Now that July is here, it is clear that half of 2022 is gone. That’s 26 weeks done and dusted.
Earlier this year when I read Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, I was struck by how we measure our life quantitatively. Our existence on this planet is counted in days, weeks, and months. We accumulate years of school and college education and decades of work experience. We calculate our worth in dollars through the salaries and bonuses we earn, and evaluate ourselves in terms of the value of our homes and cars and possessions.
Does a number tell the full story?
A few weeks ago I discovered that I have 500 followers on Instagram. Great, I thought, until I saw that most people have at least 1000!
My happy smile dimmed a bit at what should have been a milestone moment. It was a perfect moment spoiled by the miserable feeling that often comes when we compare ourselves to others.
In her recent book, Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown I came across some spot on quotes about comparison:
“Comparison is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other—it’s trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out.
Comparison says, “Be like everyone else, but better.
Comparison is the thief of happiness.”
Brown’s words were a timely reminder for me to stay focused on my journey. Constantly looking over at what others are doing may take us from mere annoyance at their outward success to a complete derailment from our path.
What matters – quality or quantity?
When I set out to write my story and share it with others, I realized that it would be important for me to get on social media despite my reservations. My goal was not about collecting large numbers of followers but to connect at a personal level with people through my book and my writing.
And to a large extent, I have been successful with the small number of people with whom I went on to form a bond that was not determined by proximity in terms of location but by our mutual interests and affinity. I met readers who later came on my podcast, writers who gave me a vote of confidence and support in so many ways.
Yet, a part of me winced at the size of my following which was smaller than most non-influencer teenagers have.
It was time to face some not-so-pleasant truths:
We are unique YET we want to be like others.
We want to be better than others AND we want to be seen as better by others.
While the above statements are true, it’s also true that using the same metric to measure everyone (follower numbers in this instance) doesn’t make us successful or happy.
Precisely because we are unique and have independent life arcs, the path we take, the milestones that show up along the route we take and how we respond to life events are unique too.
Numbers don’t tell the full story (just as awards don’t – a story for another day)
What we remember
During the time I have been on social media, the most satisfying interactions I have had are not when I’m addressing faceless hordes but in deep one-on-one interactions with people.
Some of these have occurred online, like in this extremely interesting conversation with a reader who spoke to me and a therapist to touch upon the topics from my book
Some other important conversations happened over cups of coffee (or tea), again with people I came across through discussions about my book or the memoir writing class I taught or the op-eds I write for the local newspaper.
In the first half of this year, I have had over half a dozen book discussions with individuals, over zoom and Instagram Live, and also met readers face to face at events at bookstores. I have received moving emails, glowing reviews and congratulatory messages through a variety of sources.
I cherish these conversations because I was speaking with people, individuals with unique names and questions. While the posts I write on social media are read by all, the conversations I have are with a select few. And these I remember because the quality of these interactions are different.
Quality matters because individuals matter.
Despite the devotion to metrics, the one thing we all want is to feel seen and heard as a person.
Does a large following allow you to do that? Probably not.
So I will go back to smiling at my dashboard that shows 500 followers because I can still hope to forge meaningful connections with the handful who reach out and leave a comment or a private message.
In the remaining weeks of this year (and all the other weeks allotted to me for this life), I need to make the days count, not in terms of numbers but in terms of the quality of the interactions.