Flamin Hot Cheetos

An Anxiety Hypothetical

Content warning: this post contains discussions of mental illness. This is also the weirdest post I have ever written.

A college acceptance should be one of the proudest moments of a young life. Instead, Twitter makes it easy for you to search #Harvard2025, where you might find out that, damn, the president of your rival high school’s honor society is going to Cambridge in August while you will languish in Manhattan at lowly Columbia.

After arriving at once-impressive Columbia, you might be inclined to party on the weekend. After all, you are a college student! That’s what the movies, or your dad after three beers, made college sound like it was all about. 

But be careful not to check Snapchat stories on a Thursday night, or you will notice that the cute guy from your stats class didn’t leave the library until 1:07 a.m., which happened to be the same exact time you decided to pay the $5.00 fee at your bar’s sketchy ATM so you could withdraw some cash to leave a tip for the bartender.

As an upperclassmen, you might have finally decided on an entry-level career that sounds engaging, or at least bearable. Maybe you decide to start your professional life as a tech consultant or actuary or assistant social media manager. 

Proud of yourself, you might share your job update on LinkedIn, where you might see that two people from your intramural handball team will be starting work at the United Nations and the woman who once threw up on your shoes at a freshman party will be enrolling in Michigan’s law school.

“How is this possible?” you might think to yourself. “Didn’t these people goof off like me?” you ask.

Oh no. Is there something wrong with you as a person? After all, those two guys from handball always talked about how they would study buzzed after hitting the bars. Whenever you came home from the bars, you ate half a bag of Cheetos and fell asleep watching Planet Earth

These are chemically addictive.

You are a slacker. You wasted $250,000 worth of tuition. You stole someone else’s spot, someone who would have never come home drunk and eaten half a bag of Cheetos. Normal people stop after a quarter of the bag anyway, you freak.

Over the summer, you could do some reflection. You decide to do a social media cleanse. All the trendy celebrities are giving up their phones on weekdays, or going without their phones entirely for 30 days, or downgrading to flip phones. Those options seem a tad bit drastic, so you settle on deleting your Facebook account, since your grandma is the only one on there anyway, and promising yourself you will stop bringing your phone in the shower.

Maybe a week later, you watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix and emerge horrified, with strict screen time limits set in place on your phone. When your Twitter app tells you that you have exceeded your daily limit by 10:24 a.m., you snooze the warning and use the app in grayscale, perhaps telling yourself to build a habit by starting small. 

It is unclear how using the app without color is starting small, but you press boldly onward.

One day, sliding through Instagram while you brush your teeth, which is definitely progress over scrolling in the shower, you might see that a friend from high school has moved in with their girlfriend. You are concerned, but not because you also wish you were moving in together with someone. Rather, you wonder how you hadn’t heard about this sooner.

So maybe you text your friend and ask why they didn’t tell you they were moving in together. “My bad,” your friend responds “I invited you to the housewarming on Facebook. Did you see the event?”

Frustrated, you have doubts about deleting your Facebook, and hastily login to your profile. What if you miss out on your own sister’s wedding because you don’t have a Facebook? Or forget your dog’s birthday? The Facebook account was merely inactive rather than terminated, so logging in restores your profile as if nothing changed.

You might breathe a sigh of relief.

A few months later, and perhaps you have started your first job as an accountant or data analyst or assistant social media manager. You might find yourself in a lull one Thursday afternoon, absentmindedly scrolling LinkedIn because you are pretty sure that doesn’t count as social media so it is definitely acceptable to login to your profile on your work laptop.

As the posts fly by, you may notice how much everyone you graduated with is enjoying their jobs. They share enthusiastic updates about new product launches or network growth hacking or promotions from assistant social media manager to senior assistant social media manager.

These LinkedIn posts might sting a bit, because after a few months it is already fairly obvious to you that your work as an investor relations advisor or West Coast accounts supervisor or senior assistant social media manager is not as engaging as it appeared to your eager college senior self. The job might not even be bearable.

Slowly growing alarmed, you mouse over to the page for those two guys from handball. They are somehow already senior diplomats at the United Nations. After less than a year? That feels impossible.

Not to be outdone, the woman who threw up on your shoes freshman year was recently selected as the first ever 1L student to clerk for the Supreme Court. 

No longer merely stung or alarmed, you might be quietly panicking. You may hastily Google for self-improvement blogs to binge read until the two in the morning. Sifting through asinine suggestions such as investing in real estate or eat nothing but two slices of bread every day for nine years to max out your IRA and 401(k), you find a common theme.

Write down your goals! Every blogger, every self-help influencer, every cliché movie montage where the character finds their center starts with a little goal writing. The next day, blurry-eyed from staying up too late, you steal away on your lunch break to write down some goals in private.

And you might find that nothing comes to mind. For so long, you might have focused on what you needed to do that you failed to ask yourself for years what you wanted to do. 

Perhaps all you know now is that what you have currently is not working for you.

Ben Testani
Ben Testani is a freelance writer and young professional. Though originally from Central New York, he is currently based out of Sacramento, California. He enjoys basketball, noise-cancelling headphones, and the National Parks Service.
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