Saturday, November 8, 2014

Social Media Mirror

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

This quote was presented without attribution in a list of “quotes to change your life.” It is sound advice that should be kept it in mind if you start feeling down, doubting your abilities, and questioning your own self worth. I know I need to remember it.

As a rule, the pieces of your life presented to others, especially on social media, are probably the best parts -- the highlights reel. The scenes and stories that proclaim “I’m having fun,” “I have a great life and successful career,” and, “I’m fantastically great and so are my kids /spouse /dog /cat /chickens!”

For many people, the less attractive bits, like insecurity, loneliness, and doubt are probably kept away from the glowing technology screens. Maybe it’s better that way. Do you really want to ruin it for the people who think you are pretty damned amazing? It’s probably better to reflect (and reflect upon) the happy moments. The highlight reels and glamour shots. Choose the happy mirror to reflect yourself instead of the cracked one.

In the technology-bereft days of my youth, before social media existed, my fragile self confidence could be shattered at any given moment as I measured my perceived shortcomings against one friend’s great hair, one’s infectious laugh, one’s never-ending stream of boyfriends, and yet another’s seemingly perfect everything. After school, I trotted off to ballet class or my part-time job at a grocery store to compare myself to another set of living, breathing benchmarks against whom I would undoubtedly come up short in my own mind. I was trying to figure myself out. Now, with technology, I don’t even have to leave the house.

The truth, learned decades later, was that my schoolmates, acquaintances, and dance studio friends were doing the same thing. The weight of my angst-laden self-absorption never allowed room to consider that I was not alone in my insecurity. I slogged through my teens and twenties burdened with the assumptions that everyone else on the planet was naturally happier, smarter, more confident, more likable, and more well-adjusted than I was. Maybe they were. Or maybe they just made better choices, like choosing to be happy. 

I think we were lucky in the dark ages of the end of the last century when “social media” involved actually socializing (in person!). With a Facebook news feed providing access to specially packaged slivers of milestone events, vacations, smiling children, adorable pets, and smiling families in coordinated outfits portrayed in perfectly lit professional portraits, it’s easy to measure one’s perceived lack against a (potentially false) perception of what others have.

When I divert my eyes from my phone or my computer screen and see my two yapping dogs, my mother’s house where I reside (allegedly temporarily, but it’s nearly two years already), storage fees for the stuff I moved up with me from Tennessee, a screwy part-time retail schedule and a usually empty social calendar, I want to cry. But I don’t, because I don’t need my mom worrying about me any more than she does already. I try to give her the highlights.

If speaking to a friend, I would undoubtedly remind my friend about “the highlight reels” and offer a hug. Unfortunately, the voice in my head that narrates my life can’t seem to stop commenting that if I knew Spanish or graphic design programs or HTML coding or ten other different things, I would probably have a full-time job by now, which will pave the way for my own dwelling and the life I want. Apparently what I already know is insufficient or I would have a job by now from the 190 or so I have applied for. Right?

And most likely, I’ll be back on the computer, taking breaks from job descriptions and customizing resumes and cover letters to visit Facebook and review the mostly fantastic lives of friends with jobs and spouses and kids and grandkids. I might take the time to choose words and images in an attempt to convey that my life is better than it feels from this side of the microscope (fake it ‘til you make it?), or not posting anything at all, because some days, it feels like the only highlight is merely surviving. Which, in the scheme of things, is still pretty damned amazing.

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