Accepting my life will never be perfect

Guest post by Jackie

By: Casey FleserCC BY 2.0
It was a small revelation when I started reading about those studies that show that looking at Facebook makes you more depressed. When people post photos of themselves dressed up at formal events, laughing with friends, and at the tops of gorgeous mountains; post status updates about their awesome fiance or their grad school acceptance letters; and generally just sound SO HAPPY WITH EVERYTHING, it can make my own messy life seem less than ideal.

The same goes today for personal blogs, Pinterest, and even (sometimes) reading about people’s lovely homes, weddings, and families here on the Offbeat Empire.

Of course, what we see on a lot of those sites is what I would call a good-parts summary. People want to showcase the best of themselves, and so do I. I’m guilty of it too when I brag about my accomplishments but not my mistakes in my statuses, or untag the most unflattering pictures my friends have posted of me.

I remember the moment I realized that everyone can feel like they don’t measure up…

I was in college and staying with my aunt and uncle on spring break. My aunt, a woman I have always admired, was flipping through a catalog for women’s fitness clothing. This particular catalog includes little blurbs about their “real-woman” models — things like “Jessica is an expert snowboarder and marine biologist who can speak three languages and has written a novel!” My aunt confessed to me how inadequate reading things like that makes her feel, which brought me up short. Here was a woman with a killer job working for a high-ranking US senator, while raising my two awesome teenage cousins and still finding the time to study yoga, read books, and stay up-to-date on the coolest new music (seriously, she’s ahead of my own hipster tastes on that one). I realized that if she felt that way, of course it’s normal for anyone to feel that way — and maybe my own life looks pretty cool to other people, too.

I need a little dose of perspective like that every now and then. Right now, at age 24, I’m in what feels like a very transitional period of my life. I got my master’s degree in early spring last year, and as I write this, I am transitioning from a job that felt wrong to a job that I hope lives up to my expectations. I am living in a space with five other people that is not a dorm, but does not feel like my own yet. And I’ve noticed my own internal aspirational monologue change. No longer does it say, “when I graduate college…” or “when I’m done with grad school…” Now it’s “when I have my own place…” or “when my life is all put together…” Whatever that means.

I’m also wondering when I’ll finally feel like a Real Adult. It was only recently that I realized I can do basically what I want, as long as I can afford to put a roof over my head and eat, and as long as those things line up with my own values. Is that it? Does being a Real Adult mean you can eat ice cream whenever you want, but you don’t necessarily because it won’t make you feel good afterwards (or you do because it actually does make you happy)?

I always figured when I was a Real Adult I’d get up early to go to the gym and exercise before work, I’d eat vegetables like kale all the time, I’d stop wearing my college sweatshirts outside the house. Now I’m trying my best to pick apart those assumptions and really think about if they’re things I think I should be doing, or if they’re things I actually want to do. It’s an ongoing process, just like life (as I’m starting to realize).

So here’s what I think I’ve learned. We are always going to find things about ourselves that we would like to change, and things that we envy in other people. Why else do New Year’s resolutions still resonate, and with people of all ages? So, I will keep trying to remind myself that everyone is doing the best they can, and so will I.

I don’t have to change everything at once. Gradually I will focus more on the things that make me happy, and cull the things that don’t, even if I thought they would when I was planning my future. I realize that even if I reach some of the goals I am setting out for myself, new ones will pop up and some of the old ones will become less important. And, finally, I will also appreciate those things in my life that are already pretty awesome, since otherwise, what’s the point?

Comments on Accepting my life will never be perfect

  1. :hugs:

    I went through a similar thing last year, that resulted in a pretty bad depression. For whatever reason, I kept comparing myself against everyone else’s accomplishments. It was like a mini mid-life crisis around my birthday.

    Luckily, my hubby/best friend was able to help me get past it. He made me realize that there’s awesome things about myself too (that’s pretty unique). To reinforce that idea, I wrote it all down in a blog journal (the good and the bad). To be honest, that really helped put things into perspective.

    If it helps anyone, the post is here:

    So please know that you’re definitely not the only one. Also, remember that you’re pretty awesome in your own way too. Just keep doing what you love and what makes you unique.

