When I was a kid I struggled to connect with my peers. I was interested in a lot of normal kid things, but also a lot of obscure things, and I had very specific ambitions and dreams. At times I found it very isolating because I didn’t fit the kinds of routines or behaviours that would have sustained relationships. I definitely had friends, but while I was a child and even a teenager, I never felt like I truly connected with anyone around my age.
I spent a lot of time filling notebooks with ideas of myself in the future and road maps of how I could get there. Nine-year-old me would spend hours strategising: if I was going to be an actress, I’d need to study drama at school, do community plays and try to get into NIDA or WAAPA. If I was going to be a surgeon and work with MSF, I should be reading books about anatomy and science so I could get top grades and get into UWA medicine. If I was going to be a human rights lawyer, I needed to read about political events and study law, before trying to get into the UN system. On and on these hypothetical strategies went, because I wanted to fully explore the journey of each goal before I committed to trying to reach the destination.
I’d then try to run through these plans with my friends, but obviously, career-planning isn’t something ten-year-olds want to pow wow about. They just wanted to ride their bikes around the block and talk about cartoons. I’d be happy playing outside with the other kids on our street — but I didn’t find that stimulating enough to do every day. Maybe once or twice a week, I had other solo activities I wanted to do and plenty of ideas I wanted to think about in my spare time.
Understandably, the more I stopped accepting invitations to go play outside in favour of spending time on my computer or with my books, the more they stopped coming. I was confused because I didn’t understand how my friends couldn’t see that this didn’t mean I wasn’t interested at all, ever again, or was rebuffing their friendship — I just had other interests. Interests that I took very seriously.
More than being disinterested in my career planning, a lot of kids (as well as adults and teachers) had the initial reaction of telling me that my dreams weren’t achievable and that I shouldn’t aim too high or I’d get disappointed. This always astounded me — who were they to say that? Others had done it, so why not me? And why not them, too? They were often discounting “us” in the same breath — as though because I was proximate to them and in their world, their insecurity and lack of confidence in their future extended to me as well.
I was raised by a very strong and feminist mother who instilled ultimate self-confidence in me so I am glad I wasn’t shaken, but I started to really worry about the kinds of people I was surrounded by. How could these people be so negative? Why were they so insecure? What could possibly be wrong with their world views? And, often most prominently, how could I get away from them and meet people who shared my passion for manifesting my best life?
As an adult, these questions still come up and I’ve realised how important it is to surround myself with the right friends. People who are on their own path, but don’t project their insecurities onto the people around them. Friends who can celebrate your joys and successes, but also cry with you and listen when things get bad. Friends who aren’t ashamed to tell you about their worries, while also cheering for you in your own life, and vice versa.
Initially this was difficult. Someone who seemed friendly might have actually been malicious, anxious or unhappy, but I didn’t know how to read the signs. Being an ambitious person, I’m always aiming high and pushing myself, so when I finally reach a goal I want to have friends who will share my happiness with me. And when they are happy in their lives, I’ll always be at their side. One persons success doesn’t take away from another’s, and we can all be in different places and still support each other. Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way, but it can take a while to notice.
When I joined the Global Shapers community almost four years ago as a founding member of the Perth Hub, I was skeptical. It sounded great in principle, but from experience a lot of these ‘leadership’ societies turned out to be a lot of pompous, self-promoting d-bags. Still I went along and got involved, curious and with an open mind. In my experience the vast majority of Shapers within the entire global community are genuinely invested in making the world a better place, and are warm and uplifting people.
Since joining the community in 2013, I have for the first time really connected with and been surrounded by a group of people who are successful, but not motivated by the blind pursuit of it for it’s own sake — they genuinely want to create a positive impact. When your drive comes from trying to manifest progress not just to reinforce your own worth or accumulate material possessions, it makes a huge difference. Finally I found the positive, encouraging and motivated tribe I always wanted.
Through meeting and becoming close friends with so many amazing people through the Shapers community, I've also become better at understanding and assessing people's motivations up front. They are friendly to my face, but they say negative and unproductive things about other people? They're not someone I want to be friends with. They share their insecurities and listen when I share my own, but don't listen to or acknowledge my successes or my happiness? That person can't be my friend.
It can be difficult, but I’ve realised that letting go of people who put up these red flags will only save me from disappointment and unhappiness later. The few times I’ve tried to push ahead with a budding friendship in spite of these warning signs, it has blown up in my face. They had too much insecurity, tension and unhappiness with their own identity to be open to a positive friendship. And that’s okay, that’s part of their journey, but it doesn’t have to be a part of mine.
Adopting this approach has also let me more easily recognise and invest energy into people who could become incredible friends, allowing me to form a number of deep and mutually respectful connections, and to rekindle old connections in new and powerful ways with the right attitude.
So here’s to choosing friends who make us better people, who let us love and support them in return — and to the amazing friends who have given me so much joy in my life: you’re deeply appreciated!
I tried it out, but posting every Wednesday as a hard rule isn’t a good idea. If you haven’t yet read one of my posts from this 52 Memoirs project, every week I’ve been writing a piece reflecting on my life, and posting it on a Wednesday. Why Wednesdays? Good question. The rationale at the time of inception was more of a “why not?” It was a weekly goal, something to keep me regular, a tangible deadline. So onward I marched, with the Wednesday deadline looming over me almost consistently.
