WHAT I LEARNED FROM A GIRL NAMED MARY
Meeting Mary left quite an impression on me. In fact, she might be called Mary or by any other name.
It doesn’t really matter. Here is the context within which I hope you’ll come to understand Mary and the reason for which I’ve chosen to tell her story.
Mary plays a video game
Mary plays video games. She gets into the game’s imaginary world, spending hours in it. She fights monsters, moves on to the next level, earns points, improves her time, and becomes a more skillful player. All of this makes her so fully engrossed that she begins to believe, as one does on such occasions, in the reality and importance of the imaginary world and to experience genuine emotional ups and downs within it. An alternate reality, a conscious choice that makes Mary a temporary superhero. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t real. What matters is that, for a time, her adrenaline rises, her blood runs warmer and she believes that she has superpowers.
So Mary plays and plays. Then she puts the controller away, turns off the monitor and begins to operate within a different reality.
Mary’s other reality
Mary’s place is nice. She lives there because she has done well. She learned well in college, got a great job and, eventually, a good career, all of which eventually led to life in her terrific appartment. Mary is competent, independent, a wife and mother, has tons of followers on Instagram and a gorgeous family album on Facebook. She’s got the whole checklist covered.
“One hundred points, new level! As far as social media is concerned, Mary’s got it going on and is pretty much the ideal woman.”
Her whole life Mary has been amassing points that would allow her to progress to the next level, where her life would be better, cooler, hotter, more popular, faster…. As a result Mary has an apartment in a great part of town, super close to work. Plus-five points.
Mary owns a luxury car which she drives to meetings with clients and to confirm her status. Plus-ten more points.
She’s been working on attaining this status for a long while and her clothes too are of a very fine quality, all of them expensive and made by famous designers. It’s so nice to hear them come out of your mouth in response to people’s inquiries and compliments, after all. Besides, they announce you and who you are as soon as you walk into a place. Plus-ten points.
Mary writes motivational posts on Facebook, collecting tons of compliments and awed exclamations from her fans about her brilliant and incisive mind. Plus-five more points.
She carefully and cheerfully replies to every comment. Plus-five points.
One hundred points, new level! As far as social media is concerned, Mary’s got it going on and is pretty much the ideal woman.
But a status is only a game level. Having collected all the things that raised her status has only created an alternative reality around Mary, one that is not unlike the alternative reality of the video games she liked to disappear into. The irony is that throughout her quest for reaching higher levels, defeating monsters, and accumulating accolades, the controller has always been in her hands and only in hers. A reality that requires you to keep chasing the next level also cuts you off from the ability to think outside of its own parameters, ask yourself questions, or imagine a different reality. If you never ask yourself whether you need this game at all, you never get to select your path to happiness, you just assume that it’s this one. The only choice you ever gave yourself.
“We’ve all been there – excited about getting several hundred “likes” on a photograph… “
It’s quite possible that at some point Mary felt content. Every level is a victory to be celebrated after all. You feel accomplished, your friends “like” your posts about it on Facebook. You get external validation. We’ve all been there – excited about getting several hundred “likes” on a photograph or announcement, feeling that they were a sort of final confirmation of our own achievement and its recognition. It all feels like yet another game level passed, even if its heyday is confined to its ephemeral time on Facebook.
We all play this game, not just Mary. We are all to one degree or another part of this matrix, this race for points, points that let us progress to the next levels. I have 5000 Facebook friends, we think to ourselves. I got this many “likes” and “hearts” for this clever post. I got another designer sweatshirt. Another 50 points, another game level. All of this takes us deeper and deeper into an alternate reality controlled remotely.
But we have the option of throwing out the controller at any time. It’s important to remember that the controller is in your own hands.
These parallels can be drawn everywhere, but we tend to avoid such thoughts because they might lead to some uncomfortable realizations. That perhaps our life is not what we truly want it to be. That what we truly want is totally different. Or that we truly don’t know what we want. These things aren’t just uncomfortable to take in, they’re a shock to one’s system, a punch to the solar plexus. We learned to live in that system.
When such realizations happen, there’s hurt and pain and disappointment. But what comes after is total self-awareness and freedom. Freedom from games and points, freedom from statuses and other people’s levels. It leads you closer to an understanding of what loving yourself, as opposed to loving your ego, really means and feels like. To the understanding that no external judgment or approval can ever be a replacement for one that comes from a genuine place within you. To the realization that you have no rivals when you’re exploring your own inner strength and uniqueness. That real freedom and success and true happiness come from knowing what, for you, is truly “enough.” That to be the best version of yourself you don’t need to compete with anyone. That beauty, trite as it might sound, comes from within and is thus unique. And that all the answers are to be found behind the questions that we dare not ask ourselves.
Put down the controller, get off Facebook, sit in front of the mirror and ask yourself – does the reality that I have created for myself make me genuinely happy?
Maybe you too are familiar with the girl named Mary.
Translated from Russian by Girtrude Belle.