What does everybody else know that I don't?

OK, this is probably going to be long, whiny and rambling. So, apologies in advance.

For quite some time now I’ve realised that my life has been somewhat…lacking. It’s getting to the point where I am becoming increasingly concerned about my situation and at times I feel just plain old despondent. I feel like I’m drifting, that I’m becoming disconnected from humanity.

Some background information: I am 22 and male. I am a computer science graduate. I currently live at home and work for my dad. I am an atheist and an introvert.

Firstly, university was quite a disappointing experience for me. While I made friends and got drunk and had one night stands and got a decent degree, I look back and feel underwhelmed. Sitting in the pub with my mates and hearing them talk about the great experiences they had, it seems like my three years were just OK. I didn’t make that many friends, I didn’t have that much sex, I didn’t do as many things, period. So, that’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I wasted through my own inaction and shyness. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy college? I didn’t go to graduation. None of my friends were graduating that day and I didn’t want my parents seeing me standing around awkwardly.

Now, sex and relationships. I last had a girlfriend about two years ago. I last had sex just a few months less than that figure. So yeah, it’s been a dry spell, you could say. Fuck. I’m in my early twenties. This should be prime nookie time. I mean, everyone’s getting some, right? Right? The condom machines in the WCs. The naughty lingerie on the racks in the stores. The ‘How to please your man’ tips in the magazines. Nudge Nudge. Wink Wink. Average Joe is getting his dick wet because, hey, sex is something we all need and want and it’s fairly common.

Average fucking Joe. That’s all I want to be. I don’t want fame, fortune or glory. I just want to be happy. Why is everybody else so happy? What do they know?

Career-wise, I have absolutely no idea what to do. Still. No freakin’ idea. Half my degree was enjoyable, but even so, I’ve no idea what I could do with it. I realised that I don’t like programming (and can’t do it terribly well, either). Although I could ‘work in IT’, I just can’t see myself anywhere, I can’t picture it. I wouldn’t be good enough. Everyone gets nervous about interviews, I don’t mind them too much. I get nervous about getting the job. I have a real phobia of being plunked down at a desk on my first day, and making a complete and utter fool of myself. Like, not knowing what to fucking do.

After encouragement from many friends, I’ve started doing the whole ‘online social networking’ thing. Everyone’s got hundreds of friends and they are all signed up to these little groups. Everyone’s in the photos having a whale of a time in their fancy dress costumes from some university house party. Yeah, and while there’s pictures of me all drunk and dressed up and smiling, it’s just not the same.

Life is a game and everyone’s playing. I’m still trying to figure out the rulebook. People shift and slide from stepping stone to stepping stone. You go to school. you go to college. You get a job. You find a partner. You have lots of sex. You get married. You have kids. You grow old. You die and there are people to remember you. Repeat ad infinitum. It’s a conveyor belt, constantly moving. Every year there’s kids starting school. Every year there’s new freshmen with wide eyes and condoms in their back pocket. Every year there’s people getting a payrise. Some get divorced. Some become alcoholics. Some become millionaires. Some die in car accidents.

This is it, baby. One shot. And then we’re dead. Kaputt. Stardust flying through the night sky. I want to make the most of it but I don’t know how.

Of course, you’re gonna tell me that everybody has these moments of self-doubt, that nobody finds things easy. Right?

You’ve written very eloquently about something everyone feels to some degree, from time to time.

It’s true what you say about the conveyor belt. It can certainly seem that way. But on closer inspection I think you’d find few people who follow all of the patterns.

My advise to you would be not to focus so much on finding and consuming happiness. Instead find a way to focus of creating happiness, there are a million ways to do so, for the people around you, everyday.

It’s not wrong to seek happiness, but you need to know it comes from within.

And if nothing in your field of vision challenges or excites you, look further afield. It’s a big world and only an airline ticket stands between you and anywhere you choose.

Try this, you meet your old chum in the pub, one night. You haven’t seen each other in years, as you talk he tells you, “He went here, he did this, and he got involved in this…”. What would he say that would make you respect him and look up to him and admire his spirit? What would he say that would leave you, once you parted, thinking about him and the choices he’d made. Even in a world of conveyor belts. This could give you some place to start, maybe.

And good luck to you. You’re very young still and there is still a lot of path ahead try not to worry about it too much.

You know, the years I spent in college were bar none the most miserable of my life to date. It was because of other issues in my life at the time, not anything specifically tied to the college experience, but I absolutely hated that period of my life, and have almost no positive memories tied to my college education. I liked high school better than college.

So you’re not quite alone on that score, at least.

