Where does comparison go if there's no one to compare to?
About a month ago, I deleted Instagram, TikTok, and Threads from my phone, thinking I needed a day to decompress and that I’d be itching to get back, poking my finger at the place those apps used to be on my home screen. I’d deactivated my Twitter (or, X) account weeks before, done with the constant handwringing and complaining that plagued it. I thought for sure I’d want to get back on the apps, that I’d sneak a reinstall. But instead, weeks passed, and my desire beyond an addictive impulse, was so low, I just kept… not being on the apps. It has been the longest break I’ve taken since at least 2018. (A break that, at the time terrified me, but actually ended up ushering in a whole new version of myself.)
And sure, this might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but for me, it has been one epiphany after the other. There have been so many marked differences in myself since removing the apps (and, more so, since the desire to scroll has all but disappeared within me).
One thing about me is that I suffer from truly debilitating bouts of comparison. Anyone who has been reading my work for a while probably has gathered that. I wrote a whole book about it. Contrary to what people might believe, even if you write a book on something, it doesn’t mean you’re “healed.”
And the past two years have shown me that comparison is still the emotional battle that I’m up against on a near constant basis. I wish it wasn’t. I have tried nearly everything for it to not be, but it always seems to creep back in, so subtle at first that I hardly notice it has taken up residence yet again. And once it’s in residence, getting the thing to leave is not easy.
I am addicted to the idea that I have shortcomings. I get disappointed and discouraged so easily. I can convince myself out of absolutely anything that I want. It’s a horrible quality to possess and I mean that literally—it possesses me.
I am so flattened by comparison, and yet my brain loves to consume other people’s accomplishments, some sick exposure therapy that does nothing to assuage my own insecurities. Even if the comparison is in my favor, it still feels toxic. I want nothing of the whole game.
And I think perhaps a month ago, without realizing it, I had become consumed yet again with the constant consumption of other people and their highlighted lives. I guess it was inevitable. Having two books come out within the space of eighteen months—after years of yearning, longing, wanting—the vulnerability in the gaps of that accomplishment would try to compare, contrast, and measure. That is fear. Ego. So much wrapped up in the dream finally coming to fruition.
When you have wanted something for so long, the mountain of expectations that comes along with it is so high. Too high. Nothing is going to measure up. And social media is the perfect place to scroll, to put that fear, to spend too many hours thinking something in that screen is going to be an answer to a question you didn’t know you had.
I was reading Adam Grant’s new book, Hidden Potential, and this quote struck me like a lightning bolt: “It’s often said that where there’s a will, there’s a way. What we overlook is that when people can’t see a path, they stop dreaming of the destination.”
I had stopped seeing a path. Somehow, even when every path was right at my fingertips to scroll through, I had started to lose my own vision. I had become so overwhelmed by the amount of people doing what I want to do already and right now, that I stopped seeing my own possibility.
Which made me especially angry, given that my logical mind was aware that I had achieved great things that even five years ago I would have not thought totally possible. The emotional aspect of myself was at odds with the logical aspect. And I had been in that space for months. Too long.
The one thing I could think to do was to reclaim my mind again by going offline, if only for 24 hours. I hate to admit this, because it’s so cliche. I hate being a cliche. The Capricorn Rising in me needs originality constantly, but I guess cliches are cliche for a reason. I was on my phone too much. I wasn’t bored enough. I wasn’t connected to myself enough. And I was taking on everyone else’s emotions as my own, over and over and over. Their limitations and fears became mine. Their achievements became proof of my lack. Their life was a light shone on the dullness of my own.
I nearly missed lockdown during 2020 and 2021. Actually, I may even go as far as to say I did miss it. I liked when we were all experiencing something at the same time, when the lives weren’t so varied, when we weren’t trying to keep up, when it didn’t feel like there was a race I was always losing.
But then that day off social media turned into many days and the one thing that blossomed out of me was an unshakable sense of confidence and self-belief. I could hardly believe it. I was so deeply convinced that my confidence had leached from me over the years and that I would need to spend time building it back up.
Yet, without scrolling on social media, I had no doubt to contend with. I went back online the other day to make sure I wasn’t missing any important messages and I looked at exactly five Instagram Stories and immediately the confidence started to leak from me—I could physically feel myself going gray, losing the color of myself.
I promptly deleted the app again.
Once I know something, I can’t un-know it. And now I’m keenly aware that, on my own, when it’s just me and the world, I believe in myself deeply. I am confident. I listen to my intuition. I am steady within myself. I have self-belief that is both wide and deep. I can see exactly where I am going. I see my place in the world so clearly. I feel an enduring sense of myself.
But the moment I get onto social media, my sense of self starts to fade and fracture. I don’t see the path any longer. I lose sight of it. I lose sight of myself. I doubt and battle against myself. Fear starts to kick up my heart rate. I start thinking things like “why me?” and “how is this ever going to work out?” and “why am I not there yet?” and “if it hasn’t happened yet, it won’t” and “I’m too old to be doing this” and “I don’t deserve it.”
