40 dz to Freedom

This year, for the first time in my life, I gave up something for Lent. Without going into a long story, I’ll just say that organized religion was not a big part of my youth and I didn’t really even get comfortable with the idea until recently. Luckily, our home in Pasadena is adjacent to a beautiful little Episcopal church. We found it to be welcoming, and we very much enjoyed the rector’s homilies that were filled with references to recent news events, Star Trek, and Star Wars. On the Sunday before lent, the rector gave some tips on giving up something for Lent. One tip that stuck with me was when he said something to the effect of, “Give up something that is meaningful to you, that will make you think about why you gave it up, and will potentially help you to become a better person. Don’t ‘give up robbing banks or something silly like that.”

My wife and I took this message to heart, and we had some discussions about what each of us would give up. For me, it came to me pretty quickly — I would give up social media. Truth be told, I was definitely “in to” social media. For example, when being introduced to speak at a local professional organization’s meeting, I was jokingly referred to as “Mr. Selfie.” And yes, I did like to take and post selfies, usually of me visiting interesting places via public transportation. Given this, I realized that giving up social media for Lent might represent a real sacrifice for me, and perhaps it would be in line with what the rector had told us.

Mr. Selfie

So at about 8:30 PM on Ash Wednesday (Wednesday February 14, 2018), I logged out of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I deleted the Twitter and Instagram apps from my cell phone. I removed the bookmark shortcuts to Twitter and Facebook from my computer search engines. After purging my electronic devices of these items, I wondered how long it would last.

The rest of the evening of Ash Wednesday proceeded per our usual routine. As the conversation died down between me and my wife, I instinctively reached for my phone. I knew that I had removed my tethers to the social media world. So I downloaded the most recent issue of the Economist on my app and read some great articles. That started the first major shift in behavior that changed due to my commitment for Lent. I started reading a heck of a lot more than I used to. And I read a lot, mind you. It’s just that before Lent, I would typically read books or the news while riding the bus to work or riding on public transit between meetings. Without social media, I started reading in a lot of the “down time” I would typically spend scrolling through various feeds. Waiting in line at the coffee shop gave me time to read a quick article, for example.

The second realization of a behavioral shift came a few days later. On February 16, 2018 I left a company that I had been with for more than three and a half years. I spent a lot of those last two weeks checking out social media (outside of work hours, mind you), and in those last few days, I had a lot of free time on my hands. Without the monkey of social media on my back, I used that time to write personal notes to all my staff and all the colleagues I had worked with over the few years at my former firm. I used the time to speak with clients and address any concerns they had regarding my departure. And I used that time to speak directly with the staff I had been leading, to help them through any concerns they might have. With this behavior, I realized that by not wasting time on social media, I was able to do some things that might be just a tad bit more useful.

The third realization came soon after I officially ended my time with my former employee. Knowing that I was changing jobs, and knowing I’d be entering a new job without any accrued time off, I planned to take one week between jobs. I was excited for that week off, because I had absolutely nothing to do. On the Friday night of my last official day with my former employer, I went and saw a solo artist I’d never seen before in LA. The artist was Mike Gordon and his band. I enjoyed the first show in LA so much that I went again on Saturday night, and then traveled by train to San Diego to see him on the following Monday. For all three of these shows, I stood in the crowd and did something few other people were doing — I listened to and enjoyed the music, without holding up my phone the whole time to take pictures or videos. Before Lent, I would have been posting all kinds of photos and videos on Instagram or Facebook. After attending these shows, I realized that I don’t need social media to have a great time at a concert, and that there really is no value to me or my happiness with sharing photos and videos with my friends.

One picture from the concert

The last realization came when I started with my new firm. If you’ve ever started a new job, you know that the first week can be kind of slow, in the sense that you are being integrated into existing teams, you aren’t immediately assigned to any projects or activities, and there’s a lot of free time to do other things. When I had last changed jobs nearly four years prior, many of those “other things” consisted of scrolling through social media feeds. This time, because of my commitment for Lent, it was different. I used the down time in my first week to start thinking about my new role, and to start strategizing how I would accomplish what I was being asked to do. I spent the time getting to know the people and the organization, being very mindful to listen carefully to what I heard from my coworkers, and to critically consider what I said. The last time I started with a new job, I came in the door as a hard-charging, get-er-done guy, wanting to quickly make my mark. This time it was different. This time I came in slow, wanting to truly learn where my place in the team was, so that I could actually be a part of a real team. Of course, the flip-side to my inner drive that makes me want to be a get-er-done kind of guy, is a need for constant praise and congratulations. In that first week with my new job, I actually said to my wife a few times, “no one has told me how great a job I’m doing.” That might sound stupid, since I hadn’t actually done anything yet; but for me, this was a very real sentiment. And that’s when I realized, that in the past I would have relied on social media to provide that personal gratification, or that personal sense of accomplishment. Every time I posted a cool selfie on Instagram and got a “like”, or a witty comment on Twitter that got a retweet, it felt like someone was saying, “great job!” But they weren’t. That’s what I realized by giving up social media. The gratification I received from social media was hollow. And you know what? At the end of the first week of work, when I had actually done something, someone told me I did a great job. And it meant a heck of a lot more to me to hear it from them, rather than receive a “like” on an image or a post.

Now that Lent is over, I’m wondering if I want to be active on social media, or if I will be active in the same way. Goodbye Mr. Selfie? Perhaps. Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with more distant connections, especially if they reach out via direct message. And of course it is a good forum for sharing pictures with friends and family, which I can do via cross-posting from Instagram. More than likely, my Facebook activity won’t be what it used to be, and Instagram may be less frequent than before. I’m still not sure about Twitter, since I use it to publicize blog posts and check in on news for bands and sports I follow. More than likely, I’ll use Twitter for these updates. In any case, I most likely will keep a much lower profile on social media than before Lent, and focus more on either reading books and publications of more substance, and actually interacting with friends and colleagues on a personal level.

This is my reflection on my very first “sacrifice” for Lent, and I truly feel that the 40-days of Lent have provided me with a new freedom — a freedom from being hooked on social media.

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Sam Morrissey

Transport enthusiast — VP, Transportation at LA28 - Past VP of Urban Movement Labs — Past lecturer at @UCLA. These are my personal posts.