Everybody wants to matter. To make a difference. To stand out, be noticed, and admired (maybe even envied) by others.
It starts when we’re children. “Hey Mom, look at me!” we shout. “Dad, watch me!” we say, anxious for our parents to pay attention, applaud and show us that we matter. What we don’t understand is that our parents already love us. There’s no need to perform.
Adolescence solidifies our insecurities. Raging hormones, awkwardness, acne and the specter of dating all coalesce like famished velociraptors, feasting on the remnants of our self-confidence.
Why do we do it?
Somehow, wounds and all, we make it to adulthood. But the challenges don’t end there. Karen has a hotter husband than you do. Joey has a better job and car than you do. The Andersons take way better vacations than you do. Just look at their Facebook posts.
Social media brings out the worst in our insecurities. We become fixated on how many likes, claps and thumbs up we get. We waste inordinate amounts of time primping, arranging and posing for our latest Instagram pictures.
Why do we do it? Why do we waste hours seeking approval or attention from (mostly) total strangers? Strangers who spend only seconds on your page before moving on to other digital distractions.
A self-esteem drug
We do it because we want to matter. We want to feel important, valued, noticed, talked about and relevant. In a skewed sort of way, social media has become a self-esteem drug.
We spend hours collecting, re-shooting, designing and crafting the best photos, videos and content to show off to the world. Then we wait, eyes blinking from the screen glow, until the likes and claps validate our egos.
“We edit away zits. We edit away fat. We edit away wrinkles. But we also edit away so much more. We edit away emotions. We edit away criticisms. We edit away insecurities. We edit away the lows of the rollercoaster of our lives. We edit away the side of ourselves that we fear others might see.”
An unfolding story
The fact of the matter is that you are a lengthy novel. An unfolding story, containing millions of words, events, joys, sorrows, hopes, dreams, and…life.
It’s your quirks and idiosyncrasies that make you interesting, not how much you might look like Brad Pitt or sing like Adele.
Your story can’t be captured in carefully curated Instagram photos. Your Facebook feed isn’t the real you. It’s the you who’s searching for attention, or approval, or a boost to your self-esteem.
Here’s an interesting question to ponder:
What would you do with your time if you had no audience?
Grounded in the moments of our lives
Back before the Internet, people used to join service clubs, go bowling, play sports, visit after Church, enjoy sit-down dinners, play cards and board games.
All of these activities afforded the opportunity to converse. To look one another in the eye, talk, and enjoy the interaction. Share in each other’s humanity.
The conversations were face to face. We could see the subtle, physical mannerisms. Clues to how our loved ones and friends were really doing. Something you can’t do as easily in a text or email.
In short, we were more grounded in the moments of our lives. Laughing, patting each other on the back, taking walks, building tree houses. We weren’t wasting hours on social media, trolling for attention and validation. We were out there in the world, living.
They’re tools and entertainment devices
Now, before you label me a romanticist for days gone by, let me concede. I love the Internet. I love the availability of information, art, great writing, entertainment and even the sense of community that social media (to some extent) provides.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded people. Whether you’re into ball room dancing, fine art, birding or spelunking, you can find fellow aficionados online.
Lonely people, and those in remote locations, can connect with others online. With the Internet, people can start businesses and bypass gatekeepers to share their talents.
Clearly, the Internet and social media have their place. They’re tools and entertainment portals. Kind of like books.
The trick is not to rely on the Internet and social media for your self-esteem. There are millions of people online. There will always be someone better looking, more talented, more successful or with more likes.
If you want to get more out of life, there’s one thing you need to make peace with. What is it?
They live in a fishbowl
Don’t confuse personal irrelevancy with digital irrelevancy. None of us are irrelevant. We might feel like that sometimes, but we are hugely relevant to any number of people. Our families, partners, children, and close friends. Not to mention the random people we help in our lives.
Getting comfortable with digital irrelevancy means accepting that it’s okay not being an online celebrity or superstar. Further, it might actually be better.
Self.com published an article on reasons it’s okay you’re not famous.
For example, famous people have to spend a lot of time managing their image. Everything they do is under a microscope. They live in a fishbowl.
People judge their every move. Their looks, behavior, generosity, politics, and more. Not to mention, celebrities are always under pressure to produce that next, great thing. Be it a new movie, music CD or cutting edge performance. It must be exhausting.
The rest of us are free from such burdens. We can experiment and try new things. We don’t have to be “on” all the time, or worry about who our real friends are.
