The Great British Bake Off, my favorite and only reality show I watch, always leaves me feeling a little empty and sad. If you watch the show, you might find this odd because it’s the happiest, most friendly baking competition the world has ever known.
First of all, the competition takes place in a large white tent in the middle of the greenest field you’ve ever seen, next door to a beautiful estate where goats roam free, ducks play in the pond, and butterflies flutter about among the flowers. Inside the tent, pastel stand-mixers sit atop baking stations surrounded by vintage-inspired SMEG refrigerators, which are also pastel colors. It’s just the most physically pleasant environment.
Then there are the bakers themselves – always the loveliest people who never hate on each other. If one contestant is falling behind, nearby bakers often jump in to help! You would never see that in an American baking competition. Never. Ever. Every year the hosts fall in love with the bakers, and they hug the baker going home that weekend. Actually, everyone hugs everyone at the end of every episode. I cry every time. They’ve worked so hard and learned so much!
So why do I always feel sad and empty at the end of each series?
It’s the familiar pang of jealousy. I know it well; I feel it quite often. I feel it when I listen to Conan O’Brien’s podcast, and he talks to other artists about finding their “People” or realizing, “Wow, I can make people laugh. I’m good at this thing called comedy.” I feel it when I scroll through Instagram and see the same groups of friends hanging out every weekend – yes, even during a pandemic. I feel it when I see posts about a job promotion and how lucky someone feels to have found a job where they connect deeply with their work and love their coworkers.
More often than not, the bakers in GBBO say that they have 1. Learned so much, and they’ll continue baking and 2. Made lifelong friends through the competition. The winners always talk about their insecurities and how they’ve always struggled with confidence. And yet – they won! I always cry at this too. Both out of joy for this stranger I’ve never met and because I’m sad I will never feel the pride they feel in that moment they hear their named called as the winner.
I relate so much with the insecurity and lack of confidence, but I’ve never felt that connection with anything I’ve done before. I’ve never loved anything so much as these bakers love baking. And I’ve never quite found My People. Or maybe I have, and I lost them before I could really get to know them.
At my core, I just want to belong. To a calling and to a group of people.
The closest thing I’ve felt to belonging was in journalism school during my long-form narrative writing course. I never felt more insecure than during journalism school, but I felt really connected to the work. If it wasn’t for my incredible anxiety, I would have loved reporting. I always felt privileged to hear people’s stories and be a part of their lives for a while. I loved my classmates, talking about stories, writing, and suffering together. I mean, I didn’t love the suffering, but going through it together made it kind of fun, in a sadistic way.
Sadly, I haven’t kept in touch with my Medill classmates. Mostly because of my social anxiety. I think about them often and wish I could be cool and reach out. But I always stop myself. The A N X I E T Y.
I wonder every day if I’ll ever belong. I obviously won’t if I just sit around at home and cry about British bakers hugging each other. That’s for sure.