Your early 20s are a weird age. It’s like you’re floating in a nebulous cloud where benchmarks and expectations of where you’re supposed to be in life are incredibly blurry, if not completely undefined. Whenever I open Instagram, it seems as though there’s another person shoving it in my face how much better their life is than mine.
Influencers like Emma Chamberlain are millionaires with luxury properties and partnerships with major companies like Louis Vuitton at age 18. Kylie Jenner is not only a mother, but the world’s youngest billionaire and is only a year older than me. Sure, these are extraordinary cases, and it would be silly of me to measure any aspect of my life up to Kylie Jenner’s, but it seems like even normal people are living lives far more successful and impressive than my own.
Sally just got engaged at 22. Chris just founded another startup. Jessica is travelling around Europe with a seemingly unlimited bank account. In comparison, my life looks completely and utterly average. And when compared to the extraordinary lives of those around me, to be average is to have failed.
But am I really failing simply because my life is average? What does average even mean anymore? I feel like I’m behind in life when I see another person get engaged or start their own business, but the reality is that most people our age aren’t doing that right now, and that’s OK. So why do we feel like failures when we’re not achieving things that are, by all accounts, pretty far outside of the norm?
Because we’re living in a time where we’re constantly aware of those extraordinary cases. With benchmarks like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, we’re almost constantly reminded that we should have made our first million, like, yesterday, and watching members of our age cohort begin to settle down and start families, it’s almost impossible not to feel like we’re behind or deficient in some way.
Every day my psyche cycles through rounds of feeling fairly satisfied—perhaps even happy with where I am in life—to feeling like a complete and utter failure in every way. When I’m made aware of other people’s achievements, my evaluation of my own life immediately shifts. Sure, I may like where I am, but wouldn’t I like it more if I had a six-pack, or a fiancé, or a Tesla? This is silly, because, while it may be true, who’s to say that as soon as I have all of those things, there won’t still be someone else whose life I consider somehow more successful than my own simply because it’s not my own.
Comparing your life to someone else’s can only result in feelings of inferiority. So how can we define success, especially at such a normless age?
Who says we have to? The idea that we have to have an accumulation of “successes” (whatever that means to us) to justify being satisfied with the current status of our lives is pretty ridiculous when you really think about it. Satisfaction and pride aren’t quantified by the number of ways in which someone’s life exceeds the life of a “normal” 20-year-old. So, if you ask me, it’s not even worth trying. The people we look up to, who we see as being the pinnacle of success, also have people they look up to, and lives they think they’d be happier with. Rather than try to establish a trophy cabinet of unrealistic achievements, we should let ourselves be proud of the little things we do that keep us from going about our daily lives as students.
It may not seem like it, if you’re comparing yourself to drastic outliers, but if you’re living a reasonably happy and healthy life as a university student, you’re hugely successful in my books. It’s not easy to juggle school and being your own parent, point blank, and if you choose to measure success by judging the time and effort spent committed to something, learning to take care of yourself and grow into a reasonably functional sort-of-adult should be one of your greatest prides.
All the other stuff—the babies and the businesses—are just additional. They’re just things that, to those of us who don’t have them, make those other people seem like they have their life together more than we do. But, in reality, we have no idea if that’s the truth. Kylie Jenner could be a complete and utter train wreck and, frankly, if I had a baby and a billion-dollar company right now, I would be, too.
Instead of calculating our success in terms of what other people have, let’s rate it on a scale of how proud we are of ourselves and what we’ve been able to do. And don’t forget the little things.