A little over a month ago, I posted the following status on Facebook:
“Just a reminder that Facebook is not real life, it’s just a highlight reel. Just because I’m taking smiling selfies in new countries everyday doesn’t mean I’m not also living in a total state of anxiety about the uncertain future. The best thing we can do is be vulnerable and open up to people about how we really are feeling, instead of creating a false image that everything is perfect. I think most of us feel the same way.”
I wrote it without much thought, just a late night rant. I guess it was deeper than my usual status updates. I woke up the next morning and reached for my phone before my eyes had even opened, as one does, and I checked Facebook. I was taken aback by the overwhelming response. As my sister-in-law commented, it was one of my most liked posts ever. I didn’t #BreakTheInternet, but I received many comments, messages, and texts from people thanking me, agreeing with me, and sharing their stories of either feeling left out or being guilty of acting in this way. The volume of people who responded to these four simple sentences shows just how much more deeply people relate to vulnerability and authenticity than they do to photos of me swimming with dolphins in Cabo or enjoying margaritas in Bora Bora.
Many of those who reached out were people I never would have suspected were unhappy, based on their internet presence. One was working at a fabulous job in Beverly Hills and frequently Instagramming photos from the red carpet. Another was a former co-worker on the cruise ship who’s constant stream of smiling selfies echoed mine. And another was a commercial actor who had recently purchased a new Audi–and was sure to let us all know it. All three appeared aggressively happy in their online personae, and they all three confessed to being somewhat miserable in their real lives. It reminded me of something author Chuck Palahniuk wrote: “Everyone smiles with that invisible gun to their head.” The situation isn’t that dire, but the sentiment remains. When it comes to Facebook, we’re all faking.
To take personal accountability, and further make my point about the discrepancy of our presentations of selves versus our reality, I want to use myself as an example and comment on some of the photos that I’ve posted.
I admit, it was amazing to be docked right in the heart of Shanghai, and the skyline was one of the most impressive I’ve seen…But I wasn’t even allowed off the ship! I didn’t have a Visa to enter China. This picture of me looking like the Joker is the only memory I have of Shanghai. I also had to miss out on the Great Wall of China, and an overnight in Beijing. But you better believe I still checked in on Facebook to create the illusion I was there.
This was taken last year, four days into my first contract with Princess Cruises. I wrote in my journal on that day, August 13: “I’m feeling extremely overwhelmed. At this moment, I’m okay, but I’ve been surfing mega tides between so-excited-I’m-screaming-and-shouting-and-letting-it-all-out and heart palpitating nerves.” Everything at that time was so foreign to me. Literally. Out of the two thousand crew members, I was one of nine Americans.
It was like being transferred to a different high school halfway through the school year. Everyone had already been on the ship for a few months together and had their groups. I ended up making a lot of great friends, but it was hard at first. Practical everyday things were difficult, too. Like, I could not find the laundry room for the first week. I couldn’t figure out how to use the ship’s internet until four days in. And I kept getting in trouble for ridiculous things, because I was never given a list of Dos and Do Nots (examples: walking around with an apple in passenger areas; wearing flip-flops even in crew areas).
You get the idea. You would have never known this side of ship life, because I chose not to show it. My life isn’t always what it seems, and neither is anyone else’s. So what do we do? I don’t think being more negative as a way of balancing it out is the solution. And I think we should focus on the positives in our lives. But it feels dishonest to paint a picture that isn’t complete. Unless we really do live with rose-colored glasses on, perhaps we should be a little braver and show all of colors of the spectrum when it comes to social media.
But then again, we are millennials in a corporate culture that pressures us to keep our posts #onbrand. That doesn’t leave much room for vulnerability and crying about the hardships of young adult life. But if nothing else, if we do continue pretending that everything is perfect, we can at least be aware of the game we are all playing. I forget all the time myself. I specifically remember being in Norway and feeling jealous when I saw that somebody I hardly even knew was in Turks and Caicos. As my Sociology professor at Chapman, Dr McGrane, used to say: “What you don’t internalize can’t hurt you, while what you do internalize can destroy you.” As long as we are keenly aware of the Facebook facade, we don’t have to feel crushed each time you scroll through an endless feed of job promotions, Netflix and chilling, and squad brunches at Urth Caffe.