I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to even discuss leaving social media. I’ve considered just slipping out quietly. To stop posting. Or maybe even delete my accounts and not say a word about it.
I realize a lot of people don’t care if I’m on Facebook and Instagram and will continue on with life with or without me there. I also realize some of you aren’t on social media enough yourselves to know if I’m there or not on any given day. If that’s you, carry on warrior.
But I’ve also talked to enough people who do care. Maybe not about me leaving, in particular, but about how to actually live in our current culture without social media. Is that even possible?
I’ve talked to so many women who feel trapped–a word I hear over and over. Maybe because their kids are there and they feel like they should monitor them (I’ll talk more about that in a bit). Or because their job requires them to be there. Or because that’s how their kids’ school or some other vital community communicates with them. Or because they run a small business and social media is integral to their income. Or because that’s the only way they hear and share updates with extended family and friends.
They recognize that social media isn’t the best way to spend their time–that it severely messes with their balance, it sucks away their day, it causes them to slip into comparison, it overwhelms them or upsets them. They attempt to draw firm boundaries around their use of it, but they feel powerless to do so.
This describes many of you. And for the better part of the last decade, it also described me. And that is why I’m taking the time to explain why and how I made the decision to leave.
I want to clarify three things at the outset of this post:
I do not think everyone should leave social media and I am not judging you or anyone who decides to stay. If you have children on social media and you are there to monitor their behavior, then rock on. (In fact, I will judge you [kidding/not kidding] if you walk away from social media and leave your kids to fend for themselves without a loving, watchful parental eye to protect them. If your kids are active on social media please do not disappear!)
If you have a business and you are earning an income because of the time you spend there, then yay you! Keep it up!
If you follow your real-life friends and others who inspire you, and you find social media to be a life-giving experience, then by all means, please stay.
I have stayed for the last several years for a combination of all those reasons. I completely get it.
I am not angry at anyone or anything. I don’t have a dramatic exit story. No one said or did anything to make me storm off and slam the door behind me. For the most part, my friends and followers on social media have been loving and supportive. And on those rare occasions when they were not…well, I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
At the time this blog post goes live (3/18/21) I have made a decision to leave social media. However, I also reserve the right to change my mind. See, I’m trying to follow God’s leading for me on this, and I’m open to the possibility that either,
- I totally missed it, or
- God may lead me back at some point.
(So if you read this, like, a year from now and then Google my name and find a link to my active Instagram account, it’s because I totally missed it or God led me back.)
(This actually just happened to me. I listened to a compelling podcast by an artist-guy who listed all the reasons why he was forfeiting a giant social media following and going rogue. And then I went to Instagram to see if he deleted his account or just left it inactive…and there he was, with a new, smaller yet quite active, Instagram account. And I was like ???? *shrugs*)
A Brief History of My 13 Years on Social Media
I remember the first day I joined Facebook in 2008 when it was still a baby platform, feeling like I walked into a giant private party I didn’t even know I was hosting. My actual friends from church were talking about their actual lives and they were all joking and bantering together. How fun!
I immediately recognized the main advantage and main disadvantage of social media for me.
The advantage: I could find and communicate with dear friends I had not seen in years. Reuniting with my high school friend group was one of the most rewarding periods of interaction I ever had on social media. Priceless and 100% worth it.
The disadvantage: the time-suck! Obviously, catching up with all these people took time. Hours and hours a day. In 2008, I had a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 2-year-old. I barely had time to shower, much less banter with my old friends. But banter I did. And it was fun. But also, time-consuming.
It wasn’t long before I realized that Facebook was an effective way to share my writing. I had started this blog just before joining Facebook, and whenever I posted something new, I’d share the link with my friends on Facebook and everyone would see it, and many of them came over to read. So exciting! Not only that, my friends would then share my posts with their friends. And so on. And so on. And so on…
I witnessed first-hand the power of this when I published a short blog post titled “What to Do When Someone is Mean to Your Child” and it went viral on both Facebook and Pinterest. In one day, that post was shared hundreds of thousands of times and the influx of traffic crashed my website. To this day, it remains my most viewed post ever, still from Facebook traffic.
That viral post brought with it thousands of new followers and friend requests. And this meant I was no longer only communicating with long-lost friends and family, but also with complete strangers. This was both exciting and scary. Scary because when that post went viral, I received literal threats on my life (!!) and had to quickly figure out how to protect myself and my children.
That fun private party I felt like I had stumbled upon? Well, suddenly hundreds of thousands of strangers were storming my virtual front door, stoned out of their minds, dancing on my virtual tabletops, and hanging from my virtual chandeliers.
As more and more writers experienced their readership growing quickly on social media, book publishers took notice (not of me, but of writers in general). Since I was actively seeking publication for my book ideas at the time, publishers and literary agents told me repeatedly that I needed to focus on building up my following (known as “platform”) on social media.
