The Blog Library
Don’t Look At Facebook Again Until You Understand This Principle
Today is more of a personal post – for me and for you.
Let’s have a chat.
When I was a child, I had some really cool friends at school. They lived in newer houses, took vacations to Yellowstone, Disneyland, and Hawaii (the “cool” destinations when you grow up in Idaho). They even had brand new white Puma socks, whereas mine always seemed to be a bit worn from the general hand-me-down-ness that comes with being the youngest of four.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t ‘poor,’ I didn’t have a terrible childhood, my parents were (and are) awesome. But like any kid, I went through that standard “kid notices that other people on the planet have more things” developmental leap.
And here’s the interesting part, in retrospect:
I assumed that these friends had happier, better lives than me.
That the vacation photos, trampolines, and sparkling white sport socks (always with the socks…what was my deal with socks?) – all somehow meant that their lives were like a souped-up, superior, now-with-whiter-socks version of mine.
But. Time wore on.
I jumped through more developmental hoops. And eventually, I started noticing things.
I spent the night at their houses, and heard parents arguing behind closed doors. I’d go play after school and see that their room was just as cluttered as mine. I saw their older siblings struggle with drugs or peer pressure.
Through high school and into young adulthood, that perfect vacationing white-socked image I had of their lives slowly disintegrated.
Not that any of them were awful scenes, just that the humanness and imperfection slowly surfaced and replaced my earlier picture.
I remember some conversations I had with newly-adult friends telling me what it was like to grow up in their houses. There were a few ragged tales of challenging family members, financial struggles, anxiety, and even fear.
And without either of us really knowing, the rest of the ‘perfection’ I had assigned them vanished.
Note my phrasing there: The perfection I had assigned them.
They had never claimed their lives were stellar and wonderful, I had just assumed it from a few pieces of data. (And the socks, of course. You know, that old trusty barometer of human happiness….)
So by age of 18, I had learned one clear lesson: No one’s life is perfect.
No matter what you hear at school, or how they seem when they talk to you.
NO. ONE’S. LIFE. IS. PERFECT.
In fact, I realized that there was actually no childhood I’d have wanted to trade for. Even though early on, I might have wished to be in their place (because, Disneyland).
So now, here we are, in 2015.
And you know what surprises me, but shouldn’t?
I get emails all the time from people, I see articles, and I hear in private conversations with other business owners:
“Well I think I’m doing great, and then I go on Facebook and see other businesses doing all this stuff, and I get worried that everyone has it together except me.”
Or: “I go on Facebook and I see people having these vacations and it brings up all kinds of envy.”
One first tendency people have is to blame social media.
To call everyone “fake” for not posting “real” (i.e. “bad”) things. And if everyone would just start posting “real” things, then it would all balance out, and we would be happier when we looked at Facebook.
But I don’t see it that way.
First of all, as my childhood story illustrates, we all experienced these same exact things before social media even existed.
Granted, social media has the power to aggregate potential points of comparison and deliver them to us before we even get out of bed. But social media did not invent comparison. Comparison is as old as the human brain itself.
We’re better off understanding what’s really going on, rather than disparaging (and yet continuing to use, *cough cough*) social media.
What I was doing when I heard about my friend’s vacations was something that the human brain is really good at doing.
It’s like this: Imagine I have a bag full of marbles, and I ask you to come pull a few out. So you reach in and pull a handful of ten out.
You look down at your hand and see that they’re all red marbles.
What would that lead you to assume about the rest of the marbles in the bag?
You’d probably guess that the bag is simply a bag full of red marbles. Or almost entirely red marbles.
Because the chances of you reaching in a bag full of red, green, yellow, blue, and purple marbles and pulling out ten red in a row is pretty slim, right?
So it must be mostly red.
In other words, your brain assumes that one piece is representative of the whole.
This kind of innate statistical reasoning is one reason you’re really good at navigating the world around you. It allows you to make mostly-accurate predictions and saves you a lot of time.
Except. (There’s always an except.)
We do this to other humans, too.
When we talk to people, we hear about their red marbles. The vacations. The clients. The success. The toasted asparagus kale walnut salads.
So our brain makes an automatic, statistical judgment. And we assume that their life is made up of all shiny red marbles.
Not on purpose. It happens automatically. Without our full awareness.
Oh, if we stopped and thought, we’d concede that there are probably a few grey marbles in there too – everyone gets the flu or has a loved one pass away at some point in their life.
But man, their bag sure is full of shiny red marbles.
