“Yeah, so I looked you up on LinkedIn.”
I had met this fellow first year the weekend prior, and we had chatted for a few hours before parting ways. This was the second time I was seeing him, and here he was so openly admitting to me that he had looked up the LinkedIn account which I had thrown together this past summer.
It was such a breath of fresh air: I loved it. I remember a time when “stalking” someone on social media was shameful, something only admitted to best friends in whispers and giggles late at night. Now though, it’s become commonplace. Looking up someone’s social media accounts after an interaction with them seems to be the general norm, though I’ve never heard people really talk about it, let alone bring it up so casually to someone they’ve practically just met.
It was nice to hear someone else finally just say it, because it was something true; he wasn’t trying to hide it.
When you put yourself — your true, authentic self — out there and are honest, you set yourself up for the scariest type of rejection: rejection of who you are. Believe me, I know that it’s hard to so brazenly admit to things like the LinkedIn guy did. When all of the other first years are talking about how much fun they’ve had at Yale so far, I don’t want to be the one to speak up and say that I’ve actually been having a difficult time adjusting to the (Zoom) college workload and making (socially distanced) friends. I worry that they’ll think I’m a downer or that I don’t belong here. I feel even worse in comparison knowing that everyone else is doing so much better than me.
Lately, though, I’ve been questioning that feeling. I don’t think it’s ever an easy thing to start college — starting during a pandemic is incomparable. I find it hard to accept that I’m somehow struggling immensely more than all of the other first years. I think we all just tend to not bring it up.
It’s an intimidating thing to put your real feelings out there, because when those get shot down, it hurts so much more than if it had been some puppet version of yourself which was rejected or ridiculed. This makes it easier to act like how you think you should be, as opposed to acting like who you are. I’m tempted to pretend I’m peachy just like my classmates, but that standard of first-year bliss is simply not the truth.
We’ve all been conditioned to believe in some unobtainable concept of perfection. This is instilled in us through the grades we are assigned in school, the stories of success portrayed in television and film and the endless social media feeds projecting the same image of what it means to be happy. Lots of friends, an envy-enticing romantic relationship, a high-paying job that somehow gives you both money and satisfaction without actually taking up too much of your time on Earth — many of us have started to adopt these ideals of perfection as our own.
We pretend we don’t look each other up on social media because we’re supposed to be content with ourselves. Our lives are supposed to be so perfect that we don’t need to care about those around us. We act too cool to be concerned with the lives of others, when in reality we’re just social creatures driven by curiosity, which shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. But conventionally, social media stalking is somehow still seen as taboo.
Humans are just too diverse for there to be one uniform measure of “perfect.” We all have different thoughts and dreams and backgrounds, and the idea that we’ll face rejection for that seems unfair and simply absurd. That still doesn’t make it any less scary to admit that you don’t meet the socially assigned definition of perfection, though.
That’s why I think authenticity should be valued that much more. It takes courage to not only accept yourself but also to go present who you really are to the world, knowing that you are unique. You have to be brave. You have to tear down every fortress you’ve built within yourself trying to keep your ego safe. You have to be vulnerable. And I know, so often when you stand there as you are, defenses down, you feel weaker than ever before. But, I speak with complete honesty as I say this, any time I’ve ever been lucky enough to bear witness to this triumph of humanity, I’ve only ever found it to be the most beautiful sign of strength.
Getting past that fear and being authentic frees not just you, but those around you as well. When other people know that you sometimes struggle, they’re more inclined to be forgiving towards themselves. When other people learn that you too partake in some typically embarrassing activity, they’ll also feel more comfortable doing it. When you put your real self out there, you allow people to form connections with you — the real you. And those real human connections make us all better off because they’re the basis of love and friendship.
So take that leap; say what you really think; admit when you’re having a hard time; confess to your quirks. Be like the LinkedIn guy, who when asked if he’d be okay with me sharing his story in this piece, said “of course.”
Annie Sidranksy | firstname.lastname@example.org