It was no longer just a fun thing to connect with friends and family, but something I needed to actively grow and learn how to navigate successfully so I could land a book contract.
By about 2016, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram took up a tremendous part of my life. I was trying to keep up with every person I had ever met (literally), and I was trying to grow this “platform” to get the attention of book publishers, plus I was keeping up with my kids’ school in the private parent Facebook group, AND my kids were now old enough to have their own social media accounts–so I was actively monitoring their presence. Oh, and I was paying actual cash-money to be part of several Facebook communities to connect with and learn from other writers and entrepreneurs.
All that contributed to an undeniable and certifiable and completely understandable social media addiction.
It was crazy because, as I mentioned, before I opened my very first social media account I had three little kids at home and already felt stretched and overwhelmed just taking care of them. Where was I finding the time to suddenly spend hours a day glued to a screen?
Fast forward to September 2019.
I stepped off the crazy train and decided to take a one-year social media hiatus to write a book. I’ve talked and written a lot about all that already. You can listen to me talk about it here and here. And I wrote about it here.
I came back to social media a few months ago with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I did miss seeing everyone. I was also super excited to update my friends about moving to Florida and releasing my new book.
On the other hand, I REAAAAALLLY enjoyed being off social media for that year. Like, really.
So, basically, I’ve spent the last four months thinking and praying and asking God if I’m even supposed to be there at all. I’ve determined that the answer to that question is no. Well, let me clarify: I don’t know if God is telling me that I’m not supposed to be there. But I do feel like He’s telling me I don’t have to be there. Here are the main reasons why.
The Main Reasons Why I Am Leaving
1. The time factor. When I was off last year, I freed up anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours per day. That may not seem like much, but over the course of a year or 13 years (the amount of time I’ve been on social media) it’s significant.
If my following grows any bigger–which has always been my goal– it will only require MORE of my time and effort. It’s like a beast that needs to be fed continually. It won’t get easier or require less time, ever. This is the easiest it will ever be. It will only get harder and require more time, the more it grows.
Do I want that? No, I do not.
I know from being off last year I’m really good at redirecting that time to other work (I wrote a 320-page Bible study, sold a house, bought a house, and relocated my family to a new state).
I’d love to spend more time working on longer-form writing, better podcast episodes, more book writing, submitting articles for publication elsewhere, and writing a regular email newsletter to my list of email subscribers. I’m also currently attending online culinary school and that takes a ton of time. I’d love to develop and post my own plant-based recipes, eventually. These are all things I love to do and want to do, but feel constantly split between those things and engaging on social media.
This extra time would also create room for new relationships. I am living in a new community after moving here eight months ago, and I am ready to dig some deep roots. I know COVID is messing a lot of that up right now, but I think social media is affecting it, too.
You know, it used to be that relationships came to a natural close. We’d grow up, graduate from school. We’d get married and move. And in those transitions, we’d naturally end some relationships and start new ones. It was hard, but it was good and necessary.
With social media we never, ever end relationships.
I’m not trying to be mean, but we just were not made for this. Well, maybe you were, but I wasn’t. I need space in my life to welcome in some new people.
I’ve spent the entire decade of my 40s and now the beginning of my 50s highly connected and visible on the Internet. I’ve been sharing pictures of our family time and of the inside of my home. I’ve been talking about the private and personal ways God is speaking to me. Many of you have, too.
I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you think about it, these are all things that used to be a privilege of knowing people. You saw the inside of someone’s home when you were invited there because you KNEW THEM. You saw family photos only because someone close to you chose to share them with you FROM THEIR WALLET. You listened to people share goals and dreams and personal insights and deep thoughts over dinner and coffee (and maybe before that, over field-tilling and water-fetching).
What a strange time in history where we are expected to share all this on The Internet with strangers. We don’t owe this kind of intimacy to strangers.
A few weeks ago, I had the most sobering thought: I’ve got four and a half years left before my youngest starts college (i.e. empty nest). Four-and-one-half-years!!!???? (This is the same child who was 2-years-old when I joined FB in 2008.)
It’s gonna go by like that. *snaps finger dramatically*
I do not want to spend the last four-and-a-half-years of Elliana’s time in my home trying to keep up with every opinion and thought of every person I’ve even known on social media.
(And that was only the first reason I’m leaving. Ha!)
Speaking of kids…
2. Getting off social media is a good example for my kids. I want to demonstrate what it looks like to live a full, vibrant life outside of social media. I hate that our children don’t know a world without it. All the research points to the fact that social media is horrible for kids. For that reason, my youngest (age 14) is not allowed on social media yet and probably won’t ever be while she’s a minor in my home. My middle kid (age 19) lost his privilege years ago because he broke the rules in a big way. He has been off so long now, he has no desire to be there any longer. And my oldest (age 22 and living on her own) takes regular long social media breaks because she knows it triggers her anxiety and depression.
