Fact: Everyone else’s life looks cooler than yours.
Did you just get a promotion at your accounting firm? Congratulations! Your former classmate just got bumped up to CEO of a high-profile tech company that makes life-saving microchip nanobots.
Also, that dorky kid whom you all made fun of in high school is now happily married with a newborn on the way and wedding pictures that make you want to drown your face in your toilet bowl. Meanwhile you are blasting Hunter Hayes’ “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” on repeat and devouring a tub of cookie dough ice cream like your life depends on it.
If you’re me, you’re also watching that wonderful 1999 movie “Never Been Kissed” featuring 25-year old journalist Josie Gellar (played by Drew Barrymore opposite the extremely dreamy Michael Vartan) and wondering vaguely to yourself if you’ll feel quite so warmly about this movie when you’ve gotten beyond 25 and are, alas, still very much a chronically romance-challenged Josie Grossie.
Fact: You are 99.9% convinced everyone else’s life IS cooler than yours.
Fortunately, this “fact” confirms one thing for you: you’re certainly not alone in this feeling. While you’re busy hovering jealously over your friend’s newly published YA novel, somebody else is contemplating whether or not to Like your recent post about your new blog. Maybe they do decide to Like it, and you would never know the full 10 minutes of internal struggle that went into that seemingly simple choice.
Would it seem creepy to Like this, considering I haven’t actually spoken to them in four years? your brain asks in torment. Do I want to endorse their coolness? Would doing so make me feel worse about myself in comparison?
The wonderful Nancy from Gotta Get Baked, for whom I have immense respect and love (she is one amazing cookie), called my attention not too long ago to an article on this very topic. It’s called “Another Blogger’s Success is Not Your Failure” and the post hits on lots of the too-close-to-home topics that have been bugging me since way before I even started blogging. In it, Katie sums up one problem that resonates in particular:
“It’s easy to take a peer’s success personally. You spend a million ‘effin hours putting together a post, and then your fellow blogger gets a million comments and views just by sharing an Instagram picture? I’m sorry, my weekends aren’t near interesting enough to have such lovely Instagram photos.”
I can’t count the number of times this exact negative thought has run through my warped, disappointed, discouraged mind. And it’s not just blogging: when it comes to sharing our life through platforms such as social media, a deeply self-interested part of myself is saying, “Look at me! I’m interesting, too!” And when the cry for attention fails to capture the approbation of your peers, and you see that an obscure acquaintance’s newest photo of her nail polish has 1,078 likes in 2 hours, you’re going to wonder when you missed the Koolaid train.
That’s the reality of self-perception, and when at every turn unhelpful self-help articles pepper you with titles such as “4 Ways to Be Happy Right Now” and “14 Things Every Successful Person Has in Common” (real titles), it’s hard not to roll your eyes and desperately click on the link at the same time.
On the bright side, I do think that being aware is our strongest weapon against this type of pervasive, debilitating modern tendency toward self-deprecation. The internet has responded magnificently to the image of the perfectly assembled yogi with articles such as this excellent one. The title says it all: “12 Habits of Healthy, Happy People Who Don’t Give a Shit About Your Inner Peace.” It reminds us of a simple truth for achieving happiness on your own terms. This writer sums it up in six succinct, beautiful words:
“Do whatever the fuck you want.”
Sure, things are more complicated than that. Oftentimes we can’t do whatever the f* we want, because let’s be honest: if we all abided by this adage, we’d be wallowing around in giant tubs of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream from dawn to dusk and spending the remaining hours of the day sleeping on a bed of Oreo-stuffed brownies. At least, that’s what I’d do. And I’m not sure a society can run on ice cream and brownies alone.
At the same time, I totally buy her insistence that we do what we want. By focusing on the doing rather than what other people think of my doing, or what other people are busy doing, I find more time to revel in my own accomplishments. Sure, I’m older than Jennifer Lawrence and haven’t starred in several critically-acclaimed films, but I’m not an actress by trade. I’ll even admit that I’d love to start dabbling in acting in the near future–but I would no sooner compare myself to the brainy scientists who construct heat panels for NASA rockets, so why let the success of an awesome young woman like JLaw bother me?
Because let’s face it: until you allow yourself to focus on all the cool things that make up your day-to-day life, everybody else will think your life is cooler than you think it is. I can’t tell you how many times I have been surprised by friends, strangers, and other bloggers alike when they tell me how “cool” or “amazing” or “incredible” my life is. With blogging in particular, where I’ve chiseled out a whole new aspect of my personality that I’ve never tapped into before, people react with overwhelming enthusiasm: You’re so talented to blog! Your baked goods must be mind-blowingly good! I can’t believe you find time to research AND bake AND write AND be popular! How do you manage it?
And you’re all just like, “What? Are we both talking about the same person here?”
To any other blogger who has heard these praises sung time and time again: how do you respond? Dismissals? Embarrassed grins? Hearty thanks?
Frankly–and this probably isn’t the best reaction in the world–sometimes I’d like to put my hands on the speaker’s shoulders, look them in the eye, and tell them quite seriously that blogging is not a glamorous gig for most of us earth-crawlers. I’m not even sure if it’s glamorous for any of the big shots, just as I’m not entirely convinced that Hollywood fame is all sprinkles and rainbows–though that doesn’t stop me from feeling a twinge of envy when I watch fun interviews between panels of gorgeous co-stars in dazzling wardrobes. My PhD path isn’t extraordinary–it’s kind of a struggle against constant imposter syndrome. I’m just a socially awkward kid playing on the big kids’ playground.
But the awareness helps. A lot.
Knowing that I’m not alone–far from alone, quite well-accompanied–in this spiral of constant comparison, helps.
Opening up a discussion about these things with people who may know what you’re going through–may not understand at all–or may simply insist on continuing viewing you as some sort of a glammed-up idol with an awesomely collected life–helps.
I will disclaim all responsibility for leading a “really cool life,” but until we can all get over the fact that stats and Likes and Facebook updates about achievements do not = SUCCESS, you won’t believe me when I say that my life is not all you’re cracking it up to be. Yes, my life is wonderful, but not for the reasons you think it is. It’s wonderful not because of the individual things I do or “accomplish,” but because I’m doing them for the right reasons.
In short, I’m doing whatever the f* I want to do.
And that’s why I won’t apologize for this insanely long post, and why I’m glad I gave into the impulse to make these chocolate peanut butter krispies Oreo brownies just because I wanted to. They’re crazy in all the right ways: vegan-friendly, fudgy, krispy-topped, chocolate-and-peanut-butter-rich, and Oreo-stuffed. Hellz to the yes! I brought them to a friend’s PhD grad party and they went lickety-split, so that’s the kind of measurable success I love.
I’m also incredibly excited to announce a generous giveaway from the lovely folks at Peanut Butter & Co., who sent five jars of absolutely amazing peanut butters my way for this post. I used their Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter to make the krispies topping for this epic brownie, and they’re making sure you can as well! Enter below for a chance to win three jars of special peanut butter of your choosing–you can browse all their delicious products (or even order your own if you can’t wait) on their website. These folks really make my day with all their delicious flavors and have gotten me through many a late-night of identity crisis, so needless to say, this peanut butter holds a special place in my heart…I can’t wait for you all to try it!
I’ve written a lot in this post, so naturally I can’t wait to hear about all your own experiences. How do you handle the pressures of self-perception and perceptions of others?
I received free product samples from Peanut Butter & Company but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All opinions expressed herein are, of course, 100% my own.