What I learned when I deactivated Facebook for a month
I was scrolling through my timeline as I do almost every night before bed, when I started to feel an overwhelming wave of anxiety. My biology partner from high school just landed a job at Google. Ashley got engaged. 476 likes. My roommate posted a photo of her third child. Me? I’m 27, single, and have already hit the ceiling at work after just a year. I was starting to feel inadequate. I was thinking things like, Will I ever get married? Will I have kids? When am I going to get a new job and who will hire me? Thoughts racing, I found myself hitting the deactivate button.
The process of shutting off your Facebook is pretty comical — they don’t let you go without a fight. They ask you why you’re deactivating and offer alternative solutions based on your responses. Photos popped up on my screen alongside “so-and-so will miss you!” My brother, best friend, ex-boyfriend, and a girl I’ve met twice but is generous with likes stared back at me as I debated going through with the final step. Oddly, that attempt to pull at my heartstrings filled me with defiance. I was doing this, and I was doing it for a month. During that month, I learned a lot of things about how I deal with social media, and in turn, learned a lot of things about myself.
Facebook (and all social media) breeds comparison.
Facebook profiles are basically a highlight reel, rather than an accurate depiction of our day-to-day lives. We post our accomplishments, anecdotes, and carefully edited photos. Even the moment captured in my own profile picture, a photo of me basking in the sun in Santorini, was followed instantly by my then-boyfriend’s embarrassing public temper tantrum. No one posts that they only ate a breakfast bar all day because they were too depressed to cook. No one mentions their boss chewed them out for missing a deadline. No one tells you they caught their partner cheating on them. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone has it so much better than you, but they don’t. No one has a life as perfect as it seems online.
I spent a lot of time online that I could’ve spent doing other things.
I spend an unbelievable amount of time on social media. Once I shut Facebook off, I realized how mindlessly I’d default to checking it. Several times a day during my experiment, I’d type the url in my browser only to be met with the login page — a reminder that my Facebook account is currently off-limits. I don’t even want to think about how much time over the years I’ve spent online. While my account was deactivated, I started to realize I not only had more free time, but I also was more productive. I didn’t feel anger swell up from a political post I didn’t agree with, and I didn’t waste brainpower on people I haven’t seen or talked to in years. I felt lighter and more focused.
Things will happen for each person in their own time.
I didn’t have reminders of what my peers were doing or accomplishing, and for the first time in a long time, I only focused on my own accomplishments. Sure, I’m not engaged, I don’t yet have my dream job, and I haven’t started a family, but I’ve accomplished things. Through Teach For America, I taught students to read and made a huge difference in their lives. I’ve traveled both in the United States and abroad. I moved cross-country to San Francisco and made friends with people that have expanded my way of thinking and changed me for the better. I’m not really ready for a relationship, I’m not yet sure if I want to have kids, and I have no idea what my dream job is. All of that is okay. If I work hard and be myself, I’ve done all I can do. Maybe what I want will change over time. So far in life, things haven’t always turned out like I thought they would — but more times than not, it has been for the better.
I ended up leaving Facebook off for longer than a month, but eventually I turned it back on. I have, however, made some major changes in the way I use Facebook. The app is no longer on my phone. I’ve decided whatever happens in the Facebook world can wait until I’m on my computer. It’s made me more present when I’m out with my friends, and I don’t feel like I have to be on demand. I also logged out of Facebook on both my laptop and work computer. Now, every time I login, I have to be a little more conscious of the decision I’m making. Just typing my complicated password makes me a little more aware of how time I’m spending on the site.
Facebook certainly has its uses. I’m in groups that provide me with career and social opportunities. I’ve turned acquaintances into close friends. I use it to grow my blog audience, and I read articles I wouldn’t have found on my own, curated by a diverse group of people. I’ve learned to use Facebook in the ways that it benefits me, and to stop using it in the ways that it doesn’t. The most important question you can ask yourself is “does Facebook stress me out?” If it does, deactivate and refocus on you. Spend a little time celebrating your accomplishments and figuring out what it is you want to do next.
Hannah Tenpas’s first accent was British, she had kindergarten in English and Spanish, and started taking the train alone in Tokyo by nine. You can catch her on Twitter and check out her career and travel blog here.