And then I remove myself from scrolling and those thoughts evaporate.
So, what do I do with that information?
It seems dangerous to ignore it.
I have high hopes for myself. Not for my ego. For myself. My soul. I have a sometimes shocking knowledge and understanding that I am but a soul having a physical experience on this Earth for a blip of a time. I am perhaps too keenly aware that I am here for a reason, that I have certain gifts, that I need to be deeply connected to myself and conscious Source, in order to ever truly discover those gifts to their full potential.
Going on social media, and scrolling too much, makes me forget all of that. It’s the way I feel about drinking. I drink maybe a few times a year and that’s not because I dislike alcohol—it’s because I like it too much. I like the escape of it, the mental blankness. It’s so unlike my normal experience, where my mind is never blank; my thoughts never cease. Drinking feels like a vacation more than any other vacation. But, it has negative impacts on me, too, that far outweigh that moment of thoughtless euphoria.
I like social media a lot. I like connecting with people. I like having a creative outlet. I wish I could take the benefits without the side effects. Same with drinking—I wish a night of drinking didn’t precede a week of hangover, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. I wish drinking didn’t take me further from the discipline necessary to do the work that truly matters to me.
And I wish I could enjoy social media without getting caught up in the comparison. I wish I weren’t so susceptible.
Finding out that my confidence soars when I’m not scrolling every day was perhaps the best and worst realization I could have discovered during this time. Because it means the problem isn’t me. I love when the problem is me! I can control me, in some ways. I can try to change my mind about myself. I can do more affirmations. I can work at that, at me.
But, the problem is social media. The problem is the whole industry behind the apps. The problem is that the apps trade in envy. The whole point is the envy, the keeping up, the very human desire to be special and seen. It takes what is natural to us and commodifies and warps it.
Of course I want to be special. Of course I want my work to be seen. Of course I want to be good at the things I care about being good at. This is human. This cannot be “healed” out of me. There is nothing wrong with wanting connection, recognition, and success.
It’s that social media has made it impossible to ever feel special, connected, recognized, seen, and successful enough.
There’s always something more to measure. There’s always a front row seat to someone else’s moment. And I hate being jealous. I hate being envious. I hate the desire to take something from someone else. I want to be happy for people. But how to consume the big moments of people I don’t even know on a constant basis?
The other night, I went to my friend Liz Moody’s book event in Los Angeles. (Her book, 100 Ways to Change Your Life is a wealth of information and I highly recommend it.) It was a packed courtyard of her beloved fans. I sat off to the side, and I basked in the joy of her filling up a whole event with an overflow of extra chairs and standing room in the back. Her joy was my joy. There was no part of me that compared to her, that questioned myself. I was just happy to be part of her moment.
The event was tactile. It was real. I felt connected.
Unfortunately—or, maybe, fortunately—that kind of feeling cannot be reproduced online, no matter how many people try to find the next game-changing startup or app that thinks they can.
Maybe this is me being so deeply tired of screens, after three years of a pandemic where nearly everything has moved online. I took a couple cooking classes recently. Feeling actual dough between my hands was like a revelation. There were so many online cooking classes to choose from, but I couldn’t do it. Anything that can be done in person, I want that.
I miss people. I miss small talk. I miss real conversation that doesn’t devolve into internet speak and divisive algorithms hellbent on making us hate each other.
I don’t want to lose my humanity.
And maybe that’s what I sensed. Not only was I losing something integral to myself, but I was losing my connection to humanity. The internet has brought us so many positive benefits, but there is a lot of negative side effects to wade through in order to get that reward.
I will not be offline forever, but when I return, I know it will be with more boundaries. To now see that I don’t even think about doubting myself until I sign online is enough to make me hesitant to return, even if the algorithms will ding me for being inconsistent and not addicted.
I cannot tunnel my life into the screen. I am terrified that people—and me—are spending so much time on their phones they’ve lost sight of themselves and the world and the people within it. I am terrified of being so consumed with the online narrative that I lose the thread of life.
I believed that being online and aware was making me more sensitive, but in fact, it had desensitized me. Too much stimulus. Too much information. Too much, of everything, all the time.
I thought seeing other people’s accomplishments would inspire me, but actually it felt too overwhelming, too broad, too contextless.
We need context. We need closeness. We need trusted peers. There’s a reason to simplify and a precedent for it.
I don’t have anything to tie this up with, except to say that I am beginning to feel solid again. I am beginning to get the color back into myself. I am beginning to see where I fell off my path, and the way to get back onto it. I’m bored and crave stimulus, but I am letting that be okay. I am letting that signal detox. I am letting myself sit in quiet.
I am meeting myself again, and meeting myself anew.
If you don’t give yourself space to breathe, how can you ever expect to grow?
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