Social Media can be a wonderful thing that helps me connect with great people all over the world. People like Heather in South Africa who loves to discuss tennis or Marko in Croatia who is a computer wiz and shares my love of photography. I visualize them as friends. Such are the benefits of the digital age. But what happens if I begin to compare myself against what I imagine is their social standing? Studies have confirmed social media can help us find a long lost friend but can also make us feel depressed when we’re constantly bombarded with images and updates about the fantastic lives of others.

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A few days ago I witnessed something that had me thinking about the dark side of social media. Someone I previously watched from a distance went on a platform and admitted that he was not as successful as the image he projected; and even worse had taken money for services he did not deliver and used it to pay day to day expenses to keep the illusion going. My first reaction was to think of him as a fraud. However, as I listened to him explain how he had gotten in over his head, I also thought about how easy it was for anyone to fall prey to the desire to “keep up” (Part of the reason I did a recent episode on taking a month offline to meet people face to face and the difference it made in my outlook).

Years ago we simply had the people down the block to compare ourselves to, simply because we saw them every day and noticed when they had something different. Television gave us the ability to view people further away than down the block. We could see what they were doing and how they lived their lives by changing a channel. True we could watch them but we had to depend on interviews to answer the questions we wanted answered, so there was a sense of familiarity and yet distance between them and us.

And then along comes social media where we could follow, watch and even ask our own questions which gave us a sense of connection that simply didn’t exist with TV. Now rather than envying the guy down the street we had a whole host of people we considered friends (who were more like acquaintances who sent us daily updates) to envy for the things they had or had done. It’s a very natural thing because we humans are always taking into account social standing and comparing ourselves against where we think others are on the ladder.

While I’m not supporting committing crimes, I could understand the situation with the guy admitting he had effectively resorted visualizing sadnessto stealing money to maintain the image he hoped to match. Every day he probably connected with people he thought were successful and probably began to question why he was coming up short. Think about it, no one ever posts an update saying “Things are not going well” and so we too feel the need to put on a “good news show” to keep the sharing going. Yes, good things happen but behind a number of those good things is a lot of blood, sweat, and even the tears it took to reach them that never gets reported.

What surprised me about the whole affair was that rather than stoning the guy, a good number of people came to his defense saying they knew he would find a way to pay back the money and they understood how he could have pushed himself to do what he did. It was a singular honest moment when a number of people silently admitted that they too may have been tempted.

Situations like this little drama was part of the reason I came up with my audio series “Imagine Success” where you could visualize how success looks for you and motivate yourself to recognize the things that can give your life meaning. It is your chance to tell the inner you what is really important to YOU. Most of us need it because we’re receiving a daily dose of more followers or more likes that can force us to compare ourselves to people all over the world, sometimes with not many good effects. It helps to have something that allows you create not only success but also balance.

Working to advance a passion or skill is not a bad thing, but we all need to remind ourselves why we’re doing it. And even better to let someone know that you appreciate all the work that probably went into creating that perfect update they recently posted. I think you’re going to find a lot of people will admit to struggling to get over some rough patches and a good number of sleepless nights before they reached the point portrayed in that update. Despite what we might think there are no perfect lives, only personal struggles no matter your social-standing. This is simply how the real world works. I challenge you to visualize offering encouragement and also to ask yourself why you’re doing something on a daily basis. If you can, let me know how it turns out.

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