Vulnerability and The Myth of the Picture Perfect Anything

“Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” – unknown

The fantasy of a simple, perfect life is sometimes just as disturbing as the carefully styled myth of a Pottery Barn catalog. Logically, we know things aren’t always as they appear, but we’ve all fallen prey to comparing our inside with someone else’s outside at one time or another. Instagram, Pinterest and your favorite blogs make it so easy to go there.

Most of us are readers and publishers today because we consume and share information on a regular basis. While it’s more fun to share the beautiful and inspiring, we have a responsibility as publishers to be transparent and vulnerable. It’s that vulnerability that connects us with each other. As readers, we have a responsibility to understand that one person’s heart, soul and life experience cannot be shared in one image or five hundred words. If we can soften our approach from both sides we can find a place to meet in the middle, to truly connect.

If you’ve noticed that other people’s carefully arranged lunches on Instagram or Facebook look better than your daily sandwich or salad, remember that they are in fact often styled or filtered. Apply your own filter to how you process the information.

I’ve heard the following from friends, family and clients:

  • “She lives in NYC. She has the best life.” based on an Instagram collection of pretty, pink macaroon images and couples on park benches.
  • “Look how successful he is” based on a great website design.
  • “She is so lucky. She has more than 20,000 Twitter followers.”

Think about the snap judgements you’ve made or how you might compare yourself to something when you don’t have enough information to make a realistic assessment . Based on one tweet, Facebook post or shared image, you might decide that your business is a failure, your relationship is inferior and your lunch sucks. Comparison isn’t a new problem, but much more prevalent thanks to the fact that anyone can share anything anytime.

Apply a new filter

Let’s be inspired by the beauty shared online instead of shamed or envious. People that eat pretty food, or live with less, or strive for more are still people. They still experience ups and downs and set backs.

In the past 10 days, my life has been crazy. I’ve had really high highs and really low lows along with an upper respiratory infection, sick child, hellos, and goodbyes. It’s been the kind of 10 days that could bring a girl down, but when I rewind 11 days and think about how I felt before the high highs and low lows, I was happy and grateful and feeling completely blessed. In that rewind, I could easily see the benefit of sharing somethings and not all the things. There is much to be said about under-reacting.

As wonderful as someone’s life looks online or even in person, they still experience heartache, worry, and disappointment. They get sad, and hurt and sick. They have bad days and weeks.

Things aren’t always as they seem. I am in the picture above with my dad. We could be anywhere, having a blast, taking pictures of ourselves. We are actually at the airport and just shared a long hug goodbye. I’ve got a big smile on my face, but even bigger tears pooled in my eyes behind the sunglasses.

Maybe I should have taken off my sunglasses. While I try to be transparent and honest, I don’t always share the high highs or low lows. Instead, I want to share things that will help you grow and change when you are ready. I want to inspire and inform. That said, I know that to truly connect, I have to share my real life and the real me. I am happier than I’ve probably ever been in my life and continue to cultivate gratitude, joy and happiness, but I still have to do laundry and clean up cat vomit. I still experience rejection, infection and all of the other day-to-day things that make a life a life. I’m just like you.

Use images and stories as inspiration and information. Use them as a guide, but not a way to measure your success or happiness. Your life is no more or less beautiful because someone else has (or appears to have ) a beautiful life. There is enough to celebrate and appreciate. There is enough to go around.

When you being to deeply appreciate what you have and who you are, you can be happy for everyone around you without judgement or comparison. Read and consume information that inspires you to live your best life. Live your story and share your beautiful life, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to be real, and to be loved.

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Comments

  1. says

    Amazing, what a wonderful post! It’s so true that we have more pressures than ever when it comes to this issue and in our era of sharing it is necessary to resist the destructive & silly urges to compare, and I can’t thank you enough for putting it so succinctly: “Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” – Love it. Thank you!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thank you Shira. I’ve wanted to write about this for sometime, but it wasn’t until I was covering up tears for a picture that it all came together. Unfortunately comparison is second nature. We have to accept that we are good enough without a measuring stick.

