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We’re all lying about how happy we are

Take a good look at this picture:

That’s me, second from the left, circa 2010 or something.

Look at that smile. Look at the situation: covered in cute girls, surrounded by friends, having a jolly old time.

It’s probably hard to believe that this picture was taken during the worst days of my life.

Allow me to point out some clues that you would have overlooked…

That smile plastered on my face is significantly propped up by the MDMA (ecstasy) tab I had recently swallowed, plus a dozen or so beers and some weed. This was normal weekend (and occasionally weekday) behaviour.

The yellow staining on my teeth is a result of heavy smoking and frequent sugar bingeing.

The weird little goatee was shaved just so, to try give the appearance of a firmer jawline and to add a bit of rockstar edge to my otherwise potato-ish face.

I’m wearing a partially hidden necklace (you can’t see the guitar-pick pendant hanging from it). This was deliberately worn to provoke a reaction of, “Oh wow, are you in a band?” – a desperate and transparent ploy for attention and validation.

My t-shirt a picture of a pistol on it and a quote saying “Nothing says goodbye like a bullet”. Again, deliberately and carefully selected to show what a badass I supposedly was.

The girls cuddling me are platonic friends, but back then I’d happily allow people to believe that I was some sort of player who had girls crawling all over him… even though I was desperately single and striking out with women every week.

Look at the picture again.

You are looking at the face of a lost, miserable, lonely, chronically anxious 20-something man who is starting to seriously doubt there’s any chance of him actually enjoying life.

Around the time this picture was taken, I was deep in the thick of Nice Guy Syndrome.

As a “performer” type of Nice Guy (an extrovert who puts on a show to make people like him), everything about me was carefully crafted to get the most positive reactions possible from the largest number of people.

I had been bullshitting for so long at this point that it actually felt real. I had long ago lost any sight of my true identity or sense of core values. I didn’t even know what I really liked or wanted from life. I just did what I thought everyone would approve of and desperately hoped it would somehow result in some kind of enjoyment of life.

Most of the pictures you see on social media like this one are total horseshit. If you look closely, you’ll see the details that question the truth of the happiness beaming out.

I mean, why would someone post something like this if not for validation and approval from others?

I see you.

I know you’re not as happy as you’d like people to believe. In fact, for most of you, I know it’s actually pretty bad right now.

When you post pictures like this, or brag about your new promotion, or show up at the gym with all the latest gear on, I know what you’re doing.

You’re trying your best to convince yourself that you are on the right path.

You’re trying to ignore the nagging voices in your head that scream and rant about how pointless everything feels, or how you’ve made some kind of mistake with your life’s direction, or how you’re just never good enough, or how people wouldn’t like you if they really knew what you were like on the inside.

So you put on a smile and post your happy pictures and keep conversations to positive and pleasing topics, hoping to get through another day without falling prey to the suspicion that your life is just for show, and that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m no longer that guy in the picture.

He is DEAD.

It’s taken me many years of brutal self-analysis, humble and confused learning, extremely uncomfortable and often humiliating actions, and plenty of “bad” results.

But I no longer feel compelled to use booze and other substances to overcome social anxiety or feel good during social events.

I no longer panic about maintaining a professional and likeable image and reputation, and I don’t worry about my paycheck being in the hands of someone who can ruin my life if I upset them. Not because this can’t happen, but because I’ve learned to trust myself to handle things going wrong.

I no longer rely on sugar entirely to drown out my emotions and shame about who I am. (OK, I still eat a bit too much sugar, but I can feel pain and discomfort without running away from it too.)

And probably best of all, I’m no longer burdened by the daily grind of trying to please and impress other people, and to have my self-worth entirely controlled by the way people react to me.

I’ve since learned to measure myself by my own standards and to be so sure of my measurement that other people’s opinions are little more than amusing pieces of information that have nothing to do with me personally.

While I’ll happily disclose that this post is partly a form marketing for my confidence coaching services, I won’t hold back any secrets.

Here’s what I changed:

I let go of my shitty identity as a Nice Guy and embraced being “nothing” so I could figure out who the fuck I really am.

I replaced other people’s feedback with my own core set of values; a code of honour that I live by based on what I enjoy doing, am proud of myself for, and admire and respect when I see others doing it.

I adopted a nothing to lose social mentality, and decided that I would prioritise honesty over being liked… always. No matter what the cost. (I’ve never made a change that brought bigger rewards that this one!)

I wrote down everything about myself that I was ashamed of and set about doing two things. 1) objectively analysing them to figure out if I feel bad about it due to my own values or if someone else has made me feel bad about something that’s actually ok, and 2) admitting it all to everyone I could until I no longer felt embarrassed or guilty talking about it.

I wrote down a list of all my fears and prioritised facing them head on as brutally as I could. This mostly consisted of having confrontations with people (fear of being disliked, and also fear of violence), but also included travelling alone (fear of failure), starting dance classes (fear of being judged as weak), and expressing attraction to strangers (fear of rejection).

I started taking better care of my body through regular exercise and eating healthy. This remains a work in progress – well, they all do really. I took up a number of different martial arts and made working out a normal daily activity.

I left my cozy well-paid job to start my own business so that I would never have to compromise my values to put food on the table.

I started reading philosophy, particularly focusing on Stoicism and existentialism, and switched my media consumption from TV bingeing and mindless fail videos over to educational content on psychology, leadership, and the mind.

There’s more, but that’s enough of a recipe to turn it all around.

You don’t have to pretend that you’re fine.

You don’t have to keep trying to convince yourself that you enjoy your life if you actually don’t. You don’t have to keep doing the same old shit that doesn’t work in the vague hope that it will pay out one day.

Get in touch, dan@brojo.org. Even if you don’t want coaching with me, tell me about your story and your struggles and your ideas for a better life, and I will hook you up with the content, support and guidance you need to turn this ship around. (Giving freely is another key piece of the confidence puzzle).

You only live once.

Don’t fuck it up.

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