A few points to consider:

Most people aren’t having as much sex, or as much fun, as they would like you to think. Your life is probably not that much worse than theirs. Whatever you do, don’t think that life is like the movies. Life is mostly like the long stretches that come between the movie and the sequel, and get summed up by a phone call to a friend in the first three minutes of the sequel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy notwithstanding, there is no rulebook. Remember when you were little, and you thought your parents knew everything? Remember when you found out that they didn’t? Well, that goes for everybody. We mostly don’t know what the heck we’re doing. We’re just going along doing the best we can. I heard a story about Pope John Paul II. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a good illustration even if it isn’t. He said, “I will sometimes lie awake at night thinking about a difficult problem, and then I will think, ‘Oh! In the morning I will ask the Pope,’ and I feel better. Then I remember that I am the Pope.” At some point, you’re going to get to a place where you are the Pope, and there’s no one to ask. You may be there now. Don’t become paralyzed by worrying about what to do. Do what you think is best. Then if it’s wrong, fix it and do something else. But do SOMETHING.

Happiness comes and goes, and can be affected by your situation. Learn to be content. (Which does not, by the way, equal apathetic.) Contentment comes from within you, from your attitude. If you can manage contentment, it will be more valuable to you than $1 million a year for the rest of your life.

I’m actually quite grateful to you for posting this. In writing out my reply, I had a little moment of clarity, and realized that while I’ve had a year full of pretty hard knocks, and I can’t say that I’m exactly happy, I am quite content. For that, I’m very grateful.

This is what people have started calling the “quarter-life crisis.” Yup, it’s common enough that someone named it. Been there, done that myself even.

I think you’re giving a lot of people credit they don’t deserve. Very few people know what they want to be “when they grow up” even into one’s mid- to late-20s. (Maybe beyond that… I don’t know. I’m only 28. And don’t really know what I want to do for the rest of my life either.) An awful lot of people take a job they don’t really like just because it’s there. And many people stay in a job because they don’t know what else to do or are afraid to try.

And trust me, EVERYONE is scared shitless on their first day of work. I spent the first probably 3-4 months at this job not knowing what I was doing or how to do it. I still feel that way sometimes after 10 months. In fact, last week I found a big screw up because I didn’t realize I was supposed to do something that someone else thought I was doing. It looks like it might not be as bad as it could have been, but it could have been an almost $3 million screw up. Yeah. Major sucky week here last week. But employers/bosses know that new employees are going to have to learn the system, the company’s jargon, their way of doing things and so on. So you go in on the first day with all your acting skills put into appearing confident. And you take lots of notes when people teach you things. And you figure out who to ask questions about what. And suddenly it’s 6 months in and you’ve got most of it figured out.

The point is that you’re not alone. Not everyone enjoys school. Not everyone enjoys life. An awful lot of people “settle” when they get married, and that’s part of why there are so many divorces. A lot of my friends (engineers and computer scientists) don’t have hobbies beyond online gaming. And no friends beyond college friends that they play online games with.

Is that ok? Well, it is if it makes YOU happy. If not, they YOU have to decide to make a change. No one’s going to come along, wave a magic wand, and make you happy. And it’s always a work in progress. I probably look happy to a lot of people. And most of the time I am. But as I said above, I had a really awful week last week. But I kept a smile on my face and probably no one knew how bad I was feeling. Does anyone actually answer the question “How are you?” with “I’m really awful, thanks.” No. We all go through life faking it to one degree or another.

Try to figure out the things that will make you feel contented with life and then go do them. Don’t think about all the reasons why they’re too hard or you can’t. Just pick one thing and do it. Something you want to learn - find a class. Someplace you want to visit - buy tickets and see if a friend wants to go too. Do something. Sit down and really think about the things that, when you’re 90 and on your deathbed, you want to be able to say you’ve done. Then pick one and figure out how to do it. (Maybe don’t start with “get married and have kids.” Pick something doable like “learn photography.”)

And just remember that there are a zillion people who feel the same way, and an awful lot of us are here and willing to talk and listen.

Sounds like you don’t know that you’re still quite young. :wink:

Hogwash, I’ve been a professional programmer since 1977 - thirty years ago. I’m here to tell you that the concept of “hit the ground running” exists purely in interview BS and managers’ poor excuses for minds. Everyone with any intelligence at all is always afraid they are going to get “caught” for not having a clue.

