I recently saw a tweet where someone announced how much money they had made in the last year. I sneered about how they were just showing off and social media isn’t the place for such disclosures. But really I didn’t care about any of those things; I sneered because I was jealous.
I was jealous because I felt I would never be able to earn that kind of money. I’m not capable of having such good ideas. I’m not creative enough and I would never have the confidence to go it alone.
I’ve experienced that pit in my stomach before but really never analysed where it came from. It made me think more deeply about all the other times I’d felt jealous after looking at social media. Everyone seemed to be prettier, younger, running successful businesses and having amazing lives. Essentially I was using this to reinforce my sense of not feeling good enough.
Social comparison theory
Social comparison theory was developed in 1954 by social psychologist Leon Festinger and focused on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations. More specifically, the theory explains how we evaluate our opinions of ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.
Businesses undertake competitor analysis and benchmarking exercises all the time. It helps define strengths and weaknesses, design a strategy, identify unique selling points and set targets for the future.
It stands to reason that we can learn by looking at what others are doing. However, I like to think most businesses compare themselves on much more impactful measures than just social media. Why aren’t we doing that ourselves?
Social media doesn’t show the hours someone has put in to create a successful business, it doesn’t show the hundreds of images rejected before the perfect selfie is put up and the editing it went through.
Lucy Sheridan is the world’s first and only comparison coach. She has built her business on understanding triggers around comparison and using the insight to empower people. I first heard Lucy on the Ctrl Alt Delete podcast and a lot of what she said resonated with me and made me realise I needed to put some boundaries in place.
Social media is a curated version of a life / business / interest which the publisher wants to share. It’s not reality. Social media doesn’t show the hours someone has put in to create a successful business. It doesn’t show the hundreds of images rejected before the perfect selfie is put up and all the editing it went through.
It tells us what the publisher wants to tell us – but to a greater degree it depends on our own individual make up and what we think of ourselves.
A more honest approach to social media
There has been a backlash against the pursuit of perfection on social media and people are using their platforms to speak more honestly. I’ve found this immensely helpful on occasions, particularly around parenting. I’m learning to realise most people are winging it on a daily basis too.
We’re all entitled to show our best selves and often the humdrum of daily life is not worth documenting. We just need to remember not to compare the whole of our lives with one element someone chooses to share from theirs.