When I was younger I was fired from my job at a clothes shop because I was caught stealing.
I couldn’t believe I’d actually been caught. I knew I’d be fired and, embarrassed and ashamed as I was, I hoped I’d be fired. But what if my manager called the police? What if my parents found out?
My dad was waiting outside in the car and I had to text him and tell him to wait there because I was running late. He could not be allowed to come in the shop and see this. Particularly as it was Christmas Eve and him and my mum were relaxed and ready for some time off.
This is one of the first times I started to think about who I was.
I wasn’t a thief. I knew that. But I had to accept that I’d just been one. I’d been a person that I never thought I’d be.
I hated that job. It was so boring that I used to count the number of songs I heard during a shift. I figured the average song is about three minutes, maybe more, and so when I’d listened to twenty songs, that meant that maybe an hour had passed. And, whenever I checked the time after twenty songs, usually over an hour had passed. Then I’d feel good because my boredom was closer to turning to relief.
And that’s why I thought I’d been a thief. Because I was so bored that I counted songs and was desperate for time to pass.
But that’s not true. Because if that were true then that would make me a slave to my feelings. And that’s not true.
I stole because I chose to steal.
2) Winning the Maynard Cup.
The Maynard Cup was a football (soccer) tournament for every local school, and I wanted to win it because the person I looked up to had won it.
It was a big deal when he won it, when our school won it. We hadn’t won it in years and I remember everybody being so happy and the team celebrating and me thinking “I want to win that.”
Back then I didn’t think of it as being important to me, or being self-aware enough to realise how important it was to me. I just knew I wanted to be like my hero and win it.
I talked about it often over the next couple of years until, finally, I was in my final year of school and I’d be getting the chance to lead us to winning it.
It was so important to me that I actually became a different person. Well, not really different. I just stopped holding back.
I told the team how important it was to win it. I told people about players at rival schools so they’d know how to play against them. I took responsibility for my dream instead of leaving it to chance, or luck, or fate.
We won it.
It was the greatest moment I’d ever lived in because I was completely in the moment and nothing else mattered and I was happy.
Looking back on it now I realise that I was self-aware enough to let myself do things I’d never done before in order to win it.
I was self-aware enough to become more me.
3) Losing my virginity.
I was eighteen, I was at university, my best friend had lost his virginity a long time ago, and now it was my turn.
I was excited but I was nervous. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to lose it. What if I never did?
But I needn’t have worried because I met a girl on the first night of university that I’d lose my virginity to a few nights later. Is worrying ever needed?
I wasn’t particularly attracted to her. We didn’t have much chemistry. But losing my virginity was more important than that because I wanted to finally feel better about myself.
We met in the club, we went back to her student hall, we had to stop just before anything happened because the fire alarm went off, we had to stand outside in the freezing cold for about fifteen minutes, and then we were allowed back inside, and finally, FINALLY, I was about to have sex. While it was happening I thought “I’m doing it!” After we’d finished – well, I say “we” – I thought “I’ve done it!”
Because I was a perfect gentleman I lied to her and said I had to leave because I had to wake up early for a lecture. But really I just couldn’t wait to go and wake my friend and tell him.
My friend wasn’t up so I just went into my room and got into bed with a smile.
Was that really everything I thought it would be? Was that what sex was? I mean, it was good. At least, for me it was good. But it wasn’t extraordinary. It wasn’t overwhelmingly pleasurable.
I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.
I’ve since learned that it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be because I didn’t care about her. Wasn’t attracted to her. Didn’t even know her.
Sex is ok with someone I don’t care about, good with someone I know, awesome with someone I like, and extraordinary with someone I love.
4) Having my heart broken.
She told me she didn’t want a relationship. Not with subtlety. Not with “mixed messages,” which I used to believe in.
She just said it. Honesty. “I don’t want a relationship.”
But I didn’t want to believe her so I convinced myself that she didn’t know what she was saying and of course she wanted a relationship with me. I did that instead of respecting her.
I thought this was how relationships worked. I thought I had to work hard and convince and persuade, and then, and only then, we’d get together and what a wonderful story it would be.
I thought that’s how relationships worked because I was insecure. Not that I knew or acknowledged that at the time.
And, because I was insecure, there was a phrase I often said during our relationship:
“I don’t mind.”
Where do you want to eat? What do you want to do? Do you want to have sex right now?
I answered “I don’t mind” to those questions so many times. Ok, apart from one. But sometimes it’s hard to decide what to eat.
I said “I don’t mind” because I didn’t want her to “go off” on me and I thought that her making the decisions would make her happy. Keep her happy.
She ended up getting annoyed with me, and rightly so, because my insecurity kept telling me to say “I don’t mind.”
I didn’t know any of this at the time. I was just frustrated that our relationship seemed to be getting worse and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it.
What I know now is that I wasn’t being self-aware.
I never questioned why I was scared to say anything other than “I don’t mind.” I never questioned that maybe I was putting her happiness above mine. I never thought about the fact that our relationship was getting worse because I was insecure.
Maybe I refused to be self-aware because I knew what would happen and I didn’t want to have to deal with that reality.
5) Self-publishing my first book
After months of editing and writing and researching I’d finally self-published my first ever book.
I’ll tell you what happened next.
I felt miserable.
Because I wasn’t thinking about that.
I was thinking about some girl.
I was thinking about how she seemed more distant. I was thinking about whether or not she was making excuses for not wanting to meet up. I was thinking about why she seemed to have changed from when we met over the weekend.
Clearly, thinking about her was more important to me than celebrating the launch of my book. I don’t like admitting that but there it is.
