most of us are in the 4th category though, and this is for most people unacceptable. You will never be happy with yourself, hear your family being proud of you, or someone congratulating you on becoming something less than an influential person. No one will applaud your decision of maybe not wanting to follow that path to what they believe is successful for you. They are happy about you earning less than you could and everybody knows better than you do what’s good for you and what makes you happy long term. Having just an ordinary job, following your hobbies and passions, or not fighting to achieve more than you might ever need in life, makes you a failure.
You will meet people that you might look up to for various reasons: it can be career path, education, lifestyle, popularity, wealth. They have the perfect (you might think) house, partner, kids, animals, they are living the dream, traveling, throwing parties, spending money, driving the cars that you could only dream of, while you are just you, … who failed. You are even more disappointed with yourself because you convince yourself that you might never reach the standards that society set for all of us. But … is success really measured by the number of assets we posses or the career choices that we make? How many of us do actually have such a life? And are they really even as successful and as perfect as you might think they are?
The more people you meet, the deeper the connections become, the more you get to realize that no one has such a perfect picture life. The perfect picket white fences are made to keep the illusions in the eyes of the people who are easily fooled by appearances and look up to the idea of being admired because of those achievements. No one has perfect relationships, kids, households. We all struggle but in a different way. And most of us keep the failure locked somewhere in a closet, next to all the other skeletons.
After leaving already for a few years in western Europe and making friends from all over the world, I came to realize a lot about how different the mentality is around the quite small European continent. The social standards from my homeland are closer to what’s socially accepted in most Eastern countries, than they are to the ones in the west.
In the west it is actually possible to meet people who are not afraid to say that they failed at something, that they went for a different career path that they originally intended to, that they are 40 and still don’t have it all figured out, that they have a regular job, that they don’t do anything out of the ordinary and yet, they are wonderful. People who are not afraid of screaming as loud as they can: ‘Hooray, I failed‘ and be proud of it. Who said failure is a negative thing? They didn’t fail, on the contrary, they succeeded. They didn’t achieve what other see as the standard to success and that’s perfectly fine.
Our lives might not be magazine cover approved but this doesn’t makes up any less beautiful. Who said that society has it all right? So what if they judge you? What makes them know better than you do what your soul needs? Who sets the definition to ultimate success and failure?
You failed? Congratulations! Most of us do. You didn’t fail at being a human being, you just failed at reaching the ridiculous standards set by society on what’s successful and what’s not. Don’t let illusions ruin your image of self worth. Only you know what actually makes you happy in life. Only you set your own standards for success. Go out there, make mistakes, struggle, smile, shine in your own way and celebrate your failure!
Dedicated to all of us who don’t have it all figured out
60 x 80 cm acrylic on canvas painting
60 x 80 cm painting in acrylic