Social media creates an illusion that we are all in unrealistic competition with each other
Social media is an entertaining and often addictive way of connecting with friends, family, and even people we don’t know across the world. Whether you’re scrolling through your childhood best friend’s ‘I got a first in my undergrad’ post, or Jamie Genevieve making the ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’, it is often the case that we can feel a little bit left behind, inadequate, and dissatisfied in our own successes; But hey, that is totally normal, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t proud of your friends, or impressed by your favourite YouTuber’s achievements. It just means that you are human. And this didn’t start with social media! Back in 1954, social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the idea of social comparison theory, discovering that people value themselves and their achievements in direct comparison to what others around them have achieved. So yes, those posting about all their amazing achievements that make you feel left behind probably feel it too, which is maybe why they post so much.
Writing from the perspective of a mature student taking her second attempt at university, I definitely have moments where I feel left behind. Especially when it comes to those I follow, who took a more “conventional” route to further education. I’ve never had a huge social media presence, and so I would probably class myself as more of a mindless scroller. This tends to mean I come across a lot of posts from old friends having achieved amazing things, whether it be they’ve started a family, are working towards PhDs, own successful small businesses, or even just have a stable job they love and bought a house! I often catch myself feeling like I am left behind, and that I made the wrong choices because I am the same age and haven’t achieved any of these things. But I wouldn’t change a thing about my path as it was the perfect path for me. At the same time, I know I too have achieved things in my life which cause some of them to sit back and think: ‘I wish I had done that’. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there isn’t one right path.
It is definitely important to remember also that social media is inherently fake. The lives of who we follow online, and our own, are not as perfect as we make them out to the world. We all have moments of feeling inadequate, mishaps, and things we may consider as false starts or hurdles along the way to our achievements. Nobody is perfect, after all! Even the smallest achievement, absolutely anything you are proud of is worth celebrating. In order to beat how this social comparison theory makes us feel, it’s important to practise gratitude and be thankful for what we have and our achievements in our own lives, because there is no one ‘perfect life’. There is also nothing wrong with taking breaks from social media to practise self-care and focus on our own achievements for a while, or even unfollowing or unfriending people whose content no longer serves you. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember these things. No one really is falling behind, we just seem to fall for the pretend perfection social media creates.