Are we slowly exaggerating ourselves into oblivion?

By Mervyn Dziva

The older I get the more I hear that “being an adult is hard”, to which I’m often tempted to reply “You know what’s hard? Having to develop tactics to stop myself from having to check that the door is locked. At 3am in the morning. For the tenth time. In someone else’s house. That’s hard!”

Of course I don’t say that, being considerate of other’s struggles is part of being an adult. I usually commiserate since I mostly agree that growing up is hard.

These are strange times, on one hand this is the most socially conscious era in human history. Progressive marriage rights, gender rights, children’s rights – hell, we even talk about equal pay now. On the other hand we have so many people feeling oppressed by their very own existence. Unhappy learning, unhappily employed, unhappily married, unhappily single parenting.

Is there a formula for success?

Someone told us that Education + Employment + Marriage + Procreation = Happy Adulthood. I suspect they were wrong, but we don’t have the guts to tell them.

I’m barely educated, mildly employed and an expert bachelor, yet friends that have ticked all the boxes of the equation often say “You have no idea how lucky you are…”

Recently I’ve worked with a number of baby boomers helping them transition into entrepreneurship, they also say, “You have no idea how lucky you are…” Strange, I thought having experience, money, “functional” millennial children and cute grandkids equalled happiness. Apparently not.

Fully fledged adults keep telling us pretend adults, “Don’t do it!” It’s as if adult life is the amusement park ride we wait our whole childhood for only to get on and think, “I’m not ready for this!” It’s billed as fun and exciting but for many it goes from barely enjoyable to downright terrifying in reality.

If you ask me the problem is that we are living in the (golden) age of the personal brand. An age where we are slowly suffocating under our desire to tell a better story than our own reality.

As a consultant when social media become a thing, I spent years telling marketing and business heads that the age of the consumer had arrived. Consumers had a voice and they were going to use it.

Transparency, accountability and engaging with consumers openly would be the keys to marketing success. Of course they didn’t listen, not until viral trends forced them to.

Now I consult to individuals and find it funny how, at a time when corporates are finally awakening to the benefits of honest marketing, individuals are the ones now creating personal myths instead of being their authentic selves.

We live for the amazing story now – show (great) success at all costs. The well-manicured Instagram and Facebook accounts for friends and family. The perfectly worded LinkedIn profile for employers and clients. The perfect, “My life is hectic but awesome” story for catch-up drinks.

Like big business we sell this idea of perfection, even if internally we’re far from it.

Many of us know that the stories are exaggerated but instead of calling them out, we dream of a time when we’ll share our own.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with sharing moments that make you happy and show progress. By all means show me how much you’re killing it at life but just tell the true story – I don’t need the post-production.

Sadly the “everything is awesome” story has become the new social norm. A norm that amplifies the disconnect between our expectations and our reality. Great recipe for an unhappy life.

We’re anxious and insecure before we achieve, disappointed when we do. Our desire to tell an awesome personal story has diminished our motivation for the prize and numbed us to the joy of achieving it.

Try to tell anything different and you’ll be muted or deleted, being considerate to others’ desire for positive timelines is part of being an adult.

Economists define a bubble as a period when prices rise (rapidly) past the true value of the asset. I believe we live in a social myth bubble. We’re filling up one bubble with positive exaggerations and another with stifled frustrations.

What’ll happen when they burst?

I don’t know – but we’ve all seen some of the potential woes in the 2016 US presidential race. Bad Hombre Trump being the lightning rod for American frustration and Chillary benefiting from the misplaced desire for positivity even when someone is so evidently flawed.

South African campuses are now war zones, many say it’s just a result of myopic over-entitled children. It can’t be because they bought into the exaggerated assumption that their university acceptance was the express lane to success and now they see it threatened by the very real threat of financial exclusion.

I can’t wait to see how they’ll take it when they graduate only to realise that they won’t automatically get their dream job. I’ll be watching it from my beach side office in Bora Bora since, of course, I’m killing it as an entrepreneur.

Every day I wake up and check if spiders have invaded my body in my sleep.

If I ever found a spider leg on my teeth or hanging out of my ear I’d probably die. So it’s entirely possible that I’m just being paranoid and we aren’t living in a social bubble. Even if we are it’s far from bursting – after all some crazy film makers in the 70s predicted that Network TV would cause chaos in America.

So perhaps there’s nothing wrong with how we showcase success in the socially connected world. Seeing how awesome your friends “look” motivates you to be better, right? Finding out that Instagram stars (allegedly) make more money doctors definitely saves lives.

The stories we tell and the resulting expectations are perfectly fine – don’t let a communications expert tell you different. Remember, going with the flow is part of being a good adult.

[bctt tweet=”The next bubble threatening society isn’t economic, it’s 100% personal. ” username=”tyrannyofpink”]

Mervyn Dziva is a social scientist masquerading as a PR and crisis consultant. He currently works with start-ups and entrepreneurs, helping them to become like the big bad corporations that he worked with in his corporate life.


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