      • says

        It is like that saying – If a tree fell in the forest, and there was no one to hear it, did it really happen? I think the same applies to the way FB runs nowadays – if you didn’t share it on FB, it didn’t happen. That is maybe the reason why people overshare to ensure that their accomplishments are acknowledged by someone out there. Thanks for the post and the comments.

  2. says

    I’ve never met a person that didn’t have problems. There’s only one way to have no problems and it’s probably not the answer your looking for.

    Dan @ ZenPresence – Ideas for Meaningful Living

    • Courtney Carver says

      So true Dan. Problems seem even more complicated when it looks like everyone else is doing it that much better. Once we see that we are all challenged, we can focus more on the solutions.

  3. says

    Oh yes, I know the dangers of comparison! This is such an important reminder that we’re all human and even the “perfect” life is subject to change. I’m all for rejoicing in other people’s success. That makes you smile instead of cringe and automatically brings more happiness to you. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs this month too and have my own little mini-chest infection. Life marches along! Yeah!

  4. Kristine says

    I so needed this post today. I just deactivated my Facebook account this morning after finding myself sitting in the parking garage in tears over a particular rough morning comparing myself to what I see online. Thank you, Courtney, for sharing such honesty and perspective.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Well done Kristine. If you notice that the information you invite into your life isn’t helping, un-invite it and direct your energy and attention to something helpful.

    • says

      That is quite brave of you to deactivate your FB account – I find that FOMO gets the best of me all the time. I find myself comparing myself to others on FB and then lamenting that I’m not further ahead in my debt repayment and travelling right now. It is hard, but I find that FB is also a really good source of motivation at times. There are a lot of good bloggers like Courtney and others who are sharing their good works on FB. It is a good way to catch up with a lot of your favorite bloggers at once. The point is of course to as Courtney says below – invite good energy into your life and un-invite the bad. Thank you for your comment. :)

  5. says

    Thank you! Thinking about it makes it rather obvious, and me looking kind of easy-to-fool, but then again I´m only human. I am a bit curious though why it´s a trigger as I actually live the life of my dreams, bad day´s/week´s included!?!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Jessica, I think it’s human nature, but once you are aware of what’s going on you can begin to change the pattern.

  6. says

    what a lovely post! i love that you are so inspiring yet human. my life is a work in progress (i love how as i get older i am more relaxed/easier/more forgiving of/on myself)…another great way to look at people we follow on blogs, etc is that we can use it as an inspirational source or a pick-me-up to keep on keepin’ on :) thanks for all your posts!

  7. Jen says

    Thanks for that! I needed that reminder very badly! I struggle so much with this but I guess everyone does to some extent. I still cry at the end of a visit with my parents. I hate to have to say goodbye and miss them so much.

  8. says

    “Apply a new filter”…what an appropriate quote from the photographer in you. It’s also timely. I haven’t been comparing myself to others as much lately, but there was something big I was putting off until I felt the circumstances were “ideal”. Which they aren’t going to be for a long time.

    Congrats on the Italian translation.

  9. says

    Beautifully written, Courtney. When I was a kid, we just had TV and magazines for the “perfect people” – and now they are all over. But they aren’t perfect, and we can’t compare ourselves to them.

    I like Dan’s comment – we all have bad days and that the only way to not have them is not very appealing. I’ll take my problems and breathe with them! It’s great to be alive!

    • Courtney Carver says

      It seems like the “perfect people” in advertising just get more and more unreal. Hopefully we can all start to recognize that!

  10. says

    I love the online experience in this regard. Us bloggers/writers are simply “sharing best practices” in life. Most of my advice has come after horrible failures! That’s the best part. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  11. says

    Thank you for this wonderful post. We are often mislead by posts and wonder what that persons life is really like. We are all artists creating the world we would like others to see. When I find myself getting caught up in the comparison phase, I step back and recognize how hard I worked to get to where I am. If I keep going, the possibilities will be endless. I find the more I focus on my goals, the less time I have to worry about what someone else is doing. There are so many inspiring, wonderful, creative resources to surround ourselves with and the truth is the best medicine of all.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Corey, what you said here is SO important “the more I focus on my goals, the less time I have to worry about what someone else is doing.”

