As I was scrolling LinkedIn today (this is something I just started doing recently), I felt the need to dust off this blog and slowly emerge from what feels like eons of silence here. I came across a post by Mingda T, a UX Designer intern, that immediately grabbed my attention. It started with “I’m excited to announce that I was rejected by Google’s Associate Design Program!” I re-read it to make sure that I had it right, and I did. What followed was a beautifully told story of failure, growth and learning.
It got me thinking about how I’ve been feeling catching back up on social media over the last month, and I reflected on how it felt when I first discovered Twitter back in 2009. These past 5 years have been a whirlwind of getting married, helping start a new school, having my first child and then, just as I was recovering from that, getting my very first book contract followed by baby number 2. Needless to say, there hasn’t been much time in my life for social media as there used to be.
Now, with my manuscript submitted and my daughter reaching a year old, I have been dipping back into my networks and exploring what my far away friends have been up to. Let’s just say, I am blessed to know some pretty awesome people doing amazing things. It can feel overwhelming seeing all of the things that people are up to and following their journey virtually and thinking about my own path and journey and making comparisons. I remember, back in 2009, sitting in front of my computer screen anxiously following Twitter conversations and holding many at the same time, worried that if I closed my laptop I would miss some important thread or conversation. It meant that I spent a lot of time staring at a computer screen and less time sitting with my (then) boyfriend who was often in the same room as me.
That feeling crept back as I scanned my LinkedIn feed and I had to keep reminding myself all of the things that I talk about with my students about FOMO and how social media can give you anxiety when you see so many awesome things being posted by others. It felt like I couldn’t possibly keep up with massive amount of information, tips, podcasts, videos and events being shared by my network. It can give you quite the impostor syndrome if you aren’t careful. But then I saw that post and felt like a spell was broken. I remembered a time years ago when educators on Twitter were discussing sharing our failures and struggles as well as our successes. We discussed how it is important to show how imperfect teaching is and how we learn and grow when things are hard. We felt that too much of our time on social media as educators was spent sharing how awesome everything is in our classroom all of the time, which could’t possibly be true.
How educators use Twitter has evolved over time, and I see a lot more sharing of strategies and political activism than simply shiny new apps and devices (albeit fewer conversations than I used to). I wonder, however, how often we remind ourselves to slow down, to appreciate and accept our imperfections as educators (and people), and to understand that it’s OK if we aren’t able to keep up with every single trending education topic or implement every mindfulness activity or STEM lesson or exciting way to engage ELLs in the classroom. We can still be stellar at our job and only do one of those things. Sometimes, it’s OK if we aren’t even doing great at one of those things and we share about what we have learned from those struggles.
This all comes full circle to our students. In my freshman Intro to Tech class we discuss this fear of missing out, or FOMO, and the way that people always share their best photos and most exciting, fun times on social media (though we also discuss when people post messages that are the complete opposite and how we can respond or reach out when we see those). We discuss what anxiety is and how this constant feed of other people’s lives and the feeling that you have to keep up with it all can be exhausting.
This is not to say that social media is inherently bad. It has been a lifeline for me when writing my book, looking for ideas, seeking inspiration, or opening my mind to new ideas. It is a lifeline for many of our kids who may make connections there that they can’t find in their school or who are able to express themselves in ways that may not be accepted in their home or school environment. As danah boyd says in her book “It’s Complicated,” kids aren’t addicted to social media, they are addicted to each other.
As educators who use social media, whether for personal or professional reasons (or both), we should recognize that feeling we get when we start to feel anxious or upset comparing ourselves to our social media feeds. Rather than judging young people for these feelings, we can empathize and provide strategies or just remind them to pause, recognize that feeling, own it, and move past it.
We can also help each other out by reminding each other that we are not superheros, that we are not perfect, and that a little failure or bumps in the road go a long way. I am impressed and, honestly, awestruck, by the honesty in Mingda T’s post. I hope that I can model this kind of reflection and be as transparent with my students about my own shortcomings and struggles so they can see opportunity when things get hard.