I watched a recent episode of Parks & Recreation the other day, and per usual, April Ludgate won the day by A) being April and B) spewing forth some real talk wisdom. In the show, Andy (her boyfriend) is avoiding going back to his job in London because he doesn't know what he's doing and everyone has all of these expectations of him and he's overwhelmed, and April responds by saying, "I’m going to tell you a secret about everyone else’s job: No one knows what they’re doing...Deep down, everyone is just faking it until they figure it out. And you will, too, because you're awesome and everyone else sucks."
The timeliness of this little truth-ism in my life was so ridiculously spot-on that I laughed out loud after she said it. You know how life takes on little themes as it goes along? Like for awhile the theme is Cheese Is Consuming My Every Moment I Must Have Cheese Why Are We Out Of Cheese Oops I Think I'm A Cheese Addict, and then it morphs into I'm Going To Work Out Every Day & Cook Dinner Every Night This Week Instead Of Sitting On The Futon Reading Blogs & Making Mac & Cheese & I'm Going To Keep The Apartment Clean For At Least Two Whole Days Because I'm An Adult Damn It? Well lately the running theme in my life has been this:
...& Neither Does Anyone Else.
This is something we are not told while growing up. As a matter of fact, no one really talks about it at all. I'm not sure if this is because no one wants to admit to not knowing what the hell is happening, or if we all just assume we're alone in our daily confusion about life, so we don't bother mentioning it because we don't think anyone else will be able to relate. The latter was my line of thinking up until the last year or so, when I started receiving tiny clues here and there that other adults, even people ten, twenty, or thirty years older than me, are also stumbling through life haphazardly as the world spins madly on.
Is this knowledge a big deal, or am I blowing it out of proportion? I don't think it'd be a big deal if people talked about it more, but because I was so oblivious to it precisely because nobody bothered mentioning it to me, each piece of evidence I gather causes a minor tremor in my existence; I naively used to think that someday I would have it all figured out, but if what I'm learning is true, that belief has been shattered into a quadrillion pieces. You mean I have to spend the rest of my life figuring out how to live my life?
No longer can I accept my parents' words as hard, solid fact; I can only take them as opinions, and process through them to make my own, independent decisions? No longer can I take for granted that the person explaining something to me for sure knows what they're talking about?
Every single authority figure in my life thus far has not actually been infallible?
The ultimate example I have about all of this is that people have now started asking me for my advice and expertise on subjects like blogging and photography, and scarily enough, I usually give an answer. The whole time I'm talking, I have to fight the urge to insert some kind of disclaimer like, "I'm really just grasping at straws, dude, so you should take what I'm saying with a grain of salt". But I hold back, so the person I'm talking to thinks I actually know what I'm talking about. And I can't be the only one who does that. I'm just another person who is perpetuating the cycle of not admitting that we're all making stuff up as we go along.
This isn't to say that no one is an expert at anything. Put in enough time on one specific skill set or topic, and you're bound to know more than the average person and be able to give sound advice that others can trust. But at the end of the day, we're all just human beings. A college professor with a PhD is confused about how to do her taxes or how to unfreeze her computer. Parents who have full-time, high profile jobs have to raise their kids one day at a time just like suburban parents with desk jobs, because none of them have had kids before the kids they have now, so each day, month, year brings new surprises for them to deal with.
At the end of the day, the sun goes down, and that is the great equalizer. No matter what anyone was doing, now it's night, and everyone is in the dark. Even bosses, celebrities, and world leaders have to get some sleep.
Anyway. Maybe I'm late to the party, but all of this has been a fairly recent epiphany for me, one that both scares me and relieves me. It scares me because my reality has shifted from "At least there are some people up above me in the hierarchy somewhere that have it all figured out" to "We're all just kinda floating around in space on this ball of mass we call Earth", and that's...well...scary.
And the relieving part? The fact that I'm not the only one who doesn't know what they're doing is incredibly liberating. I have nothing to live up to. Steve Jobs is quoted a lot, but one snippet of his words has always stood out to me:
"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it... Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."
We might all be a little lost, but that doesn't mean that all is lost. It's a scary prospect, but it's also freeing. The important part, I think, is to be honest with each other. I don't think it's about lowering expectations necessarily, but I would like to live in a society where one person can admit, "Hey, this is something I'm striving to achieve, but I'm not quite sure what I'm doing yet, so there might be a lot of mistakes along the way", and the person they're talking to (be it an employer, a colleague, or a friend) can respond, "I totally empathize, I feel the exact same way a lot of the time. It's okay."
...No, seriously, look at me. It is actually okay to have no idea what you're doing. I sure don't.