Life, living, expectations, and social media

I saw this tweet the other day, and it left me thinking, because of the simple fact that I’ve been a victim of this EXACT situation.

When I was 23, I felt that I had failed in life. My friends and loved ones seemed to agree. I had barely scraped through college. My bank balance was zero. I had no job and practically no income. At the same time, if social media was to be believed, everyone I knew was doing well!

People that I knew were getting admits to Ivy League universities and IIMs. Others were starting to earn six figure salaries (in INR) or were making promising career moves. Some folks that I knew were showing off their shiny new lives in the US and Europe, while many others found the joys of marital bliss.

And I felt like a failure. And a huge one at that.

I had no support system. Instead of support, all I got rejection, disdain, and contempt – even from my own family. It was one of the worst periods of my life ever – and I remember it vividly. At one point, I thought I’d probably live half a life, struggle and fail.

Nine years later, I can’t believe how grossly wrong I was.

In short; back then, all I did was to waste my time in self-pity. Only if I could realize that the social media “prism” only filters out everything else and displays the “good” in life – resulting in an unending maze of unrealistic expectations, jealousy, envy and what not…

The problem with social media is that people use it to showcase only the good in their lives. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing – and in all honesty, I do that a lot too. Social media is designed to amplify those experiences. It does things to your head, especially if you’re struggling in life. There is no escaping the fact that social media creates a plethora of unrealistic expectations.

The truth is that not everyone gets a Harvard admit at 23. It’s a select few that make it to Cambridge, MA; and they would have struggled for years to make it. Yet, social media makes it seem like an overnight success story. Not everyone can build a profit-making startup at 23. The (very few) ones who did that might have had countless sleepless nights and even more rejections before they hit jackpot. That $500k Google job your friend secured at 23 probably cost her a social life, along with her hobbies and friends.

That’s not even the clincher here though: the fact that these people made it early in their lives (did they, really?) does not affect you or your future, in any way. Last I checked, there isn’t any sort of Dark-style quantum entanglement that links your lives to the fortunes of others.

At 23 years of age, you’re just starting your life. It’s okay if you had made bad decisions along the way. Life will bring in more opportunities. New doors will always open for you – yes, even during the pandemic. Besides, you can always learn from your mistakes. If you’ve made mistakes in the past, the chances that you’ll repeat them are less. And that itself is setting you up for success, even though you don’t realize it. Every failure is bringing you a step closer to success!

On that note – is there really an expiry date for your dreams? I know people who pivotted their careers at 30 (my own wife did it at 26). There are folks that got their bachelors degrees at the ripe age of 50. There are still others who start up at 70. Did you also know that there is significant number if people that find love in their 80s?

With all that said, as regards to the options that I mentioned (and I’m obviously biased)… are these the only ways you can find success in life?

What if your real calling is to be a violinist, or to be a hockey player, or to probably be an artist? What if you find your happiness as a handyman working a quiet life in a small town? What if you find bliss being a tour guide at Bali?

My point is that life is full of opportunities, twists, and turns. Just because your 23 year old friend (apparently) found success in life, it doesn’t mean that you should do the same thing. This applies to you if you are 25, 32, 48, 62, or even 90!

As the cliché goes – Don’t let that social media post that made you jealous fool you – the only person you are in competition with, is yourself!

Saying all this might make me sound like a life-coach. I’ll be brutally honest with you here – I’m just as clueless about life as you (probably) are. I wrote this post to remind myself about this hard fact, as much as I wanted to remind you about it. There are some things about life that are obvious, but you fail to see them, unless life hits you on the head with a brick. This is one of those things.

So, I’ll end my rant by just saying this: if you’re struggling in this game of life, like most of us, don’t be too hard on yourself. And don’t let those colourful social media stories get to you.

Because there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

There always is.

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