When you look at a selfie, you’re not seeing a real person. You’re looking at an image that the photographer staged, cropped, and edited meticulously—reducing red-eye, pounds, wrinkles, and years while increasing bust, bicep, and lip size—all designed to show the best (albeit false) side of himself to others.
In our desire to be loved and accepted, we carefully craft our literal and figurative images to become lovable and acceptable in the eyes of others. Would you put a bumper sticker on your car that read
“Slightly embarrassed parent of a high school underachiever”?
Even if that statement were true, you wouldn’t. Do you add in your Christmas letter how grateful you are the court reduced your felony charges to misdemeanors? Probably not.
Yet at 5 am on January 5, I took a selfie that shows my hair reaching the sky a little more than my usual Kramer-esque style. I hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, and I wore an old, ratty, black over-shirt to fight the morning chill. Nowhere in my mind did I think:
Wow! I look amazing. I should share this photo with the world!
However, I did just that, minus any photo editing. I wasn’t trying to show the world how “good” I look first thing in the morning. Instead, I wanted to document the coin I held in my hand. Accompanying the photo I wrote, 10 years by the grace of God, ODAAT.
It’s code, meaning I’m grateful that God has granted me 10 years of sobriety, one day at a time.
Why would I “out” myself as one who has struggled with alcoholism? To attract business, fame, or adoration, right? Yeah, no. I did it for 4 reasons, the same reasons why you should consider doing less image management and let your real self shine to others—
When you become real about your struggles and the steps you took to overcome them, you encourage others to keep pushing. If you found a way to the other side, why would you not use your story to encourage others? Overeating. Depression. Chronic pain. Anxiety. Anger. Grief. Procrastination. Laziness. Addiction. When you become real about your struggles, you put yourself in a place where you can give and receive encouragement.
When you admit your failures, you attract people that need what you’ve learned on your journey. After sharing my milestone, three friends reached out to me about their own struggles with alcohol, asking me what to do. Exposing my warts and all made them open up about their own struggles. More importantly, it led them to reach out for guidance as they search for recovery. Posting how my dog is so smart she was just accepted into Yale wouldn’t have done the same thing.
Have your flaws ever made you feel so broken and ugly that you believe no one could accept you? Ironically, it’s when we are willing to become vulnerable, real, and gritty that we find true acceptance. I recently shared photos of my newly painted bedroom that received 60 LIKES on my Facebook profile. When I shared the photo of my coin with a group of people striving to remain clean and sober, it received 2000+ LIKES and nearly 500 comments. Why so many? Those people in the second group are my community. Groucho Marx famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” Actually, that’s the only kind of community I want to join: one that sees me, knows who I am, and accepts me anyway.
In a world that has bigly accepted braggadocious as the new norm—the same world where phrases like “I’m sorry” and “I really screwed up” have become increasingly rare—we see more humble brags than actual displays of humility. I didn’t share my 10 year coin to brag. That would be like looking for praise by announcing I’d recently stopped beating my wife! I’m not proud of what led me to admit my problem with alcohol. But sharing where I’ve been keeps me humble and reminds me that I didn’t reach that milestone on my own strength. I I did it through the encouragement, support, and community offered by countless others.