How To Deal With Being The Least Successful Person In Your Friend Group
When I was a kid watching that Friends episode where the gang goes to dinner but only half of them can afford the meal, it was weird to me that a bunch of friends who are the same age could have really different amounts of money. All grown-ups are grown-ups, right? Flashforward roughly seventeen years, and I’m wishing “The One With Five Steaks And An Eggplant” had done a little better at resolving the argument between six different friends at different stages in their careers.
While the specifics of the episode don’t really apply to my current situation (I’m lucky enough to be financially stable), I understand what it feels like to have fallen behind the people I consider my closest friends. My roommate has a steady, salaried job at a high-ranking theatre corporation that she got directly out of college. My best friend is earning her Ph. D in mechanical engineering at Stanford, where not only did she get accepted with funding, but the department asked her to apply. My college roommate has a great job at one of the biggest production companies in Hollywood, and even the flightiest girl I know managed to get a gig in the WME mailroom. I love the path I’ve chosen, and I knew that journalism would be difficult. We all saw Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. My childhood idol Rory Gilmore ended up being an unemployed, pregnant narcissist, and she had way better grades than I did in high school, so really, what was I expecting? It’s still hard to look around at your peers and realize that you’re the only one who’s a twenty-three-year-old intern without getting a little insecure, especially when some of my other friends are still killing it in undergrad and don’t understand why their former Editor-In-Chief is now a part-time sales associate at Anthropologie.
I pitched this article on a day that I was feeling particularly emo. I’d rushed from my morning gig at a yoga studio to my internship running on zero sleep, and I made a million little mistakes for what felt like the millionth day in a row. Then, I ran to job three at Anthro and helped a bunch of (super nice!) successful thirty-year-olds buy expensive dresses for five hours before going home and staying up all night because I was this close to missing a deadline at my freelancing gig. Spread too thin and behind on literally everything including my regularly scheduled meals (low blood sugar definitely factored into this), I felt like the least together person in the world, especially compared to my weirdly successful social network. Not all twenty-somethings are surrounded by gainfully employed people, right? As a narcissist (like my idol, Rory Gilmore), I clearly thought that no one else had ever looked around and thought that they were the lame friend because the entire world revolves around me and my problems.
Then, New Year’s came around. Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day are probably the three biggest holidays when it comes to sugarcoating your life on social media. With Valentine’s Day, it’s because you’re pretending that your deadbeat boyfriend didn’t forget to make a dinner reservation and try to take you to a Corner Bakery or that you’re ~so in love~ with some dude you met on Tinder two months ago but will probably let loose once cuffing szn ends. Thanksgiving and New Year’s are when it’s your entire life that you lie about. Sure, you did take an amazing vacation to Lake Tahoe and it was just as awesome as it looked, but there’s just never a mention of how much you miss your friends from home after your “so awesome!!!” cross country move or the fact that your apartment that your parents still cover half the rent for has roaches literally everywhere. According to my Insta mentions, I’m “killing it” and a “scary glitter queen.” One of my best friends, who very well knows that I’ve had at least two large-scale mental breakdowns since August, still insists that I’m “the Yoga Queen” and “clearly thriving.” Possibly in an attempt to prevent future mental breaks? Sure. But in a rare moment of clarity, I realized that maybe my steely demeanor of not publicly talking about my problems might be projecting a false sense of security to my unsuspecting public.
Partly to make myself feel better and partly for pure scientific research, I decided to just straight-up ask my friends via finsta story (the most simpy of all social media forms) if they’ve ever thought they were the least successful person they knew. My glamorous Hollywood college roommate told me that just asking if anyone’s ever felt unsuccessful made her emotional, and my thriving undergrad BFF told me to shut up because that clearly didn’t apply to me. When I asked for any sources to talk about their experiences feeling professionally insecure, one girl with a full-time, salaried job at a Big Six film studio told me that she’s sick and cranky but that her entire life could provide a credible source for this article. Then one of the coolest people I’ve ever known opened up about her long history of imposter syndrome through her time kicking butt at the top public university in the nation and how she still struggles with feelings of inadequacy even after moving to Europe for a teaching job with no prior experience and succeeding personally, romantically, and professionally. It took graduating with honors for my favorite ex-pat to realize she’s brilliant and ambitious, just as she sees her friends, and these feelings still pop up for her from time to time. I realize that these stories are vague and general for outside readers who don’t know my life or my friends — nameless and faceless stories that could come from anyone — but to me, they changed everything.
We all think we’re the least successful person we know at some point, there’s just a self-protecting stigma about sharing our vulnerabilities. That one girl who always talks about how awful she feels on her real Instagram probably looks a little unhinged to her acquaintances from high school and having somewhere to solely focus on the positive is probably pretty healthy. Even when it seems like our skies are falling or our root chakras are severely misaligned, there’s so much to be grateful for in our lives. Friends, family, a cat, the ability to change and grow. Whatever your rainbow is, and it’s different for everyone, it’s there when you look for it. There is no least successful friend, and there’s no shame in reaching out to the people who love you on your emo days. They won’t react like the bitchy characters in Friends who didn’t understand what it felt like to be going through a rough time. Maybe that lack of sympathy for your loved ones was just a ’90s thing? Even Taylor Swift felt happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time in her early-20s and she’d already won, like, five Grammys. You’re not the least successful person you know. Go eat a candy bar, sleep it off, and call your mom. You’re killing it.