"Be sure not to compare your insides to everyone else's outsides." ~ A Friend
I'm not sure where I heard the "your insides vs. everyone's outsides" quote the first time, but it is something that has really stuck with me. I think that there are several different variations of this idea, but I like the imagery of this one - it helps remind me that I truly don't have any idea what is going on inside of other people and it is easy to think that I am the only one who ever struggles. It truly fascinates me as to how easy and natural it is to think that you are the only one who feels like they have no idea what they are doing when, in reality, I don't actually know that many people who feel like they "have it all together."
There is a lot of talk on blogs and in social media about whether online connections help or hurt our perceptions of ourselves. After all, reading about everyone else's exciting trips, fantastic homeschool projects, wholesome organic lunches, challenging crossfit workouts or regular marathon training is bound to create a niggling feeling as if you are somehow lacking. I think that we tend to conflate all of our friends into one "super" person who is doing all of the above with ease while we feel as if we are just struggling to get off the computer in the morning.
I have worried often over the years about whether I am truly being "authentic," both here on the blog and on homeschool email lists. I do my best to be honest about things and am pretty open to admitting that I don't have it "all together." That I have struggled with depression and do struggle with anxiety. That I question a lot of what I do. That I feel like I drop the ball way too often. That I am extremely hard on myself. That I am not perfect.
Here is an interesting thing I have become increasingly aware of though: how I perceive people is less about them and more about me.
I was talking with a friend on Facebook about how I struggle with trying to accept that we are not an overly "active" family. I often feel like I should have more desire to "get out and try new things" and am trying to figure out if it is "ok" that I don't. I'd much rather read a book than go stand up paddle boating. I do like biking and walking, though I don't do much of it. This attitude of course influences the boys, hence my guilt...I can be ok with it if I am a bump on a log, but is it ok if that is what they are learning through example? I'm still sitting with this one, trying to balance the paradox I have found in that I can only make lasting changes in my life if I accept myself for who I am, where I am now.
Then later I posted this picture:
My friend teased me about how I was trying to say that we were not an "outdoors-y" family when here was obvious proof otherwise. Yet, what I realized was getting hidden behind the photo was the fact that even though we have been down here at the beach for over a month, this was the first time we had pulled out the kayaks. We went out for maybe 30 minutes, 40 minutes top. We did not explore anyplace new, just went out around a small island and came back. Kyle did not want to come with us, so he stayed home. Other than that 30 minutes of kayaking, we had not really done too much that day and a large portion of it was spent on the computer (for all of us). That evening I was pretty beat (the puppies have for some reason decided that this is the week to need to go outside in the middle of the night) and so the boys made themselves frozen pizza for dinner and I had a hot dog with fritos.
Now here is the interesting thing that hit me...how often do we make assumptions based on our friends' photos or posts? If I had been someone else seeing that photo, how easy would it have been to "fill in the blanks" that assumed that kayaking was something that was happening more often than it was, that we were exploring all sorts of new, interesting areas of the bay, that this had been just one of many outdoors-y, beach-y activities that we had done that day, that we came back to a house and a kitchen floor that did not desperately need a cleaning and that later that evening we had grilled a wonderful dinner out on the back deck over looking the water watching a fantastic sunset?
Too easy, right? I do it all the time. Even when a friend posts about something "honest" like punting dinner and making frozen pizzas instead, I cheer her on in my head for giving herself a break and not stressing about it...assuming that she did not, like I would have, stress about it or see it as a bigger "failing." Or I see a photo on Instagram that shows a slightly disheveled bedroom with a stack of books next to the bed and I think how warm and cozy it looks while assuming that the person who posted it did not, like I would have, worry that people were going to see it as cluttered (why is it that everyone else's clutter looks "comfy," while ours just seems "messy?")
Yes, we mostly see the "good parts" of people's lives on social media and online. I'm not so sure that this is disingenuous however. What is disingenuous is our assumption that everyone else's lives must only consist of those good parts and that we are the only ones who struggle with the "hard parts."
So I am trying to be more mindful of the assumptions that I am making when I see my friends posts and photos because how I interpret them and the assumptions I make is a choice. My choice.
I can assume that their lives are much more "together" than mine or I can realize that, most likely, they are winging it just as much as I am. That their awesome vacation had some not so awesome parts. That there are times when they feel just as confused about where to go and what to do as I do.
I have a feeling that is closer to the truth. After all, to doubt and to be unsure are part of being human and something that we all experience. It's a slight shift in perspective, but one that has been making a difference in how I view the world.