Let me preface this by saying that I have an undeniably complicated relationship with social media, particularly Instagram. I’ve worked in the digital space for a long time, and on one hand, I feel incredibly grateful that a platform exists in which one can keep in touch with friends easily, spark meaningful conversations, cultivate a sense of community, grow a business, and gain access to people we normally wouldn’t have access to. But, so often, I find the picturesque locales and images of pure joy on Instagram do not quite align with how one experiences happiness in real life.
I still remember my first IG post: I took a photo of the sunset on the dock at my uncle’s beach house in Maryland, filtered it with "Valencia" within the app itself, and voilà — my first post went live in real time and took all of 15 seconds from start to finish.
But, as the platform evolved, so did the expectations on my images. For instance, today my posting process looks much different than it did back then. Now, I have an aesthetic to consider, a brand to build, a client to impress — and it takes a lot more work than I’m often willing to admit.
If I’m being honest, as much as I love visual storytelling and creating something that I’m proud of, there are days where it annoys me. Sometimes I want to throw my phone across the room because I feel there are more important things in life to focus my energy on than the editing app I’m using. I start to wonder why I even burden myself with this irrational perfectionism in the first place — all for the sake of getting a "like-worthy" image.
Why am I no longer that person who uploads from the dock when capturing a genuinely happy moment, and what does that say about me? In an effort to dig deeper on the topic and figure out how to align true personal happiness with that portrayed on social media, I tapped Jessica Abo, author of ‘Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look on Social Media’, as well as Instagram personality and podcast host, Atlanta de Cadenet Taylor.
Don't Play The Comparison Game
When I asked de Cadenet Taylor if she thinks social media is helpful or hurtful, she practically explained that it's a bit of both, which instantly relieved me to know she shares my sentiment.
“Often times, it can be hurtful because I’m looking at accounts that make me feel bad about myself, but it can be helpful in the sense that it’s allowed me to create a like-minded community," says de Cadenet Taylor. "I’m still learning how to make it a healthy part of my life, but recently, I unfollowed about 600 people. I was so worried about what everyone would think or whose feelings I would hurt, but at the end of the day, I just needed to take care of myself.”
Abo reveals that similar sentiments are part of what inspired her to write her book. “Every time I got together with a colleague or had drinks with friends, they would voice how they were feeling frustrated with social media because it made them feel bad about their own life," the author explains. "They created a scenario where they would pick up their phone in the morning and see their ex got engaged, their former colleague got promoted; they were constantly being reminded of the things they didn’t have but wanted for themselves.”
Your path is just that: yours. Keeping your eyes on your own paper is a key life principle that seems simple, but is actually quite transformative. There's a unique beauty in your personal life journey, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be.
Abo explains that, so often, being too honest or unfiltered can place one in a position of vulnerability, which can be uncomfortable. “We want to paint this picture where we're happy all the time because it's uncomfortable to be imperfect," she says. "I started the hashtag #LiveUnfiltered to challenge myself to be more open with my community, and it’s been the most liberating thing I’ve done in my career to be able to share all of the raw, real moments.”
In the same vein, de Cadenet Taylor started a podcast that’s informative, inclusive, fun, and most importantly, real. “When I was initially starting my podcast, I was told by a few people that it wasn’t “structured” enough — and I was like, ‘Well, that’s the point!' she says. "A lot of people tell me that one of their favorite things about it is that they feel like they’re just hanging out with some girlfriends, which was exactly what I wanted.”
That said, being aware of what you share and who you share with is still important, as vulnerability is best at work in a safe place.
“Sometimes I’ll write something that feels a little TMI and I’ll think… Hmmm… Maybe I’ll leave this part out, and I’ll rewrite it until I feel good about it," explains de Cadenet Taylor. "A lot of times I leave out specific details on my posts, but if someone DM’s me or reaches out personally I usually will share that kind of information. So it’s definitely something I struggle with and I have to constantly check with myself how it will make me feel putting it out into the world.”
My conversations with de Cadenet Taylor and Abo left me with some food for thought: It is possible to find a balance between sharing what is beautiful and sharing what is real. I can’t promise I’ll use the Valencia filter again, but I can promise that I’ll revisit the simplicity, spontaneity, and genuine connection that attracted me to social media in the first place. And as for my morning routine of checking my phone as soon as I open my eyes? I'm going to replace that with taking the time to set a daily intention, per Abo's final piece of advice:
"If you're a busy person who needs to get on their phone right away, as many of us are, I encourage you to pause for a moment in the morning and set a daily intention first. One small change can result in us being more mindful, and can genuinely improve our happiness."