27 March 2014

Me, Too

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day: "Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy". The gist of the article is that GenY people, born between the late 70s and mid-90s, are unhappy because of the expectations they have on life - expectations that they're special, and therefore should be extra-successful, not like everyone else. There's a gap between expectation and reality, and that's what makes for unhappiness. Happiness, the author says, is Reality minus Expectations; if the expectations exceed reality, you end up with a negative balance.

Now, I'm not a GenY person, I'm a GenX'er (that's those of us born in the 60s and 70s, between the Boomers and GenY). But what this article is saying applies just as well to us. See, one of the points it makes is that GenY'ers are set up for overblown expectations because of what they see around them, namely on social media. What they - or rather, we - see is the carefully crafted public image of friends, relations and former classmates, the image that is presented to the world via Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else is out there. And guess what? That image is always a pretty one - a flattering profile picture, stories of success, status updates about what a good time we're having at our resort vacation, and so on. So when we take a look around our virtual reality world, everyone else seems to be doing well - everybody else but us.

So do I do it any differently? Nope, I don't. My status updates are chirpy, funny (well, there are great jokes circulating on Facebook), occasionally sentimental, often trivial, sometimes triumphant. But what I don't tell you is that at 4:30 that morning, I was lying in bed sobbing into my pillow because I woke up early (again) and depression crashed in on my head, making me feel like a failure on all fronts. I don't tell you that I've gained thirty pounds in the last three years and hate it (and I certainly don't post a profile picture showing off that fact). I don't tell you that those thirty pounds are the direct result of my habits - too much sitting, too much eating, too much wine, and too little of whatever else one is supposed to do to counteract the poundage accumulation and be generally healthy. I don't tell you these things because I value my privacy, but mostly because vulnerability of this kind of profoundly scary.

It is for all of us. But if you listen to Brené Brown, she'll tell you that it's that very vulnerability that is the pathway to health (emotional health, anyway). Those two little words, "Me, too!", are immensely powerful. And the realisation that behind it all our friends' glowing public profiles hide a whole lot of mess can go a long ways. Our lives are messy. My house is dirty (no, really, it is. I'm not one of those people who apologise for the state of a house that looks like a picture from Better Homes and Gardens. I've got mould on my window frames, dust bunnies in the corners of the rooms, a rim of grunge around the bottom edges of my cupboards, and, please, let's not even talk about the storage area in the basement.), my children didn't turn out the way I had anticipated back in my idealistic twenties (I thought if I raised them "right", they would become a certain kind of person. They didn't. I can't show them off as products of my superior parenting or homeschooling. They're great people whom I like a lot, but they're not what I thought they would, or should, be.), and I never yet did do that amazing, world-saving thing that I thought I would do with my life (I was never quite sure what it would be, just that there would be one). My whole lifestyle - heck, my whole life - isn't what I had expected, what, twenty-five years ago, I would have thought was the "right" way to be.

And if I've ever given the impression in public that my life is, in any shape or form, perfect, I apologise. Because it isn't. I can't stand people who have it all together, who exude that smugness of "I'm right, and my life is right, and if only you did what I do you wouldn't be such a [insert insulting epithet]". Well, I certainly don't have it all together. Not by a long shot. I'm still working on that balance, the happiness equation from that article - Happiness = Reality - Expectations. We usually can't do much to alter the "Reality" variable of that equation, but the "Expectations" one, that's changeable. Our expectations are shaped, in part, by what we see around us, what we perceive others' reality to be. Admitting to who we really are, what our actual reality is, might help make the answer to that equation into a positive number for each other.

And just by way of illustration, here's a picture of Johnny and Steve (Steve just got a cat tongue wash, that's why he's looking a little exhausted). They never have problems with this issue, even though Johnny, for one, well might have: all other cats have four legs, he's only got three. Talk about a gap between expectation and reality! But he never lets it bother him. Maybe it's because he doesn't go on Facebook much.

Life, the Universe, and Expectations. Me, too, friend, me too.


  1. Great post, Angelika. Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable. I read that GenYer post before too, and I think there's a difference between expectations and entitlement, which is a bigger current problem in western culture. Shrinking our expectations may make us happier or at least more content, especially in areas we can't control. Surrender to God brings peace. The other side of this is this poem (I found on Facebook!).

    Our Deepest Fear
    By Marianne Williamson
    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light, not our darkness
    That most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves
    Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
    Actually, who are you not to be?
    You are a child of God.
    Your playing small
    Does not serve the world.
    There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
    So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
    We are all meant to shine,
    As children do.
    We were born to make manifest
    The glory of God that is within us.
    It's not just in some of us;
    It's in everyone.
    And as we let our own light shine,
    We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we're liberated from our own fear,
    Our presence automatically liberates others.

    As to Facebook presenting a false image of people - this is true. But don't we all just cringe when people get too personal about air their dirty laundry there?

    1. Thanks, Lee, for the comment and the poem. Yes, that's a really important point too - I've done the "hide my light under a bushel" as well, and it's not helpful. Some of it has to do with who you choose to associate with, too - if your friends can't handle you being who you are (with your successes *and* your failures), maybe it's time to find new friends.
      And yes, you're right - I'm not advocating letting it all hang out on FB (especially when you're a public figure like an author, whose "friends" list includes lots of strangers). We just need to become aware that if we're comparing others' *public* image to our *private* reality, we're shooting ourselves in the foot. It's like comparing our morning face with the airbrushed images of celebrities on magazine covers!

  2. Excellent post!! Love it. Brene Brown's work is very important - and she is great to listen to on her TED talk.

  3. Dearest A ~ Thank you for THIS honest reflection that is the cream to my coffee today. I write smiling because I feel I am sitting here with YOU. I was up into the wee hours speaking with my spouse about (post a doz. 40-ish women book club discussing the same) the challenges of this gen. expectations upon oneself as well as all of those around us and this being among the first with such great of expectations (others would be out working physically HARD all day (alone) and come in excruciatingly tired to fall into bed...and repeat daily. The need for connection was still there, but the expectations and ways to meet these needs were so different. Todays social media as well as the "you can do it all" mentality is truly disheartening. It is my belief system that there are two antidotes to this: 1.) honesty (ie. above ;) and 2.) Gratitude. Speaking the truth is helpful, even when it's blatantly obvious. I have enjoyed your posts and pics. and know they are only telling SOME of the story. When folks want more...we p/m or call. Those who watch from the sidelines only know in part. Keep writing...there is freedom for all of us.

    1. Yes, the message of "You can be anything you want to be!", good as it's been for many people, has also done damage. And we need to realise that we just see the tips of other people's icebergs, that they aren't being "everything they can be" either. We need to be ourselves (and that's what "honesty" means).