The internet is rife with wisdom. Any problem you have or think you have is likely covered somewhere in the online world. Over the last year or so this advice has become even more streamlined and generic, complete with numbered lists. You’ve probably seen them. “Ten Steps To Be Emotionally Strong.” “Twenty Things the Courageous Do.” “Five Ways to Be a Better You.” There is nothing inherently wrong with these lists. Actually I have read a few of them and found them to be interesting on occasion. However, I have to admit that the number of these posts I find rather disconcerting. It has begun to feel like people are looking for roadmaps to happiness, success, or however they define “strength.” It feels like people are looking for templates, cookie cutters, or the Dr. Spock guide to life itself.
The sad reality is that while certain facets of these lists might resonate for you some of the time, there is really only one best step for the being the best you, and that is to follow your own heart. It is easy for someone typing at a computer to come off like an expert on you, your life, problems, depression, or anything else. After all, they are not having to look anyone in the face. They are not challenged in the moment. It can be easy to surrender to the great crowd-sourced intelligence of the interwebs and forego trying to figure out your own unique situation. The one best step for being the best you is perhaps the hardest. It is to set up your own lists, your own objectives, your own evaluation of self and life.
This morning best selling author and HARO (Help a reporter out) founder Peter Shankman posted a story to his Facebook page about a friend of his who was feeling kind of down. “Why are you down,” the friend was asked. The friend replied that they were seeing all kinds of great parties and fun times in their Facebook feed, but their own holiday had been kind of boring and lame. Shankman ends his post by reminding people that people tend to post only their highlight reel to Facebook. Most people won’t share their picture of a pizza box on New Years Eve with the caption, “Spent the holiday alone watching television.” My concern is that these “ten steps to xyz” lists push people into comparison as much as happy posts to Facebook do. Do you not by necessity compare yourself to a list that summarizes traits of an “emotionally strong” person? If you don’t match up, are you going to wonder about yourself? Are you going to feel like you’re failing? If you can’t seem to do the twenty steps that separate the successful from the unsuccessful, are you going to feel a little like giving up?
Another issue I have with these “self-help” lists is that I find them intrinsically linked to shaming. This is interesting because there is a lot of content in the online world about supporting people who are depressed or who don’t fit the “normal” mold in some way. These lists, however, are so generic and so sweeping in nature that often they include “tips” that I think would be damaging to a person in a downward spiral. As an example, one “tip” these lists tend to offer suggests that if something is bothering you you should just get over it. I recently saw this included on a list of things emotionally strong people do. They move on. If you are in a place where you feel you can’t move on, this can make you feel, again, like you are just not cutting the mustard. Other people can just move on. Why can’t you?
If you are seeking a silver bullet, a golden answer, or a key that will unlock any door, the online world is not the place to look. You will find things that seem promising. That is for certain. But there is really only one step that will lead to you being the best you, and that is to figure out your life based on your own experiences, your own needs, and your own realities. No guru can do that for you, no matter how many Twitter followers they have. Do not let the online world have that much power over you this year. Grab your own life by the handles and begin to steer.
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