“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”- Dr. Brené Brown
For those of us who went to college in the late 2000s/early ‘10s, the explosion of social media became a blessing and a curse. While Facebook was around long before I stepped foot on my campus in Southern California, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, YikYak and a variety of other apps were either just catching on or hadn’t even been dreamt of. Smartphones and tablets weren’t a commonality but a luxury.
By the time I left college in 2013, they were the norm. Snapchat was growing, and the “Insta-Famous” culture had erupted from a niche community on Instagram to a full-blown assault on cultural norms. Now that I’m back in higher-ed (pursuing my M.S. in Applied Intelligence) and working in Student Life, I’ve been inundated with a new world – one where my students have had social media as a primary function in their life since their formative years of junior high.
There are plenty of posts pursuing the false-reality of the “perfect” social media life, and how it is destroying our ability to appreciate the realness and beauty in our own life.A quick search of Psychology Today provides multiple results on how social media is hurting self-esteem (and inviting in a variety of social disorders/dysfunctions). More recently, there has been an unveiling from those who have lived the Insta-Famous life. In particular, I find it astounding that they have found fulfillment by stripping off the makeup and trading designer clothing for sweatpants and blemishes.
This fall, I had a handful of students clamoring that they want “my life”: the traveling, the raves and music events, my times at the beach, adventures in California, the perfect nights out. It was a total ego-stroke, one that made me feel great and fueled my old-desire to become Insta-famous, even if that meant my tight-knit community in NW Pennsylvania.
Instead, it felt empty, lonely, dark, and void.
Two separate events became major catalysts in convicting me that my desire to live through what I present to others were wrong, and instead to pursue vulnerability in my imperfection. The first happened this past January, when I went mini-viral in a span of a couple of hours. The background: my amazing friend (and fabulous photographer) Kelsey Albright and her husband (and my best friend), Brian, agreed to take a few fake-engagement photos after a LinkedIn shoot (I’m fatter than I used to be and felt the need to show employers the truth). We joked about it going Insta-famous and being on Ellen. After a few hours, hundreds of likes, shares from across the nation, and comments from strangers around the world, my dream was finally coming true.
Yet, it didn’t feel like a dream. It became an overwhelming void of emptiness. I found myself constantly checking my phone, adrenaline pumping, seeing dozens of likes a second. I realized that the “Insta” life was not like the pictures I posted, nor the grids on VSCO that I had seen. Instead, it felt empty, lonely, dark, and void. My heart felt empty and my head was full of vain. Just a few days later, I hopped on the plane back to the East Coast and my mini-viral time had ended – I was once again a traveler in a region with 25 million people, forgotten amongst a sea of faces.
Those that really matter, the ones that fill the voids and emptiness, the community that pours into you and walks with you in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – they are already with you.
The second major catalyst came from a graduate student at my university. She had explained to me why she doesn’t feel the need to Snapchat, post pictures on Instagram, or showcase her life on Facebook. “I don’t need to brag about my life,” she explained. She would go on to say that, those that need to know are already apart of her life. Wow. What a concept…those that really matter, the ones that fill the voids and emptiness, the community that pours into you and walks with you in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – they are already with you.
Trying to hold onto the vanity of likes, reactions, and shares is like grasping for the wind. The last few months I have tried to shift gears on my Instagram, with quotes about traveling, food, and being vulnerable. My hope is that those who see my feed don’t see it as something to be envious of, but instead something to be a part of.
The reality of my life is that I’m 25; I’ve lived in six cities since 2013 (a blessing and a curse). I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve made some big mistakes, I’ve ruined some great friendships, and I went through a gut-wrenching season where I lost five family members in less than a year. However, I’m also a college graduate, blessed with friends who are family, I’ve lived in some amazing places, I’ve been able to participate in some amazing events and met some incredible human beings.
I’ve been reading Dr. Brené Brown’s books on imperfection and the pursuit of becoming more human. The journey to accept imperfection has become a battle cry. I challenge each of you who scroll through Instagram feeds, swipe left and right on Tinder, and click through your friends’ vacation pictures on Facebook to stop and pause. Take that time to close your eyes, breathe in and meditate.
Envision your life and what makes you the person you are: where have you come from, what are you doing, and where are you going to go from here. Take time to write down (yes, with a pen and paper) your inner-circle of friends and what they mean to you. Reflect on those who are no longer with you (through the natural cycle of life or simply by different seasons) and remember how they impacted you. Call your parents (or those you consider family) and tell them you love them. Most importantly, realize you are loved by those who involve you in their lives.
Life is messy, imperfect, it has its ups and its downs…and that’s what makes it beautiful.
I'm a former Bible-school grad with a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Biblical Studies. I've lived in six cities in six states since 2009, and had a lot of adventures. I'm now searching for The Renaissance in all of us. You can learn more here.