“Must be nice…”
These three seemingly innocuous words can get me into so much trouble.
Sometimes I fantasize about life before the dawn of social media. I think about how we all used to live our lives, save for a famous few, unaware of how others lived, what vacations they took, where their kids got into college, their exhaustive rotation of hobbies, and where they donate their money.
Your close friends and family used to be the only “Joneses” you had to keep up with. Remember that?
Maybe this isn’t a problem for you. Me? I fall into what has been dubbed by many as the “comparison trap,” and like a resilient mouse, I find myself stuck inside from time to time. Not quite dead, but certainly not living my best life.
I know I am caught in the trap when a picture or comment posted by someone I truly love sends my blood boiling and my eyes seeing green. How many vacations do they take? Does she even work? Who needs three homes?
MUST BE NICE.
“ to have a job.”
“to love your job”
“ to have outdoor space”
"to have a baby"
"to not have kids"
“ to be recognized for (fill in the blank)”
“to have a driveway” (this is a real midwinter nyc lament)
These statements speak so much more about me than they do the intended subject. My therapist often reminds me that we only react negatively to other people’s success or good news in life when we are conflicted or unhappy with our own.
A good friend reminds me that we all should just “keep our eyes on our own paper.” I surround myself with people who remind me what is true because in addition to ‘agitated depression,’ I suffer from acute selective amnesia.
I love the idea of keeping my eyes on my paper. It harkens back to a time in elementary school when we were warned not to cheat. Looking at someone else’s paper was cheating and everyone knew it. It was risky to attempt and yet so tempting! But how could we be sure our neighbor to the left or right had written the correct answers? Quizzes and tests in elementary school are not subjective. You either knew the capital of Kansas or you didn’t. (Topeka.)
Unlike elementary school, life in adulthood presents limitless options for how a life can look and what could be considered “right.” Amy Poehler speaks about this winsomely in her book ‘Yes please,' particularly in regard to women and the many ways women can elect to work- or not, have children- or not, and if they do, how to parent them - or not!
“That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.”- Amy Poehler
Looking at someone else’s life to define my own doesn’t serve me at all, and often diminishes theirs. There are countless factors that have led me to where I sit today: limitations, privileges, circumstances, choices, accidents, and providential promises. Given this mysterious alchemy of ingredients, no two paths could ever be the same, so why even bother comparing?
Admitting I look at other’s people paper when I feel threatened or uncertain about my own is one thing. I need to be humble enough to admit that this a large and relative scale, so surely some people look at mine with similar feelings. I’ve even had people say things to me about my “glamorous” life in New York and I wonder if my social media game is way off because that feels like some fake news right there. A little self-examination on both sides would behoove us all.
This restlessness and comparison trap existed long before the advent of social media, but I am certain it has exacerbated the problem and created dissent where there was peace, noise where was silence, and confusion where there was clarity. Yet I consume it and contribute to it anyway.
I don’t want to chuck it all away (well maybe FB), but I do want to be a more mindful user. I love how Instagram is a platform that helps people connect around shared interests. I host a true crime trivia show with its own Instagram account, and through it, I have found hundreds of other people who love discussing murder as much as I do. This feels much safer than connecting with crime lovers in real life, am I right?
But I hate how Instagram can take us out of a moment and into modern existential crisis, or maybe that’s just me?
I have never been sure what life I want and this has always been my problem. I simply didn’t have so many choices before. I've always had a compelling pull to a large and exciting life that includes meaningful work (is any work without meaning?). I was happy to plod along discerning what this meant for me and my family. Then social media burst on to the scene and I was now able to witness in real time see exactly what everyone’s path looked like, and suddenly, doubt and despair replaced curiosity and contentment.
I am praying for more grace and more wisdom this year. If I must get older, I would like some of both to accompany my increasingly gray roots, mom-bod, and 10 pm bedtime.
With more grace, I can be genuinely happy about the amazing things – large and small- that I see friends, acquaintances, influencers, colleagues, and family members doing and enjoying. With more wisdom I can recognize that what is right and true for them, isn’t necessarily so for me.
Ah yes, I believe this is what they call serenity.