I am a 26-year-old editor working in London, one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities. Before this I lived in San Diego for two years following a career path I love. Born in Norwich, England, I went to a Mallory Towers-esque school for girls, before moving to Leeds for university. I have known for a very long time that I want to be a writer and unlike many of my peers I have not struggled with unemployment. After university I went traveling with two of my closest friends through South America and landed a job as a staff writer about a week or two after getting home. I worked my way through the company and last year was awarded a promotion and subsequent relocation to California. Did I mention that I have a wonderful boyfriend and a fantastic group of friends? It sounds pretty good doesn’t it, so why I am often so crippled by anxiety and self doubt?
We live in a society where everybody compares themselves to one another – friends, acquaintances, colleagues – and the influx of social media means that we are plugged in to what each other are doing 24 hours a day. The first thing I do what I wake up in the morning; check my Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram. We suffer from a fear of missing out and consequently end up living our lives through a digital medium.
Life is good, but a constant awareness of what everyone else is doing leaves me questioning my own decisions. Am I having enough fun, should I have gone traveling before I begun my career, was I too young to move to California, am I wearing the right clothes, am I earning enough money, do I go out enough. The list goes on. I asked some of my friends about their thoughts on this and one replied, “We have a life so full of opportunities and choices and we want to have it all, but we suffer when we can’t.”
Make the decision to go traveling and there is a good chance you will see a Facebook update about someone that has just landed their dream job after two years of hard graft. Put in the hard graft and see a group of friends at a music festival having the time of their lives. The panic ensues. We spend so much time engaging with the lives of others, that we feel as though our own lives are inferior. The age-old adage, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side,’ has never rung so true with twentysomethings.
And this level of pressure is not confined to your personal life. Today, everyone is obsessed with building their own brand. A recent article highlighted that fact that Gen Y employees were far more interested in working for themselves – or working with companies rather than working for them – de facto the need to promote themselves online is greater than ever. Not only do we look at each others’ Facebook pages, but also painstakingly trawl through each others LinkedIn profiles as well.
And this is only going to get worse. I have a 15 year old sister and I have never known a group of young girls so obsessed with image, social media and what their peers are doing. Yes, there has always been an element of peer pressure, but when it comes to fashion it tended to be confined non-uniform days at school or parties. I remember having frantic shopping trips with my mum to ensure I was wearing the ‘right’ jeans for ‘Jeans for Genes’ day, but my little sister is under that level of pressure all the time. As soon as you get home from school, pictures start popping up of #newoutfits, #outfitsoftheday – children cannot escape from it and fashion is just one element.
In fact we are becoming so obsessed with what others think, so obsessed with having a good time that it can actually prevent us from experiencing true satisfaction and happiness. I checked my Instagram feed this morning and a quote posted by one of my friends caught my eye. It read, ‘Be the kind of woman that makes other women jealous’ – surely a more satisfying way to live life would to be the kind of woman who is comfortable in her own skin, who lives life to the full and who is happy, no? Edith Wharton once said, “If only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.” I am going to take this one step further and say, until we stop comparing ourselves to each other, until we stop living our lives the way we think we should because of other peoples’ expectations, and until we stop competing with our peers on social networks, we are going to find it nigh on impossible to live contently, happy and fulfilled.