    Like the knitting and robotics you mentioned in the bio, sounds pretty awesome!!! Then a mechatronics engineer to boot? You go girl. =)

    • Aww, thank you!

      It’s great to hear a different perspective on the issue. And also really cool and brave of you to lay it all out there–good parts and bad. I can absolutely empathize with the family drama, random medical problems cropping up, and feeling like I just haven’t done much with my life. And that those things just aren’t talked about much, so it’s easy to start feeling like you’re alone. Luckily I have a couple friends I can talk to about that kind of thing, who help me put it in perspective or just share their own parallel experiences, and it always helps. I’m glad you have a great support network too!

      (Btw, moving out of state on your own? Paying for your whole wedding yourself? Totally badass!)

  2. Nice post! Some of us are raised in such a linear fashion, making our way through grades then college etc. step by step, and when we get out, it is kind of confusing to just be living life. It is a much messier, circular, tangential, experimental process than what was laid out in school. You are so right that we’ll always be having new aspirations–that’s good, it means we’re still interested in growing and learning. We’ll be so much happier if we can shed that feeling that life doesn’t start until we have everything nailed down. Everything will never be nailed down. (Yay!) πŸ™‚

  3. I am going through a very similar experience right now. I turned 23 last month, graduated in August with two BAs, and currently working at a job I love, so some of those things are falling into place, but at the same time, I am in that transition of moving out on my own and being a “Real Adult.” I’m constantly caught in this “did I do/am I doing the right thing.” I think it helped that I had the realization that “Real Adults” aren’t a real thing pretty early in college, but I’m still struggling with a lot of things, mostly due to family issues. You do you, girl, and know there are many more of us out here, just trying to make it work! :hug:

  4. You must know cool people, all that’s on my facebook is people whinging about the jobs they hate, how it’s too hot, or too cold, or just making gramatical errors…

    • Oh, I’ve seen people like that on my feed for sure, but Facebook seems to have figured out I don’t click on those stories much. Someone’s wedding pictures or grad school acceptance letter are more likely to stick in my memory too.

      I wonder if it also has to do with what’s popular in sub-networks–some friend groups never post anything bad because no one else does, so they want to seem like they have it together too. Or they have complain-a-thons to see who has it the worst (that was definitely popular in college when bragging about how little sleep you got).

  5. I really enjoyed this piece. You have so much perspective for your age, I didn’t get most of this things until I was in my thirties.

    When I look at my life, frequently it seems chaotic, sometimes even disastrous. But other people, in contrast to my internal perception, frequently say things that *sound* like they might be envying my messy-ass life. Sometimes I want to tell them, “Look I’ve been wearing the same socks for 5 days, you don’t know what you are talking about.” But instead I try, when I can, to be grateful for everything I have. I just thought I would feel a little more together at some point, but I’m don’t think that day is coming, ever.

  6. Hang in there! You are in a transitional period. And grad school often results in a feeling of “arrested development”. I’m only 2 years older than you, but I was in a very similar situation at 24. I’m now on the other side of roommates, crappy job, and feeling like my life looks like nothing I thought it would, etc. While I’m not rolling in any dough or anything what culture tells us “a real adult” looks like, I’m content. Which is really the best.

    All of this is to say that you aren’t alone. People are currently going through the same transitional period or remember what it was like. And while your life is certainly not ever going to be perfect, you can find that contentment bubble. We are rooting for you!

  7. I frequently have both Ice Cream For Dinner Because I Am An Adult Damnit nights, and Fancy Healthy Home-Cooked Meal Because I Am An Adult Damnit nights. For some reason either makes me feel like a grownup.

    • This is so my husband and I as well. “Look at me! I used my kitchen appliances to cook an actual dish for dinner, with sides and everything! I’m a fucking adult!” Then the next night “Look at me! I’m eating chicken nuggets and sushi for dinner because that’s what I picked up on my way home! I’m a fucking adult!”

