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The Anxiety of Early Success & Wanting To Be Elsewhere

It’s easy to define our success through the eyes of society.

Usually because society sets up the standards for what success looks like. Today, we typically label people as successful based upon their money, fame, career positions and/or their possessions. But I think there’s one more factor that’s becoming more common, and that’s how quickly one can obtain these things.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel so rushed by the world to go make my dreams happen right now. Like I need instantaneous success so I can post about it on social media and prove to no one in particular that I, too, am capable of greatness. It’s like I feel this subconscious drive to keep up with everyone—to let everyone know, “Hey, I’m doing big things over here.”

I don’t know when I started feeling the need to appear more interesting and prosperous.

Honestly, I sometimes love being boring. I’m really content passing out at 9 with an empty ice cream bowl on my stomach. (Where my Moose Tracks people at!)

But if I’m so content being such a homebody grandma, why do I feel this itch to do more and faster?

If I were to pinpoint it, the feeling got really strong when I started being a stay-at-home mom. I so deeply loved (and still do) being at home with my children. I felt blessed and, well, at home. Like I was right where I needed to be.

But in my free time I’d scroll through social media and I’d witness people my age reaching their goals.

Traveling the world. Making their way up in their fields of work. Some even becoming local and national superstars.

I’ve written a post about all this and why I took a break from social media. (Click the beginning of the sentence for the link!)

But I want to elaborate on it more and talk about how it can make us antsy for success or change, and possibly unhappy with our own accomplishments.

I think being on social media gives me somewhat of an anxiety about how I see myself.

Looking at other people’s lives and adventures and passing of milestones, I feel this rush to do, do, do. To always have something new to post about to keep everyone interested, or something. And when I have nothing new, I feel like I’m not doing or being enough.

I’ll admit, a part of me would be jealous when I saw my friends’ pictures. Jealous that I wasn’t where they were. But why? I was so, so unbelievably happy with my life and my progress. Why was I jealous of someone else’s life when I was truly ecstatic about my own?

Maybe I was envious because when I looked at my life through the lens of other people’s accomplishments and goings-on, I would catch myself feeling inadequate. Comparing myself to my friends on Instagram or strangers’ success stories, I’d feel like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Like I could be looking prettier or sexier or just…different.

“I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” ― Herbert Bayard Swope

I don’t mean to blame the world for my feelings. I’ll take responsibility for my own mind’s weirdness.

However, I think there are many under-the-radar variables that shape our thoughts, and ultimately our identities. The longer that we don’t recognize their presence and impact, the stronger our imprisonment to them becomes.

I feel like social media, and just society in general, tend to give this superficial and most often false image of flawlessness.

But really, how often do people publicly and willingly reveal them their imperfections? I mean besides those friends who always have something to complain about. We rarely show our vulnerabilities.

Thus all we ever see of our friends are snapshots of everything good and pretty. And so we look at our imperfections and might see weaknesses or something to be ashamed about because it seems like no one else is experiencing them.

Which is a huge reason why I’m writing these posts.

They might be deep and mostly serious and pretty vulnerable, but I want to show my imperfections. Even my brokenness. I’m starting to see others doing it, too, and I think it’s awesome.

When we’re honest about life instead of trying to portray it as something curated and perfect, then maybe other people won’t feel so alone in their struggles.

They won’t feel ashamed of their weaknesses and flaws, but empowered by them. They might take their brokenness and rebuild from the pieces to create something new, rather than feel stuck in their brokenness.

The more we humble ourselves, the more we can accept the fact that life isn’t perfect and dreams don’t always come true right away. Then, we can finally stop trying so hard to mirror this illusory perfection we see everywhere. We could stop comparing ourselves to other people, and finally start defining our success from the inside out—not the other way around.

“The popular advice is we just need more confidence, more assurance, more chutzpah. But the issue with confidence is how we try to achieve it. Too often we try to win high self-regard in cheap ways. We undermine others, or we compare our achievements to those of the weakest around us. We conform to cultural norms, believing that what society values is what we value and that how society defines success is how we must define success. These cheap self-confidence tricks are unsustainable and can lead to narcissism during good times and depression during hard times.” 

― Rich Karlgaard, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement (Publisher of Forbes)

Maybe if we are more honest with others (and ourselves) about our lives, maybe post candid pictures and talk about things we need help with, then we could all relate with each other and just help each other—instead of this constant attempt to prove and validate and compete. We could focus on being there for one another.

Sometimes, that’s all we need.

“I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Maybe, if people more readily revealed their imperfections and the true contents of their hearts, we’d see we’re all so much alike. Maybe we would feel less pressure to succeed—less desire to be elsewhere.

Anyway, after addressing my feelings I realized I had developed a mild case of anxiety every time I signed off social media. As time went on, this anxious feeling would start sticking around long after I put my phone down. Suddenly, this feeling of constant inadequacy lurked in the corners of my days, causing me to never fully be comfortable or in the moment.

After becoming slightly comfortable in talking about it, I spoke with more and more people about these thoughts.

Turns out, most, if not all, of the people I’ve talked to about this also admit to having the same feelings. Like a sugar crash, we enjoy the sweetness, but can’t help the come-down as we compare ourselves to others.

I don’t think it was always like this—for success to come so early in people’s lives. Up until recently, I think it was pretty mainstream for people to reach financial comfort and their vocational goals quite late in life. But now?

Millionaires are made in the night.

“It used to be more common and acceptable that people had slow starts. There was no social media where kids could compare the way they feel on the inside about themselves with the curated outsides of the other kids. There was no permanent record of every mistake that you had ever made, which now lives forever on social media.

