There are lots of different kinds of hard work. There is dirty, work-your-hands-to-the-bone kinds of work. There is emotional, in-your-gut-kinds of work and can’t-fall-asleep-at-night kinds of work. There is hard work that makes you feel full and hard work that makes you feel empty and sometimes the work that falls somewhere in between. And then there is the personal hard work - the stuff that wrings your brain and heart out, and forces you to ask the challenging questions, even though the answers might be scary. For each of us, this work looks different. It is measured differently, felt differently, and experienced differently. But it’s difficult and dirty, nonetheless.
The past few months, I’ve found myself engaged in an all-too familiar kind of grind. And so here is the truth of it: I can’t stop comparing every aspect of my life to every aspect of everyone else’s. The comparison game has been beating me down, days at a time, and I don’t like the way it feels. I know the routine, this act of comparison, and it’s one that can happen so quickly, it’s as though the laces are tied before I’ve even decided what shoes to put on for the race.
I hope I don’t sound too ungrateful here, but growing up and existing as a millennial is its own kind of terribly bizarre gift. Unlimited access to the world and its details is, at best, overwhelming, and at worst, terribly disheartening. I’m paralyzed, almost daily, by the amount of opportunities, opinions, options, paths, roads, careers, failures, and successes that I consume via photos, tweets, websites, and social media. I know so much about so many things and yet, I can’t seem to make a decision that I won’t talk myself out of five minutes later. I want to be about a million different things at any given moment (a writer! a world-traveler! an entrepreneur! a photographer! an artist! an activist! a farmer! a graphic designer! a chef! a hip, skinny-jean-wearing mom with great hair and sponsored Instagram posts!) and it can be difficult work to cultivate contentment in the wholeness of my present life. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, because I hear it, almost daily, from my peers. The millennial mantra can be hard to live by. With a little help from our parents, we’ve embraced the idea that we can be anything we want to be! and that rules were meant to be broken!, and I’ve witnessed it time and time again. I’ve seen my vagabond friends travel the world, make art, pay their bills, and look good doing it. I’ve observed acquaintances build start-ups, work from home, promote the hell out of themselves, and walk away with full pockets. I’ve seen others start businesses via social media and make more money in a month than I see all year. The point is, my generation bares witness to all of this, all of the time. And this isn’t the exception. This is often the rule. There is an innate expectation, however false, that can come with this kind of exposure. We want to believe (I want to believe) that life can be ALL of the things, all of the time. I don’t want to play by the rules of working hard. I want the time, freedom, and opportunity to live a life that is curated by myself alone, one lovely and intellectually stimulating moment at a time. I DESERVE THIS, I tell myself. Social media tells me so. Who wants ordinary when you can be extraordinary?
And then I give myself a proverbial punch in the face.
There is so much danger in the belief that hard work can be bypassed. While yes, we can all generally create our own set of rules to live by, we cannot outsmart, outwit, or outshine hard work. I cannot outsmart, outwit, or outshine hard work. If I’m lucky, I will get to choose the kind of hard work I want to do, but, in the end, it will still difficult and it will still be dirty. The choice is the privilege, not work in and of itself.
Like many millennials, I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m fairly confident I won’t come to a full conclusion until I’m on the downside of 70. And that’s ok with me. It’s a luxury, to be sure, and one that I don’t take lightly. I live in a world where there a million and one ways to learn, grow, change, connect, and evolve. But here is what I know for sure: Freedom takes work. Time takes work. Opportunity takes work. My vagabond, entrepreneur, creative, beautiful-people friends all have to put in the work, even if social media would have me believe otherwise. Nothing worth experiencing occurs in and of itself. Hard work makes the good stuff happen.
I’m tired of comparison. It steals joy, as they say, but I believe it also diminishes the value we place on the process and on the hard-fought journey that so many of our lives represent. I want to love, support, and encourage the imperfect lives that my friends and peers lead, and I want them to do the same for me. I want to strive to embrace the process, the dirty work, and the imperfections as much as I embrace the shiny and beautiful filtered Instagram photo. Because, as much as I love a good photograph, I love the simple, ordinary, hard-working story behind it even more.
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm going to work on ceasing comparing my thighs, meals, clothes, trips, and days to yours, if you remind me every once in a while that you work hard to earn those European excursions and that you, too, in fact, wake up with pimples the size of Argentina on your forehead. In exchange, I'll try to stop bragging about how awesome my dog is and will work on posting more cellulite-heavy pics (yum!). I think sometimes it takes a lot of hard work and extraordinary courage to be perfectly ordinary. But for the sake of millennials everywhere, I'm willing to try.