      • YES. Both of you have it spot on! At my house we go back and forth between Trader Joe’s frozen stuff/mac and cheese, and a fancy new recipe using our farm share veggies. Oh, and beer. Turns out, you get to drink beer as a grownup, and it doesn’t have to come from a can.

        • Haha, that was one of the things I realized was different about being an “Adult” vs being in college. In college people drink beer on weekend party nights to get trashed. As an adult, I have a glass of wine or bottle of beer with dinner in the middle of the week to unwind. I enjoy the later much more.

  8. Great post–I totally agree. It’s easy to think that everyone else’s life looks perfect from the outside. From talking with friends whose situations I’ve considered to be closer to “perfect,” though, I’ve found that they’re just as unhappy as anyone else.

    After a couple of unsatisfying jobs post-earning my master’s degree, I had a major depressive period a few months ago that led to some major soul-searching. Since then, I’ve gained a whole new perspective on things–for a while, I had wished I had the lives of my friends that I deemed “successful,” only, since then, I have redefined what it is to be successful or happy or perfect, or whatever.

    Now I am realizing how many wonderful skills I have and can use–I’m starting my own arts business instead of hoping someone else will hire me for a job I’ve decided I don’t really want after all. I’m unbelievably blessed to have a wonderful family and an amazing husband.

    Rather than constantly focusing on where we were struggling, I have a new perspective on how wonderful things are. Sure, my husband and I live with my parents and it’s cramped, but hey, at least we have somewhere to live–with great people, too!

    Maybe life isn’t how I had defined “perfect” in the past, but I think life is way better now than that “perfect” life would have been, anyway.

  9. I think a lot of us have moments of readjusting our perspective (and I think it’s totally healthy and awesome). My life has changed a lot over the years, including what I expect out of it. I think it’s important to keep in mind that life is a lot different than it used to be 20 or 30 years ago too. Today, people are more likely to switch jobs and careers. It may take longer to finish school or training because paying for it has become more expensive and there is often no guarantee of your dream job out of the gate. We also have so many different options for lifestyles.

    I still get caught by feeling like an underachiever every so often, astounded by people who seem to have it way more together than I do. But then I remember what I’ve been doing and I’m pretty okay with that since I try to live to minimize regrets.

    For me, I just want to be happy with the life I am living. If I am not happy, then I need to do something. There is no “perfect” as you say. I remind my husband constantly (as he struggles with his own transition) that you should do what you love and find a way to be happy each day overall. We all have bad days and that’s okay too. That means making a life that’s right for you at that moment. It will change. It’s good to have things to work for and strive for, and it’s good to cut yourself some slack too. πŸ™‚ So I try to eat better, keep my house cleaner, and have better relationships with friends and family while I continue to sort myself out.

  10. ” Now I’m trying my best to pick apart those assumptions and really think about if they’re things I think I should be doing, or if they’re things I actually want to do. ”

    This has been the hardest thing for me to do while becoming an adult, too.

  11. I know this feeling so well. I’m 23, at home and I’m struggling to finish college. Meanwhile, my sister is 21, out of the house with a fiance and a baby. I feel so awkward and like a failure because I’m still at home and still trying to finish college. On top of that, I’m trying to find adequate mental health care to deal with my depression. I still have a glimmer of hope that everything will be okay and that I’m not failing as an adult.

    • seeking treatment for depression and finishing a college degree sounds pretty grown up to me.

      Never compare yourself to your sister, sisters have different priorities to us, especially little sisters. Trust me I know this. πŸ™‚

      *personally* I’d rather have a college degree at 24-25 than a baby at 21, and when you think about it, I bet you would too. Like I said, different priorities πŸ™‚

      Hang in there, it *does* get better.

      • Ha, as soon as I read “21, out of the house with a fiance and a baby” I thought to myself, omg I wonder if she hates how stuck she is in that position. Of course, that is probably exactly what she wants, but I too would rather be pursuing other roads.

        I am a little sister, and married with a house and well-paying job and everything, and I think my sister is jealous of me sometimes because she doesn’t make much money, has had some bad heartbreaks, and feels transitional when she wants to settle more. But she doesn’t realize how jealous I am of her! She is pursuing her interests whole-heartedly, she is making a difference in the world by teaching, she is really working towards what she wants! Whereas I kind of feel stuck now, relying on my well-paying but not exciting job, without much time or evergy left to remember how excited I used to be about pursing my other interests.

