It all began with a tweet
Here are a couple of regular, normcore tweets by yours truly. Note that, much to my daily dismay, there is not much engagement:
Now check out this tweet I recently twittered one fine, albeit anxiety-ridden, morning:
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that there’s a lot more Like and Retweet activity surrounding this frantic tweet compared to the previous ones. And it doesn’t take a world class statistician to determine that the difference could possibly be significant.
P-values and alpha levels aside, there’s definitely something going on here. I’d like to explore this phenomenon in this article. But first, the story behind the tweet.
Uncertainties emerged, so I tweeted
It was a standard morning in New York City. There I was in the Google office, whipping up a delicious plastic bowl of Fage strawberry greek yogurt and honey, when the wheels of self-doubt began to turn.
Oh self, how is it that you still don’t know what you want to do as a career?
You’ve been out of college for over a year now, Jessie. You’ve held 3 different jobs since graduating and yet you’re still unsatisfied, lost, and directionless. You love your colleagues, you love the place you work at, so why the fuck can’t you love what you do?! One would surmise, that having spent a chunk of time out in the ‘real world,’ you’d have at least a semi-confident, if not general, idea of what it is you’d like to do with your life.
Oh sweet self, why do you not have your shit together like everyone else? Sure, it’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out now. But soon you’re going to turn 24, and then 25, and then before you know it you’re going to be THIRTY. And what if by then you’re still just as uncertain and lost as ever?
Huh, it’s getting a bit hard to breathe…
So there I sat, an asthmatic lost puppy frantically scurrying amongst a forest of my own ruminations. Pardon the catastrophizing, but c’mon, I was having an existential crisis. What was I going to do — not have irrational thoughts? And yet, even as I am aware that my life is far from a catastrophe, the thought that I’ll feel this profound sense of uncertainty for most, if not all, of my adult life doesn’t seem all that irrational or impossible. After all, I am a part of the Millennial Generation, a group that’s been indoctrinated to embrace unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Data also show we’ve been the first generation to be raised on the proverbial idea of “following your passion.”
But let’s be real, such pithy statements are vapid at best, for the hardest part lies in finding your passion itself. I’m already hardwired to want to spend my life doing what I love or what makes me happy. What I need help with is figuring out exactly what the thing I love is. Telling a lost soul to “just follow your passion” is like telling a dehydrated person lost in the desert to “just follow the water.” Yes, at a biological level I obviously know that I need to be where the water is (or, to follow something I’m passionate about), so you’re advice to follow it is annoyingly redundant. Even advising me to simply “find” the water is needlessly repetitive. What would be more helpful are some actionable steps as to how I can find some goddamn water, metaphorically speaking.
Oh, and lest you immediately think “That’s easy, I’ve got tons of passions! I go to the gym, I enjoy cooking, and just last week I went to this awesome pickle festival with my friends,” might I add that the sorts of ‘passions’ I am speaking of have societal limitations as well? Most glaringly, said ‘passions’ must be monetizable and (sigh) legal. Have you always had a passion for watching movies? Flying kites in the park? Taking LSD in museums? Too bad; this is the United goddamn States and that won’t cut it in this country. Sure, anything can be monetized as long as it’s done cleverly, but sensibly speaking those and a large number of immediate passions are not obviously lucrative.
Sorry for the rant…
But I digress. The point is that the gratuitous emphasis on my need to follow my passion is at odds with my knowledge of how to identify said passion, and a societally acceptable one at that. And when I dwell on this inner discrepancy for too long, sometimes existential crises ensue. And indeed one did.
So, like the good little Millennial that I am, I tweeted about it.
Much to my surprise, the tweet in question amassed much activity. I wasn’t expecting the amount of engagement it received, but the push notifications quickly started rolling in. Pretty soon, my anxiety-ridden tweet had accrued 5 Likes and 1 Retweet. And this is coming from a non-influencer here. I was awestruck and caught off guard.
Why this tweet in particular?
After a bit of pondering, here is my theory: the tweet in question amassed such activity because it was relatable. In other words, people out there, my followers (hah, I sound like Jesus), were empathizing with me. I felt much less lonely and distraught after figuring this out. After all, by definition empathy requires that the empathizer has experienced the same, or very close to the same, feelings and emotions as the “empathizee” (I, Jess-us, now declare this a legit term) for a given context. Recognizing that other people out there were going through the same struggles as me was — in an admittedly fucked up way — comforting.
Part of the reason existential crises are so jarring is because they make the experiencer feel so utterly alone, which is exactly how I felt. I felt as if everyone else in the world had it all figured out, everyone else was on a life-track that pleased them. What Twitter taught me was that a smaller than expected number of people out there have their shit together, to put it bluntly.
Let me make clear that the point of this article is not to put others down, or to bring others down to my confused-at-life level. Rather, the point is to show that solace is not hard to find when you’re feeling lost and alone. The “lost” feeling may be real, but the “alone” part is just a figment of your torturous imagination. So let this rant-ridden article be a lesson to all you fellow lost souls out there: you are not alone. If anything, just tweet at me or something.
And please don’t let this article discourage you, for the challenges of life are what make living worthwhile*. After all, figuring shit out is pretty damn fun. Or some sort of truism like that…
Disclaimer: I’m referring to first-world lives here. I don’t believe the challenges of those living in abject poverty, corruption, or turmoil are valuable or beneficial to them. Just want to cover all my bases #philosophymajor.