I was talking to my therapist yesterday. He asked me if there was anything in particular that made me feel a certain mood I had been experiencing lately. It didn’t take me long to answer him. I told him I hate social media. Hate it with a passion. We got to talking and ultimately came to the conclusion that “the grass is always greener” and FOMO – the fear of missing out played a heavier role in society than one could ever think.
We’ve all heard about it: the Insta/FB/SnapChat/pick-your-poison social media filter. If you dawdle on one of these platforms you’re often bombarded with friends, family, co-workers, whoever living their lives so carefree and happy. Absent is anything really negative from their life. And that’s just it: nothing negative. It’s not that difficult to realize that people only show the best parts of their lives for the very reason we’re okay with sharing the best of ours in conversation. It’s because we want to give off the image that we are all happy, carefree, well-adjusted adults. No one wants to admit their not happy with their lives, that they’re struggling at the moment with their own demons. No, what we want to display, and more than likely what other people want to hear, is that everything is honky dory (is that even the correct spelling?).
Well, here’s also a fact: if you feel this way you’re probably not alone.
Now, I’m not going to make assumptions that everyone on social media isn’t genuinely happy. They very well could be. However, to deem their lives as perfect is a huge flaw in my judgment. However, I can’t help but think “Wow, they’re lives looks great!” After leaving the military I really struggled with my purpose in life. I still do. I think we all do in some small way. I’m a huge planner and a black-and-white thinker. It’s one way or the other. There’s never a grey area. There’s also no options for detour. You pick a path and stick to it. That’s exactly what I tried to do with my life. As you know, life has the funny habit of getting in the way. That’s exactly what happened to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to many other as well. I had a life plan: graduate high school, graduate college, graduate med school, get married, have kids, love life. As you may already know (especially if you know me in real life) that didn’t happen. Here’s what really happened:
Graduated high school (check!), graduated college (switched schools but still managed to complete it in four year! Check!), commissioned into the Navy, got stationed on a ship, got married (um, out of order so sort of check?), transferred duty stations, had first baby, left the Navy, became a stay-at-home-mom, had second baby, tried to get into a police academy, tried to find a job, took job. Now here I am.
I guess most people would say “Well, you checked most things.” I did. The thing is, I still live with the “what ifs.” What if I went to med school? What if I was able to stay in the Navy and retire at 20 years instead of 5? What if I had waited to get married. What if, what if, what if…
On social media I’m often validated by others’ posts. Look at them living it up because they didn’t get married. They didn’t have kids yet. They waited until they were older to get married. They travel. They have lavish weddings. They live lavish lives (well, compared to me). They have wonderful jobs they can pursue without worrying about the expense of day care and whether the salary will cover it and allow for some leftover to cover bills. They can go back to school. Etc, etc.
I questioned myself for having children so young. Now make no mistake, I love my children to death and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world (even if they do make my blood pressure spike). However, seeing other who waited and living their lives make me sad. In some way I feel as though I missed out on something.
My therapist said that’s part of being human and usually an instigator of self-doubt. He also said that one cannot fall into that trap. Comparison and going over you choices in the past do nothing for you but encourage the self-doubt and sometimes sadness inside you. He told me a personal story about when he questioned his past decision. He had applied to 2 universities: Kent State and one in Missouri. He had his heart set on Kent State and was one of the top 3 for their graduate program but they hadn’t decided yet and still had 2 other students that they needed to interview. He received an acceptance letter from the school in Missouri. He told me he had a solid opportunity there and a maybe opportunity at Kent. He was troubled as to where he wanted to go. He ended up picking the school in Missouri because he didn’t want to chance waiting for Kent and then being rejected. He was slightly upset at “what could have been” but his host father (he was an exchange student at that time) told him he shouldn’t dwell on the past. He would only make himself miserable. He told him we make decisions that are in our best interest at that time and we should just make them and look forward. Move on and make the best of it. My therapist then turned it on me and told me not to dwell on my “what could have beens.” I need to accept my choices and look forward. Move on. Make the best of my choices and forget about the past ones. We can learn from them and take that to help us grow as individuals.
We then talked about my thoughts on others living better lives than me. He told me that what people have isn’t always great. He had a story about a friend of his that was living a successful life for a young adult. He had earned his masters and gone to law school. He specialized in a law field that was rarely ever chosen, thus making him a highly sought out lawyer. His career had him earning well over 200K. However, he was unhappy. Yes, this life was wonderful and he could buy all he wanted. What he didn’t have is what he wanted: the stability of a home (he often had to fly to locations and spend many months there) and a relationship. After all, when you’re traveling back and forth so much it was difficult to establish relationships, both romantic and ones of friendship. His life was unfulfilled.
He also talked about other successful women he knew but they didn’t have the one things they longed for: a child. Many had struggled with infertility and just couldn’t carry one. Yes, they understood they could “always adopt” but that was besides the point. The one thing they should have been capable of carrying out they couldn’t do.
I love when he gives me these examples. It makes me stop and think about my thoughts. Yes, I don’t have the “high powered, successful career” (that of course is relative to what you think is successful). Yes, I didn’t complete the goals I had set out when I was younger. I chose to marry young and have children at a younger age. However, I have what some successful people would say is the perfect life. I have a family. I am blessed that I could establish one. I’m blessed to have been able to be there for my son’s first 18 months of life (something I didn’t have with my daughter). I was able to spend time with my daughter before she started school. I had time to pursue hobbies. I may not think my life is something great but it is.
I need to learn to let go of my “what ifs.” I need to appreciate my life for what it is. My life is full of love. I have a job. I have a home. I have a family. My life may be far from perfect and I may not be able to “live it up” according to my standards, but it is a life worth valuing. My life is perfect for me.