        I think we both need to realize that we can’t compare ourselves to each other, and try to focus on what we want, not what the other has.

        Finally, pretty much everyone feels like they fail as an adult. Because being an adult is not a real thing. The best thing we can do is try to make the most of whatever current situation we’re in, and try to figure out where we want to go and how. (The last part if the hardest, imo, but not impossible.) Anyway, it does get better. πŸ™‚

    • You are absolutely not failing! You do what’s right for you. And I agree with Foxie above; taking care of yourself and getting treatment is a very adult thing to do. Hang in there!

  12. Most of my friends (real-life and online) on FB bitch and moan about how awful their lives are – I guess that’s why seeing something good posted makes me happy.

    Anyway, tell you a secret – you’ll never feel like a “Grown Up”. Not the way we THINK grown ups are supposed to feel. Think of it this way – we’re right in the middle of everything going on in our lives. We’re constantly changing and evolving, but it’s so subtle that we don’t notice it – not until one day a friend from ten years back comes in our lives and we talk with them and they say “Holy fuck, you’re matured so much since such-and-such time!” Even though WE feel the same way we did from back then. Hey, it happened whether you think it did or not!

    I speak from experience – I’m 35 and still feel like I haven’t reached beyond 17, but I have family that say I’m a great improvement over when I really was that age.

    Honest. You’re doing fine. Balance responsibility and remaining authentic for yourself, and define your own adulthood.

  13. I relate to this so hard. Compared to some of my friends, I’m wildly successful, but of course I can’t help but stare at those who are doing so much “better.” I think a lot of it has to do with the urge to reinvent ourselves…I know, at least for me, it’s always felt like a big change is right around the corner. When I was in high school it was, “oh, but when I get to college…” and in college it was “oh, but when I have a job…” and after I graduated it was “oh, but when I have my own place…” and now I have a job and a place and weirdly enough, nothing has magically changed. Obviously, we can always try to improve our lives, but I think it’s also important to recognize that to a certain extent we are who we are and it’s okay to learn to love and accept that.

  14. It seems like you can’t win with facebook (or some people) if you post happy stuff people will feel sad because you are showing them stuff they don’t have and if you post about how sad you are they will say you are whining and tell you it could be worse. I just try to be honest about how I’m feeling and most of the time I’m pretty ok – but when my entire world crashes down around me I reserve the right to say yeah I am not having the best week, but I generally choose not to air the entire contents of my dirty laundry in public at those times; usually I will try my best to pick one thing that made me at least a little bit happy amongst the chaos to put things in perspective. I think you made a lot of good points here too! Another thing to remember is that whenever you see someone with what you think is an amazing life, you probably aren’t seeing any of the negative aspects or pain they are facing. I think that’s really important to keep in mind. I just think of all of the stuff I keep to myself, which can be a lot, and then think wow all of the amazing well put together people out there could have just as much if not more than me that they keep to themselves too – none of us really know what the other is going through unless we really really know the other person so it’s important not to glamorize another person’s life too much.

  15. It’s like you took the words right out of my mouth! Especially the part about suddenly realizing that the only rules in your life now are the ones you set for yourself – its a really funny thought to have.
    I also love the part about thinking how people probably envy parts of your own life – I never thought about it that way and it puts things into perspective!


  16. I think the hardest part of “becoming an adult” is figuring out what decisions to prioritize. Do you even want the same things as your friends, your parents, your siblings, your neighbors? Do you want a big house, or do you want to travel a ton? Do you want to get you college degree, or would you be happier in a trade? At this stage in my life, my husband and I are trying to conceive, and I find myself jealously Facebook stalking several of my high school friends who’ve already cranked out three or four kids. But I have to remind myself that, as happy as they are, I don’t even want their lives! I’m sure she would tell me not to feel sorry for her having put off a career to have kids, so maybe I shouldn’t feel sorry for me putting off kids to have a career. But when “all your friends are doing it (going to college/having kids/getting married/traveling)” it feels like you should be jealous of them if you aren’t. But are you even jealous? This has been really hard for me to pick apart.

