Two of your friends from college post a picture on Facebook. "I can't believe they're engaged," you say to your coworker — who doesn't know them, of course, but still nods sympathetically. You launch into some diatribe about how young they are, or how they're not really right for each other, or how they don't know what they're getting into. You ritualistically stalk through their most recent pictures. You mention it on the phone to your mom. Driving home that day you're still thinking about it, feeling a little bit smug and superior to them, telling yourself that the discomfort you feel is from your concern for your friends and nothing more.
Hard truth: we're all doing this every time we scroll down our feed. Harder truth: we are not uncomfortable because we are concerned. We are uncomfortable because we are insecure, and watching people move on into different places in their lives without us, and we don't know how to express that in a way that doesn't make us feel totally lame and selfish.
So what do we do instead? We shame each other's milestones. Our friend scores a massively impressive job and a corporate firm, and we shake our heads about how their priorities are out of order for "selling out". Our friend Snapchats us a picture of their new baby and we roll our eyes about how boring and suburban they are. Our friend posts a picture of their ring with some hokey "I said yes!" caption and we basically flatline from irritation.
We feel insecure and uncomfortable with ourselves, so we project it on them. We make them the problem. It's their fault for flaunting it, for being "cliché," for "selling out". And yeah, we don't shame them to their faces, or even necessarily think of our attitude towards it as "shaming". But that doesn't make it any less damaging — not just for ourselves, but everyone around us. If you notice this bitter pattern in yourself when you log on and see someone else's good news in your feed, consider just how much it is affecting you — and just how relieving it will be to let it go.
The Milestones You Shame The Most Often Are The Ones You Feel The Most Insecure About
Dig deep the next time you feel an eye roll coming on and ask yourself why you're on edge. Is this person really so insufferable and deserving of your irritation? Or, alternately, is this person really making a decision that is a cause for concern? If you examine your feelings and can honestly answer "no" to both of those questions, then
But the truth is, the specific things that upset us wouldn't upset us at all if it weren't out of some private jealousy. If you find yourself the most bitter about friends who are realizing career goals, it is a reflection of the feelings you have in your own career. If you find yourself the most bitter about friends "spamming" your feed with wedding pictures, it is a reflection of your own discomfort with what you want or don't want out of a relationship someday. It's a different kind of upset for each person. You don't necessarily want what they have — but there is some part of your life in that related area that is working you up.
If anything, this desire to "shame" milestones of other people can be helpful to you. Let yourself feel that for a moment. Lean into it. Then decide what the hell it is that is really upsetting you. It might just be the push you need to change your priorities, whatever those priorities are.
It Really, Truly, In Perpetuity Has Nothing To Do With You
Two important pieces of advice that I've gotten that I remind myself of on the daily:
- Run your own race.
- Don't make other people's problems your problems.
The first one is especially important to remember in the age of the curated newsfeed. We are all posting our highlight reels. I personally never post to Facebook these days unless it's an article I'm proud of, or a not-so-humble brag, or a picture of myself that's so slammin' that I can't not post it. We're all the same in that regard, but we forget it when we're looking at other people's feeds. We compare our ordinary lives to their highlight reels, and it makes us feel inadequate.
Hence, the important of running your own race. You'll absolutely get lapped in some areas of adulthood. Some friends are going to be working for hedge funds while you're flipping their burgers. Some friends are going to travel the world while you make an indent on your parents' couch. Some friends are going to get married and have kids while you still feel like a kid yourself. But odds are, they're all looking at your feed and picking apart your accomplishments too. Which is ultimately a waste of time — we're all going to get to the places we need to be at our own time, at our own pace. Other people's accomplishments are not race markers. They're just scenery to enjoy on the ride.
On the flip side of this, if your discomfort at your friend's milestone really is out of concern — sit down. Take a breath. You are only responsible for what you do in this world. Unless they are in some kind of legitimate danger, the only thing you can do as a friend is be supportive of them if it works, and remain supportive of them if they fail. But it is not your job to fix them. Do not make other people's problems your problems. You've got your own hustle to focus on. Which leads me to ...
It's A Waste Of Your Precious Time And Energy
It's the psychological version of "it takes more muscles to frown than to smile". I'm not going to tell you that you have to smile over everyone's good news — (Lord knows we've been told to smile enough for one lifetime) — but actively being annoyed, badmouthing, or even just thinking negative thoughts about someone else's achievements is incredibly exhausting and unproductive. Funnel that time and energy into worthy pursuits.
It Is Sucking Joy Out Of A World That Is Already Sometimes Hard To Find Joy In
Let's get real grim, real quick: we're all gonna die someday. Everything you enjoy is going to disappear at some point or another. Most days that you spend on this planet you will do the same things over and over and over again, with a few awesome and terrible moments that punctuate it. I'm not saying this to be the Biggest Bummer On The Planet (TM), but because it just goes to show how rare and awesome opportunities for real joy are — and when you let yourself share in other people's joy, you multiply it to a staggering degree.
Someday You're Going To Hit Milestones, And Want People To Be Supportive Of You
Someday (SOON!) you're going to have the awesome breakthrough, snag the dream job, move to the big city, move in with someone you love, or get married or have some kids, if the life suits ya. If any of those are things you want, of course you have imagined in your mind's eye what it's like to achieve them — and of course in that image you have, your loved ones have been supportive and happy for you. As the saying goes, Facebook like unto others as you would want Facebook liked unto you.