“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.” ~ Matthew Kelly
By now, we all know about the #10yearchallenge—another viral trend to flood our newsfeeds—post a photo of yourself from 10 years ago, alongside your most recent.
Seems easy enough.
Posts have also emerged showing some extreme environmental changes that have occurred in the last 10 years: the disappearance and destruction of the polar ice caps, coral reefs, and forests, to name a few. The caption reads “the only 10-year challenge we should be worried about.” The images are confronting and uncomfortable, which are exactly the kind of feelings it should elicit. Hopefully, the confrontation is enough to make us question how we can make a difference, rather than resign in hopelessness and apathy.
Tech articles have also postulated that the #10yearchallenge could be a way to help develop facial recognition software. After the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle of 2018, where personal data was extracted from millions of Facebook profiles without consent, we should probably all be wary of how we interact with technology and social media.
As we keep moving forward, the environment and technology will be reoccurring themes. We will need to constantly reassess how we engage with both as we tread further into unknown territory.
However, there is another theme that arises with this #10yearchallenge, and something I believe we need to pay attention to.
The issue with the #10yearchallenge is that it merely compares how we’ve aged over a 10-year period. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the majority of people who posted pics are probably happy with the before and after. We all love a visual, and let’s be real, our ego gets a kick when we get a bunch of likes or comments.
And it’s not just a metaphorical kick either; we literally get a hit of dopamine every time we get a like or comment. Posting a picture seems harmless enough, but I worry that as technology advances, we will stay caught in what Chamath Palihapitiya referred to as the “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops” that social media provides. And while we get a kick out of this, there is more and more research coming out that confirms social media is linked to higher levels of depression, disconnection, loneliness, anxiety, envy, and narcissism.
If all we see are the highlight reels of other peoples’ lives, it is no wonder we can easily get down on ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I am also guilty of checking stats and feeling validated by likes, which is why I have made a personal vow to share my darker moments and to consciously be as vulnerable, raw, and honest as possible. I don’t want people to think that I live a perfect life and have it all figured out, because the fact is I don’t—not by a long shot.
This is why I have such an issue with the #10yearchallenge; it doesn’t touch on the depth of the soul—the challenges, drama, or trauma we’ve faced and overcome. The immense personal struggle and growth that is possible in the span of 10 years.
Our brokenness and sharp edges aren’t visible in a photo, and neither are our healing and wholeheartedness.
If I were simply to compare my two photos, I would be inclined to say that I have aged well enough. I am smiling in both photos, but while my younger self looks a little fresher, there are quite a few wrinkles around my eyes today. What these photos don’t show is that the girl on the left was naïve and broken in so many ways; she knew nothing about self-love and would continue on a path of destruction for close to a decade. The woman on the right has spent the last few years healing her past and forgiving herself (and others). The girl on the left didn’t even like herself, while the girl on the right has learned to love herself.
Two photos will never be able to capture what the last 10 years has meant to us.
It is impossible to distill everything I have been through in the last decade into one meme, but if I were to try and share some of what I have learned, it would sound something like this:
I am stronger than I realised, and the human spirit is more resilient than we may ever know.
Our deepest hurt and programming comes from childhood, something we need to reconcile with.
Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not the other person.
Alcoholism runs in my family, and alcohol became my coping mechanism, which is something I will need to watch for the rest of my life.
“It” was not my fault.
My family and my roots are one and the same, and I need to stay connected.
Our parents are human.
Vulnerability is strength.
Boundaries are healthy (and necessary).
Contentment is key.
Gratitude is the keystone to contentment and a hero against depression.
Anxiety has something to teach us, if we let it.
I need to trust my intuition.
What frustrates me in others is something I need to work on in myself.
What I admire in others is also present in me—it just needs some nurturing.
Everything starts with our minds—thoughts and words are powerful.
Sometimes we need to sit with the uncomfortable emotions to move through them.
Home is where you make it, and it can take time to get there.
Genuine connection is oh so important.
Friends who make you belly-laugh or sing and dance around the room are everything.
A healthy relationship requires both people to really show up.
Marriage is work, but it’s worth it.
Write it down; it’s always better out than in.
Under promise and over deliver—always.
I cannot fix anyone but myself.
Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.
Look for the best in others, but when they show their true colours, believe them.
Nothing grows in the comfort zone.
Sometimes pain is necessary, but try and learn from it the first time.
Water—tears, the ocean, sweat—heals everything.
Be gentle. It’s all a process.
I need nature and alone time to recuperate.
Everything starts with self-love.
I have learned (and am learning) that I am enough.
It is incredible what we can do, be, and achieve in a decade. Then why is it that most of us shy away from speaking honestly about our achievements and lessons learned? We rarely give ourselves permission to celebrate our success, especially on a level deeper than appearance. If this challenge required that we upload our photos and write our achievements or lessons from the last decade, I am sure the #10yearchallenge would not have gone as viral as it did.
Reflection is such a powerful tool for acknowledging where we are and how far we’ve come. It helps us stay grounded while also giving us hope for the future.
Looking back over the last decade can also help us see the bigger picture. It allows us to see that some of our most difficult trials have led to some of our greatest growth. That everything didn’t always go to plan, but oftentimes it turned out far better than we could have planned. We can see that every time we were pushed outside our comfort zone, we flourished. We can see that for better or worse, our thoughts create our reality, there is no such thing as coincidences, and everything is connected.
The more real we get with ourselves and each other, the less likely we are to fall into traps of negative self-talk and comparison—which is the fastest way to get down on ourselves. It is easy to compare our “mess” to someone else’s picture-perfect image, and harder to remember that we all have our own “stuff.”
I’m really happy for you if you have aged like a fine wine, but I would rather know the depth of your soul. What challenges have you faced? What knocked you down and how did you get back up? What have you learned? Have you loved? What do you hope for?
We are all on our own journey. We are all doing the best we can with what we have. We all f*ck up from time to time, and this is okay because none of us have it figured out. We have all suffered pain, betrayal, loss, heartache, and yet we are all still here and most of us (I hope all of us) are still hopeful.
We are all more similar than we are different. We are all having a human experience.
Yes, the #10yearchallenge may just be a harmless meme, but as with everything, we have the power to choose how we engage with social media, the environment, and each other. Just as there is research that suggests social media is linked to depression, low self-esteem, disconnection, and envy, the opposite has also been found. What matters most is the energy and meaning we put into it.
Every time I have been vulnerable and opened up on social media or in real life, more often than not it has been reciprocated and led to deeper connections. Let’s choose depth over the shallows.
So, what does your #10yearchallenge really look like?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” ~ Steve Jobs