Back in 2016/early 2017, I was constantly comparing my success to other people’s success on Instagram. While I do it far less these days (i.e. monitored habits, time limits put in place and I strictly follow people that light me up)…
And I felt so less than as an artist, a communicator, a person of value.
Thoughts constantly swirled around my head such as, “no one cares” and “I’m just not likable” and “can people just not relate to me?” and “maybe I should just close my Instagram and work in private (a.k.a. not online) for the rest of my life…”
And as creative artists, whether we like to admit it or not, we crave positive feedback. Or, at least, some recognition. We crave for others to admire our work. To be appreciated for the creative work we are producing.
I aspire to be like J.D. Salinger. I wish I could create, create, create and never let others see it. And be so content and at peace and fulfilled doing that.
But I’m not J.D. Salinger.
I don’t need praise, but some acknowledgment would be nice.
I would be lying if I said that when I get 4 likes (out of 1,000+ followers) on a picture that I so carefully edited, it doesn’t affect me. But how could it not?
Instagram makes me feel like my words don’t matter, that my photography is mediocre. That I am unimportant. That I am unworthy.
Let me first say that I never doubt the work I’m doing, because I realize of how much the work and the process of writing and photographing lights me up, but I absolutely encounter mental resistence when it comes to sharing my work on social media.
And it troubles me. Because if I have a healthy relationship with Instagram 80% of the time, what about those who struggle with these feelings every day? Especially Generation Z who grew up as teenagers with Instagram…
When I’m not lurking and checking social media, I feel consistently confident, sure of myself, and connected to my internal compass.
I’m sharing all of this because if you are someone who feels inadequate like you are not enough because your work isn’t being seen or acknowledged and people don’t “like” your work and Instagram and Facebook is squashing your posts down so that no one can find you, you are enough.
Your thoughts, your words, your art does matter.
When you run a freelance business online, it’s easy to get lost in this trap of selling yourself. Everyone is screaming into the abyss – look at me, look at what I have to say, this is my “brand” – and it’s easy to find yourself mixed into it.
But for what? For clicks and follows and engagement and affiliate sales?
Well, I’m sorry Facebook, but I’m just not that girl.
But for a while, I listened to those photographers and creators I’ve long admired. I purchased their online classes. I took their advice and scribbled down notes. I followed their program. I tried to emulate their formula.
And in that moment of sharing and giving myself over to social media, I felt fine. Sharing comes naturally to me, and I genuinely have nothing to hide. #openbook
But over a period of time, I began to feel like I was selling myself, giving away my personal life when what I wanted was privacy and a sacred place to call my own.
I’m nervous that over time social media is turning us into narcissists. Social media makes us self-centered.
I can’t tell you how many social media course creators and influencers tell us creatives that we need to “show up” and share our personal lives in our Instagram captions, that we need to be raw and honest and #authentic and that we need to have pictures of us taken and shared online often to remind people of who we are. That we need to show our faces all the time!
While part of me understands this concept, I also think this way of thinking is very quietly morphing us into narcissists over time.
And needless to say, the very art of selfies just feed this culture.
For those of us who grew up with the internet and social media, we are almost incapable of not thinking about sharing things online. The desire to photograph a moment in our life and post it instantly in a matter of seconds to a large number of people is….scary. This desire to document and share everything is intense and addictive. Especially for those of us who have developed a 10-year+ habit of thinking-processing-sharing online.
Next time you go to a concert or a fireworks show with an audience of Millennials, try to count the number of people not staring at their phone, recording the entire concert.
I’ll never forget my memories of going to Lady Gaga’s ArtPop concert at Madison Square Garden or the fireworks show at Disneyland Paris and seeing hundreds of bright, glowing phones staring back at me. It’s so distracting.
We’re not consciously aware of this deeply-ingrained habit. We’re not being present in our own life. The only life we have. It’s being stripped away from us because of addiction.
Have you ever looked up from your phone while commuting or waiting in line and suddenly notice how everyone is glued to the little screen in their hand?
Unless you are paying for something or ordering a coffee at a coffee shop, chances are you are also glued to your phone. And so is everyone else.
I’ve always been a huge bookworm and frequently carry books around with me everywhere I go but I’ve created this intentional habit of pulling out my fiction read while waiting in line or riding public transportation instead of whipping out my phone. I only check social media twice a day – each for 10 minutes – and when I’m not in the mood to read my book, I look up. And I bask in the silence, the stillness. I people-watch. I watch the trees move against the wind, I observe the birds overhead. I talk to people. I ask them how they are.
As for me now in the final month of 2019, I finally permanently deleted my Facebook. The personal account I created in September 2009, my sophomore year of high school.
The idea of having old photographs, posts, things I’ve written and said on the internet from age 15 – 25 is terrifying. Having been inspired by a friend’s cutting the strings off an old chapter years ago (and Tiffany Ferg’s YouTube video), I finally felt ready to cut an old decade of my life that doesn’t feel connected to me – “adult” Helena – anymore.
It’s so easy to judge people online. It’s easy to say the wrong thing and get “canceled.” It’s easy to make internet friends quickly and just as easily be done with them.
Looking back at my teenage self, I CRINGE at some of the things I’ve shared in my youth. I don’t have any regrets, but I wish I acted more slowly in my interactions with others online in my youth. I wish I followed my gut more, and I wish I took a day to think about something before posting it publicly online.
Words stay with people. You start to identify and remember people by the things they say on Facebook. There are parts of my growing up that I don’t want out there. Because my younger self – the me that was coming of age with the internet, that didn’t fully understand the greys of life, that hadn’t grown into her maturity yet – is not me now. Who knows where the internet is going, where it will be 100 years from now. I don’t want my life, my data, my privacy, the words from my youth…out there.
If you’ve judged others on FB, forgive anyone who says things before age 22. They are young and growing into themselves. Please be kinder to people on the internet – even if you’ve only met them once or never at all. Think twice before adding the 1,000th friend on the internet for meeting them ONCE at that party that one time (you’ll never talk to them again and that’s perfectly okay.)
Cherishing discovery and my privacy is something I’ve grown to love in 2019. And it’s something I feel excited to explore more of in the ‘20s – as “adult” Helena.
The time I spent on social media, perusing Facebook and scrolling my Instagram newsfeed, is now spent writing. Writing a novel. Writing on my beloved blog. Writing poetry in a secret document that is only for me. I still write daily in my journal, a habit I started when I was 7 years old and magically continued all these years later.
And anyone who needs to get ahold of me all know how to get ahold of me. My close friends know how to reach me. We don’t need Facebook to do it. We have phones and emails and Marco Polo video chats and handwritten letters and postcards sent abroad. These are far more precious to me.
Time. Time is precious. And it’s fleeting and it’ll be gone before we know it. I want to use my remaining time on Earth doing only the things that 100% light and lift me up. I choose to only do things that make me vital.
If the answer is AT ALL “no”, lose it. Throw it away. Let it go and carry forward with your time living.
As for me, I’ll be having less screen time and more real time.
November 19, 2019
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