How school killed me and how I got my life back

Last year I lived in 3 different cities, worked 3 different jobs and called about 6 places home.

Why?

I was unravelling many things I was unhappy about. If you’ve ever had this sixth sense that there’s something wrong inside – this post is for you. I’m writing it because it’s therapeutic for me, might help you in some way and may help interesting copywriting clients find me.

***

It all started at secondary school I think. Secondary school is about babysitting teenagers until they’re  vaguely useful to the economy.

From day 1 the teachers wanted to stamp their foot down and assert their authority.

It was about getting you to conform. Transforming you into sausage-meat for the sausage machine.

And once you’re ground down, they put their agendas onto you.

Tick the boxes. Get your A’s. Go to Oxbridge. And make the school look good.

Then you can spend the rest of your days in a soul-destroying existence in the civil service stabbing your eyes out with a biro. Either that, or a ‘prestigious’ career in the City.

And if you weren’t going to Oxbridge, you’d be going to a good Redbrick, Russell-Group university. A Warwick, Bristol or a Cardiff. A good 2:1 would give you a range of careers… something respectable.

But if you weren’t going to university. Well,  well, well… you were a lost cause. I remember telling some teachers that I wasn’t going,to uni  and seeing their faces turn white. You were the binman, the homeless person, the lunatic of the future.

Because that’s how they saw the world

How school murdered me

Because of this really aggressive agenda, secondary school took away a lot of my spirit.

In the first two years I had several arguments with various teachers. And I just didn’t want to be there. There were arguments with teachers, detentions and long nights crying that I never told anyone about.

The truth is I felt trapped. I felt very threatened, unhappy and purposeless. It was like I wasn’t good enough by not obeying. One day I realised that if I wanted to survive the next 5 years, I had to conform to what they wanted.

In hindsight, these experiences made me very very insecure. I became a people-pleaser. I sucked up to the teachers, conned them, and played the game because, well, I wanted acceptance. I wanted validation. I needed validation because I felt so lost.

The root of ambition

This unhappiness warped itself into ambition. Behind most high achievers, with wild ambitions there’s pain that drives them on.

School made me full of anger. There was this huge fiery rage inside of me aimed at the system. It was a fire wanting independence and validation. I wasn’t happy then, but I knew I needed to find a way out.

This led me to getting huge ambitions. I wanted to create a huge business, change the education system and make documentaries. Mahoosive plans based on the fact I wanted to be ‘a somebody’. I wanted to matter. I wanted to achieve. To have lots of money. To be a star. To have lots of friends. To be influential.

And if you really really want something – you find a way of it happening.

When I left school I did everything I could to build a career, earn money and get freedom. I’d be a real brat when people told me what I couldn’t do.

Suddenly I also picked up an uncanny ability to charm people. It’s like a switch that came on. I’d want to please people and I’d test things so I’d know exactly what to say to get them to like me. Even if I disagreed with their worldview – I’d play along because that was the way to get what I wanted from them.

“You’re going around this club, saying hello to everyone like it’s your first day at Kindergarten” a friend told me.

At the same time I got some really well-paid writing projects. I moved to London. I went out partying most nights.

Once I went to the rooftop bar of a tall hotel with some friends. We ordered their cheapest bubbly and looked across the glittering skyline of London.

And I thought “I’ve made it. I’ve made it. I’m living the high life!”

It was satisfying for a while.

These shenanigans reached their peak on new year’s eve 2013. I was invited to a party with some celebrities at a posh Soho home. After that night I felt like the world was all mine.

But it was all froth.

The unravelling

Then last year, it all unraveled. I guess it was fate’s way of saying I was aiming for the wrong things.

I went to San Francisco where I wasn’t happy. It felt like a very superficial, materialistic culture. And there were a few times where I met some real jerks.

Of course there were good things about America too, like going to the Sundance Film Festival .  And a relationship with somebody I met in SF which felt very meaningful. I also met the kindness of strangers on a few occasions.

Then I raced back to London… trying to regain that feeling that the world was all mine again. But I couldn’t… and I wasn’t happy.

I moved into a flatshare full of drag queens. And started a sales job with blokey men saying how they’d lick a female customer’s feet. And well… it just wasn’t me.

Something had to give. I was so frustrated with everything I punched parked cars.  One day I left the office early, bought a cheap bottle of wine and  downed it in the park.

I left the job the next day.

Then one night I was corned by a friend and we talked until 4am. He made me look at the cold hard truth of these situations. He made me look at why I was pressuring myself into achievement and status. And it was all this unhappiness and anger from school.

When you accept how you’re feeling and all the repressed emotions accumulated over many years – there’s such an incredible, intense release.

I felt like I had a new body, and a new life! It was just incredible!

I spent the last half of the year with my parents. I’m very grateful for them looking after me while I recovered from the burnout.

What next?

I’ve moved to Madrid. There’s lots of life and energy here. Rent is cheap. People are very open and friendly. Good food and produce is very cheap. You have time and energy to focus on the the things that matter. For the first time in a while, I feel happy with things. I feel like I don’t have to act to survive.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way. I meet so many people who’ve had their spirits crushed out of them by a “good school”, university, a mortgage, a “good job” and the breakup they’ve never talked about.

Likewise there’s older entrepreneurs who’ve been tormented for years that I’ve met. They may have a few million quid of assets, but they’re imprisoned in their own heads. They worry about being old and lonely.

And it’s  saddening because you know once upon a time these guys had so much energy and life. They were curious trouble-makers. They  would dance like nobody was watching.  Now they’re stuck.

Whatever work I go onto to do, I want to bring that life back.

Because the reality is: the truth will set you free.

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