A few nights ago I stumbled upon a folder of photos from my 18th birthday party, taken exactly ten years ago.
As I swiped through photo after photo, I couldn’t believe how happy and young my friends and high school colleagues were. With sadness, I realised that I’d lost touch with a lot of them.
I went back to social media and added people that I’d previously deleted back when I was ‘cleaning up’ my facebook friend list. Having moved to the other side of the continent for university, I hadn’t seen some of them in a decade.
So I started checking (snooping) on some people’s current lives, curious what they had been up to and how their lives differed from mine. I focused on a girl’s profile whom I’ll call Ingrid for the sake of the story; she had been a choir colleague during high school.
She was by far one of the most beautiful girls I’d ever met back then, one of those girls who could easily pass for a model, with a mesmerising personality as well as being ridiculously gifted at singing and playing piano.
Since I’d last seen her, Ingrid had enrolled in Med School in my home town, not a distinguished place of study but still a very laudable career choice. She had also gotten married and had had a son in the past ten years, despite being three years younger than me.
By 24–25 she had gotten a husband and a child, also being on the verge of graduating med school.
Sure enough, she hadn’t left our home town or experienced a different culture and lost of diverse places. But in spite of that, she seemed just as happy with her family life as I remember her always being, as far as the social media photos showed.
Above all else, she seemed to have achieved it all twice as fast than I had.
Without meaning to, all of the things in Ingrid’s life put together got me thinking about my own life. Involuntarily, I found myself comparing my life journey and experiences with her own.
In earnest, this hadn’t been the first time this had happened, though I’m certain that this type of thing occurs with many of us in this day and age of social media.
But somehow, this time around, I found myself wondering what I had achieved in my personal life.
Sure, I’d graduated my undergraduate degree, and then my PhD, the single hardest thing I’d done in my life. And I’d been offered a dream job in Florida which I was just about to begin.
In one word, my career was set, even though not set in stone.
Yet I was nowhere near having it all in-so-far as a family life goes, not like Ingrid seemed to.
I was quickly approaching my 28th birthday, and before I knew it (like these things go) I’d be 30. The dreaded age for women who have not had children, or even attempted to conceive.
The biological clock would soon start ticking and I had nothing to show for it, not just yet at least.
Logically, I knew that none of those thoughts made any sense. My life had turned out exactly how it was supposed to.
Yet I wondered again and again why I felt that way, irrationally just a bit envious of somebody else’s life. It certainly wasn’t because I thought Ingrid’s life was necessarily better than mine.
And then I happened to stumble upon this beautiful quote by author Glennon Doyle Melton, who said:
“We’re only envious of those already doing what we were made to do. Envy is a giant, flashing arrow pointing us toward our destiny.”
Reading this quote again and again, it dawned upon me that the reason Ingrid’s life highlighted such a big ‘hole’ in mine was because of all the dreams I once had hoped to come true by this point in my life.
Dreams that hadn’t yet come true in the time line or in the way that I had envisioned they would.
Growing up, I had always pictured my future life developing similarly to my parents’ who had been high school sweethearts, married when my mother was 19, and then had me just one year later.
Of course, unsurprisingly, my life turned out to be anything but the scenario that I had imagined in my head so many times.
Life never works that way, though, does it?
Nobody can will life to go the way they want it. It is never a linear or smooth path as we would wish for ourselves.
As John Lennon wisely said:
‘‘Life just happens to us while we’re busy making plans.’’
And actually, dreams have a way of finding their way into our lives, when we least expect them to.
They may not present themselves at the ‘perfect’ time or in the exact way that we imagined them, but their unexpected shape or form is what makes life exciting and worth living.
As all of these thoughts swirled in my head during those minutes that I checked Ingrid’s social media page, I couldn’t help but feel that my life was still somehow incomplete.
My boyfriend witnessed this whole scene and asked me if I felt that I was happy with the life I now led compared to ten years before.
I instantly felt, and still feel, guilty for even thinking those things. First and foremost because I’ve been lucky to stumble upon the love of my life since ten years ago.
Without hesitating, I answered ‘Yes, I’m very happy’.
Because in the past ten years, I’ve also been blessed with meeting so many kind people who have touched me in ways I didn’t think was even possible.
And after realising what I had been thinking in those moments, I also accepted that there is never any point looking back with regret and thinking ‘What if my life had been different?’.
Because we can never really go back and change our lives, can we?
The only thing we can do, is look back and accept that things happen for a reason, though most of the time we can’t see that exact reason until later on in our lives.
One thing we should also do is be grateful for how life has turned out because there are always others in far worse situations than we are currently in, no matter whether all of our hopes and dreams have come true yet.
And above all else, what we really ought to do is appreciate what we do have in our lives now, in the present moment, rather than dwelling on a past that is long gone.
Lastly, we should remain positive and hopeful for a future that is bound to bring unexpected and unique events that will, one way or another, complete our ideal of happiness full circle.
And the one big thing we shouldn’t do is compare our lives with others’.
Firstly, because someone else’s life is never the same as it appears from the outside. And secondly, because we should focus on our own lives so that we can actively make them the best version of what we want them to be.
“Don’t compare your beginnings to someone else’s middle.”
— Tim Hiller
I know I’ll try my best not to from now on.