Something’s wrong.

Using Instagram, Facebook and whatnot, my generation of millennials curates their lives: we present ourselves to the world as how we want to be seen.

Not as how we are.

Of course, the desire to make oneself look good is nothing new, but nowadays we have more control over our appearance than ever.

It’s not that we mention only the green grass — we also use filters to make it look even greener.

Number one on many to do lists: trick other people into believing that I’m rocking it.

On the surface, we’ve gotten pretty good at this.

And so everyone thinks that everyone is strong and confident and happy and has it all figured out.

Except no one has.

The wrong values

Among young people, suicide is on the rise.

Depression is, too.

We’re also becoming more lonely.

Why would this be?

I think it is because we focus on impressing others at the expense of relating to them.

Here, Charles Chu cites psychological research which concludes that:

“There’s clear evidence that [to impress people] the focus on money, fame, and image has gone up, and there’s also clear evidence that people who focus on money, fame, and image are more likely to be depressed and anxious.”

We value the completely wrong things.

Impressing others has become a goal on its own, such that we’re trying to get everything perfect so that we can think that we are mitigating judgment.

But, if you think about it, this means that instead of setting our own standard, we let others define what we should care about.

When what others think dictates our performances — in both senses of the word — our behavior is hollow.

Who decides?

We want to control the opinions of other people by controlling how we appear to them.

However, there is often a big difference between how we present ourselves and how we truly are.

And oh boy, it would be really bad if people were to see through this act.

So we constantly walk on our toes to keep up appearances, lest our masks fall off.

To avoid exposing our real selves to the judging eyes of our peers, we create a fake persona to take the blows for us.

Ironically, this quest to shield our true identities from the opinions of others is a fool’s errand.

First, you can’t do it.

People will find out and people will judge: protecting an image does not help to avoid the risk of rejection for who you are.

Second, you shouldn’t do it.

The quest to maintain a certain image is motivated by the need for approval.

We’re doing things because we believe those are the things we must to do impress others.

That’s the wrong intention.

Presenting yourself to the world as how you are not to favorably influence what others think of you means that you place higher priority on others’ perception of you than on your perception of you.

It means there’s a hole in your self-image that no number of likes can fill.

We’re losing

We seek to arrive at this summit where we feel we’re enough, but a focus on impression-management only drives one away from an ‘I am enough’ state of mind.

The pursuit of social status is like a treadmill that never ends.

If this is the game we are going to play, we’re all going to lose.

So I’m out.

Try this instead

To sum up: I believe that the rise in loneliness, depression, and suicide flows out of the lack of meaningful relationships, which flows out of the hollow focus on impression-management.

To turn things around, we need a way to stop the treadmill of constant attainment for impression-management purposes, so that we can start moving toward what matters in life.

The most important factor here is our way of relating to other people.

It’s essential that we make a shift in this domain.

Instead of conceptualizing fellow persons as competitors in the zero-sum game of social status, we must see them as similar human beings who are fighting their own battle.

The million-dollar question: what concrete change in behavior could help to attain this shift?

Let me be the first to express that I still have a lot to learn on this front, but I think one of life’s most important lessons is:

Learn to express, not impress

Impression builds a wedge — it distances you from those you talk to.

Expression, on the other hand, builds a bridge.

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