One of the reasons I always felt trapped was because I needed to be present to monitor my kids. I don’t need to do that any longer. At least not right now.
3. Mental clarity. If you don’t post much on social media it may be difficult to understand how much mental real estate this whole thing takes up for people like me who are trying to maintain a “professional” social media presence + keep up with IRL friends and family.
Even when I don’t post and scroll, I’m constantly thinking about what I’m posting next or how I *should* be doing it better or more often. I’m constantly trying to share valuable content that is authentic but not TMI, personal but also universally relatable. I’m always reframing thoughts and insights into short pithy quotes that will slow your scroll. When I spend time with the Lord in my personal Bible study time, I’m distracted with how I can share what I’m learning, rather than just focusing on the Lord and what I’m learning. When I take a picture, I’m thinking how great it will look on my feed. If I see a quote, I think about how to create a beautiful graphic for it.
The mental preoccupation is maddening.
(Side note: it’s insidious that when I’m on social media, I feel guilty for not doing something more valuable with my time. And when I’m not on social media, I feel guilty for not spending enough time curating a beautiful feed that will attract my target audience. I feel like I can’t win.)
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned how consuming content affects me. I find myself thinking about what I saw or read for days.
Again, this may not be the case for you. But it is for me. I needed to seriously consider if this is a wise use of my thought-time, and I have determined that, no, it is not.
4. From a business standpoint, my social media is a mess. So many of you are doing it well. But that’s not my story. Back to the house party analogy: It’s like I have this house where I’m trying to peacefully raise my family. Sometimes I invite friends and family in to share an experience with us. It’s nice.
And that house is also a storefront on Main Street where I sell stuff. Maybe a book I wrote or a product I use. I also have shelves and shelves of free articles I’ve written and podcast episodes I produced that I share with everyone. Welcome to my little shop and let me know if you need help finding anything.
Behind my house is a giant warehouse where I store memories going back 13 years and articles I’m saving and funny memes and links to information I need and recipes I want to cook.
Oh, and the thing about this virtual house is that there are no doors or locks anywhere, so everyone is free to just wander around my home, my business, and my warehouse at will. And I don’t know about 90% of the people wandering around.
A huge amount of people who follow me are not my target audience for my books, my blog, or my podcast. I write and speak mainly to overwhelmed Chirstian moms (heh–you’re probably overwhelmed just reading this whole thing), but some of my friends and followers are men I went to school with or my kids’ friends (literally, some of them are 8th graders) or my elderly relatives in their 80s, or other writers.
All of that’s totally great, except it’s weird when I post something aimed at Christian moms and my ex-boyfriend from sophomore year comments on it. I mean, it’s always weird when an ex-boyfriend from sophomore year comments on anything.
Ideally, I should separate all that out, but it’s just too much work. I don’t even know where to start. I don’t have a team or an assistant I can delegate this to. I feel like I’m on Love it or List It: Social Media Edition. Do I sink time and effort into a major renovation and try to make this space work for me? Or do I just move on to a place that better fits my current lifestyle?
(That said, I could really use Hillary to come and renovate my actual 1987 master bath. If you are reading this, Hillary: HELP!)
To complicate things further, my target audience rarely sees my posts anyway because of ever-changing algorithms. I’ll spend two hours crafting a post and a beautiful graphic for Facebook to show it to 20 people. If I’m lucky.
It’s a lot of effort to do it “right” and keep up with it. I’m just not very good at it. Even with the right image, the right caption, and the perfect timing, the ROI for my work there is very low. In other words, social media followers don’t convert well to podcast listeners, blog readers, or book buyers. I think the actual stats are less than 1% of people convert. No business lady in her right mind would spend time on a platform with such poor conversion rates.
I have neither time nor desire to try to keep up with the social media rules and how they are changing. It’s a whole thing to create a social media strategy. I actually follow social media strategists to try to learn the rules.
Currently, the only way to get Facebook and Instagram to show anything to anyone is to buy ads. These platforms have shifted away from places of connection to almost entirely targeted marketing. The goal of FB and IG is not to help you stay connected to people. The goal is to grab your attention so FB and IG make a profit.
I’m tired of playing the game.
5. Hanging out on social media is inconsistent with the message I have been sharing for years: namely the ideas of balance, listening for God’s voice, simplicity, and abiding in Christ. This one is huge for me. It is hypocritical of me to tell you all the reasons you should “spend less time on your phone” and “take breaks from social media” so you can “live out your priorities” and “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”…and then ask you to follow me on Instagram.