How did I end up with so many green, yellow, blue and purple ones?
Let me propose something radical: Everyone’s bag contains roughly equal amounts of green, yellow, blue, purple, and red marbles.
Everyone has sick days, delayed flights, and nights of fitful sleep.
Everyone has difficulties with family members.
Everyone has days when their business feels like it’s crumbling.
Everyone’s babies poop at inconvenient times.
In fact, I firmly believe that if you could really look at the entire life of someone who you wish you could trade places with – not just their red marbles, but the struggles and difficulties they’ve been dealt – you’d probably choose to keep your own life after all.
Some of you won’t believe me, but the more I see of life and humans, the more I’m convinced it’s true.
I have fabulously rich friends who can’t remember the last time they took a walk in the park and dread Monday mornings. I have gorgeous, stunning friends with debilitating health problems. I have strong, mighty friends bearing the weight of difficult family members.
Of course, there are some people who have had what seems to be more than their fair share of illness and tragedy. And I wouldn’t blame them for wishing those things away.
I just don’t think that the overwhelming majority of us would find that our lives had substantially improved by swapping out with someone else.
Because what people show in public – and not just online, but in casual conversations, in big-group catch-ups, in greetings at the grocery store – is mostly just the red marbles. And we, being human, too often assume that those red marbles are a good, representative sample of their life.
But that’s…not how it works.
Of course, I understand the push to say “Okay, let’s get everyone to show their green, yellow, and purple marbles too.” In other words – let’s all post about the hard stuff, too.
And I get why – after all, it’d make me feel less alone if I see that other people share my exhaustions. And certainly, I’m all for dropping any purposeful campaigns people make to appear perfect themselves.
But expecting everyone in the world to change is not a realistic (deep, impressive voice here) – SOLUTION.
For one thing, there’s a fast-approaching point at which you don’t want to hear about my delayed flight or my tired joints. You have your own yellow marbles to deal with.
For another, if I talk about my yellow marbles, your brain pulls the SAME statistical trick and assumes I have mostly yellow marbles.
We’d all have to constantly obsess about presenting a true, random, balanced sample of our lives to really “fix” the problem. And I don’t think that’s what anyone is after.
So what’s the best choice?
It’s up to YOU, the reader, the thumb-scrolling user of YouFaceStagram, to play freeze tag with your thoughts.
Whatever cool things you see online, and wherever you see them, freeze your thoughts and think, explicitly:
The person who wrote it is still a fully-fleshed out human being with their own file of grievances, their own bucket of woes, their own long shadow of insecurities.
Your brain will try to tell you that that person’s life is a string of red marbles. But when you see a cool vacation photo, a business success story, or perhaps some impressively white socks –
– you have the power to simply say “oh hey, that’s a cool shiny red marble they’ve got there. I have some, too. Yay.”
Let’s stop assuming everyone’s bag is full of red marbles.
Let’s start being grateful for our own.
And let’s all get back to doing our own beautiful, messy, midnight, too-tired-to-even-look-at-this-screen, but-I-love-this WORK.
Well said and SO TRUE!!!
Thank you!! 😀
I think you are wise and totally “right on.” It takes a bit of maturity to understand this, but it is so true. Thanks for this article. I am sending to my son who is not a pro photographer but who thinks everyone but him has red marbles. He is a wonderful person in every way and he has been through the school of hard knocks…. still the light shines. Thanks for this. It was well written and empathetic.
Thank you for these kind words, Kathleen. I hope everyone who needs this message finds it…I think it’s true!
“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”
– Regina Brett
I love that quote!!
Love this post! I have been trying to be conscious of the comparison trap, and this does a great job of explaining it. Thanks for sharing! I have always enjoyed your posts.
I live in Idaho now (but I didn’t grow up here), so I especially love that connection.
Yeah Idaho!! It’s a beautiful state. I love so many places in it. Wave to the mountains for me, will you?
From the vantage point of being 62, a nice twist on “the grass isnt always greener”.
I look around at friends and health issueas are all over the place bar me and mine, though Inhave just been prescibed Statins.
Where a relative works, a University town, everyone appears to live a very good life , but then the drink problems many have, creeps out.
My camera keeps me sane, a pocket of “outside it all”.
I dont run a business but do enjoy your articles.
Thanks for your note, Steve! And you are most welcome here, business or no business. You keep using that camera. It IS a wonderful way to step back and be “outside” of things, isn’t it? I see that too. I hope you have a wonderful week.
