Things Are Not Always How They Seem

It’s been said, but it bears repeating: things are not always how they seem. We’ve heard this phrase perhaps a million times, but how often do we actually question the façade of the happy, successful people that surround us? Would anything positive come from it if we did? Often the times in my life that have been the most pinched and stressful have also been the times when friends thought my life was the most exciting and successful.

One August I was living in a 5’x7’ closet in a cockroach infested basement in Sunnyside, Queens and I was getting text messages from people telling me how jealous they were of my fabulous life. Fabulous? I was living on less than $25 a week! Scroll through my Facebook and blog though, and every post was perfectly positive – no one could have guessed the sacrifices I was making to keep my dream of living in NYC alive. 

To be fair, we all enjoy snapshots of la bella vita and no one enjoys listening to complainers, but why do we persist in believing that everything comes easy to the people who have the best Instagram feeds? Why can’t we be honest about what we sacrifice and how hard we actually pinch ourselves to go after the life we want? If we could see all the scrapes and bruises that went into our friends’ vacations and cocktail parties and financial security, would we feel less alone in our own messy battles? 

To be fair, we all enjoy snapshots of la bella vita and no one enjoys listening to complainers, but why do we persist in believing that everything comes easy to the people who have the best Instagram feeds?

One of the biggest things I learned on the road for The Limitless Generation documentary was that the incredibly powerful young people we spoke with, the torch carriers of our generation, were totally just as scared and unsure as I was. We had selected them for their impressive careers, accomplishments, and public image, but when we sat down on their couches, in their labs, and in their conference rooms, they told us flat out, some of them with tears in their eyes, that no, they did not have it all together. 

Before some cynic jumps in to call these leaders wusses, I would like to suggest that it takes much more bravery to be honest about our situation than to put on the familiar Mask of Perfection. Funny enough, having a Forbes 30 Under 30 ranked nuclear engineer tell me that she wakes up some mornings having no idea how to move forward was one of the most validating and encouraging moments of our trip.

Perhaps this is a powerful truth our generation has begun to uncover – honesty doesn’t let people down, instead, it makes room for real connections. Being honest though, is easier said than done. When given the choice between the role of “fabulous and cool mystery girl” and “real person,” the gut reaction is pretty self-explanatory.

What we may not realize is that the cool façade, while it gets plenty of Instagram likes, can be building a wall between us and the others who may be starting to feel like they can’t relate to our so-called fabulous lives. Fortunately, that wall can come down with a simple sentence: “To be honest, I’m actually really f***ing scared.” What could we accomplish with all this authenticity? Could we better encourage each other? Build each other up? Act as a team instead of a solo act? What kind of a world could we create if we all invested in relationships where we got real about our fears and ambitions and insecurities, instead of focusing our attention on our average posts per week? 

This is not an attack on bloggers – I adore a gorgeous feed, and I spend way too much time looking at them and liking them. What I am attacking is our need to look or be perfect when we know that we are not. 

Appreciate the picture, maybe even consider buying that totally awesome jacket, but don’t you dare catch yourself feeling jealous.

So next time that little voice in your head starts saying, “wouldn’t it be nice if your life looked like THAT?” in response to a particularly fabulous #nofilter home/meal/exotic destination, catch yourself. You don’t know what the life you’re looking at actually is. Appreciate the picture, maybe even consider buying that totally awesome jacket or light fixture, but don’t you dare catch yourself feeling jealous. Remember, you don’t actually know what you’re looking at. For those of you who happen to be posting about your vacation in Greece right now or your new raise, enjoy it.

Life can be awesome. But the next time you get the opportunity to get real with someone, take it. Don’t be afraid to share the challenges you’ve faced to get where you are, even the challenges you might be facing today. Your encouragement could give someone the strength to fight their own battles harder.