As many of you know I took just shy of two weeks off Instagram at the end of 2021. I needed a break to reset and hopefully find some clarity. At the beginning of 2021 I set out to create clear boundaries with how I used the app, and in some ways it helped, but as the year went on they started to fade, along with my creativity and mental clarity. Here’s what I learned from two weeks away, if you took a break as well, let me know how it went.
What I Learned From My Instagram Break
First, two weeks is not enough. I barely scratched the surface of what my mind needed. I spent the last few days leading up to when I would go back on with a feeling of dread. When I finally downloaded the app again and opened it this morning I didn’t feel good about it. I mindlessly scrolled through realizing how much I didn’t miss it. And I felt myself wasting away my morning as I scrolled through my feed and tapped through stories watching recaps of 2021, NYE celebrations and general highlights of people’s lives. I felt tired and closed the app. I didn’t want to go back but I did anyway. And that leads me to my second realization.
I’m addicted to Instagram.
I’m also addicted to my phone. I’ve lied to myself thinking I could set boundaries, make rules for myself, somehow beat the system. But I can’t. That’s not how the system works. This technology, these apps, they’re made to be addictive. To keep us there, to give us that hit of dopamine so we keep going back for more. I spent the first few days of my Instagram break picking up my phone and searching for the app. Without even thinking about it. It was SO mindless. Like I was on autopilot, a robot needing my fix. It made me feel sick. As the days went on I found myself needing it less but Instagram would pop into my email inbox reminding me of the unread messages, likes, comments and new followers I was missing out on. And that leads me to the third thing I learned.
I’ve tied my worth to Instagram.
It’s not necessarily something I just realized but the break made it feel all too clear. My self worth and my actual financial worth are deeply intertwined with the app. The last year made it drastically apparent. While I’ve chartered my own path in many ways I’ve also subscribed to the formula so many writers and creatives find themselves trapped in. Play the game and get rewarded, but at what cost? As more brands spend their advertising money on Instagram, creatives are pushed to spend more time there. Take time away and you’ll be punished. The more breaks I took from Instagram in 2021, the more I saw my following dwindle and my engagement tank. In order to win at Instagram you have to play by their rules, which are ever-changing, but the number one rule is don’t leave.
I asked myself the following question during my break “if Instagram wasn’t responsible for a large part of my financial livelihood would I still be there?” At first I wasn’t sure, maybe I would still go on. Maybe I’d enjoy it if there wasn’t the added pressure of doing it for work. But as the days went on it became pretty clear that the answer is no.
I watched an incredible film over the break called The Alpinist.
Without giving too much away, it follows the journey of free solo climber Marc-André Leclerc. So much of the film stuck with me. But there’s one point in particular I keep playing over in my mind. Before he’s about to do one of the biggest climbs of his life he says during an interview “It’s kind of funny. The actual achievement doesn’t really change your life, like you think it might, but what you’re left with is the journey that got you to that point.”
To me, so much of life is lived in the mundane, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. So maybe it’s not the right word to describe it. But some of the best parts of life, arguably much of it are not “Instagram-worthy.” The more I watch each day, week, month and year fly by, the more I crave to live it with meaning and intention, to experience it. That’s not to say a meaningful life can’t co-exist with Instagram or social media. But I wonder how much we are missing out on because of it.
I thought by the end of this I’d have a simple answer and the truth is I don’t. I haven’t even scratched the surface of community and what that means in a changing world so connected by technology and apps like Instagram. It’s not all bad, and that community, the one you are a part of, is something that means a lot to me. But if I’m being honest, it feels like it’s time for me to make a plan, and break free from the world of Instagram. Life passes by regardless of how we fill our days, I don’t want to look back and have regrets about the journey.