A few months ago, on a field trip to the districts, I posed the above photo to my Instagram. It was my first time out of Dili for work, and, secretly, I was totally on edge for the entire three-day trip: nervous that I’d screw up, worried about not knowing what was coming next (where can I pee?!), intimidated by the borrowed camera I was lugging around. Self-consciously, I captioned the photo with something I thought was humble; flippant: At a tara bandu cultural ceremony today! I don’t know how to use the camera and the only words I understand so far are “hemu kafe”, to which I said an enthusiastic yes.
This week, a dear friend in Dili posted something eerily similar on their Instagram: a lap shop of a DSLR, documenting a trip to the districts to capture stories from farmers. A dashed-off line about the camera’s intimidating sophistication.
Nearly identical to my post. Nearly identical to my life. And yet, when I saw it, my initial reaction wasn’t to laugh: it was to feel revoltingly, bitterly jealous.
Why not me, I thought – why are they the one doing something cool like this? Here I am, just sitting alone in my sad office, typing in a Word document, sweating in the cloying afternoon under fluorescent light, counting the minutes until 5:30pm hits and I can crunch my way home.
Then, I caught myself.
That is my life. I am the one doing cool things like that. I’ve got the Instagram evidence to prove I’ve done the exact same thing, and a thousand more photos demonstrating the myriad other incredible – life-changing – opportunities I’ve had since landing in Dili just five months ago.
At the time I saw that post I was messaging friends to plan a sunset trip to a white-sand beach. My Instagram feed is littered with brilliant blue tropical skies. Photos of me looking coy with coconuts. Group shots of my Timorese colleagues with in-the-know Tetun captions. Close-ups of $3 speciality coffee served to me by a barista who knows my name. I don’t think Dili’s had a sunset in the last five months I haven’t captured and posted.
But I forgot all that, as I looked at my friend’s picture.
And, of course, this is about more than just Instagram.
I can’t tell exactly what my life looks like from the outside, but I’ve got a fair idea it looks pretty good. If you read my emails home and looked through what I post on social media, you’d think I spent every weekend drinking cocktails at sunset, going on dive trips, cooking organic local produce with witty new friends, basking in 12-hour-long sunshine days – and every working week producing captivating, creative content, networking at high-end hotels, and exploring windswept mountain villages for Manatuto’s finest hidden coffee beans.
I do have those things in my life – to an extent – and I’m definitely not trying to say my life isn’t great. I’m not going to talk too loudly about the things in my life that are less-than-average, because the truth is, my life is good, and I don’t really think it serves anyone truly suffering to pretend it isn’t.
But even people with beautiful, glossy-looking lives feel lacking; feel like they’re missing out. Feel jealous.
Jealousy comes from insecurity, right? And trust me, I’ve got a lot of that. I’m not confident with my photography skills. I’m worried I’m not contributing enough at work. I’m constantly on edge about being accidentally inappropriate here, and as a result I second-guess everything I say. Half the time, I think my friends like me; the other half, I’m convinced they’re only putting up with me because it’s too late to back out now. Every Instagram post from me undergoes a severe vetting and editing regime, and then I enjoy several hours of wondering whether it was obnoxious and perhaps I should just delete it.
I’ve been anxious and unsure of myself for a long time (and I wrote about my anxiety this time last year, in a post I remain quietly very proud of). But this week was the first time my inability to appreciate what I’ve got has been this bad: never before have I been jealous of something I identically have, too.
I’m a communications volunteer who occasionally gets sent to the districts to take photos of farming villages. I’m a nervous photographer who shoots 600 frames to find three decent ones. I’m a self-conscious but narcissistic Instagrammer. I’m a terrible Tetun speaker who rehearses simple sentences 15 times before saying them aloud. I’m a smiling freckled malae living in the tropics, who gets to see the sun set over the ocean and make brief, intense friendships with other well-intentioned neurotics. I’m healthy and have money and am capable at my job and feel deeply unsure of myself and have beautiful friends whom I often talk over but they don’t seem to mind and it’s all spinning round and it’s a beautiful, fun, difficult, but easy sunstreaked life. Purple dusk and margarita salt.
Life is, of course, much more complicated than the Instagram version. But it’s also better, richer, deeper. Saturation nudged up.