6. Facebook is a minefield. It’s getting worse all the time. People have lost their ever-loving minds. Scrolling my feed causes me to have bad feelings about people I love. I have family and dear friends who are lovely people in real life, but complete idiots on Facebook.
(I’m not talking about you, of course. You’re lovely all the time. I’m talking about all the other people.)
I gotta be honest, I don’t want to see that version of my family and friends any longer.
Since I returned from my hiatus, I’ve spent half my time unfollowing people because they post nonsense, and the other half of my time deleting friend requests from creepy men in Pakistan.
7. I am rebelling against the culture that says I “have to be there.” Or that says, “Social media is here to stay, learn to deal with it.” Or that says (in every writers’ group I’m in), “It doesn’t work for you because you’re doing it wrong.”
I want to avoid an entity that has been designed on every level to be highly addictive. Every single component of social media is purposely placed there to keep you there. The designers of the technology study actual addiction (like drugs and gambling) and then incorporate what they learn about those things into the interface of Facebook and Instagram. Why would I think that I have the power and ability to maintain a “successful social media platform” and not become addicted to it?
A few weeks ago in a Bible study I lead, someone brought up social media, and throughout the entire group, I heard a collective groan. And then, one-by-one, we started saying things like, Yeah, I really should quit but I can’t. It’s just so hard.
You guys, we sounded like a bunch of drug-addicted junkies. I wanted to scream, LOOK AT US! THIS IS WRONG. (But screaming during Bible study is generally frowned upon.)
I’m tired of trying to feed the beast and tame the beast and avoid being mauled by the beast. The weird thing is, this beast is only a few years old and we all behave like we can’t survive without it.
I want to prove that I don’t need to maintain a social media presence to be a successful writer and podcast host. And if I do, then maybe I need to revisit my definition of success.
*Long, slow, exhale*
Anyway, maybe you are still reading (Hi!), and you are also considering leaving social media but are not sure how or when or if you can. I don’t have the answer to that for you, but I do have some questions.
Questions for You as You Consider the Role of Social Media in Your Life
- Do you feel like your balance has been consistently derailed by people-pleasing, busyness, or comparison? What role do you suspect social media plays in that?
- Do you think eliminating social media will help you overcome those barriers or does it help you stay well-balanced?
- How does your time on social media make you feel?
- What would you lose if you left social media? This is a real consideration and I think it’s really important to name your losses.
- Can you communicate with people you currently follow that do not involve social media? For example, can you text, email, or call your IRL people? If it’s an author, artist, or influencer you follow, can you subscribe to an email list, listen to a podcast, read their book, or visit their website?
- How much time do you currently spend on social media?
- What would you do with that time if you weren’t on social media?
- If someone gave you the gift of one extra hour every day, would you choose to spend it on social media?
- How would your relationship with your closest people change if you left social media? Would you lose track of them? Or would you have more time to be with them and maybe love them even better? Maybe a mixture of both?
- Have you ever taken an extended social media break–a month or longer? How did it go? What did you learn? How did you feel when you reinstalled the app on your phone or logged back on and started scrolling? Excited? Gross?
- Do you wish you could get off, but feel trapped? If so, what is trapping you?
Finally, and most importantly, Where is peace leading you?
Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), and peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). So, when you sense a deep inner peace, it is usually God leading you somewhere.
On the other hand, if you sense fear, pressure, anxiety, condemnation, or accusation the voice in your head is most definitely NOT God.
If you are confused and don’t know what God is saying to you about all this, ask Him to talk to you. Spend some time praying and reading God’s word. Ask Him to help you know how to make decisions that honor Him and reflect your priorities. Ask Him to help you use your time wisely and make the most of every opportunity. (Col 4:5).
Quiet your heart.
Quiet your mind.
The answer you hear may not be a massive change in direction, but just a pivot or a pause.
Pay attention to where the Voice of Peace is leading you. And then take the next step in that direction. If you mess up, you can always go back.
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” Is 55:12
Where to find me now:
- My email list (see the end of this post for a signup form). This is the best way to stay in touch. I’ll always update you when I write a new blog post or drop a new podcast episode. I also write a monthly-ish newsletter that I’m told is highly entertaining. (By about 10 of you…but I’m going with it.)
- The Balanced MomCast. I suggest you subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. A new episode drops each Thursday morning. This is where I’m spending the most time currently creating content.
- Email. I respond to every email unless you’re a spammer. And sometimes I even respond to those. Deep inside, I feel like I can change the world, one spammer at a time. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Private Message or Direct Message me on Facebook or Instagram. For now, my social media accounts will remain active, but I will not be posting there and will only be checking periodically. This is not the best way to contact me and I don’t recommend it if you want a response soon…or ever.
- With my family.
- Cooking something delicious in my kitchen.
- Reading great books.
- At the beach. 🙂