If you don’t like programming, by all means don’t get into it. There are plenty of people out there who are bad programmers because they don’t like it and thus don’t care enough to try to get it right. Me, I’m quite a good programmer and I still spend 90% of my time trouble-shooting my own code, which I wrote yesterday or this morning and now can’t remember what the hell I was thinking (it generally turns out after two hours of research that there really was a good reason why I had done it that way). But don’t not go into programming because you’re afraid you’ll get caught not knowing what you’re doing. You’re gonna be a newbie, and no one will expect you to know what you’re doing. In fact, if you come in and act as if you know exactly what you’re doing, people will think you’re an asshole.

As for your social life, you have to figure out what you want, and do a cost/benefit analysis on your choices of activities. For example, in my case, I like to read, and I find it utterly effortless to do so. Any social activity offered or available to me has to beat that combination of enjoyment and no effort, and most fall short. But that’s MY choice, and most people don’t feel that way. So you have to look at all the things you could do, and in which cases you think the enjoyment or other pluses you derive from it would outweight the effort, expense, or other costs that it would require.

Once you have a reasonably short list in mind (and bearing in mind that not everything is going to turn out exactly as you expected - some things you may not like as much as you thought you would, so get out and no harm done - virtually nothing you do is writ in stone and can’t be undone, except for having a kid), the hard part comes. You actually have to DO them. No supermodel is going to knock at your door and tell you that you are the man she has dreamed of all her life; in fact no girl at all is going to do that. How can they? They’ve never seen or heard of you! You aren’t going to travel to far off places while you’re sitting on the couch watching the telly; you have to actually go there. The question is, do you want these things badly enough to put out the time, effort and expense to get them? If not, then that’s your choice; enjoy it. I do!

Last but not least, I agree with elbows; there is nothing on earth that makes you feel stronger, more powerful, or more content with yourself than helping another person. You’re a Brit, so maybe you watched Babylon 5. In the Episode And the Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place, a cleric tells a story his wife told him about why she’d rather help him clean his house than clean her own. She said “When I clean my place, I feel good because I have cleaned a house. But when I help you clean your place, I feel better because not only have I cleaned a house, but I’ve helped you.” It’s the most succinct summary of a reason why it’s often easier and more rewarding to do for others than to do for yourself that I’ve ever heard.

Stop listening to the clock tick. Maybe you’ll live to 100, or maybe you’ll be run over by a bus tomorrow; you have very little control over that. Just do with your time what you want to do with your time, and to hell with what are people are doing with theirs (and btw, they probably aren’t doing nearly as much of it as they’d have you believe). You have not missed any boats, and you won’t do so until you actually become physically incapable of doing something you wanted to do. Then you come to peace with missing that, and do something else instead. :slight_smile:

We’re all making it up as we go along, no matter hold old we get or how successful we are by any measure.

If you judge yourself by other people’s standards, you will always fail. You need to forget about who you think you are and be who you want to be.

hell i need to take this advice

First day, first week, better part of the first month that was all I did at my job. I didn’t complain and no one cared. It took me six months to find it and I felt lousy the entire time. Then I got comfortable, I started to fit into the machine and I started doing my part. I hardly do the same thing every day, but I continue to adapt and learn.

Sounds like it’s time for you to go on an adventure! Seriously, just pack up and go. That country you’ve always wanted to visit? Do it! You’re a smart, capable young guy. You seem to be in a rut right now, and the best way to break ruts is to try new things. If you dont know where to go, then get a globe and pick a random spot.

Hear hear. I was about to post saying pretty much the same thing. The one thing that saved me from the whole “is this all there is to life?” way of thinking was the decision to pack up my bags and backpack around the world for 9 months. It is something I have never regretted.

I appreciate you may not be in a position to do this tomorrow, but think about it. Start saving for it. The biggest part of it is actually deciding that you’re going to go - after that, it will all fall into place. Save, buy your ticket, go.

Not only will you expose yourself to a wealth of experiences you can’t even imagine now, you will learn about yourself and others, start to appreciate what it really is to be immersed in cultures vastly different to your own and - this last one cannot be underestimated - truly appreciate what you have and what your life is in comparison to other people.

I do not mean to sound patronising (and maybe I will but what the hell) - only when you have seen the slums of India, witnessed the still evident destruction of the 2004 tsunami and cried at the sight of children under the age of five roaming the streets of Vietnam at all hours of the day and night will you really appreciate that actually, your life is pretty damn good.

Yes, so that was patronising but this is something I feel very strongly about and it’s really quite difficult to express it without seeming somewhat patronising. I apologise for that.

If it’s any help, you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun too. :wink:

If I can add to my wife’s post above, if you follow her advice you’ll make some really interesting friends.

And you’ll also most likely get laid. But don’t tell her I said that.

Don’t get jealous over other people’s stories.

Nobody tells stories in real-time.

