I used to care a lot about what people thought of me. In fact, I cared about it so much that my life was revolving around it. It dictated all my decisions and judgments.
I was motivated to achieve high grades in school, to aim for top universities, to seek certain types of friends and romantic partners, to aspire to a particular career path because I was convinced that these very specific things would make me appear successful in the eyes of others.
And me being considered successful by society’s standard (or the standard which I presumed was set by society) was so big a reward that I didn’t stop to think whether the things I strived for actually suited me or whether any standard even mattered at all.
In a nutshell, I was desperately chasing superficially good feelings. I was tying my self-worth to the opinions of others. I was putting my entire emotional well-being in the hand of my ego. I was constantly looking for a quick fix.
“Superficially good feelings” can be little things like looking glamorous in an Instagram photo that makes people envious of your lifestyle. Or having a prestigious name or title on your resume that grants you access to exclusive places. Being associated with fame and wealth and status in any way that suggests superiority and desirability. Or appearing on the front page of a newspaper as an overnight success.
“Superficially good feelings” are the end results without the process, the glory without the misery. They’re about “what people think of me doing this” instead of “what value this adds to me when I’m doing it”. They’re instant gratifications. They’re ego boosters. They’re momentary high.
When I was younger, I used to be addicted to chasing this high. It’s so easy to get caught up in it when you’re young and don’t know yourself well yet. You are exposed to people’s spotlights without seeing the painful journey that gets them there, and you want those spotlights for yourself, irrespective of who you are as a person and where you are on your own journey.
You might even come to believe that only the spotlights are worth living for and get anxious and frustrated when you experience the mundane. Daily life suddenly feels so unattractive and uncomfortable. You grow bored and tired of your own reality. You want something more, now.
This leads you to do everything it takes to have those feel-good moments again: parties, alcohol, drugs, carefully curated social media posts that have no real depth, chasing relationships and jobs that look desirable in the public eyes but leave you insecure and hollow, expensive purchases that gain you validation and attention but make no sense financially.
Now I’m not going to lie — Feel-good moments did feel good. The dopamine hits can be fucking amazing. After all, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with wanting to feel good about yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having those superficially good moments as long as you are not out to hurt anyone. We all deserve some superficiality and momentary high in our life and we should allow ourselves that much — It’s healthy.
But the problem is, when the party is over, the alcohol is drank, the media posts are scrolled by, the sun comes up, the long hours are getting longer while your soul is withering away, you start to see the real price tags of those good feelings and you realise you’re left with nothing. It hurts. Feel-good moments are bad investments. They are costly and return nothing. Even when they’re affordable, we can’t base our existence off of this pursuit alone. It’s unsustainable.
More importantly, it can be distracting.
For a while, I was so busy blowing smoke up my own ass that I forgot to actually look at myself and see what was really here. I was chasing other people’s spotlights without thinking what those things even meant to me. At one point, they clashed with my core values so much and left me so lonely and broken that I knew it couldn’t be right. I had to change before it was too late.
See, when you spend all your time and energy and head space trying to make yourself feel good because you can’t sit with the discomfort of the mundane and your own very existence, you will find yourself pleasing the wrong crowd and chasing the goals that have nothing to do with your essence.
Eventually, the true self you have buried underneath all the superficial bullshit will rise up and catch up with you. It will scream at you and ask for an answer. But you won’t have any answer because you have never looked into it, and it will eat you alive.
Now at an age when getting drunk every weekend isn’t cute and fun anymore, when you have exhausted all your escape options, you might find yourself empty, insecure, and jaded, dreaming about that wholesome mundane life but suddenly it feels so out of reach. It scares you. It breaks your heart. You look back at all the wasted time and wish you had lived your life differently. Well, do it differently now.
Don’t chase good feelings. Focus on creating value.
Creating value doesn’t always feel good. It isn’t always fun. It’s nothing glamorous. You might sweat for months and years to eventually have one brief feel-good moment, then it’s back to the sweating again.
But when it gets good, it will keep getting good. It will be good for you and it will fill you up inside. It’s what makes those superficially good feelings not so superficial anymore. It gives meaning to the momentary high. It’s the rewards that you feel truly deserving of.
I know it’s scary to face yourself for real because you might see things so painful, so dark, so ruined that your illusions of who you are and how well you’re doing will get shattered. But that’s exactly the point. Your illusions need to be shattered. You need to face your demons, to know your rough edges, to trace the deep wounds back to the first cut, to look down at your feet and accept where you’re standing.
That’s when you can move forward with strength and confidence. You can navigate towards the things that actually work for you. And then you will start feeling really good. All the time.
Creating value can be different for different people — Some ideas are self-care, committing to a fitness schedule, exploring a business idea that you feel passionate about, showing kindness to others, nurturing relationships based on shared goals and common interests, spending quality time with loved ones, keeping at a hobby, saving and investing money, doing things that genuinely benefit you and others.
Creating value is about watching out for your long-term interests. It focuses on you and where you are now to lay every single brick that eventually shapes up your desired future — a life that is wonderfully yours. It’s about looking at the big picture and playing the long game.
It’s certainly not easy. Sometimes it can even feel like walking into a dark tunnel not knowing when you will ever see the light again. You will lose people and some familiar parts of yourself. You will feel tired and question yourself times and times again. But you must preserve.
You must get comfortable with discomfort. You must be patient and have faith. Because in this discomfort, during this journey of creating value for yourself and others, you will find meaning and fulfilment. You will find yourself, your true self, your strongest self, and that’s the greatest gift of all.
Eventually, you will experience those good moments again and, to the outside world, they can seem ridiculously superficial. But you know their depth, you know what it takes for you to get there — the hard built foundation underneath it all. And that’s why it feels so, so good.
Nowadays I care more about what I think of myself than what others think of me. I make decisions based on how much value will be added to my life instead of how I will be seen.
I remember reading the analogy about relationships and shoes in Tiny Love Stories: “Relationships are like shoes.” They might look beautiful to others but if they don’t fit, they will hurt and no one will know that it hurts but you. So, I’ve stopped picking shoes that look beautiful but don’t fit. I don’t care about beautiful; fit strictly comes first.
And I don’t mean just relationships. This applies to everything in my life. I’ll be right here enjoying the daily comfort and contentment from all the value-based choices I make.