      Once you discover what you love and how you really want to spend your time, it’s amazing how differently you begin to think about everything.

  12. says

    Wow. I am reading and writing a ton about vulnerability all of a sudden, and then I see this in my feed reader. I thought everyone knew that vulnerability was a requirement of connection, but I’m just now learning that isn’t always the case.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Sometimes even when we know, we don’t know. The more we talk about it, the more it sinks in. Let’s keep talking!

  13. says

    Loved this! It’s so easy to idealize someone else’s experience and forget about our collective human-ness, complete with bumps in the road. Everyone’s on a journey with ups and downs– and, as you said, even when you’re centered in gratitude and the present moment, a little cat vomit is there to remind you that life happens.

  14. says

    Wonderfully stated, Courtney! This winter, I went out on a limb and wrote a blog post that had a definite message–but told a story that painted my life as less than rosy. I remember being SO nervous about people’s reactions…and many people were glad I shared, because they had similar experiences, and had thought my life was so perfect. It definitely helped me connect to a lot of people.

  15. Kathy Sumner says

    I’m well into my fifties now and I’ve become more comfortable with myself and others in the last few years. I believe it’s a simple case of wisdom. Isn’t that the whole point of this journey we call life? As we get older, some things just become almost obvious. Thank you for sharing!

  16. says

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I sometimes think I need to sugar coat myself in the world, but then I think hey, I am real and flawed, and maybe someone else can benefit from knowing that. That’s one of the reasons why I share my imperfect self on my blog- to try to connect to others. With Dr. Seuss’s birthday being this Saturday, I feel this quote is timely:
    “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
    – Dr. Seuss

    Kate

  17. Cousin Jen says

    Beautiful post, Courtney. I find that the more I engage in self-care, the less likely I am to compare myself (negatively, insecurely) to others. Accepting myself unconditionally allows me to also accept others unconditionally, and that always feels peaceful.

    (And I think that’s a lovely photo of you and your dad. The tears simply enhance the love that shows through!)

  18. says

    I was very much inspired by this post, Courtney. Today’s world is really very different. Everyone seems to be trying to outdo someone in Facebook or Instagram. Some people can’t even take a nice, mindful meal because they have to take a photo of it first.

    That’s why I agree with Leo when he disconnected from Facebook. I really would like to, not only because of Leo but because of what my dad said. “A decade ago there was no Facebook. But we update each other face-to-face. Why do you need Facebook now?”

    Such a gentle reminder from you, Courtney, of the difference between the virtual world and the real world. Thank you so much! God bless!

  19. says

    Sharing your vulnerabilities not only makes you seem more real, but it can also help others who feel similar vulnerabilities. When I share mine on my blog, such as feeling like no one would want to date me because of my health problems, I always hear from people who say they feel the same way. Often, they say that they thought they were alone in feeling that way. It’s a great way to help us connect with one another.

  20. says

    This was very lovely, Courtney, especially the part about your sunglasses hiding your tears. But isn’t it wonderful to have such love that you’re moved to tears when you part? Love really is the most bittersweet emotion.

  21. says

    Wow, this has definitely been one of my favorite posts so far! It’s like you know what advice I need all the time, which is why I check out your blog daily! I’m so glad to have you as part of my life in any way possible, even if it is as a reader :)

  22. says

    Great reminder! You’re right, it is so easy to get caught up in the comparison game these days with all the sharing on Facebook and everything else. I once heard someone say that about the time he started envying someone else’s life, that other person would share something that made him realize he really wouldn’t want to trade his life for that other person’s. I’ve had that experience sometimes too, and try to keep that in mind. I wrote some blog posts recently that came from the strong emotions of moving. At the risk of sounding like a whiner (when we’ve really been blessed with a fresh start), I just felt compelled to share a little of my feelings as I work my way through them.

