Don’t Crowd-Source Your Self-Esteem

LA, 2014
LA, 2014

“I’ve been woken from enlightened man’s dream / Checkin’ Instagram comments to crowdsource my self esteem.” – Kanye West

I’m a victim to caring too much about what other people think about me. It’s easy to (as Kanye West says it) to “crowd-source your self esteem.”

We all want to be loved

New Orleans, 2015
New Orleans, 2015

As humans, we all want to be loved. We want to feel part of a community. Our self-worth, and our self-esteem is deeply tied into what we think others think of us.

But what is the problem of making your self-esteem tied into the opinions of others? Problem: you become a slave to the opinions of others.

If you depend on getting a certain amount of “likes” from others, you will always be miserable. Because even if you get 1,000+ likes, you become a prisoner. You expect to get at least 1,000 likes on each photo or post, and if you get anything less, you get depressed.

Not only that, but no matter how many likes you get, there will always be someone with more likes than you.

You can have 1,000 likes — someone else has 2,000 likes. You have 2,000 likes, someone else will have 5,000. You have 5,000 likes, and someone will have 50,000 likes. 500,000 likes. 5 million likes. Whatever it may be, you will always want more social approval and admiration from others.

Don’t play the game

New Orleans, 2015
New Orleans, 2015

Honestly, the only way to escape this treadmill of constantly depending on “likes” for your self-esteem is to just not play the game.

If you find yourself being overly-obsessed with social media, the “like game” and any other form of comparing yourself with others (with numbers of followers, comments, or likes) — just bow down. Step down from social media. Take a break from it. Try uninstalling all your social media apps for a day, a week, a month, or even a year. See if your “real life” connections benefit or are hurt. Experiment.

Personally, I still care too much about what others think about me, my work, and my photos. When I don’t get a certain amount of “likes” on a post, photo, or update— I wonder to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” And no matter how many likes I get (I recently got 2,000 likes on a photo on Instagram), I still am not satisfied.

The only real self-satisfaction I’ve had with my photography is when I’ve disconnected from social media for long periods of time, looked at my own photos, didn’t ask the opinions of others, and asked myself: “Do I like my own photos?”

Not only that, but no matter how hard you try, you can never please 100% of others. Even if you were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alex Webb, or any other famous photographer. The same goes for art, music, theater, dance, or any genre of creative activity.

“Keeping score” on social media

SF, 2015
SF, 2015

The problem of quantifying our self-esteem (via numbers on social media) is that our social relationships become a competition, or some sort of game. In basketball, you can keep score. But can you really “keep score” in real life?

We try to “keep count” in terms of how “successful” we are in terms of numbers. We value our self-esteem by how much 0’s we earn, how many cars we own, how many cameras and lenses we own, how many friends we have, how many square-feet (or meters) our homes are, how many credit cards we have, and how many countries we’ve traveled to.


NYC, 2015
NYC, 2015

Okay, so we all compare ourselves via numbers. It is human nature. How can we fix it?

Here are some ideas:

I recently came across a Safari browser extension called “Facebook Demetricator” — it removes the # of likes you get on your photos, # of comments, and # of shares. This way you can still get the information, without constantly comparing yourself with others, or valuing your self-worth on how many ‘likes’ you’ve gotten on something.

Another idea: if you like to share your photos online (but don’t want to get distracted by how many likes/comments you get), you can share your photos on VSCO (mobile app) which shows no likes, you can have your own website portfolio to share your images, or you can do it the old-fashioned way (email your favorite photos to your friends, colleagues, or family).

I know that with blogging, I used to get obsessed with traffic. On the days that my traffic went up, I felt ecstatic. The days my traffic would go down, I felt depressed.

The best solution I did for the blog was to remove traffic statistics from my administrator panel. Therefore I never really know how “well” my posts are doing, but I just my sense of “success” on a post by my own self-worth and self-assessment. Rather than seeing how “successful” a post is by how many likes or page views it got, I will ask myself: “Was this a really good post? If I was a stranger and read it, would I have liked this? Did I give this article or post my all?”

Also with my photos, I’ve been trying to share them more as blog posts, rather than on just social media. This allows me to not get distracted by my photos— in terms of how many likes/comments they get. I also have found that the less time I spend on social media, the more I care about my own opinion of my own photos (rather than others’ opinions of my photos).

Why is self-esteem important?

Downtown LA, 2011
Downtown LA, 2011

I think to a certain degree, having a healthy self-esteem is good for your mental health. If we didn’t have any self-esteem, we would curl up in a ball, never leave bed, and never be part of human society. We wouldn’t have any vigor to help other peoples, and certainly we wouldn’t have the energy to help ourselves.

You want to learn how to be comfortable in your own skin. You need to learn self-confidence.

If you want to innovate anything in the world and create something new, you need thick skin. Because anything new will be reviled by the masses. After all, people despise what is new and revolutionary. People hated on all the color photographers a few decades ago, because only black and white was seen as “art.” Not only that, but a century ago, photography wasn’t even seen as “art” — photography as a genre was shitted on by the (then) “contemporary” art-world.

What works for you?

Downtown LA, 2011
Downtown LA, 2011

Never become a slave to the opinions of others. If you feel like you lack self-esteem, I recommend you to take time off from social media.

I still think social media is great. It can empower a lot of people, it facilitates the spread of information, and can empower you as a photographer (by sharing your images widely).

Yet you need to find what works for you. If you’re on social media 24/7 and totally happy, stick with it. If you’re on social media and you feel mostly miserable, try to figure out what to fix.

To end this discussion, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Do I love my own photos?”
  • “Do I love myself?”
  • “How do I feel when I get a lot of ‘likes’ on social media?”
  • “How do I feel when I don’t get a lot of ‘likes’ on social media?”
  • “Whose opinion matters more to me — the opinion of others, or my own opinion?”

My suggestion: value your own self-worth and self-opinion before all others. Follow your own conscience. Only trust the feedback from close friends and those you care about (because they actually know who you are). Disregard negative feedback from people who don’t know you, or who are ignorant.

Follow your own heart.


Learn more: Life Lessons >