Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself having some tough heart-to-hearts with some of my girlfriends. I’m not sure if it’s the mid-summer slump or the fact that a lot of our friends have been killing it in their careers and personal lives lately. Whatever the reason, it seems that everyone around us is doing bigger and better things. A lot of my friends (and at times myself) fear that they are falling behind.
The notion of ‘keeping up with The Jones’ is just not realistic, nor fun. And I remind myself every day not to do it. The reality is, we are all just trying to make sense of our early 30s, and no one really knows what the hell they are doing – even if it seems that way on their perfectly curated Instagram feeds.
The first phone call came from a close friend who is a successful business owner. She and her husband own a brand new home, which looks like it belongs on the cover of Good Housekeeping. I would put her into the ‘she’s got her shit together’ category, but she called me in a panic wondering if she’s falling behind some of her friends who are making way more money than her. My first thought was to kick her in the ass and tell her she’s crazy. Then I took a step back and realized she’s just comparing herself to another friend, who is living her life slightly different. Totally normal, but a waste of energy. How are you supposed to spend your energy enhancing your own life when you’re concerned with everyone else’s?
Scarfing down French toast and mimosas with my cousin and her baby,she burst into tears. She is navigating being a new mom and the challenges that come with mat leave. The tears surprised me as she has a beautiful healthy baby, a lovely new home, and she is engaged to a wonderful man and father. She is now comparing herself to her friends that are excelling in their careers and worrying if being on maternity leave is going to negatively affect her career. She’s missing out on precious moments with her baby because she’s riddled with guilt of not being able to do it all. We all have this weird habit of trying to keep up with one another, and because one mom is making it seem easy, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their daily challenges.
And me? On paper, I’m way behind most of my friends. Even though I was the first of my friends to get married and buy a home, all that went out the window in a matter of months when I went through a brutal divorce. I said goodbye to the house, and the husband, but at least I kept the dog and my dignity. I think the reason my friends use me as a sounding board is because I constantly have to put things into perspective to not drive myself insane. Do I have moments where I feel like I’m falling behind my friends? Of course I do! Sometimes I fear I’m behind on my career path (because I took three years off to move abroad). Other days I fear like I will never be able to buy a decent-sized house (because the Toronto real estate market is crazy). Every time I see another baby announcement on Instagram, I wonder when and if I will ever be a mom (something I have been visualizing for years). All of this is okay and totally normal, but what’s not okay is getting down on myself because I see my best friends living out those plans before I do. I think it’s impossible to put yourself on a timeline. Even though on paper I took a few steps backwards, I’ve never been happier in my personal life. Thinking back to where I was years ago, I couldn’t imagine still living that life – proof that sometimes you need to take a few steps back to get a fresh perspective.
The problem is we learn to compare ourselves to our peers from the very young age. I remember back in second grade when my teacher would hand back test results face down on my desk. It was only natural to peer at the red pen before comparing my score with the friends in my desk cluster. Or in high school, when I would line up to catch a glimpse of the bulletin board to see if I got a spot on the dance team. We learn competition at a young age and that is something that never really goes away. There comes a point where healthy competition becomes flat-out depressing. It’s great to have goals and aspirations for yourself, but sometimes life doesn’t happen in the linear path we had in mind. Now, I make a conscious effort to shift my perspective wherever these thoughts pass through my head. After all, we aren’t against each other and everyone is dealing with their own challenges and insecurities.