By whose standards?

Three years ago, I was managing a project to teach young people digital skills. One aspect that we invariably touched upon was healthy use of social media. Social media has evolved to become a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s useful for staying in touch with family and friends, receiving quick information and for advertising products. On the other hand, social networks can be huge time wasters, have contributed to decreasing attention spans and can give people a very warped sense of what life is like. Perhaps the most insidious harm social media can do is to create the illusion that other people are achieving great deeds within short periods of time and everyone else who isn’t is a failure.

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How do you tell fact from fiction?

One exercise I did with the young people I worked with is to ask them this: Imagine you go to my Facebook page and see a picture of me standing in front of a very expensive, brand-new car with my hand on the door-handle about to open it. What would you think? Invariably, many would say they’d think I had bought a new car. This often leads to a discussion on how what they had seen is just a picture without a context. Chances are just as likely that I had noticed the car parked somewhere and had been able to take a picture before the owner returned. We’d then extend the conversation to cover how other posts, even those seemingly backed by pictures, might not be true.

A friend once joked that according to his social media accounts, everyone seems to be starting a lucrative business, getting a promotion or receiving a very attractive job offer from multinational companies. That can create a lot of pressure and in the long run, damage to one’s self-esteem.

Ignore for a moment, that people have been known to blow their successes out of proportion (or outright lie about them). The truth is, like the uncaptioned picture of myself standing besides an expensive car, what you often see on social media is a frozen story. You don’t know what happened that led to that picture and you aren’t likely to see what happened afterwards. People are always happy to talk about their successes. However, very few are open to talking about their failures. You don’t read about failed businesses, screwed up job interviews, pitches that fell flat and outright rejections.

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Real life happens away from this screen

More importantly, you should realise when you see someone posting about their latest success (assuming it happens to be true), what you are seeing is often the culmination of years of hard work. You weren’t around when they were doing the non-social media friendly part of the job.

It’s very important that you develop a healthy digital lifestyle and adjust your expectations. A lot of people fail at their goals not because they are unachievable but because they set unrealistic timelines based on what they think others were able to achieve in a seemingly shorter time period. Nobody builds a successful company from the ground up overnight. For big goals, consistency is often more important than giant leaps. Think about that before you share this on Facebook or Twitter.

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