The invisibility of sacrifice and life trials on social media. August 2015
After excusing my last patient of the morning, I slipped quietly into the clinic’s break room and set a glass jar of homemade meatballs in the microwave. Spaced out in a state of gratitude and musing over the tranquility of that morning’s run and my patient’s progress, I reached for my phone and started mindlessly scrolling through the facebook news feed.
- Sally: “Cabo, I’m never coming home. 2 words, Taco. Tuesday. But this tequila tho. #YOLO #livinitup.”
- Richard: “Hey, you can call me Doctor Ricky, cause I just graduated from med school. Feeling dapper in this #capngown #kindofabigdeal.”
- Martha: “About to birth my 2nd set of twins, on our 2nd wedding anniversary. Handsome husband by my side, as always. #princecharming#fruitfulmultiplication.”
- Robbie: “Officially Olympic bound! Rio 2016 marathon…here I come! #dreamchaser.”
- Stella: “Pay off student loans? check. In full? check check! #nomorechecks #financialpeace.”
The previously joyous moment rapidly turned from vibrant to pale. I wish I could say I instinctively burst with pride for all my acquaintances and friends, but the longer I looked at the screen, the more deflated I felt. Comparison had cast its dark shadow, bringing with it an invasion of inadequacy and an unwelcome internal monologue.
Here I am in a boring break room kitchen,with neither tacos nor tequila, but instead tap water and bland meatballs. What a culinary wimp I was, unwilling to chop onions and weep. Even if I did have the raw talent, people don’t qualify for the Olympics by training in scorching hot Sacramento, and school takes up too much time anyway. How nice it must be for Martha, with a Prince charming to have and to hashtag. Except unlike debt-free Stella, my budget doesn’t even allow for frequent stylish haircuts, and I’m resembling Rapunzel more and more each day. Gosh, to be a successful human being is such a difficult job description…
And just then, all the rational passengers aboard the train of thought, derailed the monologue and knocked me to my senses. The act of comparison, had flipped a switch, shifting my life lens from abundance to lack. Consequently, everything I did not have came sharply into focus. It was as though I read the news feed with a subconscious belief, that it detailed the biography of one person. It had never occurred to me, that the collection of celebratory worthy, gold star statuses probably don’t happen all at once.
Let’s revisit that list.
- Robbie qualified for the Olympics, but abstained from tequila every Tuesday in order to reach his athletic peak.
- Martha brought great joy to her husband and kids, but opted out of marathon racing while late stage pregnant with twins.
- Sally taste tested the best tacos in Cabo, but postponed her long term career plans of becoming a doctor.
- Richard graduated medical school, but incurred loans in the six figures.
- Stella paid off her loans in full, but did not to travel for several years, while saving.
The exceptional person juggling all five, is not valid litmus test for normal, because yes decisions in one area, mean no decisions in others. But the word sacrifice isn’t exactly in our lexicon of cool. When it comes goals, we value what we gain far more than what we give up on the way. When it comes to relationships, we assign more importance to harmony than trying disagreements. As far as I’m aware of, there is no section of social media for the necessarily occurring negative spaces. Otherwise, we would see far more captions such as, “In the library on a Friday night and sowing seeds for later. #dailydiligence” Or, “date night disagreement, feeling frustrated but doing our best. ” Of course, using discernment over content disclosure to the public is wise, but jumping to conclusions about incomplete pictures, can lead us astray.
Real life case in point
July 3rd, 2015 My sister, Marie and a group of her friends drove up to Sacramento for a day trip. My Instagram shows the 6 of us mid hike at paradise lake in the Sierras looking like the quintessential picture of exuberant, adventurous young adulthood… And right about then, messages from distant companions start to roll in about how my life must be a blast. On many days that’s true.
Except July 4th, 2015 I did not post. Unpictured, in a pathetic attempt at instilling some sense of patriotism, I dipped blue corn tortilla chips in tear salted salsa, alone. Earlier in the day I watched families stack hot-dog buns and charcoal in their shopping carts and thought about previous July 4ths. But since there were no pool party invitations or BBQs that year, all I felt that day, was a painful awareness that I had yet to make many friends in Sacramento.
Perceiving the inflow
That picture serves only as a snapshot of a much larger life collage. And I share this neither to cast shadows of cynicism, nor to bring a stand still to the celebrations. By all means, let us continue to spread the clapping emojis all around. But, since there is always more to the story, developing an awareness of how the inflow affects us, is important. Some may remain unaffected, but many can fall prey to false assumptions, that their struggles aren’t shared, or their lives aren’t meaningful. So these days, when I pull out my phone, I first remind myself that each person has a unique life story. Then I pause, and I think of Swiss cheese.
To end with an image, the Human life experience can be a lot like Swiss cheese. It’s richly abundant in flavor, and also distinct by its negative spaces. Many people live like their ultimate goal is to become a solid block of parmesan, believing that happiness and meaning come with completed tasks, and calendars so full there are no blank spaces. But the promise of parmesan is dry. In every decision and life transition comes both loss and gain. And on social media, each pictured accomplishment was most likely obtained through commitment, and a thousand more unposted sacrifices. But holes do not make Swiss cheese somehow less complete. The cheese stands alone.