My 30th birthday is approaching quickly, and when people ask me what I'm doing to celebrate or what I'd like as a gift, I twist into a knot of anxiety.
Not because I'm getting older, and may have a wrinkle or two. I decided long ago to at least publicly buck the advertising culture's narrative that women are not good enough, and to proudly embrace my budding wrinkles.
And not because I'm not totally content with my life -- thinking about where I am and what I "need" at 30 has forced me to reflect on all of the ways I am fortunate. But, as a millennial on social media, it has also compelled me to compare my life to the very visible live-streams of all of my 30-year-old contacts.
It is no wonder that studies show links between depression and social media, and psychologists have proclaimed we are facing a "narcissism epidemic."
As part of the Facebook generation, and being young for my grade in school due to my September birthday, I have already watched most of my Facebook "friends" turn 30 with well-documented parties, international trips and lavish gifts. The unfolding of this milestone is really no different from the wedding photos, baby photos, and vacation itineraries that stream daily through my newsfeed -- they are simply the most recent iteration.
Don't get me wrong, being kept alive and surviving in this world for three whole decades is something to celebrate. Also, I should tell you I am not anti-social media. I enjoy keeping up with friends and seeing their brilliant work and the beautiful families they are building. But I can't help feelings of competition and at times, jealousy, judging my own daily existence against their carefully curated public images. And I'm not proud of it.
The other day, after hours of searching for getaways and places to celebrate my 30th birthday, while I should have been working on my dissertation, I became disgusted with myself. My fixation with finding a way to celebrate seemed directly connected to my concern about presenting myself well to others through social media.
I'd be much happier if I spent less time caring about the image I project of a single day in my life, and more time trying to live outwardly. After reflecting on three wonderful decades on earth, I have a renewed sense of responsibility to give to others -- but how?
I've always wanted to try the popular "pay it forward" technique at the drive-through, but paying for someone else's expensive coffee seems too impersonal. Instead, I've decided to celebrate the whole month of September -- all 30 days -- with acts of kindness, good deeds or a term I prefer, boosts -- encouraging and uplifting those around me who need it. I will turn to social media, but for inspiration instead of comparison, and will crowdsource ideas for my boosts.
It's been surprisingly hard to think of 30 different ways to boost up others in an intimate way (i.e. not donating money online), while at the same time not creeping the heck out of them. But that is the challenge I have adopted, and the way I will begin my fourth decade.
What I do know is that small acts of kindness do not even scratch the surface of undoing systems of oppression and institutional injustice that also flood my newsfeed each day. However, I have already noticed how much it can change a person's outlook and awareness while on the lookout for small ways to make the world a little brighter.
I can't think of a better way to celebrate this milestone than by reflecting on blessings and confronting unearned privileges -- some of which, for me, include white privilege, cisgender privilege, and ability privilege -- and finding ways to promote awareness and kindness in others. Instead of a narcissistic entry into this new decade, I am choosing one of reflection, gratitude and service. I hope those of you born in 1986, or with any birthday coming up, will join me.
Alicia Raia-Hawrylak is a PhD. candidate in Sociology at Rutgers University. You can follow her thirty boosts, and share your own, on Twitter @30atThirty.
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