Do we even remember life before everything we do could be recorded online and shared with the world?
An awful lot can change in a decade. Ten years ago, Facebook was barely founded. MySpace was still en vogue. And the vast majority of the world was oblivious to what Kim Kardashian was eating for dinner.
There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no SnapChat. Our biggest idols were still actors and athletes. And we thought of business as something that happened in an office with a desktop computer.
Over the last decade, the world has changed considerably. The so-called Great Recession of 2008 massively cut back job opportunities for college graduates. At the same time, 20-something entrepreneurs like Sean Parker, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeremy Stoppelman were quickly rising as national celebrities. A new class of success emerged—those who could make millions as fast and young as possible.
We watched our peers rise and fall via Facebook and Instagram. We saw who was walking on the red carpet, who was backpacking through Europe, and who was still living at home with their parents. For the first time in history, we were hyper-connected to what everyone was doing at all hours of the day—or, at least, a glossy and glamorized version of it.
Services like Klout popped up to tell us our online popularity scores. Businesses started hiring employees based on follower counts. And everything came to revolve around how impressive we seemed in selfies and cleverly-worded tweets, regardless of the reality we faced.
It was about that time that I entered the scene—20-something, ambitious, and desperate to matter. I worked hard to land some of the top jobs in public relations and helped to found a very successful PR agency of my own by the time I was 22.
I had the life that made for great Facebook statuses and Instagram posts. I was always off to an exciting event or working on a big project. And every “like” I received validated my lifestyle.
Until it happened—the “story.” We’ve all got one. That big wake-up call that makes you realize you’ve been living somebody else’s life. It usually comes around your 40s or 50s. For me, I was 24 and vomiting blood. And it didn’t stop for months.
I may have been the only one vomiting blood, but I wasn’t the only person I knew who was having a quarter-life crisis. These existential breakdowns were no longer reserved for balding men in Ferraris. My entire generation was doubting our purpose and why we were blindly striving for the elusive success—the thing we saw on TV and 140-character statuses.
I had followed the path I was told I was supposed to want, and it only led me to sickness and unhappiness. The worst part of all is that even when I achieved what I was supposed to want—success at a young age, the pinnacle of our society—I realized it’s never what I wanted in the first place. I was only internalizing the aspirations of everyone around me.
In a society as hyper-connected as ours, we’re inundated with everyone else’s wants, needs, and desires. We can stalk anything from where celebrities are shopping to where our ex-girlfriend is vacationing. And the more distractions we see of everyone else’s lives, the harder it is to remember what we actually want ourselves.
In the last 10 years, success has become a cultural obsession. We can now compare ourselves to everyone around us with the click of a button. We can now know how validated we are by how many people follow us. And the lives we’re living are often more for the selfies than for the real experiences.
But it’s not success that’s the problem. It’s success on somebody else’s terms.
We’re a culture seeking constant approval and acceptance. We want to be impressive. We want to matter. We want to achieve the world at a young age and have everybody witness us do it. Because then our lives will really mean something. Then we’ll be notable. Then we’ll be enough.
We live in a world where Instagram filters and Photoshopped pictures improve everything about our lives. So, without all that, are we enough? Are we smart enough, or pretty enough, or young enough, or experienced enough? Are we good enough? Will the real us ever match up to the image?
It’s about time we say, “Enough already.” It’s about time we decide to be enough right now—without the digital touchups, without the carefully crafted tweets, without the 200 likes. We are enough at this very moment to define success as anything we want it to be.
This is our life. This is the life we were born to live. And we can live it any way we want. But we’ve only got one shot—one chance to be here and live our own life. So we can choose to define it for ourselves right now, or we can wait until the wake-up call happens to each and every one of us.
In the post-Facebook world, opportunities abound. People like Justin Bieber have become international celebrities from just posting on social media. Anyone with a laptop can start a company. You can do anything you want with your life.
You just have to ignore the distraction. You just have to decide what you really want. You just have to define success for yourself. And then know that you are enough to achieve it.
More from Mike Iamele on The Good Men Project
Find Mike’s Success Blog at BostonWellnessCoach.com.
Hi Mike I’ve been following your articles for quite some time and I’m just curious about your credentials. What is this PR firm that you always discuss starting? I’d love to learn a few more details about that.