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.
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?