If I was being self-aware I would’ve realised that I was only annoyed at this girl because she wasn’t acting how I wanted her to act. How selfish and entitled and arrogant can you get?
If I was being self-aware I would’ve realised that it was ok to let go of her and be happy about launching my first ever book.
Happiness is what you think about.
6) Letting go of my “friends”
When I was about ten my friends started to not like me.
They ran away from me when my dad and I went to play football at “the field.” They stopped inviting me to things. They stopped talking to me.
I was upset. I was ten and my friends didn’t like me and I didn’t know what I’d done and I was desperate to do anything to get them back.
It was a while before I considered getting new friends. Because I wanted my old friends back. The friends I’d been friends with for years.
I only did it when I didn’t feel like I had any other choice. I’d tried so many things and nothing had worked and I was tired of feeling like sh*t.
I hung out with people I’d only hung out with a few times before. I have no idea how I did it. Subtly, probably. I wasn’t the kind of kid who’d just walk up to other kids and say “let’s hang out!”
Something I hoped would happen started happening: they invited me to their houses. They wanted to hang out with me. They wanted to be friends with me.
Imagine that! It turned out that friendship is when your friends actually want to hang out with you, rather than you having to ask to go to their house!
I wanted to be wanted and I was wanted. And it felt so much better than before that I forgot what it even felt like to feel like I didn’t have any friends.
7) Being in love.
I had some amazing and peaceful and complete moments with my ex-girlfriends.
Whether it was going on holiday, or having sex, or just hanging out, doing nothing, watching television and holding each other.
Being in love with them helped me to become so much more self-aware.
Now I know that I love to give and receive affection. I know that I love sex so much more when I’m in love. I know that I used to sulk when I didn’t get what I wanted and that the reason I wouldn’t get what I wanted is because I wasn’t brave enough to ask for what I wanted.
I know that being in love isn’t enough for a relationship. I know that I don’t need another “half” because I’m already whole.
I hope I fall in love again.
8) Writing my first blog post.
I wrote my first blog post because I was pissed off at some of the blog posts I was reading and how sh*t they were.
I thought to myself “these aren’t even that good. I think I could do better.”
So I started trying to do better.
When I started writing my first ever blog post I was sucked into the moment like never before. Nothing else mattered. All that mattered was that I was in the moment and pouring my heart out and saying everything I’d never said because it was finally time to not hold back.
It was a rush. I was excited. I was finally there.
I didn’t know I’d love writing so much. I thought I’d like it but I didn’t expect love.
And then I wrote more blog posts. And then I was writing all the time. And then I committed to writing every day no matter what.
All because I let myself be self-aware.
9) Taking voluntary redundancy.
There’d been gossiping of the company offering voluntary redundancy and then it happened.
“We are going to be offering voluntary redundancy.”
I had a thought literally milliseconds after that.
“I’m taking it.”
I was so happy I thought that. That’s what I wanted to think. That’s what I’d been telling myself I’d think.
Thinking it confirmed that I was in harmony with myself.
Nobody else was particularly excited about me wanting to take it. My parents included. But I didn’t waver. This was 100% the right decision and I didn’t need anybody’s approval or expertise or wisdom to confirm or deny that.
I took it.
Because it’s not self-awareness if you don’t actually do anything.
10) Being asked “what’s the benefit?”
I went to a mentor of mine many years ago and told him that I wanted to stop always doing what other people wanted me to do.
He looked at me and said “well, what’s the benefit of always doing what other people want you to do?”
“Erm… I don’t know. There isn’t one.”
Of course there wasn’t one. A f*cking benefit? I wanted to stop doing this thing and he was asking me what the benefit was of doing it?
He studied me.
“You’re not listening to yourself,” he said.
I didn’t know how he knew I wasn’t listening to myself but I knew he was right.
He told me that he was going to ask me again, and that he wanted me to listen to myself, and then say the first thing that came to mind.
“What’s the benefit of always doing what other people want you to do?”
“… because then they’ll like me.”
So there was a benefit. I didn’t expect that. But there it was and, now I’d said it, it seemed so obvious. Of course there was a benefit! How could there not be?
He kept asking and I kept answering.
The benefit of them liking me was that I’d feel good. The benefit of feeling good is that I wouldn’t feel like sh*t. The benefit of not feeling like sh*t is that I wouldn’t be unhappy. The benefit of not being unhappy was that I’d be happy.
And that’s when I cried.
Happiness. I don’t think I’d thought about my own happiness in years. Ever, maybe.
I wanted happiness. I wanted to be happy. That’s what all this was about.
That’s why I was always doing what other people wanted me to do.
And that’s when I thought “that doesn’t make any sense.”
Because I was always doing what other people wanted me to do because I wanted to be happy. But, of course, the reason I’d gone to my mentor in the first place was that I wanted to stop always doing what other people wanted me to do because it was making me unhappy.
And then I knew what to do.
Ultimately, I wanted to be happy.
I also wanted to stop always doing what other people wanted me to do.
To be happy, I had to do what I wanted to do.
It was so simple that I was laughing while I was realising all of this.
I didn’t regret what I’d done in the slightest because I’d learned from it. I didn’t regret it because, ultimately, deep down, I was only doing it because I was trying to be happy.
And now I was.
Matt Hearnden is a writer from the UK. He mostly tells stories only he can tell. He blogs twice a week at www.matthearnden.com just self-published his first book:42. Matt writes every day because he loves it and because it stops him watching Netflix. And, probably more importantly, he plays basketball and has lots of tattoos. Youc can find him on Twitter, IG & Quora.
Image courtesy of Brooke Cagle.