When I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain’s passing early Friday morning, I was waking up on a pull-out couch in Los Angeles, ripe from a 9-day trip in California. That afternoon, my friend and I were to fly back to Boston after an adventure up the southern coast; first in San Diego, and then in LA. In the midst of reflecting on both our trip, and the passing of Bourdain, I found myself comparing his legacy and life with my own. Bourdain was someone who outwardly seemed so fond of life, food, and the people he met on his many adventures. While I had never read Kitchen Confidential, his work on Parts Unknown had greatly influenced my love for food, as well as my fascination with the challenging, dynamic world that is the restaurant industry. This inspired me to do a little further research on his legacy, and in doing so I stumbled upon this quote,
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”
I found myself alarmed after reading this. The usual “what am I doing with my life?” thoughts started consuming me as I spiraled into once again mulling over the fact that I am a 26-year-old who does not live a life worthy of a New York Times Best-Selling autobiography. Almost immediately, and on autopilot, I fell down a rabbit hole of travel bloggers on Instagram, envious of their coastal retreats, their followers, their engagement rates, and their perfectly curated lives.
As a social media manager, and a big user of these platforms in general, I absolutely realize and acknowledge that Instagram does not reflect reality. Still, I find it difficult not to compare myself to these influencers who have giant followings, and seemingly big lives. I thought our trip to California was amazing, but in that moment it still seemed to pale in comparison to those who get to adventure for a living, and take Bourdain’s advice and run with it. After a good half hour of this depressive state, something possessed me to review our vacation photos on my phone, and I instantly felt my mood change. I had eaten cactus for the first time, and watched a baby seal climb up a rock cliff on the ocean. I had seen pandas eating bamboo, and watched the waves crash as I travelled up the Pacific Coast from San Diego to LA. I had sat at the top of Los Angeles, and viewed the whole city at the Griffith Observatory. I reunited with old friends, and rode bikes down Venice Beach. Our vacation was, in fact, amazing, so why was I so quick to compare not only the trip, but my entire life to the digital lives of others? For the first time, it really hit me that social media was consuming all of my thoughts, and controlling my self worth.
If that last sentence resonated with you, you are probably not shocked to learn that you are far from alone. A recent study showed that negative experiences have a greater influence on an individual’s life than a positive one (think: receiving less ‘likes’ on a particular picture than normal, or becoming jealous of another person's experiences, possessions, or travel photos). I can relate to this personally in that, with Instagram’s updated algorithm showing my personal posts to less people than it used to, when I receive less engagement I sometimes feel as if I am failing at my current chosen profession. If you do a quick Google search on Instagram engagement in 2018, you will find thousands and thousands of blog posts about hacking the algorithm, getting more likes, and boosting your engagement. While it’s important to note that there are influencers (Instagram users with high followings, who often get paid for their posts and digital content) who do need these aforementioned tools to maintain their business, the majority of us are hungry for digital approval, and how could we not be? We have an all access pass to the fabulous and successful lives of everyone we know in our pockets at all times.
So what are we to do about this digitally-influenced depression? If you’re sure that social media is making you more depressed than it’s worth, it may be time to delete your accounts entirely, or deactivate them for a little while. But chances are, you’ll want to keep your account. With all of it’s negative side effects, social media is still an amazing and life-changing tool for sharing news, connecting, and communicating. That said, I believe it’s important to read and absorb the following truths, broken down into two types of Instagram users:
- You don’t need tricks, and hacks to “beat” the Instagram algorithm. Create valuable content, and be authentically you. Authenticity is key these days. Bonus: here is a great, to-the-point blog post from & she’s brave about working with the algorithm, rather than struggling to beat it.
- Spend no more than 1-1.5 hours focused on Instagram a day, unless it is your full time job. In this time slot, create/post your picture(s), curate your hashtags, and engage with your audience. Divide the hour up if you need to.
- Find ways to take a break from your phone. Do a puzzle, read a book, go on a walk and put your phone on airplane mode. Anything that you will find distracting enough to engage your attention.
- Do not get discouraged by bigger accounts. It is WAY easier said than done, but your primary focus should always be on doing what you love first, and sharing your results later. Try not to let others determine what you love, or what you post about.
- Your beauty is not validated by the number of likes you get on a picture. You are not less beautiful than someone who gets thousands of likes.
- Your life has great meaning even if you don’t have 100K followers, and the option to constantly travel.
- When you are able to, experience adventures, food, trips, and traveling first. Take the pictures you like, talk to people, take some deep breaths of fresh air. Worry about the content later.
- Understand that all content is curated to an extent.
It is easy to look at other people's lives and get discouraged that you aren't in the same place. It is important for me personally to remind myself that we are all on our own journeys, and that they are happening a certain way for a reason. What you see on social media is not necessarily the entire truth, and if anything, it is not your truth. Your life, and your adventure has value whether it's online or not. I believe if Anthony Bourdain taught me anything, it's to cherish the moments you experience, the conversations you have, the food you eat, and the journey you are on. And with that, I'll leave you with another favorite Bourdain quote,
“The journey is part of the experience — an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.”