Oh social media, where do I even begin…a great tool for businesses, non-profits, athletes, professionals, recreational-ists, and freelancers alike – but when does Instagram turn from helpful to hurtful?
2016 rolled around and time came to make those dreaded New Year’s resolutions, I decided to jump in and focus on taking more pictures; I had heard enough complaints from my east-coast dwelling family that they didn’t know what I was doing on the west coast, and it was about time to start documenting my travels and various activities throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond so that one day I could look back and reminisce. Naturally, one of the first tasks I took on to meet this objective was to create and build an Instagram for myself. After hearing so much about the social media platform, it was finally time to join the ranks and learn how to use a hashtag. I set a schedule to try and post at least two pictures a week in an effort to share my adventures with friends and family, while simultaneously trying to craft a digital presence that I could be proud of and would accurately embody me to my followers. Little did I know that I was getting myself into a complicated relationship with a website…
Eight months later, and I have what I initially set out for: photos that I am proud of, the feeling that I have portrayed myself as the adventurer that I am, and I have even used my feed to help advocate and educate my followers on issues that I truly care about. I continue to post at least two photos a week, typically trying to accompany each with a creative caption trying to add insight into what went on behind the scenes to get to the scene displayed. But even with all of this, I can’t help but feel that I am living a lie – deceptively misrepresenting myself to be ‘radder’ or more ‘bad-ass’ than I actually am. There’s no arguing that I love the outdoors and work hard to live my life to the fullest through adventure and exploration, but the more traction I gain on social media, the more I realize that I have left out some key information about myself.
If you were to look at my account, no where would you find references to my ‘real life’. I am not a professional athlete, have never won the lottery, and do not work in the outdoor-industry, and so I do have to fund my lifestyle through having a real job; cue the full-time engineering role at a large corporation, where I spend 40+ hours a week in a cube, in front of three computer screens, mixing my time between being a diligent employee and not-so-subtly dreaming up adventures for the upcoming weekend. Not once have I included this side of my life when posting on social media – and for that, I am sorry. I have successfully created this virtual persona for myself that avoids all mention of my livelihood, career, and everyday struggles – but how do I change this?
No one wants to see pictures of my desk, full of scrap materials and defective parts under investigation; no one would like a picture of me sitting at home at night watching NCIS and eating my feelings after scrapping together a dinner of whatever oddities are left in my fridge; no one is interested in my weekly errands, chores around the house, and numerous doctor visits – but all of these things are what makes up 80% of my life. I dream of moving to a mountain town and getting outside every day, but the reality is that I am not that person (yet). Despite my many mid-week posts of biking, skiing, hiking, or camping, I am most-likely sitting in a dimly-lit, cube-farm of an office, working to live and just waiting for Friday to come along so that I can get back into the wild.
I set out in January to create an Instagram to showcase what I love most – the outdoors – and yet nowhere do I acknowledge the extensive work and time put in that allows me to do what I do between Friday and Sunday nights. I regularly have friends who expect me to be free during the week for the next adventure, and it always comes as a surprise when I tell them about how I actually spend the majority of my time. Sure, I’m still proud of my posts and feel that they do a good job of representing my time outdoors, but in neglecting the other side of the story I have inexplicably created a double-life for myself – and honestly, it’s exhausting and I’m over it.
Since I opened my Instagram account, I have accumulated over 1500 followers, consistently get over 100 likes and numerous comments on each post, and regularly get re-grammed by like-minded organizations or individuals… these are the criteria that define social media success, but what does it really mean? In a world ruled by photo feeds and real-time updates, I’m still a small fish in an overwhelmingly vast ocean. My pictures are good, not great. My captions are original, but don’t tell the whole truth. I skimp on the details, the struggles, and the low points in order to showcase the incredible highs, but aren’t the failures and pain what makes the adventure so rewarding? I may not be lying about who I am, but I am guilty of omitting the context and shaping my reality into what I think people most want to see.
And so welcome to my dilemma – a love-hate relationship with a social media platform that equal parts motivates my adventurous drive while making me feel insignificant, lazy, and irrefutably jealous on a daily basis. The worst part? I am part of the problem. My posts insinuate that I am always out there, getting rad, and just enjoying life. Well here’s the truth: life is hard, adulting is hard, finding a balance between work and play is hard, affording the adventurous lifestyle requires working hard, and while I wish I could spend every moment outside doing what I love, that’s not what my life looks like. Monday through Friday, I drag myself out of bed, spend hours upon hours in a windowless office, and make my way home at the end of the day with barely enough energy to take my dog for a walk – all the while daydreaming of powder days, road trips, and endless singletrack. Yet come Friday, we pack up the truck and head out, hoping to get away from it all to bask in the incredible wilderness that we feel truly at home in.
As we get closer to the end of this year and the beginning of 2017, I have begun to set out new goals for myself. I now know that what happens between the photos is just as important as the moments depicted, and so I set out to try and tell my whole story and not just the bits that look best in Mayfair. The pain and struggle behind a moment is what makes it an accomplishment. Context adds to a picture’s beauty, even when it’s not pretty. Honesty is relatable, exciting, interesting, and beautiful. Social media shouldn’t detract from your own accomplishments; rather, it should fuel your passion, push you to break through personal barriers, and give insight on how others dealt with similar situations and obstacles.
I have no plans to leave Instagram, and I can bet you I will still spend hours online continuing to cultivate and stressing over my presence (a.k.a. getting more followers and likes). Instead, I will work towards integrating the bad with the good, the beautiful with the ugly, and the work with the play to create a full representation of who I am and what I stand for. And while I’m at it, I’m going to have fun, do what I love, and turn Instagram into a second-thought instead of leaving it on a pedestal to control how and when I do what I do.
So here’s to the real me: the woman who works her ass off at a full-time job, spends hours volunteering weekly, deals with mental illness and physical injuries, regularly says she’s going for a run and instead watches TV, hits the snooze button for an hour every morning, eats ice cream for meals, spends at least 15 hours in a car every week, forgets about laundry until she runs out of underwear, and still tries to squeeze in as much outdoor time as possible between it all. There’s no need to hide any of that, and in the end, all of this juggling just makes the summits and road trips that much more impressive, right? Katherine 2.0.
Update – December 28, 2016: Since writing this, I have put my two-weeks notice in at my full-time job and January 6th will be my last day. It has become obvious to me that my current career path deviates not only from my who I am on Instagram, but also from who I am as a person today and what my values and passions are. Instead of working to integrate my career into my online presence, I am focusing on integrating my passions into a new career plan. I have begun reaching out to friends and contacts within the outdoor industry in an effort to align my future career with the things that I love the most: the outdoors and adventure! Happy 2017, I can’t wait to see what the year has in store!