As I sat there on a cold February morning, drinking my tea and scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, I found myself feeling angry. My inner self was restless, unaccommodating and irritated. Yet, I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Overall I just felt this weight pressing down on me, a constant pressure to keep up, be better, do more, have more, show more, talk more, teach more, write more, be more creative, decorate more, try more new things, learn more, workout more, cook more, and love more.
I closed out of my apps and silenced my phone. Then it dawned on me.
I was trying to keep up with @Mr_and_Mrs_Jones.
Anything You Can Do, I Can…probably not do better 🙁
The sad fact is that in some ways, we’ve created a monster out of the Internet. How did a promising tool, once used for empowering us with knowledge, exposing truth and combating injustices, helping to deepen connections with those who are far away or outside of your 20-mile home radius, and opening a world full of untapped potential, come to leave us often feeling disempowered, untrusting, scattered, and unworthy?
Every time I open my phone, I find myself falling into the trap of comparing myself to someone else. All the pretty pictures, all the digital nomads, all the inspiring and delightful food creations, all the people following their “wanderlust” — all while I sit at home in my $20 memory foam slippers from a big box shop and a well-loved hoodie, in a dead silent apartment in the middle of Chicago (where I’ve lived for nearly three months and have only been to a handful of places), with dogs barking outside and a dirty hardwood floor from snow and salt being trekked in.
I mean, how could the stark contrast between what’s in front of you on your screen and what’s in front of you in real life not make you feel bad about yourself? How is it even possible to feel like you’ve got your life under control, that you’re headed in the right direction, that you’re doing something worthwhile with your time and talents, when @Mr_and_Mrs_Jones is on Instagram posting about how they’re paddling through the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris on their way home from riding camels in Morocco, and your biggest accomplishment for the day is unloading the dishwasher before noon?
It’s gotten a little ridiculous.
Now don’t get me wrong. Technology – and specifically social media – has its advantages. It has helped us communicate with each other about different world views and exposed pressing issues of our day. It has allowed a certain percentage of people to absolutely thrive and do things our parents never dreamed of, like working remotely or making money by traveling, blogging, or following a passion. In fact, my ability to even write this blog post and for you to see it is entirely dependent upon these very tools! And I’ve even formed some of my closest relationships while online through the AIP/paleo communities. So, there are two sides to everything and we cannot totally demonize the entire Internet — that just wouldn’t be fair or even accurate.
Still, I think that we need some serious perspective when it comes to these channels. I’d venture to guess that 98% of the world’s population uses social media passively – to scroll through their feed and see all the “cool things” that other people are doing (or at least, that it looks like they’re doing). The other 2% of the population has probably managed to learn how to capitalize on social media and the Internet in general to grow their business and their life in a responsible way. Even in those cases though, I know for a fact that even the Internet’s “giants” sometimes feel small when they’re online.
Searching for Solutions to the Problem
So what do we do? How do we counter-balance our constant desire to “keep up with @Mr_and_Mrs_Jones”?
Do we need to stop posting beautiful photos? Return to the days of badly lit photography and adding those horrendous-looking Instagram borders around our photos? No, I don’t think so.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with beautiful photography and elevating the world around us – that’s been celebrated for hundreds of years, and I’d even say that in small doses it can encourage us to improve our lives. But you shouldn’t, as I often say, “Live for the ‘Gram.” Not every moment needs to be planned and staged, perfectly conducted or professionally designed. The best photographers in the world know this, and they seek to capture the rawness and fullness of life. They know that the best moments happen spontaneously, not in pre-scheduled form.
But even if we keep the beautiful photographs on our feeds, we do need to find balance. And I do think that some things need to change.
For one, we need to stop believing everything we see. Behind every perfectly curated Instagram feed or Facebook profile, is a person who is just as insecure as you are. They’re just as flawed, they feel just as lonely sometimes, and yes, they do eat sugar or almond butter straight from the jar or convenient pre-packaged treats. Probably a lot, too, if I’m being honest.
We need to challenge ourselves to not see these images and not think that their lives are perfect. They’re not. Their feed might be, but their lives aren’t. How do I know that? Because nobody’s life is perfect. Not even the seemingly carefree wanderer who treks through the Alps with nothing but a pair of flip-flops and a homemade water bottle has it all figured out.
I think that we forget that life is more than just a series of pretty pictures. It’s all the imperfectly perfect moments in between those pretty pictures, that make up a full life.
