In a world where we share all of our successes to social media while masking all our struggles in a tireless effort to prove to our social circles that our lives are more wonderful than everybody else’s, it has never been easier to feel like a nobody drowning in a big ocean of somebodies.
We see Instagram and Facebook posts about other people going on incredible vacations, enjoying a homemade picnic out at the park with their perfectly-behaved children, and doing yoga in front of a sunrise. What we don’t see is the debt and financial stress that person has dug himself into by going on that vacation. We don’t see the frazzled mom screaming at her kids to stop hitting each other as she frantically shoves some sandwiches she made with processed lunch meats into a basket so they can get to the park before it gets crowded. We don’t know that yoga enthusiast is actually battling severe depression and that getting up to face another sunrise is a daily struggle for her. In short, only seeing the best in everyone else makes us more acutely aware of the worst in ourselves.
I was thinking about this yesterday after attending a friend’s bridal shower. As I sat in the cozy living room of my friend’s childhood home, bouncing my three-month-old nephew on my knee, it was difficult not to feel inadequate while I listened to everyone in the room talk about their marriages, their children, their successful careers and the adventures they were planning to embark on around the country and the world. How in the world could I ever hope to compare with any of that? I did what I always do when I feel I have nothing of value to add to the conversation; I became a silent statue with a polite, but fixed smile and hoped no one would notice me.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to me. The other party guests wanted to know what I did for a living and how my life was going. I always dread this question. I avoid answering it at all costs. My usual tactic is to pretend I didn’t hear the question and start discussing something else. It works most of the time but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with it yesterday with every pair of eyes in the room trained intently on me.
Shifting my nephew in my arms so I could pat his back, I took a deep breath and started talking about The Heaven Corporation. I wasn’t sure what to expect in response. I know I felt like the embodiment of the entitled millennial stereotype; inflating my own sense of self-importance over the most mediocre of accomplishments. I can’t say whether the friend sitting beside me could tell I felt small and insignificant in that moment, but she came to my rescue, as she often does. I love her dearly.
She started telling the other guests about how much she loved my book and how they can get their own digital copy through the free Kindle app on any of their mobile devices. She also described my bookstagram with great enthusiasm, praising my attention to detail in my photographs. I’m more comfortable talking to my lifelong friends than I am talking to strangers, so her welcomed interjection bolstered my confidence and allowed me to talk more freely about my work. It completely shifted the dynamic of the conversation in a positive way, at least for me.
So what does this little anecdote say about the way we view our own accomplishments versus the way others see our accomplishments? It was clear to me that the way I was looking at all the other guests yesterday was the exact same way they were looking at me. If I could read their thoughts, it’s likely that I would have discovered the same internal monologue that I was reciting to myself; “Wow, this girl is so young and already a published author. How does she balance writing novels while maintaining a blog and so many social media accounts all by herself? She must be so talented and well on her way to real success. I wish I could be like that.”
But that’s not how my life looks to me. Not at all. It appears that we’re all suffering from a kind of distorted perception of reality made more potent by social media.
Is there a cure for this? I honestly don’t know, but I think being aware of this distortion can help mitigate the harmful effects of the constant comparisons we draw between ourselves and others. After all, if we know that the fire-breathing dragon standing before us is really just an impressive creation of wooden sticks and papier mache, suddenly the dragon doesn’t look as threatening as it once did. In the same way, if we know these perfect snapshots of our friends’ lives on social media are just that; snapshots of a much larger, imperfect picture that’s been cropped out, suddenly we don’t feel so inadequate by comparison.
So relax. You’re doing better than you think. In the words of one of my generation’s pop-culture icons:
“Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.” – Taylor Swift
Author’s Confession! A bit of Googling points to well over a dozen different sources for this quote, but I first heard it said by Taylor Swift.
Copyright © 2017 A.A. Frias