We are living in a completely different social world than any generation before us. Everything has changed so much in the past year alone with social media and I'm seriously not sure if it's for the better.
This article was inspired by the many behind the scene conversations I've been having with my friends, some of which are incredible influencers, some which are everyday gals and guys. But mostly, it's been inspired by how I've been personally feeling this year when it comes to the online space.
Our society has never been so "connected" yet disconnected at the same time and this year I experienced this first hand. Many of us use social media to share carefully curated photos from our holidays and other "beautiful" (i.e. staged) moments from our lives. Our social validation and interactions are no longer based on hugs, hand shakes, smiles or kind words but instead on "likes", "comments", "followers" and "subscribers".
Social media was meant to be a fun and easy way to stay connected to your friends and family and share moments from your life. And it was fun. But with brands paying big bucks to people that accumulate massive followings and everyday people making multi-millions of dollars off of their "following", social media has become a completely different beast.
Let's start with Instagram.
I started using Instagram in 2013 when my husband and I left Canada and we wanted to share photos from our travels and share our story of quitting our corporate jobs to travel the world. We inspired others to live out their inner travel bug, visit the places we've been to and I even can name a few people that have gone on to quit their jobs and travel as a result of our advice. At the time, it was a fun, creative project that allowed us to connect to hundreds of people who were like us!
A few years later after moving to Melbourne, I went on to start my own business (Andra Maria Wellness), where I started a new Instagram account to share pretty photos, inspirational quotes, advice and self-help tips. I loved hearing about how my words and photos inspired others and I felt like I was truly connecting with people through this little app and making a difference in someones life.
Some of you may have even met me, or become my friend through Instagram...and some of you have even become my clients. So believe me, I love Instagram for this, it's been a gift getting to meet you and I know without this app, there is no way we would have crossed paths!
But lately, the energy around Instagram has changed.
It seems like everyone is posting perfect photos with cute quotes and life advice. Professional models, videographers, photographers and yoga-stars, have taken up our feeds making it seem like they just took a few moments to snap a photo and post it, while the truth of the matter is that each post is a few hours in the making.
Instagram has become a place where everyone's life looks so damn perfect and I now honestly log onto my account and roll my eyes within minutes thinking, "blah blah blah, here is more advice on how to live my life...here is someone else with health tips, a smoothie bowl or pretty photos of another exotic location around the world..."
And guys - I am definitely not innocent here! I AM one of those people that has done all of the above and still does! So seriously, if you're one of those people, know that I AM you, so please don't get offended as this is in no way meant to be an attack. I'm trying to figure out how to navigate this too.
My feelings on Instagram and social media are fairly new. I didn't feel this way at all in 2016, but my experiences over the past 6-9 months have slowly chipped away at my love for social media and it's got me seriously questioning "where do we go from here as a society?"
Social Media Anxiety & Loneliness
Over the past few months, I started opening up to a few of my friends in the industry about my feelings, only to discover how much they felt the same too.
I've since heard stories of friends of friends having anxiety and even panic attacks about not getting enough "likes" on photos that they took hours to snap, edit and write the perfect caption for.
I've been one to shed tears after finding out close friends of mine who I adored have unfollowed me (it hurts!)
I've held space for clients where we used our precious time together talking about how hurtful it is when their own best friends don't take the time to "like" their well-thought out posts that they wrote from their heart, while they clearly notice that this same friend engages with everyone else's photos.
Like I said, our social interactions have changed dramatically and we continue to say "it's just social media, it's silly, who cares, it's just likes!" but I think it's time we stopped calling it stupid. Imagine you're at a party and your friend walks in and hugs everyone in the room except you? It would trigger feelings of insecurity, confusion and emotional turmoil. These same feelings get triggered for a lot of us when you see someone giving a lot of online love to one person but not you. Like I said, it's about time we stop saying our feelings are stupid and instead start validating that what we're feeling is not only real but an appropriate and healthy reaction to social interactions.
And the disconnection flows off of social media into our day-to-day lives too.
For me, the disconnection really started a few months after I started my weekly YouTube videos. I was committed to growing my social media presence as I knew it would be a way to connect with people, attract opportunities, new clients and establish my brand online (after all, we live in a world where "you are who google says you are").
After creating videos, curating posts on Instagram and Facebook...something strange started to happen within my friendship circles. My friends stopped asking me how I am.
