Choosing Your Friends (And Your Family)

October 8, 2014 12:58 pm

A year or so ago, I watched a video on YouTube in which J.K. Rowling addresses the graduates at Harvard University. It was a touching twenty minute speech which, if you haven’t already seen it, can be found below.

In it, she brought to my attention a very good yet previously unrealised fact – in J. K’s words: ‘There is an expiry date on blaming your parents.’

This was just the turning point of many revelations I was to have about my suddenly-adult life, but this had never occurred to me before.  I’d been up until that point, in my twenties and quite happy to blame most of my circumstances on my parents: my penchant towards negativity was a stigma directly descended by nature through my mother and her ancestors, a blueprint of her own depression.  My awkwardness in relationships was totally my father and step-mothers’ fault, because I felt they had been cold when I was young and sensitive and in need of ungiven affection.  And the fact that I personally thought I had achieved so little was because I had never felt I truly had the support I required from either of my parents.  Or a good number of my extended family.  Several hundred times – I have long lost count – have I been encouraged to do something – anything – other than the path I was determined to go down.  One of my aunts encouraged me to be a historian.  My father hoped I’d make a lawyer.  My mother would have been happy with anything official-sounding.  Today, she called me and asked me if my one-woman play, now just a little over a month away, was actually going to go ahead.  I explained it was – everything was in place, the play was written and on its last draft and I was beginning rehearsals.  She asked if it still would, even if I sold no tickets (which, unbeknownst to her, I already had!)  Her reasoning was not that she was worried a project of mine would not go well, or that I would be embarrassed, or feel as if I had failed.  As she explained it verbatim to me: ‘I don’t want to be sitting there on my own.’  Her priorities flawless as always.  I put the phone down and make a habit of doing so these days, in order to shut the negativity out.

Life very rarely deals us perfect parents in our eyes.  Parents are there to teach and love, be rebelled against and returned to in some form, whether as in-between-jobbers, or as parents ourselves, to bring along our own little ones.  As the saying goes, we can choose our friends but not our family.

J.K.’s speech me realise that I was indeed, though I had forgotten it, master of my own destiny and to keep blaming my parents for everything that was wrong with my life in perpetuity was nonsensical.  If we knew an old woman or an old man, per se, let us suppose they are in their seventies, and they blamed everything that might have been a problem in their lives – alcoholism, depression, relationship issues, frustration in the workplace and with their past careers, a wrecked home life – on their parents, we would quietly think twice about this.  They wouldn’t be taken seriously, on account of their age.  On account of the fact that their childhood and their formative were as far as behind them as some people have lived and died in.  Parents who have likely been dead for 10+ years have no influence over the now.  Yet if we continued blaming our parents, and then later on, perhaps, the circumstances around us, on why we chose misery and stability instead of happiness and adventure, we too would not be taken seriously in our old age.

j k rowlingAlmost like a safety blanket of non-confrontation, when I was at my lowest point, I was in a relationship with a man with a criminal record who thought that a call centre job was a gift from the gods; I was living with a wannabe actress with chronic OCD and crippling depression, taking her own frustrations at her bank job out on me; and one of my best friends literally had delusions and severe mental problems.  We were trapped together in a vicious cycle of increasing frustration at our lack of progress in life, blame on other people and a tendency – nay, a lifestyle – of feeling sorry for ourselves.  Of telling ourselves that we were victims and not at fault.  I myself developed depression and acute social anxiety and was on pills so strong that I literally have gaps in my memory.  My surroundings dictated that things only got worse and felt as if they would never change.

Fast forward to almost two years later.  After a bold movement against all things that seemed bent on suffocating me, I am currently at one of the highest point I have ever been in my life and feel optimistic and ready to put in hard work to ensure that everything only gets better from here.  The people I previously mentioned have dissipated.  In their place, I am engaged to a man who runs his own business and finds time to indulge in the most artistic creative endeavours; one of my newest closest friends also runs her own business, writing and teaching drama and I work for her.  My fiance and I admit our negativity-loving parents in small and monitored doses.  I am in a position to choose who I allow into my life and who can influence my mood.  I always was but now, I am aware of it.  Now, essentially being my own boss and having a family feeling as I have never experienced before, I am no longer shy to shut people, old friends, even family out of my life, whether on a short-term basis or something more permanent, because no one and nothing good is served by perpetuating the negativity that one can develop from a frustrated and unfulfilled life and surrounding ourselves with people who do just this condemns us to mirror their attitudes and their failures.

It has only been through my own experience that I had realised the value of watching what you invite into your life.  By inviting, I mean even allowing and thinking upon.  One must be guarded of one’s own psyche, as no one else can be held responsible for it.  Once one has realised that one only – really – has oneself to blame for their situation and the atmosphere in which they either thrive or strive, it becomes very easy to see what should go and what should be allowed and what encouraged.

So be open and friendly and loving and warm, but not to the detriment of your own state of mind.  Be kind and giving, but if a friend or family member keeps taking and taking without returning the symbiotic gesture, it is time to tell them ‘No’.  Those who deserve a place in your life will make themselves known through their gestures and their regard of you.  Those whose tickets have long expired may not even realise that they have been evicted from the happy place your call Your World until it is far too late.  By surrounding yourself with similar positive, happy and successful people – bearing in mind that success is an attitude as much as it is a state of being – it will, with a little work from you, rub off on you easily.  Choose wisely who you spend your time with.  Those who you give your attention and your time will influence, perhaps imperceptibly at first, but you have to see something of what you wish to be in those who you choose to be in your life.  You are a valuable, worthy person and deserve better than to let others dictate your life and who you are.

You alone should be in charge of that.

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