Most people are familiar with the description of a swan on water. Calmly moving along with cool grace above the surface, but below the surface, unseen to the observer it’s feet are paddling manically.
The impression we present to the world is rarely an accurate representation of how we really are, it’s a literal impression of how we would like others to perceive us. We are ALL guilty of this. Perhaps to different extents, but we can all recognise behaviour like this in ourselves at some time in our lives.
It is important to remember that this is all part of normal human experience, the desire to look like we have our lives ‘together’ is only natural and in the modern age compounded by how we interact with each other. We allow the outside world to see edited, contrived snapshots of our lives through social media and it’s not going to change, it’s likely to get worse.
Comparing ourselves to others can work positively or negatively. There’s no danger in having role models to inspire us; it’s when the comparison leads us to feel worse about ourselves that we must be mindful of our thoughts. Our role models are just the same as us, they may excel in the area in which we hold them in high regard, but be highly flawed in another. Of course because they are human just like us they naturally want to keep that side of themselves hidden.
So we are left judging ourselves against a skewed version of reality. When this happens it’s very easy to become disheartened, lonely, and perhaps depressed, or worse. None of us like to look around us and feel like we are losing. How many times do we see our outwardly ‘perfect’ friends or even rich celebrities commit suicide unexpectedly? ‘They had everything to live for’, but had convinced themselves that wasn’t the case.
Perception is key. We must remember that this is a shared experience at all levels. No matter how successful someone appears in comparison to you and how much that makes you wonder where you went wrong in your life, they are having identical emotions comparing themselves to someone they perceive as more successful. We must use this shared experience to bring us together, to talk. When we break through that barrier of embarrassment and say how we’re really thinking and feeling, we gain perspective and that sharing of experience also leads to a bond.
In the military we are used to shared experiences leading to bonds. We have them forced upon us and recognise the benefits of them. In training we have all seen each other at our lowest. We have all been the squared away guy having a good day looking after the guy who’s world just fell apart, knowing that tomorrow we will inevitability swap places. This is then repeated on operations but at higher intensity, it’s what holds us together and makes us better at our job.
There is a tendency once leaving the military to segregate ourselves from the civilian population because of our background. We forget that we are and have always been civilians too. By isolating ourselves in this way we add another layer of untruth and the feelings I’ve discussed so far are magnified, we find it harder to connect. Although some of our experience the civilian population will never fully understand (if we are doing our job properly they should never have to), the vast majority of what we feel is the same human experience and we mustn’t be afraid to share our struggles with them as they should with us, we’re in this together.
We are all humans with the same emotions, we have dreams and aspirations and we are all the result of our actions. Sometimes we do good things, sometimes not so good things. Sometimes we feel we are winning, sometimes we wonder why we bother. When we take responsibility for our current situation and accept it, we have the best baseline to work from. Sharing our experience with others only helps to break through the facade of perfect lives and brings us closer. This can only help those who might otherwise leave us.