It was bad. I found myself looking at my laptop screen early one September morning. You could call it writers block, but I call it insincerity. All I wanted to do was write another popular article that’d get tons of views on LinkedIn. A little voice in my head told me that my fans expected this. Somewhere else on the internet (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter…) my other fans were overwhelmed with anticipation for my next upload of a motivational quote. I was sick. Instead of creating content for the sake of helping others, my relationship with social media had become an unhealthy addiction and habit.
Some of you know the feeling you get when your phone is about to die. Sure, there are those who have people depending on them, and can’t afford to miss an emergency phone call (children, sick relatives, etc.). But, there are those like me who need their phones on at all times so they don’t miss out on the next big thing. I found myself drowning in attempts to keep up with trending topics. I became the person that would walk into the conference room and ask, “Did you hear about this (insert celebrity or world news update here)?” Being a gatekeeper of breaking news was a badge I wore proudly, but what did it really count for? Did it actually help anyone to know that Taylor Swift was being sued for allegedly stealing someone else’s lyrics? Would I be able to connect better with my students because I’d practiced the whip nae nae dance? Yes and no. Social media engagement has its share of benefits. It is great for networking, information for idle banter, publishing honest and vulnerable posts like this, and it helps me to stay connected to the students I work with. But, too much of anything is a bad thing. We know this.
So, when I was staring at my laptop screen – disappointed and sulking – I knew something had to give. I was trying to force out words because I craved the gratification that came along with people reading my words and being touched by them. That’s not what matters. If I’m always looking for a trophy in my efforts to serve others, eventually I’ll end up isolated and unsatisfied. People will begin to see through my disingenuous efforts. I will do them a disservice. My fear of missing out will inevitably render me lying on the floor by the nearest outlet while my phone charges, and I feebly scroll up and down a trending topics page. I don’t want to be that person. I was that person. I still kind of am that person.
Being off social media for a month taught me a few things that I want to hold onto and share with you. If I can continue the good habits I picked up during my break, I think I’ll be better for it. Maybe you will too.
- I got back to reading books – the ones with binding, a spine, and actual pages. I forgot how much fun it was to finish a novel and lose myself in another world for a few days. There’s something to say about going beyond a 140-character story, and immersing yourself in an author’s mind. During my hiatus, I read peer reviewed research findings in Higher Ed, learned more about Student Development Theory, and was completely frustrated after finishing The Girl on the Train (but you should read it because everyone else has and it’s like Gone Girl).
- The people who are important to me mattered again. I spent more time with my wife, Tynesha, and found it easier to be present in conversations with anyone I was speaking to. I was less concerned about how many likes the photo I posted minutes ago was getting …because there was no post.
- I learned that others are struggling too. I told someone that I was doing a social media cleanse and they replied: “Oh, I could never do that.” I assured them that I wasn’t giving up all my possessions and traveling the land for a few years. It was just a way to be less distracted and more present with the life in front of me. That didn’t click for them. They reiterated that they just couldn’t put down their phone. It was a sad moment for the both of us.
- You’re going to miss out on something. Attempting to be informed about every single topic from who Blake Shelton is in love with to why Quentin Tarantino is under fire for attending an anti-police brutality protest is fun for a while. But, it’s not a sustainable practice and I don’t get paid for it. My actual job is to positively impact the lives of college students and support/challenge them as they develop into responsible adults. When you fear missing out, you end up missing out on yourself and the things that matter.
- I don’t have any fans. I’m not a celebrity. I’m glad to know that a few people in the world enjoy reading my writing, but they don’t lose sleep when I fail to post something. Life goes on. Rather than cranking out content to remain relevant, this break has taught me the importance of one. If I can inspire and motivate one person to do better, my job is done. Sure, if only one person likes this article and three people view it, it will sting. You know what outweighs that sting? Knowing that I acted with good intentions to help make this world a little better. That’s got to count for something. I want it to count more as I grow and mature.
So that’s it. It was a break and not a break up. We needed space, but I’m slowly getting back to tweeting, liking, and posting. This time it feels better. I feel like I can be more of myself in this relationship. I don’t feel so used or so lost. I have more of an identity. I love you, social media, but if we’re going to be together, I need to be a healthy version of myself.
Thank you for reading.