Recently saw a list of 20 people who made serious money playing football . These 20 all lost their wealth in bad business deals, drug and alcohol abuse, and just bad decisions.
One was even touted as the worst draft bust EVER! Would I want to be in their shoes? NO! Remember, Elvis and Michael Jackson had wealth and fame, both died at an early age.
It’s amazing how even the wealthiest are not necessarily in enviable positions! The amazing thing is, truly, everyone has difficulties that are worthy of empathy, including the very people in one’s FB feed. Thanks for your thoughts.
So true and important to remember and re-read often! Thank you, I really needed this!!
Glad you found it helpful!
So, where are the pictures from? They are great.
Thank you, John! They’re from King and Queen Seat in Maryland!
This is fabulous. Thank you for it! : )
Thanks for stopping by, Kate!
Thanks for bringing me up when I’m down. SAHM-wouldn’t trade it, EXCEPT,I have 2 degrees in arts I’ll never use. Spent yrs looking for a job & failing at other jobs. Lots of nice temp jobs, so I got my MM thinking I’ll get a dream gig. Immediately upon getting 3 jobs/reinventing myself, I got pregnant. Dream job fell plummeted (no fault of mine),difficult pregnancy, now no job. Lost 1/2 my family, & spouse has addictions/denial.I feel like a loser for not accomplishing my goals. Everyone else has a better marriage/house/more $. I’d be screwed if I had to take care of myself & kid. However, you remind me of what I tell myself daily. Vacations=debt. Glamorous frienemy’s pics are of flowers she bought herself, & not from her hubby. I’ve had MANY flowers, & have a great provider/parent for a spouse. My perfect baby is a miracle who makes me smile every day. I can teach him everything I know bc I’m educated. 🙂
That’s a lot to manage! But congratulations on your beautiful baby and keep looking up. Wishing you many bright days ahead.
You’ve done it again Jenika, with a beautifully written, insightful article. The marble analogy is very powerful and instantly relatable. A timely reminder! Also – the beautiful photos you’ve selected for this post are perfect. 🙂
Oh Charlotte, always so kind and encouraging. I appreciate your words. The photos are from a Halloween day hike I took with my family. Fall is so wonderful. Hope you have a brilliant day!
I love the photographs!!!
Thank you!! Nature is quite photogenic, especially in Maryland at the end of October.
Love this! So well stated. We all need to be reminded of this every now and again.
Thanks Kristi. Glad you stopped by.
So True!! Everyone just posts the things they want to share and most of us don’t want to share our yellow marbles with the whole wide world. I know I don’t.
Yes. We don’t share them, and I’m not entirely sure we need to, either. I think it’s okay if we do, but at some point I think we can all agree it becomes less interesting to hear about someone’s day-to-day irritations – so what does that mean about social sharing? It’s purpose, what we really want out of it? A certain level of validity that others experience the same things as us, but mostly uplifting inspiration? It’s an interesting question…
Great article, Jenika. Don’t know which color marble a sick day is, but that is one most people can mostly eliminate through a healthy diet, exercise, and the right supplements. I went from getting sick 4 times a year plus flu, bronchitis, etc, etc. Then changed my diet, eliminated junk food, processed food, sugar, chemicals, etc (using a lot of “etc’s” here) and eating more organic whole foods, added some supplements, and now almost never get sick and no more flu. Remember, the better you feel, not only will you enjoy everything more, and because of that, you’ll take better photos. Somewhere I read this quote, “He who has health, has hope. And who has hope, has everything.” Wishing everyone the best of health.
Hi Tony! For sure, changing one’s diet and lifestyle improves health immensely! I heard once that health is easier to maintain than it is to regain, so it’s best to keep yourself functioning well and not neglect it. I like that.
Unfortunately, some of the fittest and healthiest people I know have still experienced illness, there are so many kinds of causes (and not all can be addressed by one’s own immune system), and I think it’s important to make sure we explicitly acknowledge that not all illness is someone’s own “fault.” However I’ll happily join you in encouraging everyone to eat well and move their bodies…it certainly has improved my own life, too!
Absolutely loved this post! It hit an issue I deal with right on the head. Plus your style of writing is really funny and entertaining! The white sock thing is so true too! What is it about super white socks that just seems to scream “success” to certain (us) people? 😉 Lol!
Oh my gosh, right? The socks. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that they buy them more often? Or that they can afford to walk on the ground with pristine white socks? Like some kind of secret wealth indicator? No clue. Hahaha. Thanks for the kind note. Glad you visited!
