You Can Do So Much Better Than Someone Else’s Life
The grass isn’t greener all the time on the other side.
“I want your life.”
I heard and read that line many times during my 13 expat years, usually in response to my frequent travel and far-flung bases: Buenos Aires to Melbourne to Bangkok to Cape Town to Sydney to Eastern Europe, with short and extended layovers in so many amazing and not-so-amazing places in-between.
As exciting as my 2006-to-2019 adventure abroad may have sounded to folks back home, I never understood why anyone wanted to walk in my shoes full-time.
For one thing, my feet are big (size 12), flat, and bunion-ridden. My boots that were made for walking wouldn’t fit most people. More than that, despite what others might have perceived as endless travel and excitement, my life was no more extraordinary than anyone else’s. It was just unfolding in different settings.
Despite what others might have perceived as endless travel and excitement, my life was no more extraordinary than anyone else’s. It was just unfolding in different settings.
Look, India is a fascinating place. But when your head is throbbing in the sun and your stomach churning after you forgot not to brush your teeth using tap water, all those gorgeous vistas lose some of their luster: Home is where the hurt is … more bearable. Living abroad isn’t all sightseeing and fabulous photo ops. There’s a fair bit of discomfort and ordinary, too.
Ordinary actually creeps into the most unexpected places. Like Hollywood. As celebrities post singalongs and random, rambling musings during the current pandemic lockdown, I’ve realized this: Their trappings might be more luxurious than most, but strip away the glossy and, at the core, their lives are no more spectacular than anyone else’s.
We aren’t where we are. Being on a five-star holiday or kicking back in a sprawling mansion doesn’t magically make life a no-problems zone. If you’re sitting in premium class with a dark cloud hanging over your head, it travels with you to your next destination.
There’s no outrunning it. Travel can give you a new perspective, and it’s sometimes better to be miserable in a different setting, but the mental benefits of temporary relocation are mostly ephemeral.
If you stay long enough, more than a few days, routine begins to set in. If not, you’re just looking at more packed suitcases and another empty room that you’re about to leave. The routine becomes almost painfully familiar: packing, driving to the airport, going through security at the airport, waiting at the gate, waiting on the runway, taking off, landing, and doing everything again in reverse.
My pleasure principle
All this said, I wouldn’t dream of knocking frequent travel (some people are so well-suited for it that what I see as downsides hardly register). But on the list of things in life that give me the most pleasure, it has a lot of competition. I suppose, that might be a legitimately enviable thing I have to be thankful for. A lot of people only have food and sex.
When I start compiling my list of biggest thrills, travel never comes out on top. That honor would go to writing. Nothing lifts me up, pulls me out of a funk, and turns a frown into a smile, quite like writing does. It’s my lifeline, the reason I jump out of bed in the morning, full of energy and fire.
Running and love are its only competition — and both actually inspire me to write more. Most people probably see writing as a means to the wrong end: making a living, not emotional rescue. It’s my form of therapy and why I don’t mind being stuck at home for nearly five weeks and counting right now. I usually would prefer to be here anyway.
Despite the supremacy of words in my life, like frequently stamped passports, they aren’t everything. Those people who think they want my life don’t even know the half of it. All they know is what I show and tell. Whatever trials I may or may not be going through I generally keep to myself. It’s not my style to post that stuff on Facebook.
Whatever trials I may or may not be going through I generally keep to myself. It’s not my style to post that stuff on Facebook.
I imagine that if I were to get bad news from my doctor, I’d be like those stoic characters on daytime soaps, the ones who keep tragic diagnoses to themselves and suffer silently. It would be less to spare my loved ones the worrying than to delay their sorrowful looks and rote though well-meaning words of comfort.
Those might be okay when I’m suffering from a cold, but with serious illness, I’d probably need something more substantial than “Get well soon” and “Feel better.”
Not to worry. As far as I know, I’m in tip-top shape. My point is this: Other people’s lives are rarely as great as they seem in photos, in emails, in Facebook status updates, or in your imagination. Sometimes they’re a lot worse than yours.
And even if they aren’t, so what? Once when I was comparing my career to the careers of successful people at the same age, my best friend told me to stop worrying about the lives of people I don’t know and just live mine.
It was excellent advice, but I knew it was much easier said than done. When I’m feeling useless and adrift, it often seems like everyone else couldn’t be happier. The world keeps turning, and life begins to feel like a party I wasn’t invited to.
Oh, but as anyone who has been to that party knows, sometimes there’s no place like home. Remember that the next time your invitation gets lost in the mail.