We live in a society of extremes. Our media constantly reports the best of humanity and, more often, the worst of humanity (they sort of have to, I don’t imagine anyone would read ‘man went to work and nothing happened’). The adverts that surround us tell his how to be ‘skinnier’, ‘more toned’, ‘more muscular’, ‘smarter’, basically ‘better’.
Well before we’re able to make decisions for ourselves, life is insidiously turned into a sort of Hunger Games, pitting young people against each other for the benefit of the wider world – and it works in stages. As toddlers, we are pitted against our peers to see who can walk first, talk first, count first. If you pass that stage well enough, then school becomes your new battleground, where we are told to be the ‘best’, to achieve the ‘best grades’, to win every sports match, basically to be at the top in everything we do. Do well enough there, and leaving school and moving into a job becomes the next battleground – targets and challenges are thrown at you from every angle, with competition manifesting itself in salary, houses, cars, anything tangible that people can use to compare themselves to one another.
We push ourselves, try to squeeze more than we can fit into each hour of every day, we run on empty and burn ourselves out. We lose ourselves, our very dreams, in the quest to ‘be the best’. And ultimately, what for? Someone will always be better, faster, smarter, stronger (unless you really are at the top, but so few people ever get there that most people will have to settle somewhere along the line). If we do achieve or succeed, the pressure only mounts. We have to look up and down at the same time, beating anyone who tries to take our place whilst simultaneously trying to reach higher and overtake the person in front. It’s exhausting, and it’s not healthy.
There’s something incredibly freeing about learning to accept ‘okay’. Following Mum’s death there have been lots of ups and downs. It can often feel like everything is crap and nothing is ever going to get better. There have been weeks when I have felt incredibly low, and at times like that, I don’t want to feel ‘good’ or ‘great’, I literally just want to feel ‘okay’. It’s not normal for anyone to feel ‘great’ all the time or even ‘good’ all the time (whatever adverts might tell us!). Sometimes feeling okay, and being at peace with that, can be such a relief.
When it comes to other aspects of life, as much as it is admirable to constantly strive to be better, sometimes it’s necessary to accept ‘okay’. You didn’t get all of your jobs for the day done, but it’s okay because there’s tomorrow. Your room is a little messier than you’d like, but it’s okay because you’ve had a busy week and you’re tired. You don’t feel like cooking tonight, but it’s okay because ready meals, takeaways and toast exist, and you’ve had a busy day. These are really basic examples, but it’s the start of a new ‘okay’ mindset.
Of course, in some aspects of your life you will want to strive for better than okay, and that’s okay too! If you have a big exam coming up, of course you will try to get the best grade you possibly can. When going for a promotion, of course you will want to put your all into it. When it’s your child’s birthday party, of course you will want to make it as memorable as possible (in a good way!). But equally, when you do put your all into everything and you don’t achieve what you’d hoped, it’s not the end of the world; it really isn’t.
Adding ‘okay’ to your vocabulary is so vital in today’s society when there is pressure from every angle. When you’re expected to do unpaid overtime, have a ‘perfect’ house, a ‘perfect’ body and a ‘perfect’ social life all at the same time (which, by the way, is entirely unrealistic). You are okay. You really are okay. And most of the time, so am I.