Real talk…

Have you ever reached a point in your life where you feel like what’s inside of you doesn’t totally match the you everyone sees?

Well… I’m there. And guess what. Social media isn’t helping.

Here’s the thing, when I first started really using social media – like REALLY investing my time into it, I was starting our business. And then when I got sick a few years later, I found what I really loved about social media: sharing stories and connecting with people on difficult subjects.

That’s right. For all of you Enneagram people out there, I’m a total 4. That means I’m constantly craving deep connections and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable or live in the “grey area” of life. I believe there’s beauty in hardship and I’m not afraid to dwell in difficulty. I’ll be the first one to sit with someone in sadness and simply acknowledge it instead of trying to fix it. In fact, anything surface level or seemingly fake feels super off-putting to me. Not exactly a recipe for a love affair with social media…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone on social media is fake. That’s not the case at all. I love seeing the milestones in people’s lives and I really do care. I do.

Maybe that’s the problem. My FOMO is off the charts. For real. I love connecting with people over struggles or shared victories. I’d take that a step further and say that I feel like if I don’t stay plugged in that I’ll miss out on big things (and I don’t think I’m over-exaggerating there). I think there is a true expectation that people be on Facebook consistently enough to know when big events go down in the lives of those around them. I know that there have been things in my life that once I put it on Facebook, I kind of assumed everyone would probably know. The problem is that when you really care about the people you’re connected with, it’s hard to step back. I don’t know how to unplug without feeling like I’m letting someone down or feeling like I’ll hear about something a month later and then regret not being there for someone who might have needed me. I don’t know how to balance caring for others with living my own life.

Plus – and I really hope I’m not alone here – social media can be exhausting. The sheer amount of knowledge to absorb can be overwhelming and as much as I love connecting with people, sometimes the conflict literally wears me out. I have friends with similar beliefs who make me feel less alone and friends who are up for discussions but also are kind about agreeing to disagree when appropriate… But I also have friends who are constantly berating people who believe things that I believe and you know what? It hurts. A lot. I have waves of wanting to go through my newsfeed and “clean house”, but then my FOMO kicks in and I can’t imagine missing a major life event of someone I care about. Because I still care about them even if they are tearing me down (knowingly or not).

Add onto all of that the fact that I love being a photographer and that kind of necessitates a social media presence. Sure, I take on a lot fewer sessions than I once did, but so what? I’m proud of the work that I do and I adore the people with whom I get to work. I love sharing that stuff. But things are different now than they were when my social media was 50%+ about photography. I still love taking photos, but it’s not my whole life anymore. I don’t have to portray my brand with every post and advertise or promote sales… now I take on sessions, births, weddings, etc. simply because I love the people I photograph. That’s it. There’s no image I feel compelled to conform to or represent. It’s just me – take me or leave me. And I want to be valued for more than what happens when I pick up a camera.

Here’s the problem: even though I’ve invested a lot into social media, I haven’t really been comfortable sharing ALL of the real me with you guys. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never bought into the polished, neat and tidy, borderline contrived version of social media that some people subscribe to. (It’s definitely not everyone so please don’t take offense if you think I might be talking about you. I’m 99.99% sure that I’m not.) I don’t care about perfection or portraying the appropriate perceived flaws. And let’s be real – when your life explodes in a huge mess like mine did a few years ago, perfection probably isn’t something I could really portray even if I wanted to.

But it’s not about perfection. I’ve wanted to just be me… almost all of me… I’m just so afraid of failure in all of its forms that I don’t quite trust people with my whole self. I purposely don’t discuss some things much, if at all: religion, politics, and my struggle with weight to name a few. Maybe that’s because I abhor conflict and have no interest in a heated discussion. Maybe it’s because I know how hard change is for some people and I’m not the same girl I was 10, 5, or even 1 year ago. Maybe that’s because I’m deeply embarrassed about how I’ve totally and completely failed to lose the weight I gained after Dad passed away… and the weight I had gained back before that. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ll be stereotyped or judged harshly. Maybe it’s because I so often in life feel less than enough and I’m scared that if I share those things, people will simply confirm that fear.

Ok, ok… yikes. This might be a lot for some people. That’s fine. I get it.

For all of you that are still reading, thanks. You’re proving to me that I might be a little hard on myself. Deep thoughts and feelings aren’t always scary or off-putting, right?

Anyway… I had been kind of feeling this all stirring inside me like that scene in The Little Mermaid where Ursula starts the whirlpool. Then I read this book. It’s called Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s amazing and worth a read or listen. It’s short, conversational, and thought provoking in a great way. Anyway, one of the fifteen suggestions of the author hit me so hard that I had tears rolling down my face as I finished listening to it. I felt like someone had taken a portrait of the me that hides in the most tender, vulnerable depths of myself and showed it to me. I had never seen myself the way this section describes, but I believe with my entire heart that it IS me. There was one sentence of the section that stopped me in my tracks. Like I literally let out a tiny gasp, paused the audio book, and then just sat there in absolute silence while my heart screamed out, “YES!”

“We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likable.”

YES! This is me!! I’ve wondered for so long how someone like me who truly loves and values authenticity can be so afraid of my own complete self. Maybe it’s because I have spent my entire life hoping that I would be loved and liked for who I actually am, realizing through the actions of those around me that it wasn’t really the case, and then folding myself into “better” shapes for others so that I could be valued.

It was startling to think about and I was taken aback as I realized that each of my best friends (you know who you are) have heard me literally say the words, “I feel like I can really breathe and be myself around you.” Or some very close version of that. Seriously.

You guys, I have to exhale. I love the benefits of social media, but I can’t let it suffocate me. There has to be a way that I can live a life of kind, full authenticity. There must be a way to thrive without being devalued because I won’t continue to fold myself into pleasing shapes in order to gain love and acceptance. There has to be a better path than accepting silence because I’m afraid to let down the people that I care about… or even fail myself.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that my biggest goal for 2020 is to exhale. I want to be myself – unfolded edges and all. It’s going to take real, intentional, difficult work to break a habit that I’ve felt I’ve had to cultivate for most of my life… and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared of what the consequences will be.

But I am valuable as I am… and I owe it to myself to try.