In a world inundated with Facebook posts and tweets and Instagram photos, comparing ourselves to others is almost unavoidable. And while it’s sometimes super fun (and entertaining) to see what your old high school friends are up to, the constant barrage of information about what everyone else is doing and achieving and feeling can be toxic.
Last December, the week before finals, I made the decision to quit grad school. I’d gotten caught in a pool of perfectionistic quicksand and finally sunk in to the point where I couldn’t breathe anymore. It was a late night texting conversation with my boyfriend that suddenly made me realize: “I should quit.” It wasn’t that I couldn’t have finished my masters or even my PhD. I’d gotten really good at living in the academic world, keeping myself alive through a semester, and then half-recovering over break, only to dive right back into it again. But I realized last December that I wouldn’t be the same person at the end of the road. Sure, I’d be qualified at long last to be a college professor, the dream that I’d latched onto in undergrad, but I’d be dead inside. I was killing myself little by little. What good was a zombie professor going to do for her students?
So I quit. And did what every 20-something dreads doing: I moved back home.
Now, my parents are awesome. My older brother and I often joke that they’re like professional parents. They did a phenomenal job of raising the both of us, and even in adulthood, they seem to navigate the tricky waters of having adult children like pros. So it wasn’t like I was moving back home to a bunch of dysfunction. And they were more supportive of my decision to quit than I could have hoped for, encouraging me to just come home and rest, to find my sanity again. But let’s be honest, once you move out, you’re never really looking to go back to living in your bedroom with purple walls and pink carpet, full of the artifacts of childhood.
Now add on top of that all the engagement photos and posts about buying cars and houses and you’ve got a new kind of quicksand: the quicksand of comparison.
It’s been almost a year since I quit grad school and moved back home. And you know what I didn’t do in that entire time? Get a job. So yes, I’m that 25 year old who lives at home and doesn’t work. And while no one ever intentionally made me feel bad about that fact, constantly seeing what my peers are up to has been at times almost fatal to my self-esteem.
My college roommate sent me a Snapchat the other day of her and her husband buying a car. You know what I was doing that day? Playing Minecraft. I’ve had days that I’ve spent watching Netflix and cross stitching that my friends have spent at work or taking care of their children.
But you know what else I’ve done this year? I’ve finally realized how dangerous my perfectionism is and starved it by not working and by not being in school. I’ve taken my identity out of the things that I do and realized that I’m worthwhile as a human being, even if all I do is read all day. I’ve also addressed with my boyfriend the dysfunctional ways in which I approached our relationship and have become someone who isn’t constantly trying to fix things and be as agreeable as she possibly can be. I’ve spent time with a girl who’s younger than me, sharing my life and my thoughts, and forming a friendship that keeps me young and encourages her to keep growing. I’ve spent time in the basement with my Mom, going through boxes of old stuff, reminiscing about the past. I’ve led a Bible study at my parents’ church for people who want to delve a little deeper into the study of Scripture. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking and writing, and now I’m a much healthier and a much better person than I was last December. You’ll be hard pressed to make me feel like this year has been a waste now.
But I know some people will still see it that way. I still don’t know “what I’m doing with my life.” I’m still not employed. I don’t have anything impressive to share on Facebook. But I’m becoming more and more okay with that.
Because the truth is everyone is doing something different. Everyone has a different struggle. No one’s exempt from human suffering. And no one is a worthless waste of space. We’re all just people, doing the things that life has thrown in front of us. Sometimes we do better than other times. Some people seem to find more success. And some people seem to be trailed by bad circumstances. But it’d work best, I think, if we all just made space for what someone else is doing to look different than what we’re doing.
I know there’s still a time and place to motivate someone to change. And I know there are situations where someone is really screwing up their life and love demands that you say something. But there are also times when God might be doing something you don’t understand, something that person can’t take a photo of and post on Instagram. So if you’re doing something that looks different than everyone else’s thing, don’t stumble into the quicksand of comparison. You’re allowed to take up space, even if your life doesn’t look like everyone else’s. Even if you’re a 25 year old grad school dropout who’s been at home for 11 months and still doesn’t have a job. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes.