Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It approaches silently, incrementally. It has the ability to hijack even the most confident of individuals and leave them with thoughts of inadequacy and unworthiness.
And nowhere does comparison seem to creep up faster than as we approach our 30th birthday.
In an age where social media is king, the danger of measuring our own lives against the lives of others based largely on what they can boast inside of a filtered frame isn’t always easily avoided. I heard it once said that the most crippling part of platforms like Instagram is the fact that they traditionally showcase only the peak moments of the author’s life. In turn, we as observers only see half of the story. Simply put, we compare our behind the scene footage to everyone else’s highlight reels, so it’s easy to believe the falsity that somehow we don’t measure up.
I was lucky enough to have been born smack dab in the middle of the 1980s, what I also like to believe to be the glory years of fashion. I’m old enough to remember when phone numbers (to house land lines, no less) had to be memorized, movies were watched on VHS, and Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. I (thankfully) grew up without the nuances of the Internet, as they are commonplace today. Most notably, I matured during a season of history where people’s up-to-the-minute thoughts and pictures weren’t readily available for public consumption. Life was simpler then, and I relish in that fact.
Fast forward a dozen years to my 30th birthday, which I just celebrated in June. While some may dread the milestone, I was grateful for a new decade and a clean slate on which to rewrite the disenchantment of my 20s. But, much like what I imagine high school to be like in the midst of social media’s reign, turning 30 in 2015 was hard. While I might have evaded the constant measuring up of my life to those I saw online when I was in high school, it’s not as easy to escape it now.
… much like what I imagine high school to be like in the midst of social media’s reign, turning 30 in 2015 was hard.
Instead of being jealous of someone’s brand new car, a present on their 16th birthday or how they were able to afford a designer gown for their senior prom, I’m faced with posts of engagement rings, baby sonograms, and announcements of new jobs. While I’m very satisfied with my life as it is – unmarried (but in a wonderful relationship), without a baby, and working for the same company I have for the past eight years — it’s hard not to stay focused on the fact that my life at 30 looks very different from the lives of my peers who have reached the same milestone.
But, if I’ve learned anything in these past four months, it’s that having different definitions for year 30 is absolutely okay. We tend to want to measure our progress in the marathon of life against that of our friends, but the truth is, no two races are alike. Instead of getting discouraged or insecure by how we haven’t yet reached a specific life stage as compared to our peers, we must remember that the pace at which our life is progressing is perfectly catered to us. Take heart that we’re exactly where we need to be.
So, if you’re approaching or have recently reached the 30th milestone and are questioning how to navigate this new decade, here are a three words of counsel that have certainly helped me:
1. Pursue something new.
We tend to credit our 20s as the decade for change. We can change jobs, significant others, friends and cities. But once we reach 30, it’s as if we are to accept life just as it is, without the hope of future improvement. To that, I say it’s never too late to start over and age 30 is certainly a great place to do it!
Instead of seeing 30 as an ending point, let’s view it as a great opportunity to hit the “reset” button. If you’re lucky, you still have 2/3 of your life ahead of you, so why not use that time to pursue something you absolutely love? Whether it’s as simple as learning as new skill like cooking or calligraphy, or something that requires a greater commitment like going to grad school or opening your own business, it’s never too late to add a new interest to your life’s resume. Furthermore, when you’re focused on building yourself, you’ll be less interested in what others are doing and how your life may or not be measuring up.
2. Regulate social media usage.
As I said above, it’s easy to take people’s social media accounts at face value, but we must remember that we aren’t seeing the entire side of the story. Behind every positive post could lay a mountain of heartbreak. Therefore, it’s crucial that we take someone else’s feed with a grain of salt.
If you’re an ‘80s baby like me, you can remember a time without the wonders of the Internet. While its presence has certainly enhanced the world in many ways, the Internet can certainly perpetuate the comparison cycle. If you feel yourself start to feel depressed by the bevy of birth announcements or engagement rings, perhaps consider taking a step back. I gave up Facebook for lent a few years ago and it was eye-opening to see how the hiatus affected my mood for the better. Even if it’s making a pact to “unplug” once a week, get back to your pre-Internet roots and embrace the simplicity of life without up-to-the-second status updates.
Instead of seeing 30 as an ending point, let’s view it as a great opportunity to hit the “reset” button.
3. Invest in your home team.
One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, discusses the concept of the “Home Team” in her book of memoirs, Bittersweet. She describes them as, “the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It’s the people who, near or far, know everything that’s wrong with you and love you anyways. These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house. These are the people who cry when you cry. These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.”
The older I get, the more important finding and investing in my Home Team becomes. Navigating a new decade can be disillusioning, especially if your reality doesn’t quite match up with your original expectations. Rely on the members of your team to remind you of and affirm you in who you are. Invest in these relationships with in-person coffee dates (if distance allows), hour-long phone conversations, or even the occasional hand-written note. Good friendships are good for the soul, no matter what life stage you’re in.
Do you have apprehension about turning 30? Or excitement?
Image via Michael Giroux