I hate scrolling on Instagram. Though Twitter is the only social media app I can stomach, being a 20-something in this day in age nearly always demands at least one account on all platforms. So I keep mine up and running nonetheless.
I long for the way Instagram looked when I was in middle school. Honestly, I’d love to again see PicCollage edits of my classmates’ time at the mall with a subtle Valencia hue. I want to see text edits reading “Like for a TBH” with a turquoise chevron pattern in the background. It all felt so innocent and authentic. Users weren’t trying to be anything but themselves and I miss it.
However, these days, Instagram — and most social media — feels so fabricated and manicured, and its biggest detriment is how terrible it seems to make me feel about myself. My peers are always posting about their seemingly perfect relationships, internships, job offers and various other life accomplishments and I feel inferior. Though I’m not the only one.
Last month the Wall Street Journal published a series of internal documents from Facebook and whistleblower Frances Haugen, revealing how Facebook knew its platform causes societal harm, especially to the mental health of teen girls.
And this tracks, considering my visceral distaste for its content. As a senior in a liberal arts field, my intended career path will likely take alternative directions to those with business or informatics majors, and this is okay. But when I look around at the cookie cutter lives my classmates seem to be living, I feel like I don’t fit. My life looks nothing like theirs. I haven’t found a job after college. I’ve only done one internship when it seems like others have done at least two or three. I don’t even really know where I’m going to be living.
Am I doing something wrong?
In reality, I’m not doing anything wrong. I’ve just fallen prey to the pitfalls of comparing myself to others, a behavior only intensified by social media usage. By doing this, I’ve determined my own social and personal worth based on how I stack up against others, as explained by the social comparison theory. Though it can occasionally be beneficial to engage in light comparison to friends or acquaintances as a way to motivate personal improvement, it can easily backfire when taken to the extreme or used in situations where comparison is self-sabotage — such as comparing personality traits that make an individual unique.
So, it’s not that my direction and accomplishments are right or wrong or that anybody else’s are. It’s easily forgotten that even though universities are collective institutions, the students who occupy them are each on entirely different pathways with entirely different itineraries. What takes one person a single semester may take another a full four years — or longer. But there’s no holistic schedule by which students must abide.
I’ve never been very good at acknowledging my own worth and achievements. I look at my friends and see how many good things they’ve accomplished, and I’m not envious or begrudging. I’m happy for them. I just tend to wish I could do the same things too.
But in reality, I am doing what they’re doing, just in my own way.
When growth is internal, it’s easy to underestimate. We’re so used to our own successes it’s easy to forget what they represent: legitimate success. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less valid than that of others.
To avoid comparing myself to others and feeling inferior, I’ve logged off Instagram. I’m keeping a running list of accomplishments I never thought I’d achieve, and it’s heftier than I imagined. Chances are, yours are too.
Natalie Gabor (she/her) is a senior studying journalism with minors in business marketing and philosophy. She hopes to one day find a career that tops her brief stint as a Vans employee.