Today's Existential Crisis, or Why I Deleted Facebook

David Saracino/The New York Times

David Saracino/The New York Times

I just deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

Let me say that again, in italics, for dramatic effect: I just deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

If you’ve ever tried to communicate with me via Facebook or text message or email or frankly by any digital means, you’re likely surprised I even had the app on my phone to begin with, because I never respond to anything. It regularly takes days or even weeks to get a reply from me; my birthday was a month ago and I have not yet responded to a single Facebook post. I am, in two words, the worst.

I use many excuses for this behavior, some of which are even legitimate. But the real excuse, which I never disclose, is that keeping up with messages is distracting. Once you start a conversation, it requires your constant attention for awhile, and I have more productive things to do than have purposeless, pleasantry-filled chats. So I let the messages go and always intend to get back to them later.

I really do have more productive things to do, most all of them for my career, which is my greatest love and highest priority at all times. As a showbiz wannabe, there is never a shortage of work to be done in this age of technology. I spent hours and hours cultivating my online presence, from tiny details on my website, to precisely-crafted posts on social media—so not only did I have the Facebook app on my phone, I used it all the time. This was important work because, as today’s young creative professionals know, digital media is your showcase to the world, and helps you get jobs. I hadn’t ever gotten a job from social media before, but I knew that the more I honed my brand, the more likely that was to happen.

So I was surprised when I came across a New York Times article with the headline “Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.” How could that be, when social media was supposed to be the launch pad for my career? I was skeptical, but I gave it a read.

While the article was interesting, as I read, I convinced myself that author Cal Newport’s logic did not apply to someone like me, because show business is reliant on social media in a way no other business is. Until I got to this:

“A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter.”

Social media. Cultivating. Brand. These were words I just used to describe how I avoided distractions and now this guy was telling me that they themselves were distractions?!

At that moment I realized that I was a fraud.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t a fraud, exactly. But I apparently didn’t love and live for my work, like I claimed to, because I wasn’t actually doing any real work at all—at least, not the kind of work I loved and lived for.  Hell, maybe I was a fraud. At any rate, I was being “fundamentally passive,” which felt as antithetical to my character as it would be to say that I am “romantically aggressive,” which, for the sake of clarity, I am not. 

I had approached the whole thing backwards: I spent all this time attempting to make it look like I was a somebody, in hopes that simply presenting that facade would make it so. I was, as Newport put it, trying to convince the world that I mattered.

But what really came out of me was false advertising. And somewhere in my gut, I knew it, because any time I was asked what I was working on, I would clam up, paralyzed with fear. I never understood why that question—which I should have been thrilled to answer—scared me so completely, but now it made sense: I knew I had nothing to show. No wonder I hadn’t gotten any jobs from social media. In trying to convince the world that I mattered, I couldn’t even convince myself.

Creativity is not borne from fear, but procrastination is. I can’t count the hours I spent on Facebook while a reproachful voice whispered in my head, You should be writing. But I was terrified—would I even be good? I didn’t know. Whenever I sat down to work, anxiety would envelop me like a swarm of ants, and Facebook was an always-available can of Raid: a temporary fix to a deep-rooted problem, delaying the inevitable with momentary bursts of toxic relief, but solving nothing.

Instead of calling the exterminator, I’m choosing to throw the Raid (and this ant analogy) away entirely. I’m ready to embrace the fear, and see if I can turn it into anything. For once, I want to create, not just talk about creating

I don’t want to have to convince somebody—or myself—that my work might matter; I want to show that it does. But in order to do that, I first have to create work to show. And to create work, I have to concentrate. But I can’t concentrate when a thousand dings and pings and blips are popping up every minute, wresting my focus from the one thing essential to the creative process: focus itself.

I’ll still log onto Facebook every so often—not to page numbly through the news feed anymore, but only to share the meaningful work I’ve produced—and then, I’ll log off. I’m done letting idle pastimes distract me from active passions. And if that means I don’t respond to your text about hanging out tonight or your obligatory Facebook birthday wish, I’m sorry, but so be it. There’s more at stake for me.

If that makes me sound like I’m totally full of myself, that’s fine. I may be a nobody to the masses, but I know that, no matter how much self-inflation it takes, you will not make it in my line of work without absolute confidence that you’re good enough to. And I believe I am.

Now I just have to create something to show it. And since there’s no more Facebook to distract me, I might actually do it.

essaysJake Novak4 Comments