On Thursdays, I breathed a sigh of relief because I’d managed to post something the day before. I’d gotten into the right mood and headspace to write fluidly and effectively, I’d pulled at the threads of my consciousness to grab at some kind of entertaining story from my past, and I’d blasted it all over my social platforms. On Thursdays, I was free to focus on all of my other projects, my day job, my family and friends.
On the weekend, I’d remember that I needed to think of something else to write soon, but would quickly dismiss those worries. “Hey, Wednesday is so far away” I’d tell myself. Then it would be Monday, and I’d be busy catching up with work and going to meetings, and Tuesday I’d have my head down in the office… then somehow it was already Wednesday again. At some point during that day I’d need to find a hook and run with it.
At first, I was writing posts early — Monday or Tuesday. Then I’d write them Wednesday mornings. Then after work. Then closer to midnight. And now? Well now I don’t even have the energy to pretend that I meant to post this on a Wednesday — I’m happy to have made it by Thursday.
I lasted thirteen Wednesdays. On week 14, I posted on a Thursday. Last week, I posted on a Thursday. This week, also a Thursday. And I’ve realised that’s okay. Wednesdays aren’t working, and they don’t need to. The point is to write consistently, and to reflect on my thinking and my decisions. The point is not to meet some redundant deadline for the sole reason that I said I would.
So why am I reflecting on this? I discuss transparency and openness around failure a lot. I’m launching a digital publication called Tech’s Good on September 4th that has a major advocacy goal of doing just that — encouraging people to discuss what hasn’t worked, and why, so they can adapt and share those lessons with others. It sounds simple, but saying “I tried this and it didn’t work, so even though I made a commitment, I’m changing my tactic” is hard. I espouse that start-ups, technologists, humanitarian organisations and other companies should do it — “it” being admit defeat and not be afraid to adapt — yet it took a month of me struggling to meet my own silly commitment (to myself, no less) that I am only now kicking the Wednesday schtick.
So this is a tiny way of demonstrating my beliefs, because if I can’t even do it in unimportant ways, how will I honestly find the strength to do it when it does matter. I tried, but Wednesdays weren’t working, and that’s okay. I’m committed to finishing this project, and sharing a personal story once a week, so I will. Whenever during the week that inspiration strikes me, I’ll write it, and I’ll post it. And hopefully, when much more difficult situations stop functioning and need a change, I’ll be able to learn and adapt to those too.
This is the 16th in a series of 52 Memoirs I will be posting weekly until April 2018.
I’m posting this on a Thursday, again. I’m late, I know, but it’s for two very good reasons: my Wi-Fi is down at home, and I’ve received so much good news recently that I’m almost too overwhelmed to write. A lot of my news isn’t ready for public consumption, but insanely great things are happening right now. On many fronts. And it’s kind of terrifying.
I’m sure for other people who have experienced some kind of personal trauma, being wary of happiness is a familiar phenomenon. As I’ve outlined a few times in previous posts, I had a really bad time a few years ago. Most of my life was out of my control. My Nanna had just died, my Mum had stage four melanoma, my foster sister had died a few years before, I had to drop out of uni to earn an income for my household and my then long-term boyfriend dumped me. I was surrounded by death, disease, loss, and just general crappiness. At age 20, I had experienced my ‘rock bottom’.
That healing process took a lot longer than I realised. Years later, when I realised it was over, I almost had a breakdown because I didn’t know how to let myself feel safe again. I was nineteen when the rug was ripped out from under me the first time, and I lost a feeling of security in my life. I was steps away from being left with no immediate family, no money and well, nothing really at all. I had to step up and become a very guarded person in order to stay strong for myself and my Mum. At that time, I was also working with refugees and dealing with detailed and horrifying descriptions of torture and persecution every day, which made me harden myself even more.
So then when life had moved on and I was in a different place, it was really hard to lower those walls again. I had a degree and a great job, a loving and supportive partner, a healthy Mum (she recovered!), and a lot of wonderful opportunities – but I was numb to it. I had forgotten how to let myself really feel, because when everything felt ruined, I’d turned myself off. When it became clear that I needed to re-activate my emotions, it all hit me at once and I started to panic. I felt it all, a kind of delayed reaction to the earlier trauma, and I became terrified of losing everything I’d since gained.
I managed to mostly deal with those feelings, but here I am having a similar experience. Everything is better than I could have ever imagined it could be – so I’m afraid to embrace it. Of course I understand that I am lucky if my life goes on for a very long time, and if it does, I’m likely to experience that kind of pain again – possibly much worse. So now that things have healed in my life, when good things happen… it can be pretty frightening. That understanding of how ephemeral life is both a blessing and a curse.
I know that the good times will end, but so will the bad times. I survived it all last time, and I’m sure I will again. So I'm going to try to enjoy my joy as deeply as I can while it lasts!
This is the 15th in a series of 52 Memoirs I will be posting weekly until April 2018. Look out for new posts every Wednesday!
My name is Keeya-Lee Ayre, but I go by just Keeya if the context is casual. I'm American-born, Australian-raised, and living in Atlanta after a 2 year stint in London. I work in the humanitarian innovation / tech / social impact space. You can follow me on twitter here!