The paradox and pain of choice

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Photo by Mister M on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about the paradox of choice. We live in an age where it seems you can create a business out of anything. Jobs exist now that people couldn’t haveĀ  imagined 100, 50, or even 20 years ago, and new niches continue to be carved out.

Despite this seemingly endless landscape of opportunity–the idea that you can achieve your dreams if you work at them, and if you want them badly enough–we’re unhappy. Diagnoses of mental health conditions are on the rise. This could in part be due to greater awareness and conversation around mental health, but I think it’s also tied to the overwhelming amount of information and mental stimuli we have access to in this age of the Internet and social media.

The idea of the “American Dream” used to be a steady job, a spouse, a house, two kids, a white picket fence. This is shifting. Our ideals are shifting. The dream is self-employment. It’s financial freedom. It’s a husband, a wife, or independence. It’s no kids or maybe five kids. It’s an apartment, a condo, a van.

There was a time when you accepted that you had to work. You got a job, you fed your family. Maybe you didn’t love it, but you didn’t question it. Now we’re regularly faced with an appeal to “live our truth” and follow our dreams–with the lifestyles of influencers and Instagram models making it seem like we made a mistake somewhere. The 9-to-5 culture is increasingly viewed as a trap rather than an achievement. How did we end up here?

I’m all for self improvement, and I’ve fallen into it full force this year in a quest to find peace and meaning with my every day. There isn’t harm in it on its own, but the danger is falling into the habit of constantly seeking the unattainable. There’s always a new way to do things better, faster, simpler; to be stronger more resilient, kinder to ourselves, more productive, more social, more self disciplined. We’ll never achieve perfection, so of course we’re dissatisfied. We’re constantly told that we’re doing the wrong things in the wrong way, our discontentment affirmed by someone else’s tropical vacation. Once you’ve started to question whether what you’re doing is worth doing, you allow doubt to creep in and take its hold. It never will be enough, because there will always be something new.

There’s something to a simpler time–of accepting your fate or accepting your choice and moving forward. There’s a reason why successful people wear the same outfit every day. We have a limited capacity to make decisions. Decisions used to be for bigger moments, but now we make several before we even get to breakfast, and we run the risk of depleting our mental reserves.

I fully recognize that I’m writing this as a white woman of privilege, and that for many people, there is still no opportunity. I don’t mean to imply otherwise. What I have been struggling with is the awareness that a lot of my perceived problems are a result of the comparison trap–and that a degree of surrender to circumstance can have a positive impact.

If you read this ramble all the way through (thank you!), what do you think? Can you relate? How do you combat the comparison trap?

 

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NOMO FOMO

broadcity
Broad City

I’ve been feeling a bit off these past few days. I talked about it a bit here, but it feels like more than post-vacation blues. Can I blame Mercury retrograde? I’m not sure what it is exactly. It feels like I’m longing for something, but I don’t know what. There’s never enough time to just be. I’m dreading plans and responsibilities, and I just want to stay in my own little bubble (there’s a reason I have a hermit crab tattooed on my arm). Weekends are never long enough. Again, though, it’s more than just the usual “Sunday Sads” or “Shmundays” (that one is my favorite).

Yet, I wake up on Mondays (albeit slowly). I put on my face. I smile and push through the day. Things are OK. I manage.

We live in a culture where “living life to the fullest” and enjoying each day because “life is short” is pushed as the ultimate definition of a happy life. When we don’t feel like we’ve achieved it–when we’ve only just made it through the day–it feels like a failure, like a missed opportunity for something better, something more.

I disagree. Sometimes our best day involves taking it slow and achieving not much more than watching three movies (not speaking from experience or anything….). Sometimes it takes all of our energy to make it through the day. We’re not failures. We’re human. We’re trying. We recognize the beauty and frailty of life, and it overwhelms us. It feels like a huge responsibility to try and honor it by making the most of our time. What does that even mean, though?

Maybe just knowing it is enough. Maybe the days I love most are the days spent at home. I can’t experience everything, and I’m not a failure if I don’t try. I’m not missing out if I’m doing what makes me happy.

In our voyeuristic and comparative culture, it’s easy to get caught up in what others are doing. We start to feel like we’re lacking–like we’re less than.

I say forget that. Everyone is different, and what fulfills us is different. We draw our energy from different sources and recharge in different ways. I am most comfortable when I’m at home. I might miss out on some things, but ultimately I’m recognizing and respecting what I need at this stage in my life.

Think about what truly makes you happy and forget the rest. If you’re where you want to be, then you’re right where you should be.

NOMO FOMO!

This is 32

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32: no makeup, just me

I turned 32 on Friday.

It’s cliche, but I don’t feel 32, at all. In my mind, I still feel like I’m in my early 20s, if not younger. I’ve grown and changed over the years, sure, but I still have a lot of the same doubts and worries I struggled with at 16.

I’m at the age where I need to start thinking about wrinkle prevention, but I’m still struggling with acne. I constantly buy new products to try but am stubborn about going to the dermatologist. I hate making any type of doctor’s appointment–or talking on the phone in general. Online scheduling only, please. Same goes for pizza delivery.

I try to eat well, but I overdo it sometimes. My eyes are bigger than my stomach. I haven’t figured out portion control. I don’t binge like I used to, but I still have times where I eat based on emotions rather than hunger. I can’t keep ice cream in the freezer. I also still have nights where I drink too much. I wake up swearing that I will never drink again, but inevitably, one beer will turn into three. (Granted, it doesn’t take much.)

I’m probably more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been–it really is true that the older you get, the less you care what people think of you. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. I still get insecure–in my work, in my relationship, in my friendships. If I hear someone whispering, I always think they are talking about me. There are times when I feel confident and other times when I feel like everyone is judging me. If I’m out by myself, I’m always on high alert (SSDGM). That’s just being cautious, though.

I haven’t figured out my personal style. I guess that’s not true–I haven’t figured out a professional style. I rush out the door like a hot mess most mornings. My closet is an entire bedroom, but there are still days with nothing to wear. I’ll change shirts five times and pants another three, before settling on the same jeans and a t-shirt (my uniform of choice). I don’t know how to look “put together.” I’ll sometimes take fashion risks, but half the time I’ll talk myself out of it before I leave the house (see above).

I haven’t grown out of my teenage moodiness. I have a temper, and the most inane things will set me off. I take things personally, even when I know it’s not personal. I’m not great in emotional situations. I don’t visit my family enough. I have a lot of guilt, but I don’t take a lot of action.

To some, 32 is young, and to others, it’s old. My point is, I haven’t got it figured out. Most days I feel like I’m stumbling through adulthood, trying to figure out who let me live unsupervised. I don’t know what I’m doing. Neither does anyone. When we’re younger, we look at adulthood like some magical solution. One day, our problems will be solved. We’ll have all the answers. It’s just “adolescence.” Then you get older, and you’re still waiting for that day. The timeline shifts. Your problems evolve and change, but they’re still there.

We’re imperfect. It’s part of the beauty of it all. All I can do is try to be better each day. Recognize my faults but also my strengths. Be grateful for what I have and for each opportunity to try again. There’s bad days, sure–but there’s a lot of joy, too.

This is 32.