People I looked up to as a teenager included the following:
- friends who were actually nice to their siblings
- friends with better hair or dress sense
- friends who were openly loving and affectionate towards their families
- cousins with engagement rings
- full-time travel bloggers
- classmates who did more music practice
- people with jobs and independent lives
- rich people
- anyone who looked like they were excelling at life
Sometimes it went a bit far, from ‘I look up to you’ to ‘I’m going to model my future life on you’ to ‘it’s so unfair that I don’t have this-or-that-good-attribute 😡’.
But looking at the same people now, I don’t envy them.
It’s not because they’re suddenly unhappy or failing at life, and it’s not because I think I’m winning at life. It’s that, I think, part of growing up is growing out of your role models. As we grow up, we should ideally try to acquire clear-sightedness, self-knowledge and self-acceptance, traits which envy and wishful thinking do not sit well beside.
We grow out of our role models when we grow into ourselves. I’ve talked about the importance of confidence before, and part of what’s required for confidence is seeing yourself for what you truly are, and accepting that person. That doesn’t mean resigning yourself to your faults and giving up on progressing your interests (family, career, hobbies, or whatever they are). It means realising that you are a unique and worthy human being, and not beating yourself up for being less than perfect in every way or for not possessing all the things.
There are many things that are good but that wouldn’t suit you, or wouldn’t suit your current life circumstances (babies are the perfect example!!). People who marry and have babies are (normally, one hopes) mature people who desire commitment and stability. People who are digital nomads are ambitious and go-getting. Those traits increase their chances of getting their respective goods, and make them suited to those goods. Looking back, I can see that the way I lived at 19 wouldn’t suit me now. In the same way, I can see that, often, the life of those who have goods I lack wouldn’t suit me either.
We’re told to be careful what we wish for, and that has something to do with the old adage that the more you have, the more you have to lose; the more you love, the more you risk suffering. (For example, an engagement ring comes with a set of duties: engagement means precisely commitment, as I said in a previous post.) For that reason, it would be foolish to wish to swap places, to wish yourself out of your current life into the rosy glitz that surrounds an envied friend or role model.
Providing our basic needs are satisfied (we’re not in a war zone, we’re not hungry, we’re not ill or lonely, etc), I do think that happiness originates from inside, from active acceptance or contentment with yourself and your circumstances. I don’t think you acquire it by acquiring things: even relationships, holidays, experiences.
Life lessons: be grateful for what you have; be happy for your fortunate friends; strive for your own better life – not for someone else’s.