Many of us have a subconscious desire for outrageous success, and I’d wager this feeling is more pronounced today than it was 20 years ago.
I’m writing as a member of the millennial generation, but my idealistic cohort and I are certainly not alone in subjecting ourselves to the relentless bombardment of manicured images, videos, and written accounts of others’ successes on social media. From Instagram to Linked In, Tik Tok to Facebook, everywhere you look, everyone’s sexier, wealthier, funnier, and happier than you.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether everyone else is actually as fulfilled as they appear to be on social media (spoiler: they probably aren’t), we have to ask ourselves what effect it has on each of our own psyches, voyeuristically keeping up with other people’s indulgent vacations, big promotions, and intense workout routines.
In my own personal experience, the selection bias imposed by social media algorithms cultivates a subconscious perception in the user that what one sees is all that’s out there. If you’re proud of your fitness hobby, the standard you’re held to on Instagram is set by six foot five beefcakes rocking eight pack abs and full time lingerie models repping fifteen sponsorships. Suddenly you’re no longer proud of finishing your first half marathon.
What’s wrong with this picture? In the case of the fitness hobby, even managing to balance it with a full time job, a homefront, children, other interests and hobbies, and perhaps a few pets is a certifiable feat. If you’ve lost fifteen pounds without stalling out at work or neglecting your kids, that’s worth being proud of. How can the influencers so easily rob us of our sense of accomplishment?
I hypothesize that the social media highlight reel robs us of our sense of accomplishment only insofar as it quietly replaces our goals with loftier ones. If this weren’t the case, the hobbyist gym goer could not rationally justify their deflation at the sight of a professional swimsuit model, unless achieving a model physique was the goal to begin with. However, if an Instagram ready physique was the goal, then our hobbyist should perhaps reflect on what it takes to go pro.
In my own case, that reflection would look something like this:
Each of us only has 100% to give; how do I divvy mine up? Well, what do I want? A family? A fulfilling career? A circle of friends, a few hobbies, perhaps a sports team to root for? For most of us, family and career dominate, taking somewhere between 60% and 80% I’d say, leaving only scraps of time and energy for everything else. Given we’re an economy of specialists, most of us can only successfully manage a single career at a time, so where are we going to find the time to compete with someone who is giving 80% to their fitness alone?
It simply isn’t going to happen. We can’t compete with Instagram models at their chosen pursuit, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
When I feel the infection of envy seeping into me through social media, I try to remember that the cost of outrageous success is just that: outrageous. The only way to achieve it is to prioritize with a ruthlessness few of us know. If you seek out an intimate relationship, have a family, or pass the time in the company of good friends, you are expending time, energy, and momentum while your competitors in your chosen hobby are remaining dedicated, accruing mastery, and outperforming you in their solitary, totalizing pursuit.
It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to demystify the allure of others’ apparent prowess and achievement, for in any given circumstance it most likely represents a sacrifice of everything else we currently prioritize in our lives.
Do you strive for wholeness, or outrageous success? If the former, keep spreading your love and watering each plant. If the latter, it’s time to make some tough decisions and some even tougher sacrifices.