How Social Media May Be Stealing Your Best Work

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I asked a friend if she’d seen a photo of a mutual friend on Instagram. She said something like, “No. All I see in his feed is how perfect things are and how many friend he has. It makes me feel jealous.” She paused for the shortest moment and then followed up with, “I unfollowed him. I just couldn’t do it.”

I was really struck by this— both by her honesty in how social media makes her feel as well as her ability to take action to protect herself from those negative feelings.

Her struggle is very familiar to me. It’s easy for me to look at what everyone else is doing, and how they’re succeeding at everything — according to their social media presence — and feel pretty bad about my life, my work, and how far I am from where I want to be.

It’s easy to turn to social media when I’m feeling the difficulty of creating something that matters.

Work worth doing is hard and risky work. Social media can feel like a nice distraction at times, but it never helps me. It leaves me feeling sad, depressed, lacking worth and significance, and devaluing myself, my gifts, and my abilities. The harder task is to face the difficulty of my work— the risk and challenge it requires of me.

I’ve learned to keep my eyes on my own work.

The picture I have in my mind is classroom of 3rd graders sitting at a table with blank paper in front of them. The teacher invites them to draw/color. Some kids jump right in, but other kids are too anxious about what others are doing to actually lose themselves in the process. Instead of focusing on what they’re creating, they look at what everyone else is up to.

Focus on your work, not on the work of those around you. Use social media in ways that help you feel connected and supported. Don’t use it when it creates jealousy and envy. Unfollow as needed. Take breaks. Delete accounts. You get to make up your rules.

Create a good space for you and your creative process— with or without social media.

You have something to say. You have something to work out. You have something to create. So create it. Say it. Draw it. Paint it. Build it. Write it. Make it. Curate it. Compose it. Dance it.

Don’t let comparison steal your best work.

In the comments, I’d love to hear how social media influences you in good and bad ways. How do you deal with the comparison and envy that can creep in? Click here to comment. We all want to hear your voice.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 6 Comments On This Post.

  1. This message had perfect timing! I just ran across a new blogger who almost identically used what I thought was going to be my new concept. At first, I was upset but I know it’s just opening an opportunity for me to do something better than my original plan. It’s hard not to be jealous but I really try to praise others in similar work and learn from their successes! Thank you for writing!

    • Thanks Tracy! I’m with you as we try to compliment, support, and learn from others successes. Thanks for reading!

  2. Lindsey

    I completely resonate with this. I had instagram, twitter, and facebook on my phone for a good while and anytime I was bored, lonely, or sad, I’d turn to my phone for a ‘relief’ that always made me feel more frantic and scattered than when I had started. So many ideas for places to go, things to do, what to make! I’ve heard it said that instragram in particular is a way to document what people are grateful for, and while I think that’s a beautiful sentiment, my relationship to those platforms isn’t beautiful right now. Maybe someday, but I’ve experienced the beginnings of freedom deleting those accounts and forcing myself to stay with my feelings when I feel them.

    • I think you’re on to something here, Lindsey. I’m also very interested in what we give up by distracting ourselves from boredom and bad feelings with technology. And I love that you’ve deleted social media apps from your phone! Way to make space for yourself. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. How very true-sometimes it seems like some things didn’t really happen if not paraded on FB. I also recognize how I can turn to social media when sad/ feeling unaccomplished but not to look what others are up to, but rather that they would see me, regardless of how uterly invisible I am behind my screen not coming up with anything witty to post.

    I guess what we do want is to have someone be a witness to our lives.

    I’ve come to be rather suspicious of people who claim everything is so great all the time. Now, I’m a true optimist and heartily applaud my friends when they tell me of their joys and achievements- yet if I never hear the sad stories or about struggles I begin to feel detached from the person in question. Nor can I be a witness if I only see the polished slightly angled result. The faster the pace in life, the less we think we have time to simply sit down hear each other out.

    Interesting article on how distracted we are and how social media really doesn’t help (however, who is to blame is not something I like to make a judgement on personally):
    http://www.salon.com/2014/01/04/how_baby_boomers_screwed_their_kids_—_and_created_millennial_impatience/

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