I love my job. I’m so grateful that at 23, I’m confident that the work that I’m passionate about is something I can see myself being passionate about for the rest of my career.
I hit the millennial jackpot: I work in digital and social media.
For almost three years, I’ve worked for several organizations, managing their online content. I post, tweet, hashtag, share, like, retweet, comment, reply, boomerang, DM, even code a little. If it’s on the internet, I can probably do it.
Every job I’ve had in this field has been for nonprofits, and that’s how I’d like to keep it. There’s something gratifying about sharing information about wonderful services available to the public via the platforms that the public spends the majority of their day scrolling through– I can be confident that the work I’m doing is reaching someone and will potentially have an impact on their life. And that is why I’m confident that I’ll always love the work I do.
Every rose has its thorn, though. This industry ultimately boils down to numbers– in order to keep my position or to convince management that digital media is worth investing in, I have to demonstrate its value. And that value translates to them in engagement. How many likes are we getting? Retweets? Followers?
So after a few years of doing this, I have become fixated on the figures.
Ironically, my personal social media accounts aren’t as vibrant as the accounts I manage for work. I guess spending every day analyzing Facebook and Instagram can take the fun out of posting for yourself. I certainly have active accounts that I check multiple times a day, but I don’t frequently post for myself.
But when I do, I am consumed with the numbers.
This wasn’t something I was actively aware of until a few weeks ago. I hadn’t changed my profile picture on Facebook in almost a year (excellent proof that I don’t manage my own accounts very closely), so my best friend and I decided to head to Atlanta to take some pictures for our profiles (and also to buy ice cream, if I’m being honest).
Truthfully, I’ve never been very confident. As I’ve said before, I’m an extreme introvert and my own biggest critic. Add to that my four-year dating drought, and I have probably never felt worse about my appearances than I do now.
I say that not to throw myself a flashy pity party with “I’M SORRY FOR MYSELF” balloons and a “FEEL BAD FOR ME” cake, but to explain why I wasn’t particularly excited to have my picture taken.
I love to take pictures, though, and my best friend is a beautiful and effortless model. I begrudgingly allowed her to take some shots of me and felt uncomfortable the entire time. It took a lot for me to find a picture I even approved of; I actually made her choose a few options for me because I didn’t want to look at myself any longer than I had to.
I eventually settled on one, and then I waited.
Okay. This is embarrassing.
Because I work in social media, I’ve researched the best times to post on Facebook. I know the best times of day, the best days of the week, the correct amount of hashtags to use in order for the Facebook algorithm to push your post to the top of people’s newsfeeds.
So I knew that both mid-afternoon and Sunday nights are good times to post on Facebook. And that’s when I made my big mistake.
While those two times are prime posting times separately, they are not maximum-likes posting times collectively. I learned this the hard way.
At 2:45 on Sunday afternoon, I uploaded what I thought was the best shot of me from the day in Atlanta, pressed “Save,” and waited. I was sure my phone was about to start lighting up with notifications from my Facebook friends liking my picture.
And then… Nothing.
I went about ten minutes without a like. This was social media flatlining.
I begged my parents to like it, just to get it off the ground, to push it up farther on people’s newsfeeds. I sat in embarrassed disbelief as the picture that I chose specifically because I believed it was aesthetically appealing, that had just the right amount of “laughing-smile,” and “candid” (read: NOT candid) straight up bombed.
I ended up getting 33 likes. I just cringed as I wrote that.
But besides my post scheduling blunder, what really embarrasses me is how much this situation embarrasses me. I commented on my best friend’s picture when she first posted it the day before, and a couple of days later, someone commented on it as well, causing it to show up again in my notifications. I dreaded opening it because I knew she had gotten significantly more likes than I did on mine. I felt so jealous as I checked her number. I started thinking about how jealous I was of my brother, who got over 60 likes on a post (that wasn’t even his own) about a double he hit during his game that day. I thought about how my dad has gotten over 100 likes on a post, which I’ve never accomplished, and my post announcing my acceptance to graduate school only got around 75.
All of these moments hurt me, they make me jealous, and mostly, they make me feel like I’ve lost. I work in an industry where the more likes you have, the farther along you are. It’s all a competition for attention from your audience.
This stupid, insignificant, trivial incident has made me realize that likes are stealing my joy. I felt more jealous of my best friend than happy that she looked so pretty in a picture that I took of her. I felt more jealous of my brother than proud that he hit his first double of his college baseball career, a hit that was almost a home run and I was actually there to witness for once. I felt more jealous of my dad getting over 100 likes on something than just being excited that I got into graduate school. Also, it’s my dad. I was jealous of MY DAD.
It’s hard to turn off this type of thinking. I sit down at my desk every day and think like this in order to get paid. It’s impossible to log out of it at the end of the day. The social media apps are still on my phone and I can’t escape them. But it’s disappointing to think that instead of being filled with happiness and excitement over the wonderful company I keep and their accomplishments, and also my own, I’m busy wondering what I’m doing wrong that won’t let me reach that coveted triple-digits figure on my pictures.
The reality is, I’m not doing anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with getting 10 likes, or 50, or 1000. A number next to a thumbs-up symbol on my phone screen does not determine my worth.
I can’t exactly end this post with an uplifting life lesson that I’ve realized from this incident because I’m still battling the desire to impress the internet. But maybe just being aware of it is a good start. Maybe separating who I am from what I present to people on their phone screens is the first step in accepting that only one of those people is real, and it’s not the one that people can choose to tap “Like” for or scroll past.