The number went down again and my stomach sank with it. I took a deep breath, grabbed my purse, and walked out to begin my commute to work. I stared at the elevator button, deliberately trying to shut my brain off and focus on the music streaming through my headphones instead. But it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the rising tide of discouragement and self-doubt spreading through my mind and churning in my belly.
This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s just a freaking number. Who cares?! I yelled at myself.
It’s Facebook after all. So yeah, this is totally ridiculous.
I lost a few page likes and it was like someone had told me “You suck and I hate you!” to my face. Or at least, that’s how it felt, nevermind how irrational that sounds.
The way our social discourse has evolved to draw conclusions about self-worth through the amount of friend requests, page likes, and followers is…. fascinating, for lack of a better word. Have you ever stopped to notice how people speak about their relationships and friendships these days? I rarely get through a conversation without the mention of someone’s comment on facebook or a fun picture on instagram. Hashtag, request, tweet, like and follow are all prime verbs with their own set of meanings and implications for how friendships develop beyond the scope of actual reality and into virtual reality. Carry these words and their current meanings back in time about ten years and no one would even know what you’re talking about. So much has changed just in our manner of speaking that it amazes me how much emphasis is placed on things that really don’t have any roots beyond the zeros and ones of a computer program.
I created my fan page because it was the next step for my blog and another way for me to get my messages out there for those who don’t want to sit and read a thousand plus words every couple of days (yes, I’m wordy, I know this). My initial hesitation at starting a fan page stemmed from the idea that I didn’t feel ‘popular’ enough to warrant extra space online. I got over that quickly, and threw the baby out with the bath water (ridiculous saying) by launching every imaginable profile I could get online. I loved the flexibility it gave me to expand my thoughts in other ways, share photos, and engage new readers. But then it turned into every other numbers game in my life. Suddenly the attention gave way to that dreaded number. How many followers? How many likes? Who’s watching me?
It reminds me of the scale. That dreaded slab of doom (as I like to call it) that tortures me even after I lost all of my weight. Same goes for the size on the clothing label. I become consumed with what all of these numbers mean and what it says about me, forgetting that they don’t mean anything at all except what I ascribe to them. People don’t go up to each other and introduce themselves with “Hi, my name is Maribel, I weigh x pounds, wear a size x, have x friends, x followers, and x likes on my Facebook page. What about you?” And if they do then that’s weird and I don’t know those people. Understanding this doesn’t mean that I remember it all the time, hence my mini-breakdown the other day when I realized I’d “lost” a few followers. Like I said, ridiculous.
That’s when I realized two very important things.
One. I was sacrificing some of my joy in creating this world of food, health, nutrition, and wellness for the sake of increasing my virtual face time by spending hours scouring lists of pages and clicking ‘like’ buttons. This takes time away from my writing and research, which is where all of this started. Furthermore, I began to resent the process of writing. I didn’t want to sit down and expound my thoughts. I felt this urgent need to be out there ‘networking’ whatever the hell that means, by feverishly clicking away, not really looking at who I was ‘connecting’ with or reading their stories. This 1 to 1 exchange of, “I like you, please like me back,” doesn’t do anyone any favors, especially if I’m not taking the time to read your stories and the same vice versa. Otherwise, what’s the point of it all besides a never-ending popularity contest?
Two. My intense focus on developing my online persona has had a significant drawback in my personal life. I connect with other writers and readers and sometimes they feel as close as my actual friends in real life. I believe that I know these people on a deeper level, and in some cases I think that those bonds are actually valid. We’re all baring our souls by sharing personal stories and when someone responds to that, we’re going to feel a pull in that person’s direction. The problem here is that for all of my time spent in my virtual world, I’ve held back from building new relationships in the real world. I have my close circle of friends and family of course, but its become a lot harder to exhibit the sort of confidence I present online, in real life. As much as I try to break through the fourth wall with each blog post, I’m not sure how I’d fare if you were to invite me to lunch so we can share our stories in person.
I recently attended two events where I put my social skills to the test by challenging myself to talk to people I didn’t know. I’ve never been a great social butterfly but I’ve always been able to manage pretty well on my own. That’s not the case anymore. I get anxiety and worse, I revert back to the shy, introverted version of myself that I thought I’d gotten past years ago. It’s awful and I’m childish enough to blame facebook for my deteriorating social skills. Online I don’t have to worry about how I look, and since I feel like it’s easier for me to write my thoughts than say my thoughts, I can do things I would never do if I were standing in front of you carrying on the same conversation.
But then I come back to the same conclusion here. The numbers game and my fear of losing followers is still a projection of the same insecurities that inhibit my ability to be open to new relationships and experiences when I’m away from my computer. It’s all rooted in the same place.
A good friend gave me some great advice recently. She told me that I needed to meet new people, especially strong inspirational women, to help inspire me to reach my dreams. And these meetings needed to take place in person.
“Maribel, you need to talk to someone other than me to get you motivated. You’re not going to find that on Facebook or Twitter,” she said.
I laughed thinking that her point was valid but funny, but then I thought how right she was. She invited me to a women’s networking event earlier this week and I approached the speed networking event at the end with trepidation and fear. With her advice in mind, I choked back my fears and met three new women who gave me new ideas and direction. What made the experience truly inspirational was the physical interaction of hearing someone else’s thoughts, seeing their facial expressions, feeling their excitement as you shared your dream and they shared theirs. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know each other for years and there was no sense of anyone being an outsider. It was all about the idea exchange, which by the way, is the whole premise of this blog. I forgot what that felt like. I forgot how much I needed this for my journey.
The mini-breakdown was a test of faith just as all of my recent bouts of fear have been challenging my commitment to my goals. I needed to remember that being “unfriended” or losing a “like” says nothing about who I am as a writer, a healthy living enthusiast, a friend, or a person. The numbers game is just that, a game. I’d rather have ten people following my page who actually get what I’m trying to say and find something they can relate to that will help inspire them, then have thousands of followers who never glance at my page and have no idea what I’m all about. I won’t continue sacrificing my mission in favor of empty numbers because my dream is to connect with you, not your ‘like’.
I’m back here to write. To share. To hear your stories and to ask questions. Tell me when I’ve hit the mark and tell me when I’ve missed it as well. And if the days comes when we’re comfortable enough to meet up for that coffee and share our stories, I might just say yes.
As always, keep paying it forward. Stay honest and stay true to yourself.