I have stories that would make you ashamed to be on the same earth as me, I’m sooooooooo cool in them. :rolleyes:
BUT, the two stories I tell you encompass maybe two weeks of a long-assed life. I’m not going to tell you, “and then I sat around, oh, for about a week, and did nothing. It was kinda boring,” because that’s a crap story for me to tell and you to listen to.
Happiness is in the journey, dude. Besides, allthose stories you’re worried about- they’re mostly in the PAST tense.

Go out. Have fun. Loosen up. Meet a hot girl and take her home.

Or don’t. Go out- stand by yourself. Play pool. throw darts. Fight some guy over nothing. Get tossed out of the bar on your ass.

Either way, those are both good stories.
Fun is something you make, not something that’s given to you. And it’s pretty easy to make.

Lighten up and enjoy. :smiley:

This is really good advice, if you’ve got the money (and as WriterChick says, if you don’t you can always start saving). That said…

What “everybody” knows that you don’t is that everybody is worrying about the same things you are. You’re judging everybody else’s lives by the stories they choose to tell, the photos they choose to put on their web sites, and in general, the face they choose to show to the world. And they’re not going to tell the entire world about their anxieties and insecurities, or the friendships that fell apart, or the experiences that turned out to be disappointments – why would they? They may be good at presenting themselves as people who have it all figured out, but that doesn’t mean they do. You pretty much said it yourself:

But to an outside observer, it is the same. Someone, somewhere, is probably looking at those pictures and wondering what’s wrong with them that their life isn’t like yours.

Oh yeah, and nobody is having as much sex as they pretend (except for people who are having more sex than they pretend, but most of them have a whole different set of life problems to contend with).

Oh, this is totally true. TOTALLY. I have accidentally become “successful” in a huge company in the last year, and I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. I get the results, eventually, but mostly I’m just faking everything and hoping it all works out. I’m twice the age of the OP and still I’m like a little boy lost.

Don’t sweat it, dude, many people feel the same way. Also, the “hitting the ground running”? Yeah, right. It always takes quite a while to work out what you’re meant to do, and even then it takes about 6 months until you know you’re doing it right. Just get on with stuff and try not to become self-absorbed, as this will be your worst handicap in the long run. Do stuff, do not think about doing stuff.

And, of course, travel.

ETA: that Pope story is perfect.

Check out how much cash you have, or can raise (don’t go mad on credit cards, please - it’s not like it was back when I did), take a shitty job while you are still staying with your folks - Tescos pay good money for nightshift- get a few grand together and just pack your sack and go! Don’t worry about your career - you’ll still have a CS degree when you come back, and the experience will take the edges off the relationship and career stuff you currently fret about. And you will get laid a few times on your travels, and when you get back an interview will seem like toffee compared to many of the experiences you will have had. Just do it.

Wow. I had some ideas for advice in mind, but had to comment when I read this. I just got in a bar fight this weekend (I’m a girl BTW) and have to say it was rather exciting. It does make for a good story, and my only regret is that nobody in my group of friends stayed on the sidelines to be able to give us the play-by-play, because all of us rushed in to defend a friend from a drunken idiot (and his equally idiotic friends) who started a fight over a misunderstanding (Drunken Idiot actually apologized afterwards when he realized it was a huge misunderstanding).

And I am sore as hell all over, and I busted some knuckles on a guy’s face, but man did I feel alive.

Anyhow, I wouldn’t recommend starting a fight over nothing, or you might find yourself getting pummeled by a girl. But maybe you’re into that sort of thing.

Now, onto the advice. I just caught the end of Shaun of the Dead the other day (I promise this will be relevent) and was struck by something. The first few times I’ve seen it, I just loved the gory, funny, zombie-ness of it all. But remember how Shaun’s girlfriend gets all pissed off that all Shaun wants to do is hang out at a pub? At the end, when they’re making plans for the day, her idea is to have a cup of tea, watch a bit of telly, maybe go out to the Winchester. You know, maybe after a zombie attack, a simple life doesn’t seem so bad.

Like someone else said, real life isn’t always exciting. You might have weeks and weeks of boring, uneventful days, with a few exciting trips or romantic flings or moments of genius where you beat the entire bar at a pool tournament sprinkled in. Be grateful for all of it.

Most nights when I go out, my friends and I either sit at someone’s house or go to one of a few bars that we frequent, and have a few beers and talk. That might be boring by some people’s standards. But it means that I have several good friends- not a lot, but some- who may not be medieval scholars or witty intellectuals, and maybe they’re a little silly, but they’re my friends, and we’re loyal to each other. The kind of friends that, when it comes down to it, and some drunk guys start pounding on you, they don’t think of their own safety but rush in and grab the biggest guy there. I’ll take a friend like that, who thinks Saladin is an exotic dish, over an esteemed medievalist who can debate the true motivations of the Crusades but will stand there screaming like a little girl if I get accosted by an asshole, any day.