  17. I’ll be 28 at the end of this year and have come slowly to the realisation that I will never feel like a “real” grown up. All that being a grown up is, to me anyway, is knowing that when the shit hits the fan, your the one who has to clean it up. You don’t even have to be happy about it.

  18. When I had a Facebook I would feel this way all the time (especially with traveling- being a foreign language major who had never actually been outside the US due to financial restraints, it was very painful to read about people taking “spontaneous” trips to Paris and Berlin :/ ). But getting rid of it completely helped. I look at my life and think “damnnn” sometimes because I’m comparing it against what I had 2, 3, 6, years ago. Getting rid of Facebook entirely made it so easy to not worry about what not/or to post, or who to block, etc. If people want you in their life, emailing/calling/snail mail is an option.

    As for the grown-up thing, that will probably take time for me too. I still wonder if I am a grown-up but at 21 that is a hard thing to be… but recently I had to buy dishwashing rubber gloves and for some reason that made me really feel like a grown-up haha.

  19. I tell my brothers all the time (who are in their mid to late-20’s) that the mid to late 20’s are the worst. You don’t know what/where your career is going, where to live, (for some of us who to love), how to transition from a crappy post college existence into a more “adult” life.

    Turning 30 was the best thing that ever happened to me. All the turmoil was behind me, and a much clearer picture for my life started taking shape.

    Not to say that my 30’s are full of fun and wonder, but lots of the details are more in line.

    The key (in my opinion), is to not compare yourself to ANYONE. Playing the keeping up with the Jones’ is a dangerous game. It can prevent a person from obtaining the job that is right for them (settling for money over love of job), buying into a living situation that is too much money (the “I have XXX square feet at my place game), or goodness gracious the “I have to get married before I turn 30 so I will settle for this guy” (that leads to divorce just years later). Your best bet is to focus on what YOU want, and you will make headway in your own time.

    Going through the post college 1/4 life crisis is never fun…and doing it with the happy shinny people on social networking sites is ROUGH. I wish you the best!

  20. I think the moment that I fully embraced my adulthood was the one where I realized that my life is really mine. Instead of looking at it like a collection of paths that I had the option to take, I started looking at it as a realm of possibilities where the only set-backs are my cleverness and resources. Yeah, I’m beholden to some responsibilities that I’ve chosen to take on (daughter’s well being, having a roof over my head, food to eat, etc) and that most moments won’t be filled with stuff I want to do to acquire the resources for those things. I felt much freer after that revelation.

  21. i’m 32, married, have a baby, a BA, and a masters degree. i’m still waiting to feel like an adult! seriously! lol maybe when i return to the work forced and if i ever have my own classroom… eh probably not! and i’m cool with that

    a few months ago i felt the most adult i’ve ever felt and that was when i realized that not only did all of my decisions affect my daughter from now on but that i also don’t HAVE TO justify those decisions to anyone. no one. (except my hubby maybe heh i guess he’s important in this!)

  22. I’m still trying to learn this lesson! I’m 38 and definitely have days when I feel more like a bewildered teen. The green eyed monster comes out when I hear from my colleagues about fancy holidays and spending sprees as I’m still clearing the debts from my divorce. I don’t know what lies ahead but I do know I’m lucky to be sharing it with a man who is as daft as I am πŸ™‚ The realisation that other people aren’t always as assured and got-it-together as they seem is a powerful one.

  23. Jackie, your story really resonates. I’m 41, and my life looks nothing like what I imagined it would. At 41, my mom was married, had a secure job, a mortgage, and a pension – I have none of these things. She was the epitomy of “stable adult,” at least from my perspective, but she was never very happy. She had health problems, a rocky marriage, and she was stuck in a government job because my dad had trouble keeping work. My life is less “stable” than hers, but I have so many more choices and freedom than she ever did.

    My point is, what looks like the American Dream usually has just as much shit under the surface (or more) as our own lives. πŸ™‚

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