I’m a product of my generation. I grew up in a community that fostered–albeit at times unhealthy–competition between myself and my peers in the realms of academics, athletics, music, and everything in between. Who had the nicest clothes? Who took the nicest vacations? Who had the most numbers in their Motorola cell phones with snap on cases? If someone else’s parent wasn’t criticizing that you got the solo her daughter wanted or the way you smiled at the boy her daughter had a crush on, you were a nobody in my quiet, mountain town. I grew up being a big fish in a very small pond–always feeling some sort of spotlight on everything I did, and feeling the burn of it by many peers and their parents. It would be easy to chalk it up to jealousy, but really I think people had nothing better to do than analyze the every move each other made. Growing up in a small town does something the to psyche of its inhabitants–when I talk with my friends who grew up in a large city, they can’t quite relate to the cattiness or bitterness I had to grow up with. People in cities have more important people, things, and places to focus on–which is why I knew that the second I got to leave my hometown, I was going to do it.
Fast forward 8 years, and I find myself living in the nearest city to my mountain town. Merely half an hour away is the place that I called home–sometimes reluctantly–for the majority of my life. When I first made the choice to move to Asheville I was worried people would view it as moving home, although I can assure myself that living here is NOTHING like living in my small hometown.
But why did it matter?
I was getting some drinks with friends one night when we all started talking about social media. My loverly boyfriend was complaining that people use Facebook and Instagram just to brag about themselves and to make others feel bad (he has neither). My good friend Ali commented that when people share their successes, the audience that’s staring at their computer screen are comparing their mundane lives to the brilliantly filtered lense of a photo, and that isn’t fair. She called it comparing your “behind the scenes” (like sitting at home on a Thursday night eating leftovers and drinking 3 Buck Chuck) to someone’s highlights (like your friend that is living abroad and only posts about their adventures or the seemingly infinite number of friends getting engaged). Although it isn’t true for all, most people post the positive, monumental moments happening in their lives. It’s creating an image for you–the Facebook stalker or Instagram gawker or Twitter talker–not to make others feel bad, but just tp share that they have some parts of their life put-together. To keep yourself sane, it’s vital to remember that not everyone does have their life all figured out, at least not completely–even your old roommate who spends her summers feeding elephants and Thailand and working as an intern for Vogue in the fall (disclaimer: none of my old roommates do these things…yet). What you’re not seeing in between the posts of engagement rings and music festivals are any kind of arguments, financial burdens, car problems, pimples, the 5 terrible outfits they tried on before they pieced together the perfect one, the hangovers, or general sadness fits that occur. And these things do happen. Often.
I was reading a childhood favorite to my students the other day–Dr. Seuss’s “Oh! the Places You Will Go!”. It’s a stereotypical graduation gift, but I have only read it as an adult a handful of times. As I was reading it aloud to my students, I began to tear up. The overall message of the book isn’t “Hey! You’re going to have adventures! No issues! No problems! Just go out and change the world!” like I believed it to be as a child. Re-reading it as an adult, the stronger message of the book is that life is full of balance–one day things are great, the next they’re awful. Sometimes you’ll be surrounded by people, sometimes you’ll be alone. And sometimes–this was the most profound part to me–you’ll have to wait for things.
As much as I’d like to be jet-setting with perfectly gel manicured nails and drinking exquisite champagne cocktails for the majority of my day/week/month/life, it’s just not an option for me yet. I need to wait to save up money for trips. I need to wait for time off. I need to wait to get it all scheduled so that I’m not creating a burden for myself or others. No matter how much I want things NOW, or expect them NOW, or become disappointed that things aren’t happening NOW NOW NOW, in life you have to wait. What the book tells you–and what is the absolute truth–is that some people wait forever, because they wait for things to happen for or to them. That’s not for me, and it shouldn’t be for you–if you are working hard towards a goal, your wait will be shorter. There may still be a wait–ugh, I know–but if you want it, you can have it.
I think pretty often of what I would tell 17-year old, starry-eyed Michelle. I wonder if she’d be disappointed that I wasn’t a billionaire writer and public speaker, saving the world one witty comment at a time. I wonder if she’d be surprised that I lived in Asheville–a city she adored. I wonder if she’d be giddy about buying a home with her boyfriend. I know she’d have questions, but what kind of answers would I want to give her? So much of the joy in my life has come from the result of hard work and waiting. Waiting to leave a town that seems hellbent on defining who you are, waiting to meet the right guy, waiting to see the world and change it simultaneously.
I realize how young I am, and how much lies ahead. So now I’m content with waiting, as long as I work towards my goals along the way. I’ve got places to go.