And then we've got this insane conveyor belt, as I call it, where we think that the whole object of a teen's life is to get into the most elite university they can. And you back that up and there's just this extraordinary pressure on kids to test well, to get 4.3's and advanced placement courses because God forbid, a 3.8's not going to do it. And then to engage in extracurriculars, not because you love the sport or the activity, but because it will look good on your college applications.” —Rich Karlgaard, Interview on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast “For the Love of Health and Wellness: Episode 5”

So, what’s changed?

Maybe it’s just that work output is no longer directly proportional to one’s income. I also believe that with the improvement of technology, success can be reached much more quickly. You can start businesses from your laptop, communicate with people across the world, and work from your couch. Job fields have been created for pretty much anyone with access to a computer.

I think the faster that we can do things, we start to expect that everything happens rapidly.

We live for that instantaneous gratification. And so we get impatient when things aren’t going a fast enough speed.

Once the automobile was invented, no one wanted to be drawn by a horse anymore.

But also, people’s values are changing—especially those of the younger generations. I think we are in an age of valuing appearance and adventure. Those who have aesthetically pleasing evidence of these, we tend to hold in high esteem, and our money and time goes into supporting them or trying to reach the same goals.

I’d ask myself, How did they make their dreams happen so soon?

Was I falling short?

I felt the crowd pushing me forward. I’d rush and push back and then give up when the results didn’t show up quickly enough. I’d give up on things when they seemed too big of an endeavor.

I wanted progress and paychecks.

I got anxious when I saw other people getting theirs, and I’d feel down when mine didn’t come. It became all I could think about.

Look better, do more, be more.

When I saw others doing bigger things, I felt like my things were failures. It got to the point I was so afraid of failing—of not being what others had already become—that I wouldn’t ever embark on anything. At least not for long.

What if Magellan or Einstein or Dr. King thought this way?

What I failed to realize was the significance of failure. The necessity of it. It’s okay to fail or to fall short. From these things we learn our limitations, our truest passions, and our greatest strengths.

However, what’s not okay is to think I’ve failed because I haven’t reached society’s idea of success. What’s not okay is to let failure keep me from trying.

“Sometimes it takes a good fall to really know where you stand”― Hayley Williams

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” ― Robert F. Kennedy

“We are all failures- at least the best of us are.” ― J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

I had gotten myself into a rut and the only way out was to admit that I was enough. But that was the last thing I felt.

Why was I pushing myself so hard out of this moment? Being in search of this mirage of grand success had caused me to miss out on so much. My stress to become “something” was eating away at the beauty happening right in front of me.

“She had passed her whole life as does everyone, rushing and dreaming in blind, deaf refusal of the miracle of each moment.” ― Umberto Bartolomeo

Why was I in such a rush? Why did I need to make my dreams happen right now?

I think it was a few things.

I think I have a fear of living a short life. I didn’t want to live a life of just a bunch of written down plans that I never followed through with. Also, comparing myself to others REALLY didn’t help.

For so long I was stuck in this mindset of wanting more from life—or just something different.

Like, 1/3 of my friends just bought a house—so for the longest time I debated buying a house, too, despite the consequences.

And then one day Conrad and I decided to go to Church.

And ironically, the sermon was all about envy. In a nutshell, the pastor was reassuring us of ourselves. He reminded us that everyone has their own versions of happiness, struggle, and success.

Just because our story looks different from our neighbor’s doesn’t make it better or worse—harder or easier. It just makes us different.

So we should be happy with who we are and what we have, instead of wanting what we don’t.

Because God has a purpose for us. For all of us.

God has a plan for you - I can promise you that. Your life is sacred. There is and always has been a path for your soul, and if you follow that path, it will lead you to the inner utopia that your soul longs to experience in this lifetime.” —Debbie Ford

What perfect timing this sermon was in my life.

Here I was—wanting. Dreaming of distant places. Wishing certain “flaws” of mine to be gone. Wondering what life would be like to possess someone else’s gift.

If I could be one thing, I’d be a singer.

The only problem with that is a deaf sea lion could hold a tune better than I could. You know you can’t sing when you start humming a song to your happy baby and then he begins to cry. Seriously, it’s that bad.

And that’s something that has always gotten me down. I really wish I had a super good voice! I would sing ALL THE TIME. I mean, I still do—but I just feel that a good voice would make everything better. And I wouldn't make happy babies cry.

It got to the point that every time I saw a girl singing at a bar I’d wish to be her. I’d long for a life other than my own—wondering what it would be like to sing that well.

But just recently I realized—there’s a reason God gave me my voice. I think there’s a reason for every freckle and fiber of our being. I genuinely believe that the contents of my life were meticulously chosen and sculpted to achieve a certain thing.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:20

Sure, I think we have choices and free-will.

Where is the line that separates God’s plan from our free will? Who the hell knows. And if they do, I wanna meet ‘em.

I don’t know if you believe in God or in the idea that there is a reason for everything. But wouldn’t that be nice—to know that someone like Him has your back? Wouldn’t it be so relieving to know that whatever is happening or has happened or will happen—it all means something. That it all adds up to something beautiful? All in perfect timing.

Maybe not the timing we were hoping for, but His timing. Timing we know is for a good reason.

And if you’re all like, “Girl, you’re too woo-woo for me”—then how about this:

If you don’t believe in God or that everything happens for reason (which, I understand your perspective) then maybe first try finding something useful from whatever season you’re in.