The holidays are a great time to reflect on where you’re at in life–particularly when you’re at the stage in your twenties when your world can change pretty drastically from one Christmas to the next. The upcoming end of the year marks a transition point, you’re probably away from your daily routine, and various well-meaning parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins will ask you about your future plans, career aspirations, and significant other (or lack thereof).
Faced with these questions—a few from family, but mostly from myself—I find myself looking at the choices I’m making in my post-university life with doubt. Have I played it too safe? Have I not reached high enough for my goals and ambitions? Have I really done a good job of connecting with people around me?
All it takes is a few minutes of scrolling through Facebook or Instagram to stoke the fires of my anxiety. Someone I know is spending the holiday playing on beaches in Panama. Another is drinking martinis in Melbourne. Still more are sharing updates about surviving their first semesters of tough but rewarding grad programs. These flashes of other people’s sparkling lives make my own seem dull and empty in comparison. Why am I not living in London? Or running for city council? Or going to law school? God, what am I even doing with my life?
Such is the power and the danger of social media. Each post, picture or tweet is part of someone’s carefully curated online life; we share only our best poses and our happiest moments. We don’t see the mundane or monotonous daily routines of each other’s lives, though we experience our own intensely. People don’t often take to Facebook to wonder aloud if their life decisions that have taken them back to school or halfway around the world for adventure or across the country to be with a partner were the right choices. I’m no different—there is no room for doubt in my online persona as I post about the amazing community event I attended or the fascinating project I’m involved in at work.
But in my conversations with other people my age, I’m hearing so many other people express the same kind of doubt I have. A friend in grad school feels like her life can’t start until she’s done her program, and even then worries about her job prospects. Another who scored an awesome career-related internship isn’t sure if he really finds the work fulfilling. I’m willing to bet that some of the globe-trotters I know also worry from time to time that they should be starting their careers or connecting with a community instead of living out of a backpack.
As far as I can tell, doubt is common fixture in the lives of twenty-somethings. Our generation is faced with unprecedented choice about what we can do and what our lives could be, and so we worry that our choices have been the wrong ones, that someone over there has it figured out and here we are without a clue. But those someones that we compare ourselves to aren’t “over there”—they’re with us every time we check our phones. Then we only see the best and most brilliant parts of their lives, so we always feel like we’re falling behind.
The last time I was home, I shared a little of this grass-is-greener feeling with my dad, one of my go-to people when it comes to big questions about life direction. In his infinite wisdom, he told me I have to actively resist this tendency to compare my life to others’. He’s right, of course—to measure your life by the accomplishments of others is no way to chart your own path. Internalizing this advice, though, is tough. As I think about what I want 2015 to look like, I think part of my solution to this anxiety and doubt is to recognize how one-dimensional people’s online lives actually are, and probably to spend a little more time offline as well.