  23. Kathy L says

    Thank you for such a good article. Over the past year, I have realized that I have lived my whole life comparing myself to others. And I never measured up to anyone. I always felt everyone was better than me, and at times trying to be someone else I was quite obnoxious. I am sixty years old and I am finding out who I am for the first time in my life and I’ve realized the real me is someone I really like. I am finally free to be ME.

  24. Gabriela Bout says

    Courtney, what an impressive set of words and reality! Thank you for the reminder to live our story and still be vulnerable…it’s changing my view as an avid instagram user and follower!

  25. says

    Thank you for the post. It’s easy to forget that other people’s lives can seem easy, even when they are not. Everyone has a tale to tell.
    These days, I find that when I am feeling envious of others, it’s because I am not happy with something in my own life. The envy distracts me from taking action in my own life. Once I realize this, I can shift the focus in more productive ways.

  26. says

    I once read somewhere this amazing quote: “Stop comparing your behind the scenes to other people’s highlight reel.”

    I think everybody should be reminded of this. We keep comparing ourselves to other people’s best-of… someone’s flickr stream, instagram feed, etc. Stop wasting your time comparing and start living.

  27. says

    I’m NOT entirely sure what has happened, but I have been letting my Google Reader fill up and then marinating in wondrous posts from the past week on Mondays. It’s curious how this new little change-up is changing me.

    All of what you have written about so BEautimously here, Courtney, is stuff I have wrestled with like I’m wrestling alligators, and danced with like I’m dancing with giraffes. Yet when I read YOUR presentation, follow YOUR links elsewhere, and “hear” your voice instead of the one that is so chatty in MY head, I feel like I’ve just discovered electricity!!

    Your perspective and presentation are wondrous gifts and I know my Life is blessed by both. I’ve scaled back my Google Reader pretty much to just Enough Now, and I am always ALWAYS so glad BE MORE WITH LESS is right up top.

    Thanks!

  28. says

    Lovely post. Last week a friend gave me a very helpful phrase given to her.

    Compare and Despair

    It’s really helping me to pull back from the futile looking outside of myself. X

  29. says

    Hi Courtney

    I just had to thank you for this post. It spoke to me in a way that no other article (from ANY site) ever has. My biggest downfall has always been that I compare myself to others and aspire to ‘improve’ and be more like them. When I obviously cannot live up to this impossible standard, I feel like a total failure, that I must try harder next time – and then the cycle starts again. Your article woke me up from my own “Groundhog Day”.

    My personal policy is to clear out my email Inbox as soon as I have read and (if needed) acted upon each post. This emailed article is the solitary exception to that rule. It stays in my Inbox as a permanent reminder of this very valuable lesson and so that I can read it regularly.

    Thank you for the wake-up call. :o)

  30. says

    I rarely comment on blogposts but this speaks to me, actually it YELLS at me. This is yet another reminder of what has been said often recently to me in one form or another – Comparison is the THIEF of JOY. I feel blog guilt as in neglect of blog guilt, I simply cant juggle all these balls consistently. I could detail my busyness but its not busyness … its life right now. Its how it looks day in day out. Social media is a kind of trap for business – online businesses like mine where I heavily rely on online formats to promote and get a name out there that people might remember. I recently unfollowed a blogger who promotes her posts on instagram – they are always so depressing. My compassion for her situation (I have a similar life experience) got me started but it seems she refers to it constantly and I find that depressing. And for a while I felt guilty about unfollowing… so much inner conflict navigating this world of online. Thankfully I had a childhood where it didnt exist yet… I worry for my kids as they wont know or be able to compare before and after like I can.

  31. Linda Sand says

    I’ve also heard a version that goes “Don’t compare how you feel with how others look like they feel.” That fits well with your smile and sunglasses.

    As to media people one of the things that helped me most was when Betty White, talking about the TV moms of the 1950s, said something along the lines of, “You do realize we were all actresses out working–not actually staying home with our families wearing dresses with frilly aprons while baking cookies?”

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