Prior to social media, if you wanted to see someone's photos, hear their opinion or learn about them, you'd either see it/hear it directly from them or get wind of it through the grapevine (unless they were so famous that you'd see them in traditional media). You weren't continually bombarded with information about everyone's lives and although the measure of societal success was relatively the same, there was less of likelihood that you'd feel like you didn't measure up on a constant basis.
The problem is, when you consume other people's content, what you're most likely viewing is their "highlight reel" and without realizing it, you're sizing yourself up. You're only seeing what they want you to see but you assume that it's a full picture of their lives. We look at their posts and decide how much money they have based on the images we see. We decide how popular they are based on how many people react to them. We figure out how high their status is based on who is connected to them and what their job seems to be. We conclude how much power and influence they command based on who they know and how people treat them.
There is no denying the profound impact social media has on our self-perception and our views of success. I'm no exception to that. For a long time I looked at myself and wondered where I had gone wrong and why I wasn't measuring up to everyone else. It seemed that so many other people were living these amazing lives and there I was, still figuring myself out. I was angry with myself for falling short and I became confused about what path I should take in life. Social media and traditional media, combined with society's definition of success, left me feeling depleted, mediocre and purposeless. It took time for me to realize that what I was seeing online, and what was being pushed on me by others, wasn't always real —there was a lot of more going on that I didn't see. I had to step back and recognize that media is selective, be it social or traditional, we don't see the full picture.
You may think someone is balling-out-of-control with their flashy clothes and high brand things, but have you seen their bank account? How are they really spending their money? Do they have savings or are they in debt? Could they survive if they lost their main source of income? How about someone who seems to have it all: a profitable career (even though many times we're not even sure what they do), great connections, and always seems to be at some amazing events? You'd assume they'd have a great partner, have tons of solid relationships and have a beautiful home, but do they really? Do you know where they live? Do you know what their relationships are actually like?
The reality is we have no idea how to answer any of those questions, so we imagine things or presume things (and sometimes people or media lead us to believe certain things). I filled in the blanks myself when it came to others and, over time, I discovered many of these people I had built up in my head didn't have everything I assumed they did. Their lives really weren't as "perfect" as I thought. I assumed they had dream careers, but I discovered it was only a side-hustle that couldn't support them and they still worked a regular 9 to 5. I assumed some people had their own property purchased with their own money but then I found out they lived with their families, had multiple roomies, or lived in a basement. Don't get me wrong, there is no shame in any of those things but the issue came from me believing they "had it all" and, in turn, I felt like a failure.
Though social media has given us many opportunities and brought a ton of good things into our lives, it's also perpetuated the wrong ideals and created fragmented relationships. More often that not, I find people feel desolation and emptiness from using it rather than fullness and growth. The voyeuristic aspect of social media along with the emotional high of peer approval is extremely addictive. It's created a college/high-school type environment where people put on masks and are constantly one-upping each other. Some people actively put themselves out there while others lurk in the background, watching and judging everything but rarely participating.
No matter how you use social media, it still has a powerful impact on your life — you would be lying to yourself if you denied that. The key is to shape that impact into something positive. In order to do that you have to be conscious of what you're seeing and doing online. It sounds simple enough but you'd be surprised at how difficult it is to implement. Social media has become a mindless thing to many of us, it's like a reflex. We are so unaware of how often we access it and we are oblivious to how it's affecting us. We take it all in without ever really questioning anything.
We cannot redefine success for ourselves if we allow social media to control us. We have to break our addiction to it in order to flourish. That's why I'm a huge advocate of shutting-down social media for extended periods of time. A year ago, I deactivated every social medium I had, including this blog (fun fact: the photo posted above was taken just a few days before I made that decision). I challenged myself to go without social media for a month. The first few days I felt disconnected from the world but by the end of the week, things began to change for the better. I became more productive and my confidence levels started to soar. Instead of spending my time on social apps, I was now using that time to invest in myself. I was no longer subjected to a constant stream of everyone else's "highlight reel" and I consciously stopped defining my success through the scope of popular culture.
When a month had come to an end, I found myself intentionally delaying the process of reactivating my accounts. If social media was not an integral part of my career, I may have never come back. I was shocked to find that I had to begrudgingly force myself to return to my social platforms. That break had an amazing effect on me. By removing myself from the digital realm, I was able to see myself as I am and work towards the things that made me happy, without letting anyone else's opinions shake me. Not only did my perception of myself and the social world change, I also found that I began to use social media for positive things and I didn't have this incessant need to check it all the time.
I now practice putting my phone away so that I can connect with others in the real world. From time to time, I delete apps to give myself a break from the constant chatter and distractions. There are occasions where I might falter and begin to question myself but those moments don't last long. I see the world differently now and I look at myself through eyes that are far more loving and forgiving. I may not be "successful" by society's standards but that doesn't matter to me anymore —I define what makes me successful and, for me, that means finding my purpose and living in my truth.
Do you feel social media is a destructive part of your life? If so, I want to challenge you to take a month off from every form of social media you have. Use that time to invest in yourself and consciously examine the impact social media has on you. When you take the time to understand the effects of social media on your life, you can take control of how it impacts you.
What are your thoughts on this topic? I'd love to read your opinions and I'm always open to feedback! Leave a comment below.