How Social Media Owned Me
Waking up at midnight cause of the dog, but having the urge to check my phone for any notifications.... social media secretly crept into my heart and made a nest. This post is a run down on how it impacted me, and how I decided to grow from removing it.
I was at JCPenny in full stride — I took pride in my capability to speed walk and type simultaneously — I recall I was walking headed towards the exit and heard a group of people talking to the side. I looked up…. Just in time to narrowly escape one of those oddly placed sales signs in the aisle. I glanced over my shoulder to the people and they all had huge smiles — I think I greatly disappointed them. That happened more times than I can count. Believe it or not, what’s actually more embarrassing is when I started to form a habit to wake up around 1am just to check my phone. Running into things, and 1am checkins weren’t my first indicators of things getting pretty gnarly with my attachment to social media. Nope, I acknowledged it 6 or so months prior when I had a lull — the first thing I did was grab for my phone — cheap entertainment — instead of investing into my family or friends.
I also noticed that generally I wasn’t satisfied:
- Creatively I stagnated
- I didn’t seek to build relationships
- I had an unceasing mild depression
- In summation I felt blah, just blah. And I knew that it largely had to do with the impact social had on me
So first — why? Why did I get into social in the first place?
Honestly, there wasn’t much lure into the social world until I thought I could use it to build my personal brand — as a commercial photographer. When I was transitioning into this career, I thought it would be best to start making noise.
Business Growth! HO!
I’ve seen first hand how much quality, quantity, and consistency of sharing work can up a company’s brand. Bill Kenney, co-founder of Focus Lab, received his invite to Dribbble only 5 years ago. He decided to post daily. Sometimes he’d create made-up projects just to post on Dribbble. For years straight he did this, and because of that his name and audience grew and hence so did the company he co-owned, Focus Lab. Dribbble has been the backbone of our lead generation for the past 3 years. All because one guy was tenacious as hell in posting daily, quality work.
With the transition to photography, I was motivated to do the same. Come hell or high water I was going to become known within the design community as their photographer. Sure there are other photographers — but I’m the one for them. So I posted daily for a year. With this, came the habit of posting the scheduled image as soon as I woke up (like, I just rolled over hit the alarm then opened Latergramme (which is now later) to post the image), also came habit of checking the post hourly to see the progress, to respond to comments. I always thought that proper engagement would help me retain and grow my audience.
My attachment to social further grew when I attended conferences, when I started to get to know the hearts behind the handles. I desired to engage more in the convos, make jokes, and lend a hand when someone needed quick photography help. This too created a habit of endless scrolling in efforts to keep tabs on people.
Ultimately though while the main goal was to grow my personal brand, what I did instead was feed into destructive thought patterns which lead to wanting to try a social sabbatical.
3 destructive thought patterns that arose from my use of social
- Affirmation: Have you guys ever read the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman? I’m actually surprised at how many people have — but for those that haven’t: it’s a book that explains there are 5 main ways that we receive love. Understanding how you and your loved one receives love then informs how you shell it out — therefore enhancing your relationship.
Out of the 5, which are: Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch (get your mind out of the gutter) — I am overwhelmingly Words of Affirmation… hence probably why those likes, comments, shares, retweets all mean so much to me.
It’s not really contested anymore that for every “like” we get a little shot of dopamine however for me, I think it’s more like keg. As quickly as I can become elated, I can crash cause the next post doesn’t do as grand. When I started comparing myself to others — whoa nelly — it became an emotional rollercoaster that often spilled over to life. The influence didn’t stop there — in order to get more favorable responses, I tried to create what I thought my audience wanted instead of what I needed to create, which is my second area of hurt.
- Creative Constraints: When I was sharing daily on Instagram, my Sunday routine was to schedule the upcoming week’s posts. You’d think that selecting and captioning 7 images wouldn’t be so hard… but since I was conflicted between what I thought my audience wanted and what I was passionate about creating — weighing the directions through the lens of my *need* of affirmation… the selection process took an abnormally long time.
My addiction to social media affirmation directed what I focused my creative energies. Instead of pushing or challenging myself creatively, I went with what is safe and what my audience wanted.
- False Connection: This last point — I feel awkward sharing this, but I was the kid wearing Jncos and blue snake skin Airwalks, but then the next year dressing in Abercrombie and Finch, with my perfect manicured nails. I felt like I didn’t know myself, and certainly didn’t know how to communicate myself to people around me. Socially awkward should have been my high school superlative. And I’ve carried that badge of honor with me well into my thirties.
When I didn’t know how to connect to people, Social media was there to provide comfort allowing me to ignore my shortcoming. When I was lonely I could scroll through “friends” feeds and feel connected. It’s a weak fulfillment for sure, but strong enough to stand when set upright (but when that wind blows — that’s another story).
Social media also allowed me to fully curate what I shared. No one had to know the real me. I could hide my frays quite nicely.
Finally after wrestling with decision, a month ago I took a social sabbatical, which lasted about 2 weeks. During that short stint I encountered plenty of the unexpected.
First up, from a productivity standpoint…
During my 2 week sabbatical:
- When I wanted to check socials I intentionally hung out with my kids or called and texted friends — deepening those relationships
- Starting mentoring 2 people
- I started reading a book — gasp!
- I gained inspiration for personal projects and even started one — something I wanted to do instead of all my projects being client-directed.
Conversely, since I’ve come back…
- Rescheduled 1 mentor called twice
- Left 1 mentor hanging — haven’t called back
- Haven’t had regular calls with friends
- Personal project is totally paused
- Stopped the book
It’s crazy to see the difference in time and productivity being off social media has done — however, I haven’t talked about the unexpected emotional impacts.
First, those kegs of dopamine weren’t there. Words of affirmation were far more scarce. Feelings of loneliness were intense. I reeled, which is the very reason I’m currently struggling in taking the dive into another sabbatical.
Secondly, I also noticed that I felt out-of-control: meaning on some social platform someone asked a question or commented on something and I wasn’t aware to respond. There was a task and it was being left undone. Someone had a need that wasn’t being met. Was I being dramatic? Totally. But is that the way it felt — 100%. I struggled with prioritizing my social media interactions — so it all felt urgent and important.
Though in the short span of 2 weeks I did see some positive improvement (though not enough to “cure” me by any means).
As I mentioned earlier — It was very apparent that I was seeking satisfaction, acceptance, and affirmation outside of what it healthy. Though it worked in the immediate short term, longevity of impact lacked… All it did was stifle with an added spice of depression.
And so, for me, this meant going back to the Source, which is Jesus. My value, affirmation, acceptance, satisfaction comes from my relationship with Him. And since I was running from all relationships, that meant I was running from Jesus too. The sabbatical made me realize how much I was trying to control how I quenched my thirst for acceptance, worth, and significance — but nothing in this world can fill that God-shaped hole.
Aside intentionally spending more time with God, family and friends the things I did to help me step away from social was:
- I made it harder to access my accounts by removing the apps from my phone and blacklisting sites from my computer
- Accountability from social announcement and friends
- Was aware of the impending emotions
- Have books lined up that you’ve wanted to read, or start a personal project
So really, I just need to do it — I need to do the sabbatical again. I think this time I’m going, “Throw off everything that hinders …. run with perseverance the race marked out for me.”