People started assuming that everything I touched was successful and I was just perfect and happy all the time - and sure, that's what I was showing online. At first I didn't know how to handle it and I was confused. I would even exhaust my energy trying to explain how not perfect things were, but it was like some of my friends just didn't believe me or I they didn't really take the time to truly hear me.
After that failed a few times, I thought I needed to open up more to people and allow myself to truly be vulnerable. But when I did this, I often got a "you'll be fine, everything is going great for you" response. I would leave catch-ups feeling like I had a vulnerability hangover and just ended up feeling drained and lonely.
I started becoming guarded and hesitant to truly open up to people. If my friends wanted to believe I was just "all good all the time", I would just let them because no matter what I said, I felt they would believe that anyway.
I am truly grateful and blessed to have a handful people in my life who over the months took the time to look at me and say... "Andra, how are you really?" a question which brought tears of relief to me that someone actually cared enough to ask (you know who you are - you're my angels).
I am fortunate to have a few friends that didn't put me on a pedestal or try to brush off my problems as "less important" than theirs. This article is actually a result of one of those people sitting with me this week and taking the time to talk to me about how I was feeling. She even sent me a message after we saw each other saying "even self help gurus need help." I felt seen & heard.
You might be thinking (as my critical mind is) "You did this to yourself, why bother posting perfect photos and scripted videos and on and on?" and the answer to that is, because I wanted to. Because I enjoyed doing it at the time. Because it felt good. Because I didn't know that that the world would form this perception of me. And then my mind kicks in again "Do you want people to feel sorry for you or something? Why are you even writing this" And the answer to that is, no, I don't want you to feel sorry for me. Actually, I don't want anything from you at all. I just want to share my honest feelings.
On the other hand, I'm sitting here thinking, if I feel this way I know others do too. I can't imagine how people with millions of followers must feel and often feel compassion for them thinking, I hope they still have 1-2 good friends that they can trust and that do take the time to ask them how they really are.
I don't know where we go from here. We are all walking on unchartered territory. We weren't prepared for this. Our teachers didn't tell us how to handle social media nor can we look to our elders for guidance. You and me... we are paving the path. And let's be honest, not using social media is not the solution as it's not going anywhere. I use it for my business and I know many of you reading this do too. I don't have the solution, but what I can say is, writing articles like this has allowed me to feel more connected than I have in a long time.
I was sitting in a workshop with Andrew Ford, Founder of Social Star, and someone asked him "What's the next big thing when it comes to social media?" His answer, "being real." I really liked his advice.
This article is not to provide solutions or answers (because I don't have any), but it's just to let you know that if you've been feeling this way... I get it. I feel this way too. Now, more than ever, we all need to open up about our true feelings because keeping them in is not helping anyone.
And as someone who helps people with their mindset, I keep asking myself, how can I actually make a difference? How can I let people know their not alone? I want to gather everyone in one room and talk about this more (if you live in Melbourne and would be interested in attending in-person events, please sign up here so I know). For now, most of my community is online from all parts of Australia, Canada and the USA. A part of me loves this, a part of me is saddened that we're so far away.
So as I prepare to launch my new program in December, I've been thinking about this a lot lately. How can I help us feel more connected even through the online space? How can I actually be of service to the world?
On December 1st, I'm launching a new community program.
I was going to call it a group coaching program but to be honest, that makes me feel icky. Community program, sounds nicer, lighter and more connected, doesn't it?
The program is something I've been working on in my mind for a few weeks now and yesterdays discussion on my Instagram post inspired not only this article but an entirely new section for the program. I will not be on video lecturing about a magic solution or potion for our modern day problems. I feel there is enough (too much) of that going on in the personal development space at the moment (no offence if you're one of these people, I'm seriously just sharing my honest feelings).
Instead, it will be a space for us to connect as a group and talk about being a spiritual being in the modern day. I want you to feel heard, validated and understood as a result of being a part of this community. I will hold space, I will share stories, I will offer words of wisdom that have helped me and I will give you the tools that I use everyday to go within and find the essence of the real me. The intention is to create a space for you to re-connect back to your truth and connect with other people who will actually give a shit enough to ask "how are you, really?"
More details will be released on December 1st along with a super affordable early-bird special for those of you who would like to join. If want to hear about these details when they become available please, sign up here.
I would love to hear your thoughts on social media and how it's affected your social interactions - leave me a comment and share your story!