I hate Instagram. There I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m ON Instagram. And I use it actively. But sometimes, I just I hate it. As of September 2017, Instagram has 800 million monthly active users. Let that number sink in. 800 million active users. That’s a lot of people posting perfect pictures of their kids, their jobs, their abs, their kitchens, their vacations and more. Instagram makes me feel like everyone else’s life is designer perfect, and mine just doesn’t measure up.
One of the places where Instagram makes me feel most inadequate is with my work. I’m a freelance writer, and I love it. But it’s not glamorous or easy. It’s not a picture I recently saw on Insta — a perfectly manicured hand, holding a holiday Starbucks cup with the drinker’s name spelled correctly, sitting on a beautifully styled desk with the hashtag #lovemyjob.
At the time of this writing, there are over 14 million posts with that hashtag. But do you really? Do you really love your job? All the time? Is your job really a perfectly manicured hand holding a perfect cup of coffee on the perfect desk? Because while I love my job, it’s definitely not a corner office with sweeping skyline views, piles of colorful, neatly stacked folders, and cute desk accessories. My job isn’t always #nailedit and #sold and #bossladyforthewin.
My job is mostly a lot of early mornings and late nights and working and reworking and trying and trying again.
A more appropriate hashtag for my work would be #gratefulAFbutthisshitishard.
I get it: Instagram is all about “the look.” But isn’t that the problem? Because “the look” is often so over-styled and perfectly angled and professionally filtered that while we use it as something to strive for, it’s actually unattainable. And while I get that a picture is simply a moment in time, my problem is that we’re not talking about the other moments.
We’re not talking about what it’s like to be the only woman in the office, where we are being mansplained to, where our accomplishments are far too often diminished, overlooked or appropriated.
Work isn’t all about closing the deal and making the sale. For so many women, it’s also about being talked over and undervalued. We’re told to lean in, but not too far in, because you don’t want to seem too eager. At the same time, don’t lean too far back, because you need to appear driven and ambitious. Don’t talk too loud because they’ll say you’re yelling, but don’t talk too softly because you’ll seem meek. Be firm but not aggressive. Be assertive but not bitchy. Get it done, but don’t ask for credit. And, for years until recently, don’t mention the pass the boss made at the Christmas party.
This is what work often looks like for women. It’s not all expensive coffee and red nails on a clean white desk.
What Instagram and other social media platforms have done is make us believe not just that perfect is possible, but that it’s the norm for so many people. Then, we feel inferior because it’s not the norm for us.
The truth is, everyone is struggling in their own way. We’re just not talking about it. In fact, there are times when we can barely acknowledge it to ourselves. And when we don’t share our true feelings — often because we think everyone else is simply doing life better — we don’t find our tribes and communities and support systems. Too often, we abstain from sharing our struggles and vulnerabilities because we are too busy worrying about what others will think of the messiness of our lives.
We’re not talking about changes and solutions to the problems in our workplaces if we’re not talking about the problems in the first place.
The #MeToo movement is powerful evidence that social media honesty and solidarity can topple decades old patriarchy and change the workplace for the better. Now it's also time to tackle the microagressions we face in order to shift the narrative and create more opportunities for change.
Instagram is all about #goals. It’s all #abgoals and #workgoals and #relationshipgoals and #lifegoals. But we don’t need more #goals. We need more #real. Real abs, real work, real relationships, real life. Real isn’t as pretty as goals. Real is unfiltered, creased edges, smudged in the middle. It’s spilling my coffee on the way to work where I was late for a meeting and didn’t get the report finished on time because my kid was sick. Real is lamenting over lunch with a girlfriend because the guy in the next cubicle just explained all my research in our morning meeting, making it seem like it was his work and not mine. Real is watching what you say amongst colleagues and bosses so you’re not seen as “too much” or “too little” or “too anything”.
As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But on Insta, I feel like the words are all wrong. Instead of #lovemyjob, I wish I’d see more captions that read something like, “I’m grateful for my work but my nails are chipped and my hair is dirty and I misspelled “education” in the report I handed in last week. But the numbers were on and I made the sale. And now I just want to go home and read a book with a cup of tea.”
These are the words that are missing from Instagram. The real talk that is missing from our social media lives. I want to know about your wins and your successes and your best #bosslady moments because I want to celebrate them with you. But I also want to know about your struggles and concerns. I want to support you when you’re harassed and overlooked and talked down to.
I want to know that it’s hard for you too, sometimes. That way, the conversation moves from what's perfect to what's not. We need to be talking about our challenges and finding real solutions. Because I know I’m not alone, and because I want you to know you’re not alone, either.
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