N.B: This post comes to you in the midst of peak FOMO season, when it feels like the entity of your Instagram feed has collectively migrated to Capri and Mykonos.
To borrow from our President’s ten-word vocabulary, envy is a nasty feeling. It eats one up inside like one of those intestinal parasites, preventing them from attaining any semblance of peace. Religious scriptures of every faith speak of envy as the predominant source of evil. Envy catalyzes wars and ruins lives. And yet it remains a human emotion that is not going anywhere. In fact, I believe that it is currently experiencing a revival, having been reformatted, democratized, revolutionized, by social media.
In a way, we are victims of our time, the first generation stuck with the virtual embryos of the big green monster right at the tips of our fingers, ready to unleash the worst in us. We scroll and we look and we “like” and we absorb everything with the impressionable sponges that are our brains. And then, before you know it, we are comparing ourselves to some Slovakian IMG model or globetrotting fashion editor or second degree acquaintance who has graduated to become a Tribeca housewife. Because, on the surface, they all seem to have it so easy.
But what do we really know about these people? What do we know about their childhoods, their relationships with their families, their health? What do we know about the problems that are keeping them up at 4am? Most importantly, what do we know about what the future has in store for them?
That’s right, nothing. Nada, zero, zilch.
I used to envy somebody, a blogger who became very famous practically overnight – you probably all know her. We had been interns together in another lifetime and it all just felt a little too close to home, like she had snatched up something that I had allowed to pass me by. As much as I tried to use her example to motivate me (and it did!), it took me years to finally realize that we simply weren’t cut from the same cloth. That she had a skill set that had allowed her to create something very powerful, and that I had to stop comparing her blossoming oranges to my unripe apples, and focus on nurturing my Granny Smith tree instead.
Then this vibrant, brilliant woman I had been so envious of started going through a personal struggle of her own, and speaking quite candidly about it (which is exactly what makes her so special and so successful). It is only then that I realized how deluded I had been to covet her life, and how much time and energy I had probably wasted in the process.
Nobody has it easy. This week alone I helped a (seemingly fabulous) friend pack up her apartment because she couldn’t afford her rent. I talked another (seemingly perfect, ethereal) friend through some complex personal issues that have her sleeping two hours a night. I entertained another (seemingly happy-go-lucky) friend out of a funk that comes with having a life-sucking commute and an even worse boss. (Yes, I am a regular Dr. Freud, holla!) I used all the methods I could to cheer them up, to no avail. It is only when I mentioned the tribulations of others that their anxiety seemed to subside, eased by the realization that everybody has their own, often far heavier, crests to bear. It’s as though we have all forgotten.
And who can blame us? After all, we are still social media amateurs, learning to consume content as much as we are learning to create it, experimenting with these novel tools to build ourselves up, to create “brands” and “curate” the moments we want factored into the public records of our lives, while leaving others on the chopping block.
Just to give you a taster, here’s what’s on the chopping block of my recent memories: Me running under the Manhattan bridge on February 19th, kneeling over from the gut-wrenching pain that comes with your world quickly coming undone. Me at the bedside of a sick family member, facing inevitable truths. Me, just sitting on my couch, feeling a million different shades of lonely and vulnerable and unaccomplished and tired – tired of having everything I want dangled in front of my face, only to have it yanked away until better times. And yet, one could never tell any of this by looking at my stupid Instagram.
Sure, life deals some a luckier deck of cards. There are those born into wealth that allows them to never think about their FIOS bill (why is it so expensive?), or those who have the kind of magnetic energy that opens every door, or those who have determination and talent coursing through their bloodstream, enabling them to expedite their dreams.
And yet, would I really want their lives en lieu of my own? After all, maybe they never had the joy of living in Paris, or trekking through Southeast Asia by foot with their little niece in tow, or receiving a reader’s email and feeling a twinkle of purpose. They don’t have my family, my best friends. They don’t have my mom. They don’t experience the same joy that I do just by riding a Citibike down East Broadway on a warm summer night. In the metric of fulfillment and happiness, who is to say who the real winner is.
I do know, however, know who it is not – it is not the person looking around themselves, lustfully pining for somebody else’s cards. (Or Capri trip, for that matter.) So let’s all put away our phones for a moment and focus on making the most of our own decks instead.
P.S. If the aforementioned advice fails, try a drinking game! Every time you see somebody in Capri or Mykonos, take a shot! I promise you that your August will be better than theirs.