Picture yourself indulging in the perfect beach read. You’ve mastered the art of keeping your toes buried in the sand while balancing your Kindle across your chiseled abs. Simultaneously, you reapply another coat of Clarins Broad Spectrum SPF sunscreen before adjusting your Ray-Ban mirrored aviators and returning to your chick-lit novel.
Cue record scratching sound drop.
If this sounds like your inner monologue, then I’ve got some bad news: you are living in a fantasy that your life is a chick-lit novel. If you keep listening to this internal soundtrack you’ll soon find it hard to separate yourself from the novel’s perky protagonist.
Indulging in this lighthearted literary medium is a great way to decompress in solitude or keep yourself entertained, but our generation seems intent on blurring the lines between reality and our idealized chick-lit-selves.
When we lose ourselves in these kinds of escapist novels, we get vicarious validation each time the heroine pushes boundaries. We enjoy the perks of this unabashed lifestyle without any of the anxiety. This phenomenon occurs because we are tapping into parts of ourselves that we cannot always express in our everyday lives. We see shades of ourselves in the adorable, yet fundamentally flawed, female character and we get hooked. Whatever the plight – enduring a toxic work environment, struggling with friendships, or lusting after an emotionally unavailable man – haven’t we all been there before?
The problem arises when the heroine goes on to overthrow her tyrannical boss, get revenge against her arch nemesis, or seemingly heal a damaged bachelor through the power of love, and we think we can get away with the same behavior. While we enjoy watching our fictional friend fumble along, the choices we make in the real world are not without consequences.
Many of the premises upon which this genre was built reinforce our generational sense of entitlement. We expect those around us to prioritize our needs and we assume that good things will happen to good people. Unfortunately, these are unhelpful thinking-traps that ultimately widen the gap between our idealizations and reality. Our literary preferences plant the seeds of unfulfilled wishes that will ultimately leave us feeling dissatisfied.
Giving into these wishes blinds us to another truth often ignored by our generation: that success in life requires hard work. We’re talking to you Andy Sachs! In the real world the boss you abandoned in Paris is not going to write you a good recommendation.
Unlike a chick-lit novel, there is no finite happy ending, because there is always more to the story. Life is complex, and most of the time the loose ends don’t get sewn up. It may be difficult to tolerate this uncertainty, but it is important to remember that enduring this emotion is healthy. You can leverage it to your advantage and use it as motivation. As tough as it is to hear when the chips are down, disappointment is character building. Adversity deepens our capacity to recognize the good in life and enables us to build a healthy perspective.
So as you enjoy your weekend read, try cutting yourself some slack. Be a little more compassionate with yourself and remember that life is not a chick-lit novel.
Photo by Lukas North