While scrolling through various social media feeds, I often abruptly pause to yell, “Your ass is lying!” at my phone screen whenever I see someone I know telling the tallest of tales. Between the filters, thirst traps, and inspirational quotes, the package presented before you online rarely looks the same IRL.
I'm in constant fear of mirroring these kinds of people, and frequently wrestle with how much I should share in public spaces.
“Keep your business to yourself” is a lesson I learned around the time I still ate Lunchables and wore cartoon-themed underwear. I intuitively understood how people could use your personal problems against you, so I never wanted to publicly present myself as a complainer. Besides, there's already enough of that in the world, both online and off.
There are parts of myself I’m not always willing to share—and I’m not alone in this approach.
Like many others, I struggle to balance being honest while protecting my privacy. There are certain things I keep close to the vest: my fears, my uncertainties, whatever keeps me up late at night. There are parts of myself I’m not always willing to share—and I’m not alone in this approach.
I cave in to this pressure, too.
More and more, I'm approached by friends, relatives, and fans of my work who tell me how amazing my life seems. To write for a living is not without certain drawbacks (i.e. chasing checks, dealing with private student loan lenders); it requires a lot of discipline to not only create, but also maintain, a regular workload. I love writing, but it's hardly a glamorous existence.
You may see me on this program or read my work in that publication, but I’m not live-tweeting my phone calls with student loan lenders, or posting Instagram pics of myself trying not to cry and curse after hanging up. You don’t see me coming down from a caffeine high, exhausted and daunted by all the work still left to be done. You don’t see me seething with envy as I look at other people's photos documenting their Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-esque antics. Even when I do feel proud, sometimes the sight of someone else’s adventures on social media will put a damper on my feelings of accomplishment.
My best friend once told me that in order to escape the overwhelming updates on others' lives, he started limiting his Instagram usage to once a week. It seemed excessive at the time, but the more I think about it, the smarter his choice seems.
While listening to the “Golden Brown Girls” podcast recently, another friend and Sirius radio personality Tracy G noted that while we see the bright side of many people’s lives, we're not getting the whole picture.
“Because no one is going to take a selfie of themselves having a panic attack on the kitchen floor,” she aptly said. “Sometimes it’s make-believe and sometimes it’s a wake-up call. Either or, it shouldn’t lead you to be in an unhealthy space.”
I am vulnerable—to a controlled extent—in my work. So although I don’t exactly “keep my business to myself," (to my mother's dismay), I do tuck some of it away. Sometimes I question if that makes me fake.
But much of what people are sharing on social media is indeed an illusion. And while I don’t think the answer is to post all of the less desirable things happening in our lives, it does help to have some perspective. What you see on those feeds is only part of someone's story. Like your own, their lives are imperfect. Try to fully embrace that fact—but if you can’t, just look away.