Nearly 5 weeks ago I decided to take a break from Instagram. This announcement was met with an abundance of well-wishes from friends and acquaintances, which almost came as a surprise given how cold and disconnected social media can feel most of the time. I hadn’t decided whether I would be back in a week or a month, I just knew that I needed to give myself some time away. My goal was to simply rest a little and then come back stronger. Instead, I found complete happiness in this newly found downtime.
As a self-employed professional, you have to stand out and be visible everywhere you go, otherwise you don’t exist. Hold on a moment. Is that really true? Who actually decided that it was this all-in approach that would be best for small businesses and freelancers? On the same social media accounts that people like myself share information with their followers, lurk all types of business ‘advisers’ who make you feel like whatever it is we are doing is not enough. Be subject to that energy for a while and you’ll believe it’s true.
I have always loved sharing my training videos, session plans and recipes. I did it years ago when I only had my friends following me and I will always keep doing it. What changed was that at some point last year this external chatter about always having to be seen somehow became my internal voice. I made sure I was showing everybody what I did, where I went, who I trained with and what was the outcome. And it was an enjoyable process because I truly live and breathe health and fitness. My posts were genuine and happened naturally, sometimes I would post three times a week, other times twice a day. People would find my content motivating or enlightening and the positive messages that I often received, encouraged me to keep going.
Suddenly, I found myself posting every day because I felt like I had to. Because somebody said that people need to see constant information coming from you and if they didn’t, you would never reach a wider audience. So I made myself a plan and committed to posting Monday to Friday plus doing stories daily. Stories are easy, fun and barely take any time. It’s the posts that are time consuming because you only have a certain amount of space to get your point across. Unless you are a “glute girl” or “influencer” posting random photos and one-word captions, you really have to ensure what you have to say fits the allocated character count and delivers the intended message. Which means a lot of editing and this takes time. And time was the one thing I was running out of since business was busy (which is obviously the goal), so the problem is: if all you do is write, edit and share online, when do you actually have time for your real life? You don’t. In as little as two months I had nearly run myself into the ground trying to keep up with this schedule that somehow I had imposed on myself.
It was only after I broke my routinely posting on my social media pages that I realised how much I had taken on my plate that wasn’t actually serving me. By taking a break from the gym at the same time, with immediate effect, I regained copious amounts of time that I didn’t even know I had. For the past two months, I had been leaving the house between 6-7am and only getting back by the time I had to pick Silver up around 4pm. Now I didn’t have to do anything other than train my clients and then I could do whatever I wished. I didn’t have to film any content, I didn’t have to write any posts, I didn’t have to edit any videos. It felt very odd for about a week. I felt as if I should have been constantly doing something. To be keeping busy for the sake of it and nothing else.
I asked myself what were the things that I actually had to do daily, instead of feeling like I had to:
1) to be present in my client sessions – to be a good trainer;
2) to be present at home – to be a good mum;
3) to be present in my own mind and body – to be good to myself.
None of these goals had anything to do with social media. I told myself that it was okay for me to be a regular person, even if only for a little while. I stopped feeling guilty for not sharing every fitness and nutrition revelation online. Trust me, just like it was odd for you not to know what I was up to, it was just as odd for me to not let you all know what I was doing. I knew I was tired and that I needed to rest. And once I was rested, I would return with fresh new energy and a plan that would allow me to manage my time much better than I had. With this decision came happiness. I was finally back in control of my life and my time.
I had more time for Silver and for myself. I was no longer scrolling and typing on my phone during videos or movies that Silver wanted me to watch with him. When he wanted my attention, I could actually give it to him without only being semi-present while I was editing the next YouTube video. I started reading books in the evenings; funny books, autobiographies, easy content that allowed me to drift off to sleep without having to worry about missing any important information. Up until then, this year, the only books I had read were for work and self-improvement. It’s all great until you reach a point where even ‘enjoyable’ becomes a chore. That’s when you know you have overdone it.
“Still, why delete Instagram?” Because, even days after announcing my break, I kept tapping on the app religiously several times a day and, already after a few minutes, I found myself scrolling through all the posts in my feed. I wasn’t even looking for any content; it was more of a mindless, robot-like activity that had no purpose. It was kind of scary and I had to get rid of the app just to break the spell. It worked like a charm but it took a few days. At first, I kept tapping on this other app that was now in the same location where Instagram used to be. I would snort because it was funny how I hadn’t even intended to log on yet it was almost reflexive – pick up phone, unlock, swipe left, tap the folder on top of the screen, tap the middle icon. You too might find this amusing if you have found yourself doing the same. Perhaps not with Instagram but with Facebook, Inbox, Stocks, WhatsApp or whatever other app. It’s like looking at the time and then having to look at it again because the first time you weren’t paying attention. It’s as if it was a reflex.
When I started writing this blog post, I wanted to compare myself to a machine to explain way that I had been working in these last two months both on and offline. Because machines don’t get stressed, right? Wrong.
Before I explain any further, I highly recommend all you lovely people visit the “24/7” in Somerset House. It is open until February so you still have plenty of time. I visited the day it opened and spent over three hours at that exhibition. I went alone as I would recommend you do so there would be plenty of time to take (part) in the installations and really understand what they’re about. The theme is exactly what I’ve been talking about – always online, always producing content, always consuming to the point that sleep is now the most valuable commodity. One of the installations is a story about a man who paid someone to dream for him since he had no time himself. Interesting, isn’t it?
For me, the most mind-blowing installation was the very first one. It is a machine programmed to work with no purpose other than to keep going and to constantly keep improving. The machine lights up huge lightbulbs, slowly, one by one, following a pattern. Every time it completes a row or a pattern, it makes a noise – clack. Little by little, it starts to speed up. That’s its way of self-improvement for no particular reason other than doing what it’s been told to do. The lightbulbs start to switch on and off at a much faster rate, the machine starts to get hotter and hotter, the clicks get louder and more frequent – clack. clack. The machine is starting to become stressed as it’s not getting any rest. Its light sequences are now so fast that the whole process would seem almost fluid if it wasn’t for the loud clicks that happen every time the sequence restarts. As you’re standing in front of the machine, you can feel the heat, which almost makes you want to step back as goose bumps cover your body. Suddenly, the whole screen flashes several times with the almost deafening clack!clack!clack!clack!clack! and then it stops. The machine has burned out and is slowly rolling to a standstill like car after it’s burst a tyre.
And then it starts the whole process again. Chilling, isn’t it?
Don’t tell me that you haven’t felt like that machine at least once in your life. And I’m not talking about social media. Just in terms of burning out from doing the same thing day in day out because you haven’t allowed yourself a reasonable break for a while.
Did you know that people who enjoy what they do are actually more susceptible to burnout from overworking? You will never catch a person who hates their work staying overtime or putting in more effort than was requested. Ha! What a crazy thought. It’s us who really love what we do, us who are passionate about our careers, us who want to share our gifts or trade secrets with the world – we are the ones who tend to burn out. Why? Because how do you say no to something that you love? Where do you draw the line? Only you will know. And from my experience, guilt does not help draw lines. Guilt keeps you in the loop forever. But, to be able to help others, you must first help yourself.
Make sure you are rested and happy and that everything that you do continues to mirror your genuine self and not something some business-guru somewhere told you to do.
Thank you for reading.