How Social Media Only Contributes To The 'Success Theater' Rather Than Actual Success

by Herbert Lui

It’s clear that social media has changed the way we behave; it allows us to fake cultural literacy and “keep in touch” with friends. But, studies show that it actually makes us feel more lonely and disconnected.

Unfortunately, along with all of these tangible changes, it’s also possible that social networks may affect the way we think in the long run. Enter what New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham called “the success theater.”

The Success Theater

While they’re great tools, social networks like Facebook and Instagram have also made it easier for us to compare ourselves to other people. Wortham suggests that we’ve become calculated about our social media decisions to a fault:

We’ve gotten better at it because it matters more. You never know who is looking or how it might affect your relationships and career down the road, and as a result, we have become more cautious about the version of ourselves that we present to each other and the world.

As Alexia Lafata of Elite Daily wrote, it’s hard to remember that we’re only seeing what other people want us to see. We feel obstacles and negative emotions firsthand in our lives, yet we don’t see a trace of them in our networks.

We’re comparing other people’s highlight reels to our practice tapes.

The success theaters of Facebook and Instagram and the instant validation and ego boosts that we glean from these services encourage people to boast about or manufacture events in their lives.

Some of them even become pseudo-events of their own: “Hey man, I can’t believe you got 200 likes on that photo.” Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, these popular items start appearing at the top of feeds, which adds to the reward.

We can’t stop events that become “liked” or “favorited” from becoming recognized achievements. However, we can choose to stop bragging about, or even manufacturing, events in order to try to feel validated.

Instead of trying to impress the dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of weak ties we have on these networks, we can choose to turn inward and focus our efforts and energies into the essential things and people who bring us alive.

Differentiating Between Enviable Careers And Happy People

It’s not that having an enviable career and being a happy person are always mutually exclusive. Some people are truly happy being investment bankers and management consultants; however, many of them are not.

As soon as they can escape from work, they spend the rest of their time partying or immersed in sports or video games, wishing they didn't have to go back to work on Monday. They're definitely enviable, but are they happy?

It can be tough to discern between what you feel from your core and how others’ opinions make you feel. When I was making an important decision at an uncertain point of my life, a wise man once asked me what fills me with passion.

He suggested an exercise where I track my high points and low points daily for a week and look for patterns.

As you slowly and methodically start to discover your patterns and values and passions, you’ll be able to narrow down what fulfills you. You’ll realize what makes you excited, what pushes your buttons and why.

You Can’t (Always) Buy Your Dreams

Buying happiness to flaunt wealth and be enviable inevitably only fills a small portion of the holes in our hearts for a short amount of time. Then, we come back and need more external validation, more approval from other people and more un-gratifying work to please people who don’t matter to us.

It’s important to regularly ask yourself whether or not you would like to do something for the whole next year. If the answer is a surefire “no,” it’s time to make a change.

Thoughts Along the Journey

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk once said,

If something's important enough, you should try. Even if … the probable outcome is failure.

Despite his achievements, I don’t think he meant it only in a grandiose context — the advice is applicable beyond rocket science and saving the environment.

If you love something, don’t quit your day job just yet; save some money so you can give it a try for a few months, even if you’re unsure about how it will directly generate income.

Remember, if you choose to pursue happiness, it will be rewarding in the long run but could be troublesome in the short run.

There’s a video game designer who owns 29,216 small plastic beads — one for each day of his life, if he lives till 80.

He keeps them in two jars, one holds the beads of the past and the other contains the beads of the future. Each morning, he takes one from the future jar and transfers it into the one with the past.

It’s a healthy reminder.

Every day, we have a choice between “should” — what we think the world expects from us — and “must” — what we, at our cores, want to pursue. Too many of us spend our best days, years or entire lives choosing “should.”

Our desires for profit and impressing others too often silences our conscience and our passions. Ultimately, the most enviable career is one that makes you happy.

If you dedicate enough time to your craft, you might even find that your work contributes to your legacy.

Photo Courtesy: Tumblr