The pursuit of popularity

Updated: Nov 16, 2018


Aren’t we known for some of the most remarkable traits?

Really. Narcissistic, lazy, entitled, idealistic… Going to look so good on my next resume.

While I love to prove to our elders (cue the Gen X and Boomer generations) that I am in fact a part of a creative, adventurous, and intelligent group of people, I do agree that millennials teeter on the edge of a risky cliff of self absorption, and I know very well the negative toll this can take on a young heart.

Self absorption, I believe, stems largely from our beloved social media sites. Our Insta’s, Facebook’s, blogs, Snapchats. You name it.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably grown up alongside the rapid advent of social media and sparkly new technology. I can likely speak for most of us out there who have some weird, complex relationship with our social media lives.

I love it.

And I hate it.

I love it because I have rapid access an overwhelming assortment of things I get to handpick like a bouquet of flowers: blogs, encouraging quotes, and creative photos. I get to share my life with those closest to me and those I don’t even know who live a thousand miles away.

The disdain with media comes from what we all have commonly suffered from at some point: comparison and consequently, disappointment.

We compare our dysfunction with someone else’s filtered portrait. And it’s potent. We are left feeling empty, insecure, and there’s that word again, disappointed. In retaliation, we seek to become micro-celebrities in our own little social media world. We want to matter – we want our moments to matter – so in order for them to be real to us, we feel the need to share it and have it validated by someone else. Or at least seen. We share an insatiable desire to be noticed.

Maybe, just maybe if we’re noticed on our social platforms…that gaping hole of insecurity in our hearts will after all be filled.

Sometimes our motivation is good, yes. Truly, there are times we simply make a status update or post a photo because we are grateful for something and want to share it with our people; because we have something burning on our hearts that we’d really like to impart to another; because we want to glorify God. I could go on.

But let’s get honest. There are certainly times that I’ve posted something to get attention…just for the sake of getting attention. I could have been feeling insecure, lonely, or perhaps I just wanted to brag about something. I have been guilty of using technology to glorify ME.

Couldn’t there be more to this life, though, than garnering attention for ourselves?

A light dawned in my mind this week when I heard this statement on a podcast (thank you, Lisa Bevere, author of Adamant!):

Everyone wants to be popular, but not everyone wants to be influential.

Google is flooded with tips and advice columns on “how to get more Instagram followers.” That’s a thing. Of course, businesses use social media as a marketing tool to promote more sales and interest in their company. Leaders and speakers and writers use technology as their means to reach a wider audience to share their messages. All beautiful things! And sure, not every individual has been infected by the social media craze, but more often than not, we see millions of people using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the next new thing as a platform to promote…themselves.

We all want to be popular.

Not all of us are dying to be influential.

As I contemplated this idea – that we are desperate for popularity – I started realizing some practical, vivid – and quite frankly – ugly things in my own life…

In my life, when I find myself craving popularity, I want

people to notice me

people to talk about me

likes (lots of them)

for others to be in awe of what I have or who I am

to be captivating.

In other words, when popularity is my goal, I am okay with being the center of attention. I am cool with people comparing themselves to me. I want to be seen and noticed – highly regarded.

But when I seek to be influential…

Oh, the world shifts.

I don’t care so much about the popularity part. My heart hurts for any human to compare themselves to me and come out feeling like they don’t measure up. Do I want others to look up to me? Sure! But not at the expense of being disappointed with who they are.

When influence is my perspective and mission, I seek to inspire in such a way that others are motivated to live better // bigger // fuller lives. I don’t want anyone to get caught up in comparing themselves to me. That’s a waste of my time and theirs. Instead, I want my life to give them what they need to make the most of their own perfect portion. When that’s the goal, popularity doesn’t matter. You can have 1 million followers. So be it. But popularity without the influence is meaningless.

It’s like making $1 million dollars right before you die…and no one is allowed to have or use the money you left behind. It sits there, in your name, but can’t be touched. People might long for it; they may feel jealous that they can’t have it. But it does nothing for them. No inspiration, no impact, no meaning.

I wonder: Do you want to be popular? Or influential?

We are not too silly or naive to believe that social media is only used by millennials. The oldest, the youngest, and all those in between are out there trying to simply figure out how to make all of this work. I wonder if those in the older category would beg for a chance to sit down with us and say, “Hey, wait. What’s your motivation for this? Are you trying to make an impact – or do you merely want some attention right now? You have been given something too special to spend solely in pursuit of your own kingdom. Go search for impact – not followers.”

Someone nearing the end of their life is likely not concerned that their Instagram account looks perfect. I think they’re going to reflect over their shoulder and ask, “What did I do with this life? What beautiful things have I made with the portion I was given?”

I don’t want to be the one who has a million followers but not a single soul impacted. Let’s refocus.

Narcissistic, lazy, entitled, idealistic: yes, some will continue to remain this way. Honestly, people have always been making names for themselves this way – me included – and history proves it. But what if we tagged impactful on the end of that description? Would there be any who are willing to break free of feeding their insecurities with more followers and better pictures, and instead create ways to use their lives as a leverage for influence?

What I’m not saying is that social media is the enemy. It’s just not. Artsy photos, thousands of likes, and even more followers – these can be wonderful things. The more followers you have, the higher quality pictures you have, the better graphic designs you have, the more people you may reach with your inspiration. The world is at our fingertips; how thrilling, truly.

It comes down to the goal, the place where your focus lies.

Instead of Googling “how to get more Instagram followers” just for the sake of our own ego, let’s Google

“ways I can serve my community”

“how to start a business” (that one that you’ve envisioned making a large-scale impact)

“ways to spread more kindness”

“opportunities to expand my talent of ____”

“books that encourage growth and development.”

The options are endless. The creativity, boundless.

Go do something.

Post about it, if you so desire. But when influence is your motivation, your social media footprint is much deeper, impressive, and game-changing than when you are the end goal.

Popularity is pretty.

Influence, that's imperishable.

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