I was recently a guest on my friend Travis Scott’s podcast The Winding Road. Travis is thoughtful, curious and a pursuer of life: all qualities I admire. This is my second time being on the podcast, and I thoroughly enjoyed both conversations because they moved like a leaf on a stream, happily meandering, following the ebb and flow.
At one point, we talked about the endless churn of social media. Complained, really, about the vagaries of capturing attention on platforms so saturated with the wants and desires of hundreds of millions of people at any given second that to think anything we write will land in a meaningful way feels as improbable as being struck by lightening while learning we have the winning numbers of a massive Powerball lottery ticket simultaneously.
In other words: what in the world are we chasing?
I’m of an age where I had a distinct life pre-Internet and social media. I’ve been on Facebook for 13 years, and that was simply because my son wanted to join. I felt like I needed the ability to monitor some of what he was doing and seeing there. I hesitantly dipped my toe in, and somewhere between that day and today, I’ve been fully submerged, to the point of drowning, in the tsunami that is social media.
I vividly recall using the telephone, often waiting until 11pm when rates would drop to 10 cents/minute. I wrote and received actual letters. I sent Christmas cards where I filled people in on an entire year. I stayed in touch with those closest to me in person.
And now there’s the post-Internet and social media age.
Now I, and most of the world, derive much of my sense of self-worth from thumbs up icons, little hearts and numbers. I have to carefully avoid obsessively checking to see how many likes, how many opens, how many shares my “content” receives. And I’m reading other people’s posts and wondering what it was about their words and images that moved so many more people to engage with that post than with mine.
I strategize about images, taking pictures of food and flowers like a crazy person.
The same way I have to literally talk myself into walking past a tray of Special K bars at an event and not take a row (or more), I have to say on a regular basis, “Don’t check Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn right now. Wait 10 more minutes.” Or, “It’s a stoplight. Resist the urge to immediately open your phone and scroll.”
Scrolling. Endlessly scrolling.
And what do I have to show for it? What do any of us have to show for this almost manic investment of time, energy and lethargy? Can you be manically lethargic? I think in this case, yes.
Is there even a way to go back? Do I want to? Do you?
Whose attention am I trying to capture anyway? What person will read my stuff and deem me acceptable, sharable, invite me into the inner circle of influencers I am apparently so desperate to join?
Why, why WHY in the world have I abdicated the sense of not giving a hoot that comes with growing up and run determinedly back to my 9th grade self? The one who looked longingly at the popular girls who so effortlessly showed up in class and laughed with the boys who casually went to school mostly to get to their various sports practices at the end of the day?
I never was one of those girls. I’ll never be one of those girls.
Chasing social media approval today feels the same way I did when I longed to be the girl with the pinstriped skinny jeans, the Jessica McClintock pink net prom dress, the anklet socks and high heels right out of the fashion pages of the Seventeen magazines I poured over.
I believe in the content I’ve created around the (re)Discover Your Spark course and workshop; it’s worked beautifully for many people. I hear from friends and strangers that my posts and newsletters resonate for them. I know I’m on the right path for me.
So what, then, am I chasing? Why do I feel a compulsive need to have more? More followers; more readers? More comments and shares?
If I go back to my 9th grade self, I had a few good friends. I was casually if cautiously friendly with the cool kids, the nerds, the jocks, the preppies. I essentially fit everywhere and nowhere. I wasn’t enviably popular, but I also wasn’t bullied or ignored; I was very middle of the pack. I was a missing member of The Breakfast Club.
That’s about where I am today, too, very “middle of the pack.” And I feel just about exactly the same today as I did then: middle of the pack is…”meh.”
It’s that shoulder shrug response to, “Do you like yoga, Dayna?”
“Meh, it’s ok. I know I should do it, but I don’t love it enough to make myself do it. When I’ve done it, I’ve seen great results, but now I’m out of practice, and I don’t really want to get back to it.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Travis and I both mused about the value of chasing what really matters, at least to us: good content creation, word of mouth growth from people we know and admire, consistently showing up and putting in the effort.
Back to the pre- and post-Internet eras: sending and receiving letters in the mail was a true delight, but if you wrote a question to a friend and put it in the mailbox, you had to wait a long time to get that question answered.
Today, I can send out a question to literally just about the entire world and have a dozen answers in a matter of seconds, sometimes from complete strangers whose only agenda in that moment is to be helpful (unless they’re a hater, and then they are decidedly showing up to wreak havoc, but that’s a post for another day).
Hard to give up that satisfying immediacy for the simple joy of pulling a hand addressed letter out of the mailbox, regardless the fondness I have of those moments.
So I ask again, what are you chasing?
- Shallow accolades
- The number of the scale or the size of your pants
- More money than you need to be content
- Attention, in person or on social media
- Job titles just for the sake of the title
- The house, the second house, the vacations, the car, the lifestyle you “think” you need
- Your children’s schedule and success for bragging rights
It’s not easy to chase these goals because there’s almost always another one to strive for: more zeros in your bank account, more followers on social media, more injections of Botox, more stuff.
What if instead of chasing those things, we chased
- Self acceptance
- Peace and quiet
- Showing up as our truest, most brilliant and flawed selves
- Time in nature
- A better work/life balance
- Meaningful health
- Authentic, invested relationships
It’s not easy to chase this list either because none of it is measurable. You can’t purchase joy or self acceptance; they are qualities you have to actively work toward every day. Qualities you get to actively work toward every day, regardless your job title, social media following or financial situation.
Ultimately, we’re all chasing something. Some of us chase harder and faster, but we all do it. I guess what Travis and I finally settled on so that we could end the conversation was simply to be present and honest about what it is we’re chasing. As a middle of the pack-er, I’m striving for a healthy mix of items from the first and second lists because I know that achieving anything from the first without having the qualities of the second will ultimately leave me utterly unsatisfied.
As I always say, even a long life is short, and the clock is ticking. What are you waiting for? Spend time today considering all that you’re currently chasing. You don’t need to judge any of it, but you do need to honestly assess its value and use in your life.
On your mark, get set, go!
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