Wise words. This owner of multi-colored dented marbles thanks you for sharing. Aw man, my marble bag just ripped…where is that tape!
You can borrow my tape.
As always, a great post. And one that I’m guilty of. Guilty of thinking everyone has it together and guilty of trying to give that image too!
So in other words, you’re a human being? 🙂 Haha. It’s ok that it happens, it’s awesome if we can remind our automatic thought processes that we have the power to override them. Because you do! Go, you!
Oh wow I LOVE THIS POST! Thank you for this
this is something I have been ruminating on for a while now…how to stay true to my creative vision but to also be as genuine and authentic as possible. such a great post with great insight! thank you!
Amazing amazing amazing post. So much of what I’ve felt or experienced over the past year or two, but in much more encompassing eloquent words. I’ve always gotten a bit annoyed at people that harp on the fb posters who only post good. To me, that’s not me hiding the bad, it’s just paying more attention to the good, however small it may be. I’m also of the mind that “just because it’s happening doesn’t mean it should be on Facebook, and just because it’s not on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s not happening”. I only post negative/sad things if I can make them funny or if I think there’s a valuable lesson/call to action, or if I need prayers for someone. So THANK YOU for writing such a spot-on post and reminder. Everyone on fb should read this.
Thank you! Fantastic and I’m so grateful for my marbles! I was thinking I’m even grateful for my yellow, grey, purple, and blue ones too. They make the red ones so much nicer.
I love this Jenika, thanks so much for sharing. As posters, it can be hard to achieve that balance between over-curated and over-sharing, but as consumers it’s our responsibility to ourselves to be aware that the words and images in front of you don’t reflect the whole truth.
I was going to write a comment and then I saw that you had so many already I thought to myself that you didn’t need mine and then I remembered how much I enjoy people giving me feedback on my blogposts and just knowing that somewhere out there in the big wide internet world at least somebody is reading my stuff and looking at my images and enjoying them. I enjoy reading your posts, I love your images and you have a tremendous gift for imparting wisdom without sounding condescending or preachyfied. Have a fab weekend xxxxxx
Thanks for the kind words Moira 🙂 I really appreciate it!! Hope everyone can look at these suggestions and find something that helps them too.
This is sooo true! I just last month had a ‘friend’ of 17 years tell me I was an awful person before blocking me out of her life simply because what she saw on Facebook led her to believe I was lying when I said I couldn’t afford to travel to her town to visit her all the time.
Marvellous post!!! Really comes at the right time 🙂 We are fully booked and enjoying Christmas Lights Photo-Sessions, but still feeling the blues. I guess because of lots of insecurities. We should just forget about them and carry on with our work and ideas of making it even greater!
Thank you for all your support and for all your great blog posts!!!
Thank you so much for this lovely personal perspective. I really enjoyed this article. Kindest regards, Gabriel
What an excellent article with a perfect analogy. So on point. A great read for everyone, not just photographers. Just because I don’t share my woes with the world on social media (or even in every day life) and choose to only share those kinds of things with my closest and best friends when I need them, does not mean I’m trying to create the impression I have a perfect life. Not by far. I just choose to share the positives – things people might find funny or learn from or simply enjoy- and not put my greatest struggles out there for the world to see. I love that you said we didn’t do this before social media either. So true! And, I LOVE your writing and sense of humor. Thank you for this great article!
Interrsting article. The use of facebook as scan for intetesting news, things that other share given that my involvement in activities with interaction real human, not virtual on a daily basis.
Why isn’t anything you post dated…?
I’m a librarian and have a strong desire for copyright,
research period, and age of opinions and conclusions…
Why the secrecy…?
I want to know the age of things to put your terms, language, and overall notions into the context of the time they were written.
Until that time. . .
Ha ha, secrecy. Not much secrecy around here. I’ve found that not featuring dates often encourages people to keep reading past posts; or if I re-share a still-valid post from 2013 it gets more people reading if they don’t automatically think I’m bringing up old posts for no reason, or because I’m too lazy to write new ones. Of course, dates are helpful for some things, sure. I’ve considered adding them back in. Still might. Will think about it.
I saved the email newsletter with this in it all this time. Finally cleaning out the inbox and I thought, “I need to read that post right now.” I am so glad I did. As usual, you have excellent advice. I would love to share this with my readers. Mind if I pull some inspiration for my own post and link to yours?
Hey Christina! Thanks so much! I emailed you re: sharing further. Have a great week!
You are just the type of person I love to follow on social media 🙂 Thankyou!