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Culturally Unfit | Column 1.

As a child, you create alternate personas for yourself both in the current day and the future - it could be imagining yourself somewhere else or as someone else - today and tomorrow. Those personas are created and restricted due to what those around you allow you to see, hear, read, observe and encourage. You don’t realize it, but at a very young age you’re handed an imaginary script. That script defines what is expected of you, is bound by the aforementioned limitations, and dictates how you handle positive and negative experiences. This playbook has been passed down for generations and what makes it so tough to see, is that the very people who gave it to you don’t know they had it, and they abide by it as well, so it seems normal.

As your world expands, so do your influences. It is at that point when you might start questioning what you know because your peers don’t just look and act differently, but they also behave and approach situations differently. This exposure introduces the acts of comparison and competition. One simply does not exist without the other. The very nature of competing against someone is comparing your performance, your progress, your situations, and your accomplishments to theirs.

The many types of competition

Competition can be a very healthy thing. You might strive to be better at something - a class, a sport - and you try to follow good examples to rise to an occasion. Your peer group - students, coworkers, friends, family, are obvious types of competition that are tangible and situation-based, and can drive you to be better. This type of competition is grounded in reality, and can be healthy.

With the rise of social media, your peer group and competitor landscape has dramatically expanded, encouraging a type of fictional competition that is fueling more and more insecurity everyday. There is no full truth anymore and therefore the comparisons don’t match on any level. People curate their lives, and it’s easy to put a filter on a lifestyle and on accomplishments making it impossible to identify truth and reality. While this fantasy world is an unhealthy form of competition, there is a far more dangerous competitor that is much closer to home, and is also lacking truth.

<||> The pause button effect

Have you ever heard someone say, always be competing with who you were yesterday? We have to wonder, which version of ‘you’ are we talking about?

At House of Poppi, we speak from our first generation immigrant experience, but we think this formidable competitor is relevant for each and every one of us. That script we were given, wrapped in generations of culture, had pre-defined expectations and milestones we are supposed to meet and accomplish. When we fall short, or experience some sort of trauma, we are supposed to stay on track without hesitation. When our families have given up so much to provide opportunities for us, we sweep any pain under the rug and deal with it in silence; it’s the least we can do to match their sacrifice.

That negativity or traumatic experience causes our mental and physical selves to become broken and distant from one another. You experience the pause button effect, and that furthers the rift between mind and body. You go on and grow up physically, but suppressing critical life altering experiences won’t let you press play mentally, and you’re stuck. It is no longer possible to become that person we thought we would because even paused for a second, that disconnect is permanent, and you can’t catch up. That person had such perfection, optimism, and now feels unattainable. That dream becomes hurtful and a constant reminder that it’s impossible for you to accomplish what was expected of you, and for all those aspirations to come true in the exact way you imagined.

But interestingly enough, while that person or image isn’t real, it is our biggest competition because we can’t stop chasing them and being haunted by them. It feels like failure. Like any other competitor, we are comparing ourselves to their performance, their progress, and their accomplishments. We confuse them with being a goal when in reality they are the failure and an obstacle… So, what do we do? How do we press play and form a healthy reconnection of mind and body?

How do we reconnect?

Recognize & Identify: Most of the time we know something is wrong and we are avoiding problems long before we are willing to admit it. In this case, you might find you are constantly displeased with where you are, often thinking you aren’t good enough or haven’t reached a point you were supposed to. You compare yourself with everyone who seems to have stayed on script. You come up with reasons and excuses as to why you aren’t where you want to be, and you avoid people who might call you out on it because it's painful to come to terms with. The truth is, those goals weren’t yours to begin with. The unobvious competitor has had a completely different experience from day one. That persona never had obstacles and remained optimistic with an inexperienced mentality.

What to do once you’ve discovered this hidden competition? Don’t hide from it. Analyze it, dive into it, and find where the road diverged and the script became unrealistic. Sometimes you need to go back even further and ask yourself, whose script is it? Why was there a script to begin with? Did you have a problem with it? Did you agree with it? Did you want to change it but didn’t know how? Discover what parts of that persona were appealing and possible to you, and which weren’t. Separate the reality from the dream and the attainable from the impossible. Those attainable in reality should be goals, but not the impossible that set you up to fail.

How to live with it. Face it, redefine it, and reframe your game. Change course. You can’t get back on this path because it’s no longer valid and it’s not real for you. If you turn around, that path doesn’t exist, it never really did. You didn’t ‘fall off’, your story changed. Your circumstances changed and that’s okay. The end result will be different, but not something you can’t shape. You are in control of it. Taking control of it means identifying the healthy and unhealthy competition and behaviors that fuel these feelings. It’s easy to say, remind yourself each and every day that you are on a new path and are working towards attainable goals, but in practice it is much more difficult.

At House of Poppi, we found we needed to create a healthy distance and space from the half truths, and stop comparing ourselves to a part of someone else’s story. Discussing and sharing your dreams, aspirations, goals and most importantly failures, with the people who own and wrote the script, might make the previous path obsolete and the future more appealing. This meant leaving behind the highly curated information through social channels. When we seek to leave a negative behavior, replacing it with something positive makes it easier to stop. When we looked to replace our time spent focusing on useless comparisons and our script, we looked for a like-minded community; when we couldn’t find one, we created it. Finding the right community of people to support you where you had difficulty, and how you are seeing your way out of it, is critical. You’ll find more people that have been through something similar and are facing it head on each and every day. Generally speaking, when we have a problem we tend to think we are the only one going through something, but by spending time with the right community, you’ll see the recovery in motion, see it’s achievable, and can lead to very positive outcomes.

This unobvious competitor, while a version of you, is still a competitor and a fierce one. One-up them. You know more from real life experience. Do better than they ever would have, and better than you would have known to dream about.

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