This morning, I got an email.
“Oh, you’re going to laugh, not just at the funny clothes you wore, or how naïve you thought the animals were, or by the unrecognized angels in your midst. But at how close you were when you thought yourself far, how much strength you had when you thought yourself weak, and how easy life was when you thought it hard.”
For all the virtues of an increasingly more tech-heavy world, one detriment stands out among the rest: our perception of reality is skewed. We line and insulate our sphere of influence with people who affirm and agree with us. We put more value on how things appear than how they feel. But more than anything, our concept of what it means to be successful – what it means to be okay, even – is inflated, and this is why.
When our algorithms are showing us an endless feed of people who seem to be thriving in such specific ways – they’re wealthy and beautiful and smart and have perfect açai bowls for breakfast – it starts to look as though everyone who is doing anything important has a very perfect looking life.
One of the unspoken things that society determines at any point in time is what it means to be “successful,” and it’s usually on a sliding scale. That is to say, everything is an upward and downward comparison, and when we are consistently seeing very little that we could compare down to, suddenly everything we do seems… not good enough.
A few years ago I wrote an article called “20 Signs You’re Doing Better Than You Think You Are,” and since then, 7.3 million people have shared and read it, and countless writers have copied or riffed off the headline. It seems clear that this is something a lot of people are feeling.
Lightening your standards won’t deflate your drive, it will propel you forward.
Think of all the people that you love in your life, and ask yourself if you love them because of what they’ve “accomplished,” or how nice their Instagram is. There’s a saying that we’re all innocent children deep down inside, and if you can try to see that innocent child in everyone, you’ll remember that we don’t love a kid because of how much money is in their piggy bank or how nice their school pictures turned out. We love them because we do.
The same is true of your life, and the same is true of you.
You don’t have to be everything, all the time. You don’t have to do anything perfectly. The biggest thing standing in your way is the idea that you have to do it all, and be it all. You don’t have to look like a model and think like a tech entrepreneur and budget like an accountant and dress like a blogger and take pictures like a photographer and be as happy as a self-help guru and be a productivity hack machine. Your dinner doesn’t always have to be nice enough to take a photo of, you don’t need to consume exotic and trendy things. Your home doesn’t need to be staged for a photoshoot, and your every outfit doesn’t need to be worthy of an #OOTD.
If you can do any of those things, even one or two, well enough – you’re doing pretty okay. And even if all you could do was wake up and smile and make something to eat and get through the day, you’re doing pretty okay, too.
You get to decide what your “success story” is, and you shouldn’t cheat yourself by just trying to fix every part of your life until you’re flawless.
Success is a feeling, not an elevator pitch. It’s not something that is conveyed with a status update or some pretty photos.
It is only what you decide it is, and choosing to run yourself to the ground trying to be the best at everything steals your life. It makes your goals something you appear to be, rather than what you are.