We’ve got to stop thinking that someone’s beautiful brunch with their 15 beautiful friends, followed by shopping at beautiful shops, and dinner with their beautiful husband overlooking a beautiful vineyard, is reality. What about their bad morning breath when they wake up? Or the insecurity they felt at breakfast because their hair was “flat”? Or the gas they experienced after eating 3 gourmet donut holes and bottomless mimosas at breakfast? Or how their credit card is now maxed out after their shopping trip, contributing to their family’s $75,000 in debt? Or how when they arrived at dinner, the restaurant had no record of their reservation and had to sit them at a small kitchen right next to the bathroom and bus boy station, where it smelled like trash?
Yeah, nobody talks about that stuff, huh? But it’s there – it’s reality.
So instead of seeing all the imperfections in your own life, look around yourself right now – what’s beautiful? What’s good? What’s new? What’s inspiring you right now (or what could inspire you if you allowed it to)? Beauty is all around you if you know where to look.
Highly edited Instagram photo of dressed-alike family in the middle of pumpkin patch = Not Full Reality
Morning struggle trying to get all children to wear pre-selected outfits, husband to get off ESPN app long enough to help get car and snacks packed, long lines at gas station on the way to pumpkin patch, and hotter-than-expected October weather making pumpkin patching while wearing flannel and carrying two 3lb pumpkins feel like a field trip to Dante’s Inferno = Reality.
Again, it’s not that we can’t post these types of beautiful photos! In fact, if you check out my Instagram, you’re definitely going to see some of these. But it is about balance and perspective. In other words, my point isn’t that we should post ugly, bland photos — it’s that we need to remember that what you see on the “feed” isn’t always the full picture. We need to be careful about comparing and judging ourselves or wishing our lives were any better or different simply based on a photo.
The second thing we can do to make the Internet a healthier place requires responsibility from influencers. I’m not sure if I’m an influencer or not and I don’t really care about labels, but as someone who writes words that are often read by people, I’ll count myself in this group of people who have shared responsibilities.
The bottom line for influencers is that we need to do a better job explaining that photos and experiences shared online are not the whole deal. As I mentioned before, behind the scenes, there’s probably children crying and pooping everywhere, there’s embarrassing personal problems and annoying habits, there’s fights with loved ones, there’s tears and fears and all the gritty stuff that comes along with being human. Why can’t we show this? What’s wrong with posting an unedited photo, a half-baked idea, or a raw personal story?
I’m guilty of failing to do this, by the way. I try to show realism when I can, but I must admit that it’s extremely difficult not to “chase likes” – where you want people to Like your photos, follow your brand, and engage with you. How could you not? That’s the name of the game, isn’t it?
As such, sometimes I try so hard to portray my life as beautifully as possible so that maybe others can be envious of me and think that I, too, am succeeding at keeping up with @Mr_and_Mrs_Jones. Is that sad? I’m honestly not sure. But maybe being truthful about it and honest with myself and others can be the first step to reversing some of the problem we’ve created as a society and as a digital culture.
My final piece of advice is: Instead of worrying about The Joneses’ life, embrace your own life.
Embrace the good, bad, and the ugly. SHARE the good, bad, and the ugly. Try making each day even just 1% better than the last. Stop focusing on what’s “out there” and start focusing on what’s “in here” – inside yourself, inside your own home, and your own life. Let everyone else chase some unachievable goal, strive for some unattainable level of perfection, or accumulate an endless pile of material possessions that will be obsolete in 3-5 years. They’ll drive themselves crazy or sick, I guarantee you. And you’ll still be going.
Just focus on the things that matter to YOU, not that you think should matter to you because you see @Mr_and_Mrs_Jones doing it and “crushing it.” Love your kids. Hug your husband (or wife). Call your mom. Think about what you wanted to do more than anything back in high school or college, and figure out how to do it. Stop ignoring your own dreams. Put down the damn phone, close the damn app, and stop scrolling. Be present and appreciative of your own life, not constantly comparing it to someone else’s.
Because you know what? They aren’t you. YOU are you. And you’re the only one of you that there is. So why try to be like everyone else? Why try to live everyone else’s story? What about yours? Doesn’t it deserve attention? Yes, it does. Would you want to read the exact same book written by 100 different authors? Nope, that would be awfully boring.
So again, embrace your own life. Write your own story. Be grateful for what you have. And please, say goodbye to @Mr_and_Mrs_Jones.