This week, I've attended two industry meetings.
Both were filled with tasty food, great vibes and insightful discussions about work (health, nutrition and how to grow your business and reach more clients).
About an hour into both meetings, the same thing happened.
The conversation disappointingly transitioned into, "how to grow your Instagram following."
I was shocked as I realized a partial purpose of these organized events was to pick the brains of those with a larger social media following.
I get it.
It’s frustrating trying to grow your Instagram, and it certainly isn’t easy in such a saturated market.
But, I was blindsided by the conversation making this awkward turn.
At the second event, I asked the woman who brought up the topic point-blank why she wanted to grow her following. (Mind you, this is an extremely successful health professional.)
I couldn’t fathom why a successful individual with so much going for her outside of social media would even care to grow her account.
Without a pause, she enthusiastically responded, “Well, why does anyone want to grow his or her following? I want likes and comments.”
Again, this is an extremely successful professional I was talking to, someone I look up to in our field. I was excited to talk to her and pick her brain about the industry.
I was dumbfounded she even noticed how many likes she got per photo.
But, her response represents a stark reality.
A few days later, I got a text from my 10-year-old brother, asking me to give him a shout out on Instagram so he could get followers.
I asked him the same question, “Max, why do you even want followers?”
“My friends and I are having a competition. The first one to get to 100 wins.”
At first, I dismissed my original feelings of discomfort and decided that sounded like an acceptable answer. Its’s just a friendly competition between some 10-year-old kids.
But, I grew increasingly unsettled by the idea.
My interactions with my colleague the other night and with my 10-year-old brother today sat paradoxically in my mind.
The paradox lies in the difference between their generations and places in life. Yet, both search and desire the same thing: a sense of belonging.
It made me realize the sheer force and impact social media has on our happiness.
We (despite our age or career) are no longer looking for fulfillment in new, unfamiliar places.
Traditionally, my colleague would be looking to find fulfillment through career advancement, and my brother would find it through scoring the winning goal on the soccer field.
How has this change occurred?
I have always justified the purpose of my own account with the following: to reach people, teach them healthy habits and now, as a tool to grow my private practice and help more people reach their nutrition goals.
I now admit I am equally as guilty as my brother and colleague.
I feel excitement as I watch my photos get likes, and I experience disappointment when a photo doesn’t reach my goal number of likes.
Even worse is the rejection of losing a follower.
But, I’m acknowledging this is not true fulfillment.
I started by Instagram about five years ago when the app first came out.
I was in graduate school at Columbia, learning a ton about nutrition, science and exercise.
There was no such thing as being an “Instagrammer” at that time.
It was my personal page, mixed with my whereabouts, selfies, healthy cooking, workouts and motivating messages.
I had just transitioned to making health and fitness my number one priority.
It had always been a large part of my life, but I had taken it to the next level.
I would avoid social situations that put me outside my comfort zone, such as boozy brunches.
“Healthy and fit” was becoming my identity. While I had some kickback at home from my friends and boyfriend in real life, who were frustrated I had left them behind, I was getting a ton of praise from my Instagram community.
I now refer to this as “stranger reinforcement.”
Looking back, this was an extreme time in my life. I’m now able to blend a social life with my healthy habits.
My Instagram following was growing considerably fast during that time, and I wasn’t trying too hard.
Maybe I had some hashtags here and there, but my photo quality was poor.
I had zero consistency, and my feed wasn’t very aesthetic. There were no “guides to grow your Instagram” back then.
I had connected with a ton of like-minded individuals who liked my photos, got excited by what I was doing and ultimately reinforced my behavior.
It is not until I sit down right now while writing this article that I realize the true power my Instagram account and community had on me.
Five years down the road, I sit here as a 27-year-old registered dietitian, with my master’s degree and my own business.
I consider myself to have high self-worth and confidence.
Yet, I still sit on the edge of my seat after I post a photo, in the hopes (sheer panic, really) it will not be a complete flop. This is truly ironic.
I have success and achievement in all I sought out. Yet, I sit at home, banking on strangers to like the photo of my quinoa dinner from last night.
I realize its absurdity, and I can only hope you do, too.
We must (myself included) take a good look in the mirror and evaluate the ways in which we are fulfilled.
We must realize the power of false fulfillment and be sure to seek out alternate solutions for happiness.
This article is not intended to bash social media, Instagram or Instagrammers.
I do believe the counter-argument to my thoughts is valid: Instagram has provided millions with confidence and a purpose they otherwise never would have had in their “real world” lives.
The purpose of me writing this is to bring to light the effect Instagram has on all of us and to encourage us all to find fulfillment in various places, not just social media.
Social networking sites such as Instagram are a tool, and they're awesome ways to share our stories and our purposes.
The “likes” and support we get from our online community boost our self-esteem and create a feeling of belonging.
It makes even our most minuscule accomplishments feel magnified.
It’s appealing to find acceptance in these places, but it's important to remember it’s not real life or the whole picture.
First, find fulfillment in life.
Do all the things you've always dreamed of. Be who you want to be.
Then, let social media be your way of sharing it.
Don't let it be the other way around.