This is a guest post by my close friend, Adrian Choo. Adrian and I first met a few years ago while taking an course at Singularity University in California and immediately connected on shared values and interests on introspection. It’s been a pleasure to travel alongside Adrian as he and I both explore our own spiritual journeys, pointing out to each other new discoveries along the way.
I have been shitting on social media for about three years. On New Years Eve of 2015, I deleted my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. At the time, I rationalized this decision to myself and others that it was part of a new quest to live without digital distraction and to level up on my mindfulness practice.
Looking back now, this was only a half truth.
Unconsciously, I was also doing it to protect my ego. I had just quit my job a few months before that and found myself in an identity crisis. I was hit with status anxiety every time I was asked what I do for work. I no longer had the security of a job title or membership under a professional tribe to impress others. I wasn’t particularly keen on flaunting my new status as an unemployed hippie and I didn’t have the courage to admit that I really didn’t know what I was searching for.
Like many people, I primarily used social media to construct my persona, or social mask. Psychiatrist Carl Jung described the persona as “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”.
Although it served me well throughout my early adult life, I over-identified with this persona and became excessively concerned about how others perceived me. So to avoid judgement, I hit the ‘delete’ button.
After committing career suicide and getting rid of my digital persona, I started experiencing what some psychologists describe as an ego-death. Parts of me were noticeably deadened. This was especially salient when I would walk through a busy public area. I felt invisible like a wandering ghost. In a much less cinematic way, I felt like Neo having stepped outside of the matrix and then re-entering feeling like a foreigner in the simulation.
Being in societal limbo was a mix of contradictory states. I found it incredibly liberating to not have to maintain or add to a rigid persona. At the same time, it was disorienting to wander without a clear destination.
As I loosened the grip on my former identity, I could tell how much I wanted to quickly find a new replacement. At times, I fantasized of being the ‘monk who sold his Ferrari’ except I didn’t go into complete monastic living nor did I own a Ferrari.
For over a year, I was chasing transcendence on the spiritual treadmill. I had a heavy diet of reading and meditation and became a workshop junkie. I fooled myself into thinking that I was ‘above it all’. Then I slowly realized that I had simply traded my former ambitions for status and wealth with new egoic ambitions for enlightenment and nirvana. They both stemmed from an inner feeling of not enough.
When I exited the arenas of social media, capitalism, and status games, I was also beginning to exit the arena of being human. I started to deny myself the permission to feel certain aspects of the human experience. For example, I judged others for their ambitiousness, impulsivity, and ignorance simply because I demonized these traits in myself. In short, I was pathologizing my ego.
Our egos help us navigate life. It is a feature, not a bug. At times, our egos may indeed be the enemy because it can distract us from our deeper callings and even lead us into games we never signed up for. But this is an example where we need to learn how to love our enemies because they can also teach us about our true selves. It is clear to me now that life is more meaningful when I participate in the arena rather than judging from the stands. It helps to leave the inner and outer critics in the nosebleeds while I continue to play.
“ Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
— Helen Keller
Recently, I decided to start a podcast and to re-engage with social media. I want to share honest conversations about our first world problems and how we can help each other navigate the messy human experience.
It has become somewhat fashionable to blame social media and technology for our social problems. There is no need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Our relationship with and intentionality behind these tools are what determines their human cost.
Paradoxically, I’m being called to using the same tools that originally fed my crisis of meaning to help others work through theirs. If you want to join me in the arena, let’s connect through social.