This past weekend I did something dramatic and would consider a breakthrough for me…I disabled my Instagram account! Severing the psychological hold that Instagram had on me was the first step away from my inability to look at myself without drawing comparisons to others. To be open and honest about this, last year’s hellish experience with Instagram made it difficult for me to figure out if people were seeking real connections. Because my primary content is lettering, I took notice of this in the lettering community, where it seemed accounts only interacted with me in order to gain a follower. Is it a ploy to get more followers if the accounts unfollowed me a few days or hours later?
In attempt to stay on top of this trend, I installed a tracking app called unfollowers which breaks down your follows into 3 categories: the number of people who you follow but don’t follow you back, the number of people who follow you but you aren’t following back, and last the number of unfollowers in real time. With easy access to an app that kept me well informed on the inner workings of my feed, things slowly spiraled out of control. I became infatuated with the numbers and fell victim to the wretched refresh button. I would open Instagram multiple times a day (one day 65 times) to see how many likes or attention my work was receiving, altogether getting sucked into a toxic culture. As a creative trying to get some buzz for my work, presenting the right image was a primary focus even if it meant obsessing over things completely out of my control; I clung to the idea that I needed to present myself and my work in a certain manner in order to get attention. I used Instagram as a tool to curate an image of myself that wasn’t true to who I was and felt it was necessary to be like everyone else to gain attention, followers, and likes. I ultimately compared everything I did with what others were doing while battling this voice inside consistently telling me to just be myself.
“When observing someone’s being from the outside looking in, what you get is a misguided image that does not adequately correlate to reality.”
Instagram became another tool that leads me to draw uneven parallels between my creative work and self-identity with that of someone else. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled with comparing themselves to others, not just on social media but also in real life. If you think about your own life experience, have you had a moment where you knowingly or unknowingly compared yourself to others in some form? Has there ever been a point in time where you’ve looked at someone else’s life with so much admiration that it leads to questioning your own potential? Have you ever had someone in your life so talented and well put together that it made you feel inadequate? Let’s look at it from another angle: have you ever had a moment where you compared yourself to a fantasy of what you envisioned life would look like for you; possibly unfulfilled life expectancy? If your answer was yes to any one of these questions, let me ask you one more: do you gain anything by looking at yourself in that manner or is this just another form of you not noticing what you’ve achieved?
Realistically when comparing ourselves to others, we typically focus on our alleged negative aspects versus observing areas in which we excel. We look at our cup as half empty in comparison to others and with social media, it’s easier than ever to get lost in play by play reels of someone else’s manicured and filtered life. What we fail to understand in those moments is that it’s impossible to truly understand the inner workings of anyone else’s life. Just because you “know” someone doesn’t mean you truly know them. You can’t entirely grasp what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes without living their life. When observing someone’s being from the outside looking in, what you get is a misguided image that does not adequately correlate to reality. There needs to be a breaking point where we stop stacking ourselves up against everyone else and picking ourselves apart based on what others are doing. We also need to stop looking at unfulfilled life goals as our failures and change those perceived failures into work in progress.
Gaining control of my own comparison game has been a challenge but what has slowly helped me get out of that state of mind was first recognizing if and when I’m unjustly looking down on myself. I had to become consciously aware of moments where I wasn’t taking pride in my capabilities (journaling helped the most with this). I turned my focus inward and listened to my self-talk, recognizing my belittling ways of thinking. I grasped onto the idea that with time comes growth and accepted that my walk in life is mine alone and should never be compared to someone else’s.
I also needed to define who I am on my own terms and seek to find solace in where I am today. This has not been easy and I still continue to struggle. There will always be someone out there who I view as being “better than me” or who have achieved goals that I have yet scratched the surface of, however letting my imagination run wild with comparisons does not get me closer to attaining those goals. It only leads to feeling inferior and potentially crumbling under the pressure of altering my life to match that of someone else.
No matter how you may feel about yourself, no one wants to be a carbon copy of someone else no matter how flattering their life may seem. It serves us more purpose to celebrate who we are while finding ways to stay true to ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with having someone to look up to or an aspirational figure; that is perfectly healthy. The key is to take notice of when that admiration might be turning toxic or causing you to make decisions that don’t align with who you are.