A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends where I should go on vacation. It was a hypothetical week off at the time, and so I told them to go wild. Pretend I have money, I instructed. Pretend transportation is not an issue. No suggestion was a disappointment. Close friends suggested I hop on a bus and visit them in The City. The globe-trekkers tempted me with sandy beaches and mountain peaks. On my lunch break at work, I googled every place and quietly sipped a coffee while I imagined myself there. In 30 minutes, I went on a million vacations, each as fulfilling as the last.
And then I got my week off.
Realizing that my service hours were nearly complete almost two months before my contract is set to end in August, my supervisors actually encouraged taking time for myself. I submitted my request for vacation days, extending what I’d already requested for a dance competition, and it came back in less than an hour with a signature, a smiley face, and a “have fun!” I haphazardly began to plan…but suddenly, I wasn’t so keen. Machu Picchu never seemed further away.
Since graduation, my newsfeed has been lighting up with adventure stories. A new apartment in The City, a week in the jungle without a shower, a fellowship abroad, destination weddings and selfies at the beach. Here was my chance to join them. I looked up wineries, campsites, and bike routes. I planned at least four different out-of-state vacations, and I went on none of them. I cried about it for a few hours, but somewhere between the tears and the hiccups, I realized that none of those vacations would have been mine.
In the end, I chose to stay. What I wanted wasn’t a vacation. What I wanted was a nostalgic filtered image (with an artistic lens flare for good measure) that would make my peers jealous. Every morning, I wake up to see my friends go-go-going and do-do-doing, and, every morning, I wake up to face my own un-doing. I’m twenty four years old, and the last time I used my passport was at a bar when I couldn’t find my drivers license. When did I get so boring?, I wonder. When did my stories stop making people laugh? I put on my clothes–likely the same outfit I wore last Wednesday–and I bike to work. Every day, my friends are going, and I am staying, wondering where I went wrong.
This isn’t to begrudge my friends’ their adventures. Peer pressure isn’t always a negative thing. In college, watching my peers introduced me to new political issues, foods, board games, music, books, and movies. In dance, watching the other girls has helped my technique and style. Peer pressure can push you in really positive ways to expand your horizons and discover new things about yourself. What’s troubling is that my interaction with my peers lately has been largely impersonal. Like contemplating a photo-shopped image of a celebrity on the cover of a magazine, seeing my friends’ lives filtered through Instagram and shared on Facebook has made me question everything. 1,000,000 sit-ups won’t make my neck longer or my teeth smaller. A series of sepia toned pictures won’t make me a better adult, but having an actual conversation will.
The first step is admitting there is a problem… Rather than appreciating a photo with a glib thumbs-up to let my friends know I saw it, I should actively engage in a conversation. What did they like best, did they try any new foods, how was the weather? I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want to talk about their vacation, whether it was a disaster or not. Shared words are how we grow; manicured money-shots are just the icing on an already delicious cake. I’m immensely grateful to social media for keeping my loved ones close, but I’ve been going about it all wrong. I want to learn about and show my appreciation for my friends’ lives on a deeper level. It’s time to stop liking and start talking.
There’s a lot of pressure to achieve as a young person, and most of that we place on ourselves. It’s exciting to test out new research methods and try new recipes. I can read the books my friends recommend, but no matter how hard I try, that cornfield will never look as good as it does in lo-fi. To say that I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Columbus, completely content with my un-doing, would be a lie. I want to go somewhere; I want to do something. I could have gone anywhere this week, but it wouldn’t have been for me. It would have been for future lovers (to keep them interested), for old professors (to make them proud), for people I haven’t talked to in years (to make them jealous). My photos would have been gorgeous, but they would have been meaningless. I stayed for me. I stayed for my friends, my family, my wallet. This vacation may not be “exciting,” but it’s mine, and I’m going to make the most of it.