“Dootsie,” she sighed. “I’m 26.”
I shrugged. I’d come to terms with my quarter-life crisis already. I knew where her mental spiral was headed.
She looked flustered. She wondered aloud if she was doing it right, if she was successful enough, if she was doing okay. She reasoned that she was doing far “better” than most of her family and certainly worlds better than anyone ever expected of her.
I’d already decided a long time ago that success is completely relative. Was I where my mother hoped I’d be by now? No, but I realized that I probably wouldn’t get there by fifty, so who cares? Was I doing better than I imagined as a kid? Even in my wildest dreams as a child, my life mysteriously blinked out of existence at 21—so yeah, I’d say so. Was I doing better than my peers? Some yes, some no.
What the does “better” even entail?
It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it, but asked to define it, you’re stumped. I couldn’t put my finger on better, but I know when I feel it. Ask me to find better in a mall and I probably could, but ask me to find it in my life and I might flounder.
I feel like a jerk when I compare my life apples-to-apples with someone else’s. I do it sometimes and I remind myself of how little I need and how little I am in need. I immediately feel guilty for positioning the state of my life above someone else’s, though. Sometimes, I compare my life to someone else’s and end up feeling hollow, jealous, bitter or frustrated. I feel like I no longer understand my values and doubt my own contentment.
Better For Me is a concept I’ve had to invent for myself. Ultimately, the life I live should make me as happy as possible, should be in agreement with my values and should be 100%, authentically my own. I shouldn’t work to suit anyone else’s notion of better: I should make choices that are Better For Me, my needs and my goals.
I can’t hold anyone else to the Better For Me standard because it’s my own, specific to my own circumstances and priorities—theirs are different, and they can keep ‘em. When someone tries to hold me to their standard, I can shake it off with confidence because I’ve made the conscious choice to exclude their values from my consideration. (Which I realize may sound harsh, but usually when someone wants to bug me about my life, it’s because they’re valuing Appearances, Possessions, Career or Tradition much differently than me.)
Better For Me isn’t necessarily about avoiding doing “worse”, either. If my life veers away from the ideal, I’m not doing life wrong. I’m allowed to have difficulties because life is difficult. So long as I am certain that I am doing the best I can at making Better For Me choices, I am not failing. While this doesn’t (and couldn’t!) free me from worry, it does free me from second-guessing myself.
My roommate shifted her weight to one foot and her eyes flicked away from nothing to land squarely on mine. I recognized the conflict in her eyes. With a little uncertainty in her voice, she asked, “Are we doing okay?”
I laughed. “Better than okay.”