My Soul is More Important than My Brand / by Liz Brown

Maybe having a dangerously full phone was the best thing that could have happened to me.

 film / Colorado

film / Colorado

Let me back up.

Over the past four months, I’ve been doing some major soul-searching, dreaming, and goal-setting. I’ve been saying lots of “no-s” and a few “yes-es”. I cut my hair, quit my job, started a new one, took an internship, got rid of a bunch of clothes, drove halfway across the country by myself, and feel more alive than I have in months.

About a month into the year, my phone kept reminding me: your storage is full. No room to take a photo. This was unacceptable. But totally understandable, considering I had around 21,000 photos on the little device. I wish I was kidding. I’m not.

So I deleted my Facebook pages app. And my Facebook messenger app. And my Twitter app. And my Facebook app. Most of the other social media apps had disappeared long ago for want of space on my phone. I’d delete apps until I had enough storage to take even just one more photo. Albeit, I have a problem, but the outcome is becoming something good. Just hold on. This story gets better.

Now I didn’t get notifications. I’d have to go on the internet to check these social media sites. It was a lot more effort and I found myself doing it less and less. Valentine’s Day was the turning point on Instagram. I got so tired of “hashtagblessed” couples that I logged out. It was too distracting. 

That was only a few days ago, but I’ve started thinking. 

I’ve been broaching my life with such purpose. Making large decisions based on dreams and goals. I’ve been asking myself why? Why do I shoot weddings? Why am I working at this job or taking that opportunity? Why am I doing this? Why am I doing that? Is it helpful? Is it life-giving? Is it necessary? I’ve been cutting out aspects of my life, but there was one area that I hadn’t approached with any purpose: social media.

That’s not to say that I don’t think about stories and colors when I’m posting (I’ll be primarily talking about Instagram, because that’s where I post and scroll through the most). I write with intention, I shoot photos with intention. It’s not haphazard at all. But I hadn’t really thought about WHY I was doing all this. Why is it so important?

I started venturing into the social media world when I was 18 with Facebook. It’s where I launched my photography business. From there I expanded to Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram. They’re not I stay in touch with friends, share art, and find community with folks with similar interests. I’ve made sincere, real friends through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve traveled the country and stayed with these folks. Social media can be such a good thing.

One of the most lifegiving things to me is to see beauty in unexpected places and to communicate it in a way so that others can see it too. Social media is a great conduit for this. One of the best.

But.

On Instagram, I’ve been doing a corporate life series, where I strive to find beauty in the business life grind. Which is cool in that it stretches the idea of beauty. But then I’m approaching my life with this question: what beautiful thing can I find to share today? I felt pressure to find something to share so I can keep up with my series. How silly is that? Instead of noticing beauty or seeking it because it’s beautiful, I was giving beauty a pricetag. The value of beauty was only in that it could be noticed and shared. That’s not good.

(It begs the deeper question: why do I take photos of anything? What’s important and why? I’m still answering these questions. That’s not today’s question, though, at least not here.)

I often respond to comments and notifications faster than I do to texts or emails. That’s not necessarily good. I struggle with jealousy of other folks—strangers and friends and artists. That’s not good. I sometimes post a particular photo because I think it will get more likes. Sometimes I even take a photo for that reason. Not because I am being creative. Not because I think it’s beautiful or sometime not because I even like it. But because I think it will be liked. That’s not good.

The war in my head begins.

I can’t get the words Bob Goff wrote out of my head: “Do awesome things and don’t tell anybody.”

But. Why wouldn’t you want to share them? Then everyone else could know how awesome it was? How awesome you are?

I made a list.

Reasons why giving up social media scares me:

I’ll lose followers.

People will forget about me.

I’ll lose touch with folks who are far away.

I won’t be cool (ha, like I every was).

No one will know about the neat things I’m doing or the thoughts I have.

Somehow my life will lose significance. 

I won’t know what anyone else is doing: FOMO.

I’ll have less creative inspiration.

But step back, Liz. Think about it.

Why does it matter if you know what anyone else is doing? Does it matter at all? No. There’s very few folks whose daily lives affect mine—and they know where I live and have my number.

And if people forget me because they can’t digitally follow me: then I guess I wasn’t that important to them anyhow.

Oh, hey. I’m back. I just took a break to tweet about writing this. I wish I was kidding. Check my twitter if you don’t believe me.

So what do I do with all this? I don’t want to quit it all. In fact, I can’t. I run several social media accounts for businesses and clients and can’t just drop out. There’s a balance, certainly. I’m not suggesting an isolated Hemingway-esque lifestyle.

And I don’t want to overthink and curate my online presence to the point that it’s artificial. 

There’s got to be some sort of solution. Even if I haven’t figured it out yet. It’s probably different for every person, but I know there’s got to be a better way for me.

My phone is my, well, phone. My music-listening device. My GPS. My camera on most days anymore. How do I isolate this one unhealthy aspect (which admittedly is mostly in my own head and not an actual problem with any of those sites)?

Well, for starters, I’m not redownloading Facebook and Twitter. I don’t get any urgent notifications on there. They can wait a few hours until I’m home and at my computer. I’m logging out of Instagram regularly. I’m learning if I don’t see notifications, I’m not as concerned with them.

Maybe this is the question I should be asking: what is my end goal in even thinking about social media? I want to be more present. In life. In relationships. I want to be actually DOING more awesome things with my life. If you look at your iPhone settings you can see how much time you spend per day and week on each app—and it’s scary. What if I read instead? What if I took a dance class or a cooking class? I want to be entirely fully alive. I don’t want to be a mental prisoner of this mentality that my value is somehow wrapped up in likes and follow counts. There’s got to be more to life than this. In fact, I’m sure of it.

Some of my best times have been without my phone or social media. When I lived in Greece. When I lived in France. The days I spent with Holdfast, running around Kansas City and not even thinking about looking at my phone. Times like that. Times I feel alive. I don’t think about what I’m missing out on. Any time you choose something, you automatically forgo other options, and what good does it do to scroll through photos of them? Why not thoroughly be present in and enjoy the day you've chosen?

I’ve met some of the most interesting people over the past few months. And they’re doing awesome things that no one knows about. And they’re okay with that. It’s sort of a novel thing, to not share highlights. To just live them.

I want to be more like that. To balance sharing honestly and branding and also just fully living without worrying about any of that. My soul is more important than my brand.

This world, it’s a tightrope. The answer isn’t getting rid of it all, at least not for me. But something needs to change. I want to live my life, even in the smallest ways, with great intention. Life is too short to be haphazard. I want my risks to be grand things like road trips and books and relationships, not time wasted on the internet. I want my problems to be world issues or the mess of relationships or poverty or justice, not social media, the number of photos on my phone, or the number of likes my last post got.  There’s got to be a way to do this, a way that still allows me to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present without totally logging out of or deleting every form of social media. 

I don’t have an entire answer. I’m still in the middle of figuring this out. Isn’t that how life is though? Figuring it out on your feet. Learning as you go. Struggling and hopefully coming out the other side more full of bravery or grace or something worthy. This post is just sort of a curtain opening into my brain right now. If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them.