Six Likes

Six? Only six likes? I hit the refresh button. Stare at the result. 

Me and five others like the post? It’s even worse than I thought. I’m one of the six. How depressing.

I close the app in frustration, running my hands through my hair. 

I don’t get it. Some days it’s dozens. Heck, at times it’s over 100. But six? What is wrong with this post? 

What is wrong with me?

It’s an illogical leap but an increasingly easy one to make in a world where the number of likes is a currency of value.

I set my phone down, pick up my curling iron and attend to the task at hand–prepping to see Oprah speak at a nearby stadium. My mind churns through possible reasons for a low response as I work. 

I bet Oprah has never had a single post with only six likes. 

My inner critic loves moments like these, when a simple fact can be twisted into an assault on my character. 

My friend stops the unraveling though, calling from the other room– “Ready?” 

“Absolutely,” I call back. “Let’s go see OPRAH!”

As we walk to the stadium, we merge with groups of women, picking up a couple here, a small group there. With each block, our group grows. I feel an odd solidarity with them. We don’t know each other, but together we move towards the inspiration we hope Oprah will provide. 

Settling into our seats at the top of the stadium, Diet Coke and snacks in hand, I pull my phone out of my pocket, queue up a couple photos, and post them to social media. Out of habit, I check my notifications. 

Seven likes? Honestly. It’s been an hour. Only one more like? People hate this post. Maybe they hate me too.

Then, a deafening cheer interrupts my thoughts. “Hello Calgary!!!” Oprah calls over the din, sparking an even greater frenzy. 

About halfway through the show, she invites Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul, to the stage. One part of their discussion catches my attention. 

“We live in a world that tells us that external power is what matters,” Oprah says. “People measure their worth and value by how many followers, likes, and little hearts they have. How do we deal with that?”

I sit up in my seat. 

“If you’re looking at the number of likes you have in the world, you are giving your value to someone else,” Gary says, “or more precisely, you are asking someone else to tell you how much you are worth. As long as you do that, you’ll be in pain. But when you contribute instead of consume, you experience a new way of being in the world. Likes and dislikes will not be important to you. What will be important to you is following your heart and giving the gifts you were born to give. That creates authentic power.”

He’s right! Suddenly my tormented thinking of an hour before is embarrassing. Likes don’t matter. What matters is what I feel when I write my story and share it with others. What matters is the personal power I’ve uncovered and the positive responses I’ve gotten. What matters is the freedom I have found creating this blog and living authentically without shame. 

Six likes? So what! Maybe people are busy. Or maybe it did fall flat. But I was true to myself. I was vulnerable. I was willing to let others in and to connect with them. I was willing to be brave, not perfect. 

That’s worth far more than any number of likes. 

Hardest of Goodbyes

duck swimming awayA friend committed suicide this week.

My heart aches. I can’t stop thinking about it. Morbid thoughts. Sad thoughts.

I wonder about the person who found him. Whether or not she will ever get the image out of her head, if it haunts her dreams. I wonder about the people closest to him, whether or not they will ever be free of guilt and the “what ifs” that must keep them up at night. I wonder about his children, what their lives will be like going forward, if they will ever again feel innocent or safe. I wonder what his last moments were like, what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

I wasn’t close enough a friend to have had a direct impact on him, helpful or hurtful. And yet, I wonder if that truly frees me of any responsibility.

Most of our interaction was through social media. I read his posts, I imagine he read mine. And for some reason that plagues me.

In the world of social media, where life is filtered to perfection, what responsibility do I have for the impact my posts have on others? And recognizing that my posts are just a tiny part of anyone’s full feed, does that let me off the hook completely?

If someone I know is full of enough despair, enough depression, enough self-doubt to contemplate suicide, do I own any responsibility if I rarely post a picture that isn’t happy and perfect? Am I at all to blame that none of my posts would indicate I struggle too, that he’s not alone, that I too sometimes feel down? Did I make it worse?

More importantly, could I have made it better?

I have traveled the world in my lifetime. I’ve been to the wealthiest countries and the poorest. What I know for sure is every single person worldwide has known suffering. Not everyone has experienced love. Not everyone has experienced success. Not everyone has experienced joy. But we have all suffered some way.

And that matters.

Suffering is the one thing we have in common, the universal human condition we rarely talk about. Instead, we hide it. Choosing to put on faces of perfection, to mask dark feelings behind shallow smiles. Out of fear of appearing to not have it perfectly together, we put on a show, capturing our lives in Instagram-worthy snapshots.

I certainly do.

I can’t count the number of times people have said to me since I met my boyfriend, Kris, that it’s so great to see me so happy. And I am happy. But I’m also sometimes frustrated. I’m also sometimes dark and depressed. I’m also sometimes lost and uncertain.

And I am always imperfect.

And we are happy together. But we are also sometimes disconnected. We are also sometimes mad at each other. We are also sometimes withdrawn.

And we are always imperfect.

I don’t put that on social media.

I don’t show our fights; I show the happy selfies when we’ve reconciled. I don’t show our challenges; I show the triumphant moments when we’ve survived them. I don’t show the days we are too lazy to shower and change out of sweats; I show the days we are dressed up and put together. I don’t even show the blurry snapshot taken at a bad angle; I show the best one and apply a forgiving filter to ensure its perfection.

Like everyone, I fall victim to the temptation to appear perfect. I know I’m not, but social media allows me to tell a different story to the world. It allows me keep up with the lives I conclude are behind the pictures I see on my feed. It allows me to create an illusion.

It’s lonely to feel you’re the only one who is falling apart when everyone else you know appears to have it all together. It’s exhausting. And at times, it feels hopeless.

I wonder if that’s how my friend felt.

And I wonder how life would be different if instead of perfection we were all brave enough to show the ugly parts. Would we feel less alone? Would there be less despair? Would we feel more hopeful?

I know the answer. So do you.

It’s why I started writing this blog. Because my journey is far from perfect. While it is filled with happy moments, successes, and growth; more often it is filled with missteps, self-doubt, challenges, and questions.

I am tired of living an illusion. So I’ve started to write. The truth. In its brutal imperfection. And I’m sharing it with you, so we have conversations that matter, conversations that help us feel less alone in life’s challenges.

It wasn’t enough to help my friend. But maybe one day it will help you.