In the Self.com article, a psychology professor named W. Keith Campbell noted:
“Doing things for joy or love or connectedness with other people is what makes you fulfilled.”
The article went on to say:
“If you’re amazing at something and want to share it, great. But you’ll get a lot more out of it if you do it because you want to learn and improve — not sell tickets to a show called You.”
When you’re not a celebrity, you get to be you. You don’t have to worry about hate mail or how long your shelf life will last.
Think how hard it must be for all those 1980’s TV stars that are now on late-night TV, hawking miracle creams and reverse mortgages. How demoralizing.
No one is immune
Most of us have fantasized at one time or another about fame. Children wish they were superheroes. Teens imagine themselves as music or movie stars. Some adults dream of high, political office.
When we come to realize that such aspirations are often unlikely, we turn to social media to make our mark. No one is immune. After all, it’s very satisfying to receive “likes” and “claps” from strangers who enjoy our blog, music, artwork, etc.
The problem is that people are capricious. Every day, I’m blessed to have new subscribers join my email list. But every time I publish a new email newsletter, a number of readers un-subscribe.
There’s generally no rhyme or reason to it. Some readers rave about a post, and others hate it.
When I first started blogging, I was fixated on “growing my audience.” I dreamt of creating courses, books, products and making a lot of money. Such things are certainly possible, if you create great content and connect with people.
The problem was, I came to realize that I was living a lie. I was aping other successful bloggers, and not staying true to my personal passions. Namely, landscape painting, cartooning and writing. I didn’t want to become a blogging business. I just wanted to share my artistry with others.
Somehow, I got sidetracked. I wanted more likes. I wanted more subscribers. I didn’t stop to ask an important question:
To what end?
It’s a good question to ask yourself. To what end are you pursuing all this online stuff? Let’s face it, the Internet is crowded. Not everyone will become an online celebrity. But even for the ones who do, I wonder if it’s all it’s cracked up to be?
Fame and success can become their own kind of imprisonment. Imagine being a twenty-something, video game junkie who creates a successful YouTube channel and gains fame.
Soon, video game companies start advertising with you. Gamers love your style and before long your YouTube channel has turned into a full-blown business. You’re making serious money and have celebrity status.
Then, a few years click by and you start getting sick of video game stuff. In fact, you always wanted to explore music, but you can’t easily do that now. You have a staff. People depend on you. You found digital relevancy, but now you’re hopelessly branded and tethered. You can’t be the “You” you are now, because you’re intertwined with the digital personality you became.
C. S. Lewis lectured about the dangers of pursuing the “in” crowd. In most every organization, there is always an “inner ring” of people who are “in the know.” They may not be the ones at the top, either.
The problem with trying to join the “in” crowd is that, once you’re inside, it’s not all you thought it would be. In time, you might even bore of this group.
In the long run, it’s far more satisfying to make the work your focus and priority. Make the craft your passion, and stop worrying about fame, celebrity and being part of the “in” crowd.
I wrote an article that explores this in more detail: Be the Sound Craftsmen and Free Your Creative Soul.
Free your creative soul
I finally asked myself, “To what end?” To what end am I trying to become a successful blogger? At first, it was about financial success. Living the “laptop lifestyle” and all that.
Funny how our egos can derail going after the things we really want.
Eventually, I regained some emotional maturity. I took C. S. Lewis’s advice. I decided to focus on my craft, and not fame or fortune. Painting, cartooning and writing were the things that brought me happiness. The more I focused on improving my skills, the less I worried about social media and blogging fame.
When we free our creative soul, we realize that it’s okay to embrace digital irrelevancy. We stop slavishly posting and competing with everyone else. We stop tweaking our websites and switching email services.
We learn to hone in on the work. The passion. For me, it’s that blank page or canvas. It’s the creative possibilities. And the best part is, the more you hone your craft, the more everything else will take care of itself.
Get comfortable with digital irrelevancy. Get off the social media treadmill and figure out what you really love doing. Then set about learning your craft.
Put in the time, effort and study. The cream usually rises to the top, and before long, others will take note of your work. Not everyone will follow you, and that’s okay. You don’t want fly by night subscribers and followers. You want diehards, who love and get what you are doing.
Creating authentic work that feeds your soul is all you need to do. It will fulfill you into old age, long after the Internet celebrities of the moment have moved on to late night TV commercials, selling cheap products made in China.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading!
This article first appeared on Medium.