Yesterday I took a Peloton cycling class (a 30-minute climb ride). At the end, the instructor started crying. She said she had things in her life she was working on and was frustrated that she wasn’t seeing progress. She thinks she needs to improve in a lot of areas and it’s hard to be patient. Her vulnerability was a gift to everyone taking the class. From a distance it would seem like everything is great in her life — she’s fit, she’s a Peloton instructor, probably makes a ton of money, and has tens of thousands of fans and followers. But she’s struggling in some aspects of her life.
The instructor’s opening up is a reminder: Everyone has struggles. Everyone.
In March of this year, I wrote an IFOD called On Being An Adult about how we’re all just making things up as we go along and none of really knows how to be an adult (I think it’s one of my best posts). In the days following that post, I had a few people email me and say it was refreshing to hear that I was just as confused as everyone else about how to be an adult because it seems like I have everything figured out. Ha. Far from it. Some parts of my life are in shambles (e.g. I have moved from seeing my therapist once a quarter to multiple times a month in order to work through some issues). This isn’t a cry for help. Just reality — it’s normal. We all have issues we’re dealing with. Life just ebbs and flows between having fewer and greater numbers of struggles.
On Sunday night I watched the 60-Minutes interview with Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower. One of the most interesting parts was her discussing research about how Instagram (owned by Facebook) is especially harmful to teenage girls. Here are a few lines from an internal Facebook report about Instagram’s effects on teen girls:
- “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
- “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”
- “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
- “Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.”
People only post their highlights on social media. The family trips. Pictures snapped at parties. Graduations. Birthdays. Pictures taken at just the right angle and in the right lighting. Everyone looks good and happy. Almost nobody posts their struggles. You don’t see on Facebook things like “my husband I had a huge fight and he slept on the couch last night” or “I think my kid is going to fail algebra” or “I’m struggling with mental health” or “I think I have a drinking problem.” Only seeing the good parts of others’ lives without the bad makes us feel worse about our own lives. Research has found that the use of social media leads to less happiness and life satisfaction.
My eldest daughter attended Logos School — a therapeutic middle and high school that provides behavioral therapy and help with psychological issues (and whose tag line is “turning struggles into strengths”). Each Tuesday night during her years there my wife and I attended a parent group with about 8 other sets of parents. We didn’t sit around and talk about how amazing our kids were — instead we talked about all the issues: depression, hygiene issues, refusal to go to school, videogame addiction, eating disorders, self-harm, physical altercations, issues with friends, handling feelings of shame, etc. I had never experienced anything like this before. My experience up to this point was people at social gatherings bragging about their kids — “Julia won the science fair”, “Bobby is the top goal scorer on his soccer team”, “Jack got a 36 on his ACT”, “Mary got into Penn”, “Eric just became an Eagle Scout”, and so on. Meeting with these other parents in the Logos group and sharing our struggles was incredibly helpful and refreshing.
Remember: we all struggle. We all hurt. Nobody totally has their act together (if they think they do they are kidding themselves). Maybe we should let our guard down sometimes and have the strength to show some vulnerability and share our struggles with others. There’s power in being real. And we should probably delete our Facebook and Instagram accounts.