Sarah Geraghty on...social media shoulds and shouldn’ts
The life coach and I are 15 minutes into a session. “I just feel there are loads of things I should be doing that I’m not doing,” I say, before listing off loads of things I feel I should be doing but don’t want to do at all.
“Okay, stop using the word should,” he says. Feeling better already.
“Should” is a word that may carry elements of pressure, expectation, and fear, he says.
Should you train for a Double Ironman, for example? Should you become a vegan holistic wellness coach who describes raw cacao and hemp balls as “treats”? Should you buy a pair of high-waisted cropped flares?
There is nothing wrong with a challenge, of course. It’s not about letting yourself off the hook.
But if, as he said, you’re acting from a place of guilt, fear or (perceived) external pressure you might want to review your decision.
Our less frenzied, rational selves know we do better focusing on the activities we want and willingly choose. And sometimes we need a stranger (who is very good at their job) to remind us to be honest in our own thinking and to stop thinking about anyone else’s.
Next day I skip home to tell my mother of my new-found clarity and to demonstrate the breathing techniques designed to help me connect with inner wisdom and “should”-free creativity.
“I’m not talking to you if you keep looking at your phone,” she interrupts.
“What? Sorry, I just signed up to Instagram and have no followers yet…this is embarrassing...”
She interrupts again in Tesco. “It’s like having a teenager again. I’m not listening until you put the phone away.”
“I’ve followed 100 people and not one has followed me back. I don’t get it... Why does nobody like me?”
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We’re at tea and coffee aisle when I crack it. “I had my profile on private.”
Phew. Waiting in the Insta-wings were thousands of followers – or, 45 by the time we get to the trolley bay – vying for a look at my first photo: the family dog, Jack, standing in a field (#nofilter).
Dignity restored. Yeah but – what if it doesn’t get any likes?
The irony hits. Instead of liberating myself from other people’s opinions and practising mindful breathing techniques at bedtime, I’ve just added another “should” to the existing pre-sleep ritual of refreshing Facebook and Twitter feeds.
But they told me I should.
“It’s an essential part of your personal branding,” insisted a 30-something advertising guru, asking what “theme” I was going with for my Insta-debut. “If you really wanna get serious, you should start vlogging too.”
“Facebook’s dead,” said the 20-something leader of a social media workshop.
“But how will you see our selfie?” asked a couple of favourite tweens.
“I get all my paleo recipes from it.”
“Rise is the best filter – your photos will look amazing. I actually can’t believe you’re not on it already.”
“If you’re worried about getting followers and likes, follow people with the #followforfollow and #likeforlike hashtags.”
So I did. And felt pressure, expectation and fear.
But I am fully up-to-date with Taylor Swift and her #girlsquad, what Brooklyn Beckham had for dinner with his dad (chicken and waffles), Lena Dunham’s tattoos in Tokyo, how to kick evil sugar using an eight-week programme, and what Carine Roitfeld’s French daughter’s pink satin professional ballet shoes look like on a white Parisian wooden floor with the caption, “Morning workout done #balletbeautiful”.
And sure, there can never be too many ways to creep on your own exs and other people’s weddings, breakfasts, haircuts, babies, 6am workouts, #Friday #winetime, #holidays #g&t #sunset.
At Stanford University, they call it “duck syndrome” after the creatures who hide their frantically paddling feet underwater when swimming.
“Find out when you feel most yourself – that’s where your happiness is,” said the wise coach only 24 hours before.
Staring at my phone, trying to think up clever hashtags (there’s an app for that if the thinking gets too draining) I am definitely not feeling “most myself”.
So, what I “should” do is delete Instagram and get off the phone.
But what about the “brand”? What if my advertising guru is right?
I think back to all that time spent hovering over hashtags and filters and squinting at pouty princesses and the perfect contrivances presented as other people’s lives. And really, if there is a polar opposite to being honest in your own thinking and not caring about anyone else’s, this is it.
“Should”: a tricky word, to be used towards self and others sparingly and thoughtfully. I should put Instagram in its place. Unfollow 70, muse on the remainder for 10 minutes a day and never at bedtime. #metaphorforlife.
Róisín Ingle is on leave