“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”
– Tom Hanks
Once upon a time, I believed in magic. In Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and Prince Charming. I also believed in adulthood.
As a child, being a grown up seemed so simple to me. Adults seemed to know exactly what to do and they did it, and in turn, they taught us kids what was right and wrong through stories, grades, and discipline. I listened to what my parents, teachers, authors, and newscasters said without question. They are authority figures; they’ve been alive longer than I have, so they must know better than I do, right?
My upbringing, surroundings, and education ingrained me with certain beliefs. A belief in God (from my Mom) and a leftist ideology (from living in a state that consistently votes Democrat).
Only as I started getting older did I start to question my concept of truth and morality. Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Why did so many bad things happen in the world? If an ideology is the “right” one, then why does half of America oppose it?
As my depression became more debilitating as a teenager, I wondered why I kept doing what everyone told me to do even when it didn’t make me happy. I was taught that if I had good grades, behaved, and participated in the right activities with the right people, I would get into a good college, get a good job, make good money, and have a good life. So why was I so unhappy?
I felt helpless in realizing that life was devoid of all the magic and meaning that I’d expected.
Instead of looking to authority and fairy tales for truth, teenagers and young adults tend to look to Instagram models with the perfect bodies and perfect lives who somehow get paid to travel the world and look pretty. We look to The Wolf of Wall Street and professional athletes and celebrities and CEOs with their absurd wealth and status. We look to our former classmates with lavish apartments, engagement photos, and their own businesses. We despise them and idolize them because they have something we want for ourselves.
But my illusion of growing up was wrong. Adults have no idea what they’re doing.
At 24 years old, I’m legally an adult, but I sometimes feel like a disenchanted child. And guess what? The people that we put on pedestals have no idea what they’re doing either. If we get that promotion, that engagement, that house, that lifestyle, we’re still human beings.
So if you’re looking at that model’s picture on Instagram, keep in mind that she spent 3 hours at the gym this morning and ate one piece of toast. She spent 45 minutes putting on makeup and doing her hair. Out of 200 pictures taken, she’ll choose just one, use the perfect filter, and post it for the world to see.
People only show the world the version of themselves that they want to make public. For every engagement photo, there was an argument or a moment of doubt. For every powerful executive, there is, at some point, Imposter Syndrome.
We all face feelings of inadequacy, even more so with the prevalence of social media and the urge to flaunt the highlights of our lives. You’re much more likely to see an Instagram of me on vacation than one of me crying.
The fairy tales we took for truth are still all around us – just in different forms.
So how do we overcome the constant pressure of feeling like failures in comparison to other people? How do we reclaim the magic we once believed in and find our own happy ending, even while knowing that there are no true answers?
First, recognize that those in positions of power, wealth, or status worked hard, faced criticism, and failed multiple times before completing their goals. Every single person faces adversity in his or her life. Although we may face it in varying degrees, the only control we have is over what we make of our adversity. Will you let it strengthen you or set you back? Will you be the victim or the hero of your own story?
Second, make a conscious effort to compare yourself to you and nobody else. Can you look back a year ago and honestly say that you are a better version of yourself in your own eyes? How about in comparison to who you were last month or last week? If you measure yourself against others, it’s like comparing apples and oranges – you’re not even using the same unit of measurement. Always measure against yourself, or you’ll be perpetually disappointed.
Finally, take advantage of our common ignorance. Since no one person knows the key to a “successful” life, take the time to evaluate your own vision of success and happiness (with as much independence as you can). Don’t chase other people’s goals, or you’ll reach them and wonder while you’re still unhappy. Many people think that tangibles will make them happier, yet research shows that there is a plateau on the happiness that money brings. Growing up in one of the richest counties in the country, I can confirm that happiness doesn’t grow exponentially with wealth.
I’ve been extremely successful in finding happiness by recognizing that we’re all faking it through life. I kept expecting to experience epiphanies that would usher me into adulthood and bring me through the gates of maturity and wisdom. That never happened. Instead, I focus on what I can control – making an effort to be better than I was yesterday.
It might not be a fairy tale, but there’s certainly some magic in that.
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