This week a story went viral about a social media star, for lack of a better description, named Essena O’Neill. After building up a rather large following on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. for several years, she decided to quit social media out of the blue, calling it fake and discussing that behind every photo of those who “have it all” online, there is a back story. She deleted over 2000 photos and edited previous captions to shed light on what really happened “behind the scenes” of each photo (for example, how much she was paid to post a photo of herself in a particular dress/bikini or what she did to appear sexier, happier, or to have an all-around better life than the average Joe).
After watching a few minutes of her YouTube video and reading a couple different stories, O’Neill got me thinking. While I’m not totally buying what she’s selling (since posting her videos, she has asked for money because she “can’t support her lifestyle” and would like you to donate what you think her insight is “worth to you,” she repeats over and over again that she’s won the genetic lottery, so duh, obviously you want to Google her since-deleted Instagram pictures, and she has actually gained followers, etc.), I do think she had a few pretty good points. She mentions on her website taking a week off from social media and enjoying the world around you–an idea that isn’t entirely new to any of us, but that most of us avoid doing because we just can’t or don’t want to give it all up. Between that and a few other points she made, all I could think about was what I enjoy doing simply because I like it. If I took a week off from all social media–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, the whole shebang–how would I spend my time? What activities do I love not because I think they are trendy or because a photo of them would get a lot of likes on Instagram or because other people enjoy doing them? What do I like doing?
This seems an easy enough question to answer. You may be reading this and think I’m crazy for even having to ask–that you would never be caught up doing something because other people like it, but that would be a lie. In the age of sharing anything and everything the minute it happens, we all subconsciously (or consciously) worry about other people’s opinions, and social media only makes it easier for that to happen. I never do something and post a picture or status about it to purposefully see who likes it and I never consciously alter what I’m doing during any given day because other people like doing it, but I know that it happens. I’m not naive enough to pretend it doesn’t affect me. Whether I mean to or not, my perspective is changed by things other people like, whether on social media or in real life.
And so I started making a mental list of the things that I do not because of anyone else’s influence, but simply because they make me happy. Things that have nothing to do with social media and everything to do with my “real life.”
Here’s what I came up with: I like yoga, hiking, and going for walks, especially at the park, and especially with the dogs. I love writing, though I don’t do it for pleasure nearly enough. I love spending time with Dom and Isla, and it really doesn’t matter what we’re doing. I like going for long drives that begin with a cup of coffee and end with Dom and I having talked for hours about things we didn’t even realize were on our minds. I love decorating our house and curling up with a new book–or my old favorites. I love trying new restaurants or making new recipes, especially if I’m baking. I like going to the movies. I love talking about books and movies. I love traveling, but I prefer doing it if we’re only a few hours from home. I like buying freshly cut flowers, and I love mornings when Dom, Isla, and I sleep in, lounge around the house, and end up going somewhere we had no plans for and it being just the three of us.
Despite knowing the things I love doing simply for me, I also know that I spend way too much time scrolling through Instagram and liking photos of what everyone else is doing. I spend a lot of mornings laying in bed before Isla is awake watching YouTube videos or reading reviews about random things–makeup, clothes, etc.–on blogs. Even when I don’t realize I’m trying something new or doing or saying something simply because I want other people to notice or because of others’ opinions on that particular thing, I still do it. We all do. And while a lot of O’Neill’s video is her repeating the same things and (sorry) whining, she really is on to something. And she isn’t the first person who has been walking down the right path. We all forget what’s really going on behind the perfect photo, and almost all of us let the idea of looking put together online get in the way of living our real lives, being our true selves, or remembering what we love to do–what makes us who we are.
I’m not saying we should be like those awful people who whine incessantly or throw out all their business on Facebook, but next time you find yourself jealous of something someone has or what they are doing, take the time to remember what you love doing and what makes you genuinely, truly happy–not what you think is supposed to make you happy. Make a list of your favorite things, log out of Instagram, and go do something for yourself.
Or, if you’re feeling ballsy, give that week off thing a try. And let me know how it goes.