I haven’t always been a television addict.
Okay, that’s not exactly true. In truth, I believe I have been addicted to TV since early childhood. A few years ago, I even came across a photo of my childhood bedroom from when I was around the age of four. In the corner sat a black and white television circa 1970. So, I guess the truth is, I love television—but I will say—I have had a few periods in my life when television didn’t take up a significant portion of my time.
When I lived in Istanbul from 1997-1999, I seldomly watched television. We had a small set, maybe 15″ if that, and it needed a good smack on the side every hour or so to steady the picture tube when it stopped working. It wasn’t the quality of the TV that dissuaded me from watching, it was the fact that all of the programs weren’t in English. No matter how good my Turkish got, I could never understand a Turkish sitcom well enough to actually find it funny. There were two things I did watch: Tom & Jerry (they didn’t speak, so I may as well have been at home in the U.S. watching) and any American film that I had seen at least once before. Even with these programs, however, I only half watched, and they became the noise in the background as I read a book.
When we moved back to the United States, someone gave us an old television, and we immediately got cable. For the first time in almost three years, I had more than one hundred channels to choose from. I went from watching nothing to watching everything. I had years of Friends episodes to catch up on, and who wouldn’t want to watch an ER marathon on a Sunday morning? It was an endless array of reruns from all different eras, and it was bliss.
A couple of months after our daughter was born, money was tight, and we made the decision to cancel cable—okay, maybe the decision was made for us when it got shut off due to lack of payment—but we did consciously decide to turn in the box and go out and buy an antenna. I’ll admit, it was a transition, but I was impressed that we were able to see a clear picture at all, so I knew that we could somehow get used to only having seven channels.
Our daughter grew up on PBS and had never heard of the word Nickelodeon. She woke up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons—just as I did as a kid—for it was the only day of the week that she was able to see Disney characters, and they were magical. As she got older, she began hearing about a world in which Disney characters were on every day of the week, and there were other channels with shows like Spongebob Squarepants and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. It got worse when she started elementary school, and suddenly she was “the only kid in the whole United States who didn’t have cable.” I didn’t give in right away, it took another year of her begging, whining, and all-out campaigning for cable until I finally agreed. That was four years ago.
I discovered an incredible thing when we got cable again—the DVR. What an amazing invention, and so liberating. To be able to watch something on one channel and record something on another . . . it was magical. It took only about a day for me to become completely hooked once again. I started recording anything that caught my interest: reality shows, cooking shows, even soap operas like The Young & the Restless, and of course, Oprah. I loved coming home from work and being able to watch episodes of Oprah telling me how to “live my best life.” I would feel so inspired listening to people tell their personal stories of how they had changed their lives through charity work, or how they had given up their unrewarding careers in order to pursue their lifelong dream of writing a novel. Throughout the entire episode, I would be thinking that I could be like the people on Oprah and truly live my best life.
But like all things, the episode would end, and I would be left confronting the realities of my messy home, the children fighting, and the empty refrigerator desperate for groceries. There would be no time left to ponder how I might be able to make the most of my life. Over time, as I watched more and more inspirational stories, the more I found myself feeling like a failure because all I seemed to do was work full-time, take care of my children, my home, and my husband, and of course, watch TV. This feeling of failure started to linger into my evenings, and sometimes I would even start the day feeling like a disappointment to myself. One day, I had had enough, I deleted Oprah from my DVR, and I got on with life.
This was two years ago.
My life has changed quite a bit since my Oprah-watching days. Although I still work for the same company that I have for the last eleven years, I moved to a new division a little over a year ago. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to get to work from home which allows me a greater sense of balance with work, the kids, my husband, and our home. And if all of that weren’t enough, about a year and a half ago, I took on the extra work of helping my husband expand his business by revamping his store.
I was talking to my older sister a few weeks ago, around the time that Oprah was airing her last episodes, and she asked me if I was watching. I explained to her how, as much as I like the show, I always come away feeling bad about myself. She actually laughed at me, and said that I should take a closer look, I was already living my best life.
My advice to my daughter is to never waste a moment comparing yourself—or your life—to anyone else’s. If you aren’t careful, your own life could slip past you and you wouldn’t even know that you were already living it.