In a world now ruled by social media, it can be very hard not to measure yourself by the markers of other’s success. In my experience, it seems I should have found my career path by 18, gained an internship in a prospective field by 20, and landed a full-time job that I both loved and excelled in right out of college. At 24, I should have already had a long term partner who I’d be living with by now. No one, not my parents or teachers or close friends, has ever said this to me; but as I scroll through Facebook or Instagram, it seems like my peers have all reached these milestones on this “race” of life and I feel, regardless of my supporters, somewhat left behind.
But lately, I have been trying not to compare my life to others. After a long time of running that race, I’ve realized that the path life takes us on is unique to every individual. If life is a race, each of us do not start at the same place. There’s been a lot in my life that’s set me back: not finding a “dream” career, transferring between colleges, and coming out as gay well after my peers had already had their first experiences of love and dating. But a lot of things have also pushed me forward: an innate ability to learn skills quickly, finding the school that set me on my path, and being born in a country where my sexuality is not deemed a criminal act.
So it’s true, we all start our journey at different points. As products of our environment and upbringing, we each begin our journey with a different perspective. As we gain new experiences, that perspective grows and changes with us (for better or worse). Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on some (often forgotten) blessings whenever I feel life is a little too unfair. Our world is ripe with issues: minority groups are still oppressed, we’ve experienced a disconnect between government and civilian interests, and the growing disparity between political “sides” divides us now more than ever. But despite all that, we do indeed live in a time where the future looks bright.
For the most part, we live in a country where people are equal. Woman are the primary authority of how they want to live their lives and are relatively untethered by the constraints of men or religion. They can, should they choose, stay single, live on their own, and prioritize work over a family. Despite the massive strides we need to take towards racial equality, days are different from 70 years ago, when signs that read “Whites Only” were legally enforced in businesses and hospitals. Putting aside its flaws and cost, education is more accessible here than in most other countries and is not restricted by race, ethnicity, gender or income. LGBT+ people can feel safe to walk our streets and won’t be killed or imprisoned for attending the Pride parade or holding their partner’s hand. And when minority groups do face injustice, their words are not silenced by a tyrannical government as Freedom of Speech remains a basic human right.
Not for a second will I pretend our country is the greatest in the world: to believe this, I feel we limit ourselves to stagnation, never having to rise above and grow as a nation and people. But just as we start life’s race at different places, we have been placed far ahead of others just by having the good fortune of being born on U.S. soil. Changing one’s mindset is difficult. It is even harder to find a middle ground between despising our country for its faults and loving it for its merits. But it is possible (and essential) to accept the privileges and disadvantages of where we come from. As a gay, white, college educated, middle-class male whose parents have financially and emotionally supported him through life, I have experienced privileges others could only dream of. No doubt, there are minds much more capable than mine, voices with a greater power to affect change, who live in the next town over; but, by birth and circumstance, will never rise as far as I have while sitting on the shoulders of others.
So don’t forget, even though it’s easy, where you come from and the sacrifices others have made to put you there. And when you find yourself at the finish line, having achieved the success you’ve measure by your own milestones, remember to look back: one person’s support, be it stranger or friend, could be just what someone else needs to cross over that line with you. The race of life is one in which we can all be winners, as one’s successes do not equate to another’s failure. It is, in fact, the exact opposite– by supporting our neighbors, our coworkers, and our friends and brothers from overseas, we can bring ourselves forward as a people to enter into a Golden Age. We can bring ourselves to a period of time marked with equality, prosperity, and community. The finish line may lie far ahead of us, much further for some than for others, but every journey worth taking begins with a single step. What sort of footprint will you leave behind?
As always, stay safe and hopeful!