When I was younger, I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to write.
For the first 15 years of my life, I hid that side of myself because I was terrified of rejection. I was afraid if people knew this side of me, they would think I was weird or different. I would hide my laptop whenever people would pass behind me, for fear they would read something I wrote and shame me for it.
Sharing my writing publicly was a way of finding self-acceptance. A way of saying, “this is who I am” and maybe someone along the way would relate and connect to my experience.
As I started to pursue writing professionally, I was told that you needed an online presence to get jobs and have that “proof of status.” For the most part, I enjoy sharing my work and connecting with other writers and creatives.
But then there is the other side to this—the dark side. The side that comes when you see those red hearts pop up on your phone, and you get a dopamine hit and even though you know deep down that people are just “liking” a photo, what you really feel (and want to believe) is that they are also “liking” and accepting who you are as a person.
And it’s not just with Instagram, it’s with fame at large. In the last 20 or so years, we’ve seen a rise in Reality TV shows, YouTube stars, and Instagram influencers—people suddenly able to get fame in ways they didn’t use to and much more easily.
I’ve thought about the idea of celebrity a lot. It never appealed to me, but recently, I’ve been questioning if I were famous, would it solve all of my problems?
We go on Instagram and see these celebrity figures appearing to have it all: the partner, the money, the clothes, the vacations, the friends, the jobs. And all of that (we think) equals those deeper things like happiness, joy, belonging, love, confidence, acceptance. We read that follower number beside a person’s name and think that it validates who someone is as a person.
I’ve been listening to Erin Treloar’s Raw Beauty Talks podcast on my morning walks to my coworking space. In one episode, she talks about the idea of goal setting and why so many of our goals set us up for failure.
Take the goal of weight loss, for example. We think that if we look a certain way, achieve a certain number on a scale, get to a certain clothing size, we’ll be happier. We’re not saying, “I want this goal of X weight.” What we’re really saying is, “I am missing something in my life and I believe that if I achieve this external thing, it will be fulfilled.”
Erin talks about how we can set “heart” goals for ourselves. She says to first list out what you think your goals are, then list out what feeling you hope to get from achieving that goal, and then make those your actual goals instead.
Personally, I love to work out, but I know that a big part of why I do it is because I cannot help but think if only I looked a certain way, more people would want to date me, be my friend, know me, hear me, see me. Underneath those things lies the deep desire to connect. To be seen. To be loved—truly and whole-heartedly loved.
But working out isn’t going to get me those things. It will make me feel healthier and more confident to some extent, but those other things? They can and only ever will come from within.
You may have noticed that recently Instagram made a pretty huge change by no longer showing the number of likes on a photo. I think this is awesome. It shifts what our motivation is for sharing and posting our lives online, and it’s preventing us from letting an arbitrary number determine our mental well-being.
In a recent Vice article about this, psychotherapist Denise Dunne explains, “Young people are curating their lives and happiness for approval. They get approval, but feel dead inside. They know people are liking the image, not them, not their real life.”
It’s a false sense of fulfillment. We do these things because we believe it will fill whatever hole is inside of us, but really it’s only isolating us further.
When I go back to those “heart” goals, I think about what it is I really want in life and what I want to be happy and fulfilled. The words that come to mind are:
>> Connection and intimacy
>> Confidence and joy
>> Mission and purpose
>> Community and service
Losing 10 pounds, getting 50K followers on social media, even becoming a famous author, are not going to get me those things. What will get me them are spending more time with the people in my life I already love and care about, by doing the things that make me feel alive—right there, in the present moment.
I will get joy from writing alone in my room, and writing fiction again, the types of stories I used to write as a little kid.
I will get confidence from going to yoga more, to connect to my mind, body, soul. And I will get it from maybe yes, going to the gym—but tracking how much stronger I am getting. From the natural endorphins released after a run and letting that spread into my everyday life.
I will find authenticity by spending time with people who have similar values to me. By learning to say “no” to activities and events that do not sit well with who I am.
I will find connection and intimacy first by going to therapy. To learn what’s holding me back from being myself with other people. And then I will find it by learning to be open in love and relationships and by being pickier with who I let into my life so that when they do, I know that this time, it is real.
I will find mission and purpose in my career, by advocating more for the issues I care about. And I will find community and service by volunteering. By doing activities outside of my own little world that help others and make me feel a part of something bigger than myself.
Fame will not get me any of these things, and there is much harder work that needs to be done in order to actually achieve them.