Inevitably, I find myself scrolling through Facebook and Instagram and comparing my life to the beautiful pictures posted by my peers. I used to believe that there was no way they were struggling just as much as I was, but then I realized that no one has it all figured out. We’re all struggling together—here’s what to do about it.
Stop comparing your “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel.” No one makes a Facebook post about that time they tripped and face-planted in front of their crush (speaking from experience). Social media aside, even when you’re enjoying a cup of coffee with coworkers or acquaintances, you’re not talking about your low points and neither are they. The problems start to arise when we compare our lives, complete with our bad times, to the carefully selected experiences that our friends show us online.
Recognize that a culture of competition has caused us to become exaggerators. If you word it correctly, anything can sound amazing. I know this from experience—I’ve spent countless job interviews framing my leadership of a community service camping trip where everyone got Norovirus as a “learning experience” and something that “really cultivated my leadership ability.” The reality was much less glamorous. We often choose to frame our struggles in a positive way or make it seem like they weren’t there at all, which can distort reality.
Take everything with a grain of salt. I used to be stupidly jealous of a friend of mine online. Her pictures were perfect and she was always having the time of her life. Then I hung out with her outside of the internet and saw just how much effort went into each post. She took dozens of pictures, adjusted the lighting, and framed shots cleverly to cut out the unappealing bits of her surroundings. Now, I take her vacation pictures with a grain of salt, which helps keep me from getting too jealous!
Make more of an effort to meet people in person. Online, everyone is perfect, but in person, the nuances of people’s lives become more obvious. Over a cup of coffee, I’ve often found myself going from talking about my perfect weekend to venting about my job or stressing about the uncertainty in my future—things I would never admit online. Meeting people in person adds a layer of intimacy that messaging can’t replicate, and often leads to more meaningful connections and the dismantling of the “everything is fine” myth that we like to tell ourselves.
Start having impactful conversations instead of surface ones. I used to go through extra effort to keep my low points out of conversations. Now, they’re something I’ll freely admit. Why? Because breaking the surface level of “everything is fine” and talking about your concerns and problems has never failed to bring me closer to people. And once I open up about my issues, my conversational partner feels comfortable doing the same.
Stop being so hard on yourself. Give yourself a break sometimes. Seriously. I used to use other people’s social media accounts as motivation to push myself to succeed, and then I realized that it’s OK to move at my own pace. Sometimes, getting out of bed in the morning is all the action I can handle. I have to remind myself that everyone has their low points, and this just happens to be mine, right here, right now.
Give yourself credit. I tend to focus on things that I haven’t done instead of the things that I have. When it feels like I’m the only one who’s struggling, I try to count the things that I’ve accomplished. Finding pride in what I’ve already done makes me realize that things aren’t as bad as they could be, and it helps me to acknowledge that I’m just one more person trying to make their way.
Know that many people haven’t always had success. We’ve all heard the stories—when she was 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job. Harrison Ford was a carpenter until his 30s. I used to panic because I thought I wasn’t doing well enough at this stage in my life, that I somehow should have been better, but it’s important to recognize that everyone is moving at their own pace and facing different obstacles.
Acknowledge that everyone is different. Everyone has different goals and defines success in a different way. I used to view people with high-paying, overtime jobs as successful until one of my friends told me how jealous they were of the work-life that came with a 9 to 5. Everyone has a different definition of success, and it’s important to acknowledge that and strive for what success means to you, not anyone else.
Check your own Instagram. Seriously. Take a look at your own Facebook feed, Instagram history, or even examine how you’re portraying yourself in conversation. To your friends, you probably post, look, and sound like someone who’s got their life together. Maybe you don’t (just like me), but that’s OK! Because if you don’t have your life together, chances are that your friends are struggling just as much as you.
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