In the late 90s, a pastor at a church in Watford, England, realized there was something missing from the church. The members seemed to be going through the motions. Something was just missing. So the pastor made a bold move. He got rid of the sound system and the band for a time. In doing this, the congregation was moved into the role of active participants of worship, rather than consumers. Songs were sung by the congregation a capella, creating a sort of connection that comes from worshiping completely from the heart. Eventually they brought the band back, but the experience was life-changing for the congregation. The worship leader, Matt Redman, wrote a song about the experience, one of my favorite worship songs, The Heart of Worship.
A few weeks (months? What is time?) ago, I took a couple days off from social media. That time it was more about getting caught in the muck that social media can become at times. I utilized my mute button and things were more cheerful. For a while.
A couple weeks ago I realized I was feeling off. Stuck. Pulled in different directions. Stressed for no particular reason. Sure, there were some icky things going on at work, but this was beyond what was an appropriate reaction. I couldn’t focus on anything. My mind was going in a million different directions. I wanted out.
In my last blog, I told you that I found that escape when my friend texted and invited me to make a spontaneous trip to Minneapolis to attend NerdCon. That got me the physical distance I needed. But I also needed a mental break. So I got off social media again. This time for more than a couple days.
I’ve always prided myself on being able to jump on Twitter for just a couple minutes, and then off again. Tweet something, respond to a few things, and off. But just because I wasn’t actually on Twitter didn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking about it. What response would that last tweet get? Would that person think it was funny? How does that person think of me now? How does my life look to my audience? Am I clever enough? Entertaining enough? Delightful enough?
I was constantly looking at myself through the lens of how other people perceived me. We all do. But for me, it was becoming consuming. To the point that it was very troubling.
I was at a conference the other day, and one of the speakers said something along the lines of, “A big part of our identity is who we are in relation to others.” What I discovered was that one of my problems was focusing so much on my relationships through social media, and not putting as much emphasis on my real life relationships.
This was reinforced at NerdCon, during a social media panel. Maggie Stiefvater made a comment about how only 10% of her life is online, and 90% is offline. Later, she tweeted this:
My offline life was being way more affected by my online life than it should have been. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I let it get out of control.
This is where I point out again how much I love social media, and all it’s done for me in my writing career. Even more importantly, how many of those friendships that started on social media have become significant real-life friendships. This had nothing to do with people online, or social media in general. It was all about me. Completely personal.
So I didn’t post for several days. I posted a couple times when my friend was on TV, but I didn’t actually scroll through my feed for a week. At first it was hard. Really hard. I reached for my phone, reflexively opening Twitter. It was such a habit for me to tell the world everything I was doing. The problem with that wasn’t what I was doing, but how I reacted to it. I put too much stock in whether people responded, and how they responded. And no one really cares about the consistency of the pancakes I ate for breakfast.
And that’s what it came down to. When everything was stripped away, when I got rid of the extra noise, what really mattered? What did I really want to share with people? Was I going for quantity (I am reaaalllly good at that one) or quality? Where was I going to invest my time and energy?
I enjoy observing mundane things and finding a way to make them entertaining. I enjoy interacting and trading witty tweets with people. I enjoy sharing my writing journey, giving and receiving support. I’m not willing to give that up. But I also know that I need to figure out a better way for it to fit into my life, and not take up so much room, not take away from the important parts of my offline life.
I’m still trying to find the right balance. My goal was to post minimally for a while, but then I was at a conference and there was just SO MUCH to tweet. I haven’t set rules for myself, other than to continue to monitor my state of mind when it comes to using social media.
Right now I’m trying to find the right place to focus. Social media is not the only thing weighing on me, but in the spirit of keeping that 90% offline, I won’t go into the other areas that I’ve been overthinking. What I do know is that my focus belongs on the things I can control. My writing, most especially, my job, and my relationships.
This week at church, during a prayer, the pastor said that when you find your focus, God has a way of reframing everything else in your life. Whether you believe that’s God or something else, there’s a lot of truth to it. When I’m trying to think about ten million things at once, solve all the problems of the world, be everything to everyone, I’m basically useless in all areas. But, without fail, when I’m able to focus in on the important things, I have found clarity in all areas of my life.
What is it that you need to do to find your focus? Whether your focus is writing, family, work, or really getting into the stamp-collecting hobby, how do you keep the clutter from drowning out your purpose? How do you keep from just going through the motions in all areas? How do you maintain your passions?
(One more song, my anthem this week, The Motions by Matthew West. Listen.)