I love it when people tell me what someone my age “should” be doing. And by “love,” I mean I want to flip out every time they “should” on me. It doesn’t help that now more than ever 20-somethings are being barraged by conflicting Utter Truths poured forth in every Tweet, blog post, online forum, Facebook status or social media trend. We have access to all information and every opinion, and perhaps this is empowering but it is also overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong, having information and choice is an amazing gift. It’s when you start getting daily information about others’ lives and choices and beliefs that you start wondering whether the choice you made was the right one. When you’re given the opportunity to do everything it’s ever so easy to think you’re obligated to do everything.
And to go everywhere. So many of my friends are working, studying, or traveling abroad right now: one is studying at a film academy (were there any two words with more capacity to instill envy than film academy?) in London (LONDON), one has a job in Japan, one is teaching in Prague, one is living in Mexico with his boyfriend, one is teaching English in China, etc. etc. etc. I love hearing about their lives and their adventures, but occasionally (often) I’ll fall into the trap of thinking, “Why aren’t I doing that? What the hell am I doing to advance my future/live my life to the fullest/suck the marrow out of life/live each day like it’s my last/follow my dreams/do something every day that scares me?”
These quotes, which are meant to be inspirational and pop over all over the place, often just serve to torment me. They seem to constantly scream that my life isn’t full enough, isn’t exotic or faraway enough or movie-montage-worthy-enough and that if I’m not hang-gliding or partying on the roof in the moonlight with champagne and exotic artistic friends then I am not doing it right, dammit.
And therein lies the trap of seeing everything possible and expecting it to be yours.
Sometimes, when I decide to be reflective instead of slipping into these damaging thought patterns, I realize that nobody can see the whole world. I simply cannot do everything there is to do and see everything there is to see. There are so many streets in Iowa City that I haven’t even walked down yet, and that realization is comforting. In this trap of comparison, it is heartening to know that nobody gets to see and experience everything.
Then I’m reminded of a book I’m reading for my Buddhism group, Stepping out of Self-Deception by Rodney Smith, which is all about how one of the core tenants of Buddhism and one that’s often ignored by Westerners, is the concept of Anatta, or this idea that the individualized “self” doesn’t really exist.
It’s a challenging concept to wrap my head around, especially because our entire culture is based off this idea that we’re individual selfs seeing the world separately from outside our head. But as I’m reading through this, I’m starting to feel a weight in my chest lightening. My friends’ joys become my joys, and their pains become mine as well. And just when I’m thinking that I can’t do everything, I realize that being able to share our collective experiences gives me the opportunity to dig my heels deeper into the Iowa City soil and be okay with that. I can get an understanding of what it’s like to walk the streets of Hangzhou, China or how all-consuming it is to make a professional-looking short film without having to do it all.
Then, instead of scrolling through Facebook statuses, endless photos and blogposts and thinking, “Why isn’t my life like that?” I can think instead, “Wow! Look at all the ground that we’ve covered!”
I am not sure if this is the mushiest thing I’ve ever written or the most convoluted, but I feel liberated as I begin to realize that it’s not this constant stream of information that is making me drown, it is my perception of what it says about my life and how I feel I should measure up. When it stops being about “me” and starts being and feeling collective, all of that pressure, all those “shoulds” melt off and I am happy to be where I am, what I am.