Dr. Wall Says

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Keeping up with the Joneses: How FOMO and social media is derailing us


You know that person whose life seems to always be together: the neighbor who manages to keep a house worthy of a design magazine, or that colleague who never seems to have the Monday Blues? Yeah, that person is a Mr. or Mrs. Jones, and no matter how confident, self assured or satisfied you might be, you know that deep down inside, in a secret place you would never admit to harboring, there is a Jones** you’re trying to keep up with.

I’m not judging, I have my Joneses. There are entrepreneurs whose success I admire, mothers whose patience mystifies me, athletes whose natural abilities I envy, and not so secretly I try to meet their standards.

In some ways that desire to keep up with those we perceive as more successful isn’t a bad thing. It can be really motivating to see someone achieve something you didn’t think possible, and even more encouraging when you realize that through your own efforts you too can reach greater heights.

The problem with trying to keep up with the Joneses isn’t envy. Rather it is:  1) You can never be sure that what you perceive as someone’s reality is actually what’s going on. 2) Sometimes you get so caught up thinking you need to be as good as everybody else looks, that you forget to ask yourself if you even care about or want the same things they do.

Reality is Not What is Seems:

Let’s be honest here, we all want to look like we’ve got our lives together. We all hope that others will see our qualities and somehow miss our faults. Before, back in the dark ages (say pre-internet), we did that by having a social and a private persona (and when I say we I mean everyone else, I was always very honest about being a hot mess at times). Only the people in our direct circles of influence were potentially fooled by our seemingly put together lives.

Now, with social media, not only do we get to envy the lives of our closest friends and family, but we also get to wish for the carefully curated lives of all their friends, and their friends’ friends. Adding insult to injury, we skillfully edit what we present to the world (usually only the best highlights of the day), and we photoshop and filter out all the nasty shadows of our lives, leaving others to see only an ideal vision of our day to day:

  • Best morning selfie (taken 13 times over to get the right angle)
  • Perfect kids as they walk to school (editing out the three fights, and two wardrobe changes that came with breakfast)
  • Great weather shot (especially if someone in your circle is bitching about their weather)
  • The ubiquitous update about how hard the work day is (with the caveat that you rock because you are handling it like a champ)
  • Food porn galore (no one is taking pictures of those mini vending machine chocolate chip cookies they stuffed their face with at 10 am)
  • Gotta have a post-work, workout shot of you rocking it at your WOD (somehow the shots of you struggling and failing inelegantly when that kettle bell nearly hits your head mid-workout didn’t make it online)
  • Add the obligatory motivational meme
  • And end the day with a glorious sunset pic (just in case no one else had also witnessed our biggest star setting)

My very long winded point is that what you see out there, what you perceive others’ lives to be, isn’t necessarily their reality. Be mindful of craving or trying to reach a standards that might not be possible or even realistic.


Be Careful What You Wish For?

Paul Angone, author, speaker and millennial coach talks of OCD – Obsessive Comparison Disorder – in reference to this tendency we now have of compulsively and reactively measuring our lives against those of our peers. In his books and speeches he warns about the dangers of OCD as it tends to create misery for those who fail to realize that what they are wishing for is often just a facade. I would add that often we get so caught up in admiring the perfectly manicured lives of others, that we forget to ask ourselves if what’s right for them is also right for us.

Just because your best friend launched an amazing home-based company, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to quit your job and go into business for yourself. Although your neighbor’s vacation to Mali was “the best, and sooo eye opening!” are you sure you want to give up that trip to the Grand Canyon for a more exotic and culturally mind-blowing destination?  And sure, parkour looks like a hoot in my posts, but it doesn’t mean you’ll love it (although seriously, you should try it, because I bet you would!).

At this point in our history, we have become so reactive, so quick to jump on the bandwagons of others, that we often forget to ask ourselves simple questions like:

“What do I want?”
“Am I happy with my life as it stands?”
“Does what I am doing work for me?”
“What do I need to feel fulfilled and excited?”

The truth is, we should be scrutinizing our own lives just as closely as we scrutinize the Jones’ Facebook feeds and Instagram accounts. Rather than pining over the maybe real/probably edited lives of others, we should be creating a clear picture of what is right for us and then GO FOR IT!


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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



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