The only time we have is right now. I’ve always thought this way, but I’ve never acted this way.
I owe a lot to technology and social media. Through social media I’ve built incredible relationships, had exciting job opportunities, found inspiration, passion, laughter, adventure, and so much more. But social media has also become my crutch. It's something I’ve used to fill a void in my life. Late, lonely nights, it’s me and my phone. Me and my phone staying up until 2am because I “can’t sleep” and so I’ll just keep scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. It’s been me and my phone sitting on the couch together, browsing through a saturation of information, and oh yeah, my boyfriend beside me, too. It dawned upon me the other day while we were watching a movie together, both consumed in our phones, that I had this amazing guy sitting next to me and yet, I wasn’t even spending time with him. We both put our phones down and I leaned over, putting my head against his chest, and squeezed him. Connecting with a real human being felt so much better. Wrapping my arms around him and just feeling that moment. That real moment. It felt so real, and made me ask why I’ve missed so many special moments like this because I was too busy looking at my phone.
I’ve been an anxious person at times. I hate that about myself. After everything that fell apart in San Francisco, which basically was me jumping overboard off the only ship in site, I reclused into the stormy waters. I isolated myself because I was so tired of performing. It was incredibly freeing, to finally not have to perform, talk to the right people, suck up, show off, network. It’s not that networking is wrong, it’s really not. But: it’s not me! I was so tired of living someone else’s life and pretending I was okay with that. And so, for the first time in my life, I decided to stop putting my dreams aside and start chasing them. And I did, and I still am.
The thing is, when I was spending so much time alone trying to find myself, I also started picking up my phone more and more. It started out of an innocent place. At first, I was picking up my phone because I had fled to the other side of the country and the only way for me to stay in contact with my loved ones was to be on the phone, calling or texting or facetiming or whatever-ing them. But afterwards we would hang up and I’d stay on my phone, lonely and often tired. My phone became a crutch, or a bandaid, a temporary fix for the lonely, anxious feelings I was feeling. The really shitty thing about this all was that my phone only started making me more anxious. I thought that by staying present on Twitter and Facebook and whatever other new app I could download, I was connecting with others, but all that was really happening was me disconnecting from others, and disconnecting from myself.
I also started to discover this version of myself that I really did not like. My friend once told me that the reason she doesn’t like social media is because it’s filled with people bragging to the entire world about their latest accomplishment, instead of calling their mom and telling their mom about their latest accomplishment (or maybe their spouse, friend, whomever). That really stuck with me because I was doing the same thing. I love my mom, but I don’t always call her when I have a new photo acheivement, partially because I don’t think my parents really understand what it is I do for a living yet. But, it bothered me that I started tweeting something exciting instead of calling my boyfriend and telling him about it. I started to realize that I was more concerned about receiving praise from a bunch of strangers I didn’t know than from him. It bugged me that I was finding so much of my validation, purpose and worth through anonymous people on the Internet and not through my closest relationships, or myself. It became that question of, when is enough, enough? How much money or praise or validation or clothes or degrees or makeup or cars or food or whatever it is that you are using as a bandaid, a temporary filler, how much of that thing will it be until you finally feel satisfied? For me, the answer was: it was never going to be enough.
And so I stopped.
I stopped going on Facebook. I stopped going on Twitter. I stopped spending hours on my phone every night when I was lonely and “couldn’t sleep” and I stopped spending hours on my phone in the morning trying to wake up. And you know what I discovered? I can sleep! But not when there is a glaring light shining in my eyes at midnight and I’m reading all sorts of rabbithole bullshit. Obviously! I also started to realize that when I woke up, I felt fine, awake, ready for the day, but within 5 minutes of reaching for my phone and checking social media I started to feel anxious.
It’s only been a week off Twitter and maybe three off Facebook. I didn’t deactivate them like I normally do because this one time I needed to find a photo for a greeting card that I knew was on Facebook. I didn’t deactivate them because I don’t feel like deactivating them is the solution. Not using them obsessively is the solution. For me, right now, that means not using them at all, but they can exist, sure, fine. They can exist just as long as they don’t interfere with my own existence.
It’s been really nice. When something funny has happened, I’ve called my boyfriend, and what would have only been 140 characters has turned into us laughing for hours, learning more about each other and growing closer to one another. I’ve been less anxious. I’ve stopped comparing my life to others. I've stopped feeling judged. I’ve stopped finding my purpose and worth through the comments of strangers and started finding it in myself and in my faith. I’ve listened to the encouraging words of my friends instead. I’ve started writing more. And what’s also been cool is I’ve been focusing more on photography, too. I still use Instagram. Instagram is the same for me as when I used Flickr (in the olden days, ha). It’s a place I find great amounts of inspiration. But I don’t rely on Instagram. I let it serve as inspiration and then I move on and I actually go take the photo.
There is fear involved with disconnecting online. For me, as a photographer, the biggest thing is that now less people see my work. If I don’t tweet about my latest photo shoot, no one will know to go to my blog. This has taken me years to get over. I take photos because I love taking photos, but I also take photos to eat and pay my bills. If I don’t market myself, how will I get jobs? It’s a real fear of mine, but something else happened. I started taking photos for others and in doing so, lost all the passion. Truthfully, the reason I got into photography? Because I absolutely love it. I love to create. I love emotions and I can express my emotions through my photographs. I love art, I love style, I love design, I love mashing all of these things into a photograph to create a new piece of art. In a lot of ways, it’s a very selfish ambition, but it’s what keeps me going. Through it all, I hope it helps others. I hope I always remain authentic in my photos and writing and with that authenticity, I hope it helps others do the same. I hope my photos and writing can raise awareness, tell stories, bring truth, inspire, all of that. But all I can do is hope, and then I just have to keep doing my own thing, which is to create. At this point, so what if no one sees my words or photos. I’m not being creative for others, I’m being creative because it’s what I love to do. I believe in magic and faith and love and all of that and I believe the ones who need to see my work will see my work, and the ones who don’t, don’t need to be marketed towards. Maybe it’s naive of me. Maybe it’s a bad business move. But I’d rather create with passion and have no one in the world see my work because creating makes me feel like I’m really living than create with no passion, have lots of people see my work but feel kinda dead inside. For me, love and passion will always be greater than the money. I’m willing to risk less people seeing my work. Why? It’s also because now that I’m not focused on tweeting my work, I’m more focused on my actual work. It’s allowing me to practice and experiment with my craft more. It’s allowing me to focus on the quality of my work rather than the quanitity. This doesn’t mean I’m taking less photos, it just means I’m taking more intentional photos.
I think the best thing since removing my life and my thoughts from social media is that I feel more free. Free to be me, free to love the ones I want to love, even more free to love the ones I don’t always want to love but should love, free to create, free to explore. I’ve learning more, growing more, seeing things more clearly. I’m worrying less. I’m walking more. I’m listening better. I’m being more intentional.
And so far now, you can find me in real life, or through email, or through my website, or yes, through Instagram. But as far as all the other channels, you probably won’t find much of me right now. The only time we have is right now. And right now I choose to be free.