We’re all just works in progress, and should always be striving to better ourselves in some way. But it’s also important to still appreciate where we’re at in this moment, and how far we have come.
The other day, a friend and I were grumbling back-and-forth about our current woes, which included a slow time at work for her, and my inability to stop shoving my face with holiday treats. As we both explained away each other’s self-criticism with, “Well, it’s that time of year,” we also felt heartened knowing that, in just a couple of weeks, we’d be pushing the refresh button. “In the new year, we’ll be better…”
As I hung up with her, I thought about how silly it was to complain about things that are pretty much a given in the month of December. People start to slow down and shut off, so duh, of course my friend doesn’t have as many clients right now. I’m going to at least one holiday party every week, and making goodies for friends, so yeah, not a good time to stick to the diet.
And yet, both of us felt disappointed in ourselves, listening to that needling voice in the back of our heads whispering, “For shame…” Obviously, we both know these petty grievances are not worth our energy, but we still beat ourselves up, for no other reason than that we believe we should “be better.”
But where is all of this pressure coming from, especially when women like us have friends like us, who lift our spirits, give reassurance, and tell us to go easier on ourselves?
I always go back to the likely culprit in these modern times: social media.
As we’re inundated with photos and status updates projecting “perfect lives,” we can’t help but feel like ours aren’t quite measuring up. We have these ideas about what life is supposed to be, based on the smiling couples, the well-traveled friends, the nicely-behaved kids, the gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free fitness fanatics. We get snapshots of what it looks like to have a happy life, a successful life, a healthy life, and we judge ourselves against it, despite the fact that what we’re looking at are, essentially, Photoshopped versions of reality. Brochures of the good life, about as flimsy as our Internet connection.
Research now tells us that those picture-perfect lives we aspire for are actually fabricated—the more couples gush about each other, the more troubled their relationships might actually be. The same could likely be said for those who coo about their perfect kids and tell you that they haven’t had sugar in 42 days. They’re likely struggling with some other frustrations or insecurities that they’re not about to share with their newsfeed viewing public.
Once upon a time, we blamed celebrities and models for our insecurities—well, OK, we still do. But now we also have to contend with real people who are super cool and going on awesome adventures and doing everything right. They’re walking “wish you were here” advertisements. And because they’re our friends and acquaintances, it actually all seems attainable. If they can do it, why can’t I do it? What’s my excuse?
It’s a really dangerous way of thinking because it puts even more pressure on us to “be better.” Like those people. If only we were like them and had more willpower and more ambition and more nice clothes, then maybe we too could be posting well-posed photos, humble brags, and boldly self-congratulatory status updates.
This is the time of year when we take stock of where we’re at, and start to make our resolutions. Obviously, the whole point of a New Year’s resolution is to better ourselves in some way, but in striving for that, what are we saying about our lives right now, as is? That they’re not good enough? That we’re not good enough? Will we be more valuable people once we start eating better, journaling, spending more time with family? Will the people in our lives love us more? Will we really be happier and more fulfilled?
And what happens when we break our resolutions, as we usually do, just weeks into our better-me plan? Will we just add it to our list of things we’re doing all wrong?
I think that instead of making resolutions for next year, we need to look back at the one we just had. Was it a good year? A bad year? What have you accomplished? What are you proud of? What were the highs? How did you battle the lows? We need to be grateful for the good in our own lives, and think about how we can make more of that happen. We can think about how to extend our own blessings to those around us who aren’t as fortunate, those with bigger concerns than cutting out gluten and planning more date nights.
I think we’re all just works in progress, and should always be striving to better ourselves in some way. In doing so though, I think it’s important to still appreciate where we’re at in this moment, and how far we have come. To look back with pride and look forward with optimism, rather than brace ourselves for a challenge ahead. To inventory all of the happy in our lives, and not worry about the empty shelves, yet to be stocked.
While we all may hope to “be better,” we need to remember that, right now, our lives are more than good enough. We are more than good enough.
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.