I'm breaking up with Instagram-influenced comparisons


Written by Panayiota Soutis 

Feeling useful in this world, like I’m contributing something with real meaning, can be instantly eradicated. Every careless action, from scrolling to browsing to watching Netflix, feels as though it should be serving a more significant purpose than pure escapism. Productivity is so intertwined with time, it seems almost impossible to dispose of the idea that every spare moment should be filled with something meaningful.

I am an overthinker, often on the brink of an existential crisis, and ever since my 26th birthday in April, I have been tirelessly ruminating over the last decade’s unresolved questions. Interrogating myself: what do I want to do? Who do I want to be?

"Now, amid a global pandemic I find myself furloughed, endlessly at home and with ample free time to relax and reflect. So, why when I attempt to be grateful, am I instead flooded with waves of guilt that I’m not using my time wisely enough?"


In the past year, I restarted my career from scratch, quitting my marketing job and moving into the restaurant business. I originally planned to spend six months working in hospitality and then set sail for my father and motherlands of Greece and Cyprus, to spend time unwinding and introspecting. Yet as time progressed, swept up by the pace of the restaurant and satisfied with my own progression, I never took this much-needed break.

As my life got busier, with long hours and less time to myself, everything seemed to be out of my control. I felt like a buoy in choppy waters, grounded but drifting, and yearning to break free. Now, amid a global pandemic I find myself furloughed, endlessly at home and with ample free time to relax and reflect. So, why when I attempt to be grateful, am I instead flooded with waves of guilt that I’m not using my time wisely enough?

Just last week, I sensibly told a fellow furloughed friend that it is best to observe our current situation as a rare opportunity. I demonstrated that we have been blessed with new-found free time, and we do not have to use it to our ‘advantage’ in the sense of achieving strict goals. Instead, we should do what feels right in the moment, listening to our corporeal and emotional desires. We should feel free to reframe this time, as best we can, despite the overarching, frankly haunting world issues we have to worry about.

"When was the last time you heard someone under the age of fifty say that they have been ‘pottering about’? Younger people may use different vocabulary, such as ‘chilling’ or ‘lounging’, but pottering is a word which describes a particular way of life."


I’m good at dishing out sage advice, but can be quite terrible at following it.

I find the negative consequences of hustle culture are now more harrowing than ever. With the burden of free time, I feel a relentless pressure to be productive. The discomfort of constant productivity, ignited for me by a pushy private school education and fuelled by the increasing influence of social media, has reached its pinnacle, now. The rhetoric of “Well at least you have more time to work on *insert new hobby/side-hustle/long-term dream here*” is a narrative that solidifies my fears of inadequacy, and is not only destroying my motivation but my self-esteem.

Let me ask you this: when was the last time you heard someone under the age of fifty say that they have been ‘pottering about’? Younger people may use different vocabulary, such as ‘chilling’ or ‘lounging’, but pottering is a word which describes a particular way of life. To ‘potter’ means ‘to occupy oneself in a desultory but pleasant way’. Desultory being the keyword here, meaning ‘to lack a plan or purpose’. Plan! Purpose! These are the buzzwords that kill my ability to relax and do nothing without being plagued by the guilt that I should be doing more.

Why can’t I just potter about, without doing something ‘productive’ at all times?

"I set a bar so high, it is almost impossible not to fail. I compare who I am now to a former rendition of myself which I deem to fit the aesthetic of what it means to be ‘flourishing’: thinner, less spotty, better coiffed, more energetic and successful."


This obsession with productivity goes hand in hand with the additionally damaging comparison culture. Generally, my coping mechanism is to block out negative experiences and discard the gloomy feelings that come with them. The same goes for past events, in which I favour pushing myself to look forward and enjoy the present, even if upon reflection, my neglected feelings re-emerge. However, when it comes to the alleged prosperity of my body, mind and future, I hardly ever pardon myself. I set a bar so high, it is almost impossible not to fail. I compare who I am now to a former rendition of myself which I deem to fit the aesthetic of what it means to be ‘flourishing’: thinner, less spotty, better coiffed, more energetic and successful. I berate myself for changing.

"In a world where women are held in high esteem due to their mass appeal and influence, it becomes hard not to ignore the sway of social media. This makes it all the more difficult for me to stop placing so much emphasis on how I’d like to portray myself and how I wish to be understood, all through a filtered lens."


Thanks to Instagram’s glossy curation of a ‘perfect’ life, I can analyse and contrast my life to others on a dangerously global scale. Certain images I see online will penetrate my innermost thoughts, damaging my self-perception and in turn, unearthing otherwise non-existent notions of self-loathing.  I can’t help but blame social media for my deep-seated comparison complex.

The so-called ‘democratising effect’ of social media makes me feel as though my lifestyle and that of, say, a wealthy and primed blogger in New York should be similar, just because we’re of the same age or ethnicity. In reality, so much of our dissimilar circumstances come into play, creating an unattainable difference between our lives. I find that this social media curated, homogenised, ‘ideal’ millennial lifestyle, and the alarming presumption that ‘anyone can have it’, can have a detrimental impact on our self-worth.

Once cultivating an enviable lifestyle became the sole focus of my existence on social media, I began to feel worthless and unmotivated. How can I posture as if I’m thriving, when I am consumed by remorse that I should be doing more?

I dislike that I place so much importance on Instagram, but it’s hard to deny its power. Followers are a form of currency and a harmonious aesthetic is a form of creativity. In a world where women are held in high esteem due to their mass appeal and influence, it becomes hard not to ignore the sway of social media. This makes it all the more difficult for me to stop placing so much emphasis on how I’d like to portray myself and how I wish to be understood, all through a filtered lens.

"To see others online purportedly accomplishing so much, makes me feel even more ashamed of my ‘failure’. It is an unsustainable and miserable cycle, which only serves to feed the consumer-capitalist monster of a world we live in."


Sometimes, I wish I could simply focus on being, rather than becoming. Accepting that I am great and don’t have to worry about proving it to the world.

As people, we grow and evolve non-linearly, so no version of myself is better or worse than before. Objectively, my life is no better or worse than anyone else's, as no one can ever understand the totality of my experience. So how is it so prevalent that I, like most of us, have the bad habit of comparing one facet of my life to that of another’s? It is a totally flawed and denigrating experiment, which has become all the worse during lockdown.

But compare I do, and unfortunately, social media provides a wide window of opportunity for boundless analysis and self-deprecation, if we aren’t careful. The sense that I should use every minute productively fills me with guilt, when naturally, I cannot always comply. Then, to see others online purportedly accomplishing so much, makes me feel even more ashamed of my ‘failure’. It is an unsustainable and miserable cycle, which only serves to feed the consumer-capitalist monster of a world we live in.

I’ve therefore decided it is most fruitful to relish in the present, which I am taking as my main resolution for 26. I am learning to forgive myself and recognise my worth, rather than seeking to create an idealistic fantasy. I want to live right now in my reality, and not on someone else’s square-cropped still life, doing as much or as little as I fancy.

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