You're a Person, Not a Brand: The Case for Not Curating Your Life
True curators work in museums and art galleries (or, perhaps, for an eccentric billionaire who has a hobby of collecting). Why, then, do we see “curators” everywhere we look? People are curating their closets, their pantries and their Instagram feeds. You can purchase curated subscription boxes of wine, food or beauty products. Whether a home is considered beautiful or desirable is based on how well-curated it appears to others. Curation, curation, curation—all of a sudden. What changed?
This phenomenon is two-fold: Stripping things down to their purest, most essential form became trendy, and people realized they could redesign their own lives to fit molds that appeal to others. Personalities can be transformed to be more desirable to graduate schools or companies. Characteristics can be repressed to better assimilate within social circles. These choices are performative; the curator is hyper-conscious of how they move through their daily life in order to assure they’re perceived as valuable or appealing to others.
Instagram has made this all too common in our daily lives. It feels as though you have to have an account to be a functioning member of society, and then once you’re in, it’s shockingly easy to whittle yourself (and your feed) down to the exact person you hope to become. If you pay attention, you’ll notice accounts that seem to be operating with some unspoken style guide, always using the same filters, fonts and colors in their posts. Natural light only. Carefully selected hashtags to lure the right type of followers. And it’s not just about producing content, but consuming it, too. It’s not like we blindly follow accounts. We manicure our following list to represent people we approve of, admire or envy. We purposely avoid (or block) accounts that ruffle our feathers, make us defensive or work as a mirror to remind us of our own flaws.
The people stuck in this cycle ask themselves, albeit subconsciously, before every decision: “Will this appear valuable to others?” But the question they should be asking is: “Does this align with what I value in my own life?” Curated lifestyles are often beautiful, but they can also evoke jealousy, trap us in disingenuous behaviors or lead to living in a cultural vacuum.
Envy is a natural result of the pervasiveness of social media. We’re constantly inundated with images and words from people putting their best, most impressive foot forward. These curated spaces give false impressions of what life really looks like for others, seemingly free of flaws, meltdowns or sadness. Although it may feel like you’re passively scrolling through your feed, your brain is fully firing and setting off alarm bells. When you see a picture of someone abroad, you wonder if you’re missing out. When you read an article about the success of a startup company, you look more critically at your own accomplishments. When you see a slideshow of someone’s immaculate home, you’re meanwhile taking inventory of all the ways your own house doesn’t measure up. The mental and emotional benefits of gratitude practice are inarguable, yet we continue to give ourselves over to circumstances that make us feel exactly the opposite of grateful.
Meticulously designed lives can also back us into a corner. If we put all of our efforts into crafting and perfecting a particular persona for others, we become imprisoned in a reality of our own making. We can no longer be ourselves, because our true character no longer aligns with the person we’ve put forth to others. We work so hard to become a good fit—whether it’s for the benefit of a person, a group, a school or a company—that we fail to stop and wonder if those others are a good fit for us. The less we curate our outward lives, the more freedom we have to be genuine and vulnerable and real in our day-to-day; the better chance we have of connecting with opportunities and people that fulfill us.
This habit of shaping ourselves to fit a particular mold can especially backfire in the workplace. How many times have you interviewed for a new role with the number-one goal of receiving a job offer—without worrying about whether the job will be a good fit for you? Research the company, say all the right things, wear the right clothing, shake the right hands—ultimately, end up in a career you hate, in an office that pulls the life out of you, with a boss who doesn’t understand your potential. Instead, we should be interviewing with our full, un-curated selves; showing up with our passions, our humor, our concerns and visions for our future. It’s the only way to find a job that will pay dividends beyond a paycheck.
The messiness of human nature is far superior to a carefully cherry-picked life. The more you squash your quirks and questions, the more you blend into the sameness of society. By scrupulously crafting your identity, you’re robbing yourself of the people and experiences that will force you to view the word differently, question what you think you know and open yourself up to magnificent personal growth.
You’re not a brand. You’re a human being; a person with humor, fears, dreams, bad habits and winning personality traits. Don’t deprive the world of every wonderfully messy part of you and strip your persona down to sterile predictability. Being authentically true to yourself (and choosing to share that realness with others) will create a safe space for others to relate to you. It can be such a relief to know other people are having the same anxious thoughts, going through a similarly rough job hunt or dealing with the familiar debilitation of imposter syndrome. By omitting all of the rough edges of life, you take away opportunities for solidarity.
In the end, we’re all aiming for a life well-lived, not well-curated. Challenge yourself to do the work so you can reconnect with who you are at your core, then share that glorious realization—the good and the bad—with anyone and everyone you meet.
Sara works as a full-time admissions counselor at Flagler College in St. Augustine and runs a wellness Instagram to connect with other foodies. When she’s not in the kitchen, you can find her at the gym, reading a book, planning her next trip, or re-watching Game of Thrones episodes with her dog.