Social media is a funny thing. It has a way of connecting us, of making the world feel a little bit smaller. Anything we’re interested in, we can find others in the world who are doing the same things. We can encourage, support, and connect.
But it has a dark side. People feel like they can hide behind the veil of their screens and say anything they want, despite how hurtful it is. People can write and post articles about whatever they want, despite how truthful it is. And people can post tiny pictorial snippets of their lives, staged and filtered, despite how realistic it is.
These things are mostly direct effects of the internet. People intentionally encourage and support. They also intentionally hurt and distort.
But today, and many days, I’m struggling with more of a side effect of social media. The side effect of comparison, which often causes discontent and discouragement. Before the days of Facebook and Twitter (yes, there were days before Facebook and Twitter), you would meet people in the check-out line at the store, maybe wave to your neighbors on an evening stroll. The opportunity to compare yourself to others was fairly limited. But in current e-times, you can literally see behind everyone’s closed doors. We are bombarded with pictures of strangers’ dinners, events with their kids, and vacations they’re taking. We can see what they’re wearing, where they’re living, and how they’re getting around. And if we’re not vigilant, that can often start to sow the seeds of discontent in our hearts.
Depending on the day and what I’m looking at, this can manifest itself in different ways. Sometimes it makes me feel dissatisfied with my home. Pinterest, anyone? Man there’s some gorgeous houses there. They’re so clean, and bright. And clean. I can’t take 2 steps in my house without stepping on a toy someone left about, or seeing some unknown food smear on the walls. Things fall out of my cabinets as soon as I open the doors. I don’t have my pantry staples in pretty containers with fancy vinyl labels. And I don’t have beautifully coordinated (but not too matchy-matchy, just coordinated enough to look like they were randomly thrown together, but still happen to pull the whole room together) throw pillows on my couch with the little creases in the top so they all stand up straight. My closets are a mess, and the bathrooms are in disarray.
Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m failing as a parent. That stranger on Facebook was able to homeschool her kids, take them to the zoo, take them all to volunteer at a homeless shelter and then go home to handmake a perfectly organic vegan dinner. Of course it’s all documented in what I’m sure is unstaged, unfiltered, candid photos of her with her 4 children, all with hair combed and adorably matching designer clothes, calmly sitting around the table doing school work, then feeding the camels, then handing out warm meals to the needy, and finally all eating Brussel sprouts and quinoa with smiles on their faces. How can I compete with that?? I haven’t even showered today, nobody’s hair has been combed, one kid is running around naked, and they’ve eaten mac and cheese (from a box!) for 8 our of their last 10 meals.
Some days I find myself being dissatisfied with my job, car, or life choices. Today
it’s making me I’m allowing it to make me dissatisfied with my fitness progress. I follow a lot of ninjas on social media. I read about obstacle course races. And I watch videos about the best exercises to do to train for these events. Man, those people are strong. They can lift their body weight with just a pinky finger. They might as well be levitating. As much as I see progress in my strength and physique from where I started just 2 months ago, when I see these videos I see how very far I am from whatever they’re doing, and all my progress seems to pale. Will I ever be able to do a flip from one salmon ladder to another? No. Will I ever be able to free rock climb a mountain with just my fingertips? Heck no. Do I have to be able to do these things in order to be an ANW? I don’t know. Will I ever be good enough? Will I be good enough in time? Will I ever accomplish my goals? Will I ever be satisfied with my progress? Will I ever be able to embrace and enjoy the process? All the questions and doubt sometimes overwhelm me.
Whatever my interests are (and I’ve had a bunch), I can find dozens of other people interested in the same thing. And to go along with it, I can find dozens of other examples to compare myself to. And usually I feel like I come up short. I feel like I’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as accomplished as, or as successful as.
Why do I have to be this way? (For starters, I’m a perfectionist, incredibly competitive, super insecure, and very hard on myself). Is this a personal issue I have? Yes. Am I alone in feeling this way? I don’t think so. I see an epidemic of people feeling like they have to push the envelope. It used to be that we were just trying to keep up with the Jones’. Now we feel like we have to keep up with the Kardashians, the ‘real’ housewives, the Photoshop masters, and the selfie experts. We know that all those pictures are staged, filtered, and edited to look perfect. We know that these fitness experts have been training for years. So why do we think we have to compete? There is no way I can compete and win with the images I see on social media. (And I’m not even touching the subject of body image. That’s a whole other monster in itself).
So what do I do with it? When I’m feeling tired and weak, it makes me want to give up. If I can’t ever get there, why even try? If I set my bar compared to those standards, I will always come up short. I will always feel like a failure. Will I let it beat me? Cause me to quit? Or will I use it to fuel my fire, make me work harder, and inspire rather than intimidate.
So how do I combat it? That’s a hard one. You can try to stay away from social media, but that’s pretty difficult. You can spend your life trying to actually compete, but that’s pretty exhausting. Or you can you can embrace the beautiful mess that is your life and choose to be thankful for all you’re blessed with instead. No, my house will never be on the cover of HGTV magazine. For every one photo I have of my kids in matching outfits and all smiling, I have about 673 of them in some degree of disarray, and me sweating behind the camera and yelling threats if they don’t get their smiles on. I’ll never feel as calm and put together as the other mom’s look. And goodness knows my meals won’t ever be worthy of a Tasty video. I’ll never drive what they drive, wear what they wear, or live where they live.
But you know what? That’s okay. I’m choosing joy. And I’m choosing thankfulness and contentedness. Daily. I’m so thankful that I’m able to put a roof over my family, however messy it is. I’m thankful I have a houseful of rowdy, noisy kids, however chaotic. I’m thankful that I’m able to feed them, even if it is only PBJ and mac&cheese. I’m thankful that I have a job to go to, and a vehicle to get me there. I’m thankful that I have clothes to put on, and a family that loves me even if my socks aren’t matching or there’s a stain on my shirt. I’m thankful for the laughter. I’m thankful for health. I’m thankful for my salvation. And I’m thankful for my freedom.
I’m a hot mess most days. I struggle with feeling like I’m not good enough, but desperately wanting to be. I struggle with the fear that I will never accomplish my goals, or live with regret. But that’s just going to have to be okay. I’m going to have to keep dreaming big, pushing hard, and staying strong.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. Norman Vincent Peale