And I’ll save my money to see more of the world someday, so I can go joyfully make an ass of myself in another country again.

“Excuse me, where’s the entrance to the Underground?”

“See over there, where those people are going down the escalator?”

“Yeah, right underneath the sign that says, ‘Underground.’ Thanks very much.” :smack:

So, dream your dreams, make plans to visit France or jump out of an airplane, but in the meantime, cultivate your relationships. You don’t need a whole lot of friends, just a few good ones will do. I only have maybe a dozen people I consider true friends (of the rush-to-your-defense variety) and a few dozen more acquaintances, and that’s all I need.

And one last word of advice- do what you love. If you discover that programming isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to try your hand at photojournalism. Don’t let the lure of money keep you in a field to which you’re not well-suited. I’m proably smart enough to be a stock broker or something, but I want to do something that interests me, even if getting a PhD in medieval European history isn’t exactly a license to print money.

You’ll figure it out. Just don’t let fear keep you from happiness. Someday, that time you asked a hot guy for his number, only to find out that he has a wife, who has the exact same taste in accesories as you so he has to introduce you, will be a very funny story.

Hogwash, at least you had those one night stands and got to boink that girlfriend. My rotten luck that the girl I was with for 19 months was raised Catholic. She wanted to, but she didn’t want to. Ugh. And the second girl - we never got far enough in the relationship. So as far as lack of nookie goes, you’re not alone.

In all fairness, I suppose I’ve got the job satisfaction you lack. I’m in grad school, on my way (I’m hoping) to the career I’ve wanted since elementary school.

But if you’re looking for happiness from life in general, you’re not going to find it by wondering where it is. You find happiness in life by being happy about the things you do, and I don’t just mean a career. Physics makes me happy, but so does surfing the internet, reading books, dancing, playing video games, and a bunch of other things. Happiness is whatever you make it out to be. If you feel good doing something (and it doesn’t break any laws or hurt other people) then that’s all you need.

Missed the edit window-

that fight story sounds like, “oooh, look how exciting MY life is” but I was just using it to illustrate the importance of a few good friends. My life for a few weeks before and in the days since has been a lot of reading about the holy wars of the three Abrahamic faiths- not so exciting. But look what happens when you go out for a few beers sometimes. Don’t underestimate your friendly neighborhood pub.

Being your age, I don’t have any real advice to share, but just wanted to say… I hear ya, man. Sorry that life ain’t as full as you’d like it to be. If it’s of any comfort, realize that things could be worse. I haven’t had any of the things you described and I know people who’re even worse off than either of us. So, though it might not always feel like it, you do have a few things to be happy for. Maybe you just don’t appreciate them enough :slight_smile:

Why are you feeling disconnected? You’ve still got family and friends, right, and there are still plenty of opportunities to make more?

You’ve got your whole life ahead of ya, man. Sure, you might die suddenly and inconsequentially, or you might lead the longest, most underwhelming, pointless life known to man… but then again, you might not. Even if what you’re doing right now isn’t leading you where you want to be, you still have many, many years left to try different things.

In any case, I do hope you keep looking for whatever it is you’re looking for. And part of the fun is figuring out what that “whatever” is. And if you feel like you just can’t, keep in mind that sometimes it comes and finds you anyway…

Plenty of people. Lots and lots. Don’t start believing fallacies to make yourself feel worth.

I’m sure they knew your friends couldn’t be there. And that they were proud that you got your degree.

Again, don’t keep telling yourself that everybody is having a better time of life than you because it just isn’t true. You’re alive and healthy, you have food and shelter. Already you’re better off than millions of people.

They’re not. Again, a fallacy.

So go to your college’s employment counsellor. Go read Wischraft by Barbara Sher.

Just about nobody knows what to do in a brand new job. Everybody needs to be trained until they know their way around. Every job is a new set of things to learn - the only thing you need is the ability and willngness to learn. Don’t be thinkng you’re expected to be an expert when you start - you are not at all. In fact, if you don’t ask questions and if you pretend to know it all, that will mean trouble to people.

Well, most people smile when someone aims a camera at them and says ‘smile’. And who’s going to post a photo of everybody frowning?

Quit comparing yourself with others. That is probably the number one key to happiness. It doesn’t matter what everybody else is doing, has done, or will do. Your life is about you.

People have given you excellent suggestions - act on them.