*This is a personal essay written exactly one year ago today. I thought I'd share the reminder with everyone else.
It isn’t easy deciding what you want to do with your life, and it’s far more difficult to feel satisfied with what little you’ve had time to achieve.
At the seemingly ancient age of 22, I often find myself feeling dejected about the possibilities -- err, impossibilities -- of my future. I am part of a generation cultivated in a period of constant communication: a time where emails, status updates, tweets, Instagram photos and even Snapchats generate the perception that everyone else is fulfilled, and I am not.
As we grow up, we tend to create deadlines for ourselves, and if we don’t meet them on time, well, we’ve failed. I always assumed I would move into my own apartment right out of college after landing a good job with a decent salary, be well into a significant relationship and be glowingly satisfied with the progress of my life in general. The fact that I don’t have any of these things is something that weighs down on me greatly.
I find it difficult to focus on the positive things in my life like the journalism internship I scored right out of college, the hundreds of articles I’ve published with an award-winning online publication and the blossoming relationship with a sweet someone I met on the train commute to the city.
Instead, I obsess over the novel I never finished, how I’m too old to ever be a prodigy, how I’m so broke I can’t even pay my $40 parking ticket, the climbing balance of my credit card, how I’ve never had a serious relationship and of course, how my life has completely derailed.
I wake up feeling anxious because I believe I am failing hard in comparison to my seemingly successful peers. While I admit I am a person who is easily stressed, I don’t sense I’m alone in feeling this way. If I’m correct on that, the painfully ironic fact I can almost guarantee you is this: All the people you hold in such high esteem feel the same way you do.
It isn’t difficult to explain this sense of inferiority. I’m confident in my assumption that I'm not alone in my social media masochism, and that others, too, have a select few people they occasionally check in with on social media, mainly because they perceive the lives of these people to be superior.
On a daily basis, we are bombarded with the chronicling of others’ lives. It’s easy to fall into the negative and forget that while people may post a hundred photos of their new baby, or tweet every day about how great their career is going, they don’t always document the detriments of life.
People aren’t likely to post a check-in when they stay at home for a binge-watching session of "Orange is the New Black" with only a bottle of wine for company, nor are they likely to tweet about how deep they are in credit debt. It’s almost as if we have two, separate identities: reality and sugarcoated social media.
There are thousands of articles, websites and even published books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, all of which instruct you on how to develop and improve your social media presence.
Essentially, they educate on how to dupe others into thinking you’ve got it made. It’s even generated an entire new sector of business and marketing, and it’s easy to see why.
After perusing the profile of yet another flourishing Facebook friend of mine, I decided to try a little experiment. First, I would objectively observe my own Facebook profile, measuring the image I was portraying to the reality of my own life, as well as my degree of fulfillment in that reality.
Secondly, I rated several profiles of my contemporaries, including my hypothesis of their happiness and success. Then, without showing them my results, I asked them to rate the same of themselves.
What I discovered was (surprise!) not everyone is gushing rainbows. While there were some outliers like those jerks who have achieved an annoyingly and suspiciously high degree of success, most reported feeling “inadequate.”
A whopping 40 percent of 50 participants between the ages of 20 and 30 reported feeling only “moderately satisfied” with their personal lives, and only 20 percent reported feeling “very satisfied” with their professional lives.
When asked if they compare “[their] success to the perceived success of others,” 29.4 percent replied, “Yes, all the time,” and 50 percent replied, "Sometimes.” Sixty-five percent reported they “get the feeling from social media that others are doing far better than [they] are.”
When asked if they ever “feel lost in the direction of [their] lives,” 24 percent replied, “I’m not positive this is what I want do with my life”; 29 percent replied, “I know what I want to do, but I just can’t seem to get there”; 15 percent replied, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
You could claim that perhaps my friends, for whatever reason, are just more prone to self-deprecation. And of course, my study in no way met the standards of a legitimate statistical survey. Still, I encourage you to evaluate your own online presence and see if your social self matches your reality.
I’m not going to pretend I have the secret to feeling fulfilled or to achieving happiness, but I can tell you that you’re never going be satisfied if you don’t stop comparing yourself to others.
Things happen on a different timeline for everyone. Just because your best friend is three years down the road with the love of her life and you spend your Saturday nights with your cat and a pot of Kraft macaroni to yourself, doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
Put down the fork, let the cat get back to licking itself and enjoy your life for what it is. Whether you’re 16 or 60, your life isn’t even close to over so long as you remember to focus on and look forward to the positives.
Photo Courtesy: Tumblr