I had my first email account when I was four years old.
If my life were a mid-2000’s rom-com the opening credits would show me logging into an AOL account to the tune of a dial-up connection, while the chaos of my home life erupted in the background. For a brief moment the audience would feel something close to sympathy until it cut to the next scene where I grew up to be an aggressive twenty-something, neurotically reading my email in the back of a black car. My character would fulfill the archetype of a young, Manhattan career bitch. The audience might sneer, but I would relish in the control I had over my own life.
And that’s exactly what the Internet gave me: a sense of control.
Looking back it seems natural that I fell into the world of marketing and public relations; I’m a creative person with a good eye and an uptight obsession with producing excellence. By the time I graduated high school I had four email accounts, several digital marketing internships, numerous social media pages, and my own website.
In college, I attended school full-time, worked 20-to-30 hours a week, juggled multiple internships, and I always knew what was happening in the world and which of my followers had a third degree connection to someone I worked with or wanted to work with. Despite the stress of school, failings in my personal life, and a binge drinking problem that was disguised as “being-in-college-and-partying-at-The-Standard”, the one and only thing I always had to ground me was the exacerbating control over my digital life. Ask any of my friends from that time and they’ll tell you that I lived and breathed through my email and calendar. Every assignment, freelance project, work schedule, personal training, date, and social event was archived and confirmed in my color-coordinated calendar.
Pink for personal, blue for work, red for school, yellow for vacation, all caps for deadlines, blocked out time meant holding space for social events or TBDs.
Most of my college papers were written on Google Drive on the subway or during downtime at work. Every caption to my personal Instagram was proofread and prewritten. My Twitter, who’s following I had cultivated since I was 16-years-old, was my social and career springboard. At one point I considered it in my best interest to get a separate phone to balance out my real life and my career life because that’s how successful people manage their boundaries, or so that’s what I read somewhere.
Of course after years of living as if I had to make it on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List or literally face an execution by some greater unknown force, I was completely burned out. I no longer felt any sense of empowerment or satisfaction from any of my accomplishments. Instead I just felt a constant inexplicable fear that if I didn’t do more or produce more content for general consumption I would fail in the grand scheme of my life plans. I worried that in 5 years my LinkedIn would reflect that I wasn’t as ambitious as I had led on because, at the time, I believed to my very core that becoming A Master of the Universe was simply a matter of willpower, managing one’s time, being skilled at everything, and staying relevant. But after a series of emotional and mental breakdowns for about a year, I decided that I wanted nothing to do with a career that revolved around the Internet.
Fast forward, almost three years later, and I’m returning to my childhood dream of becoming a healthcare professional. Now, in hindsight, I understand that my obsessive need to control my digital space and the desire to be successful in the Digital Age was deeply rooted in my lifelong anxiety and fear of not being good enough. It was only through therapy, time, and self love that I came to understand that what I thought I valued was actually just a need for validation. Since I’ve stepped away from living and breathing in a digital realm, I find myself more mindful of my interactions and question myself before I post online.Why do I want people to see this? Is this my ego reaching out to be seen, or I do simply like this photo? Is it necessary? As much as I love connecting with people, looking at great art and beautiful photographs, and laughing at oddly specific jokes, I find myself less and less interested in being a part of everything online.
Name: Shayla Hayward-Lundy
Occupation: Art Therapy Student and Entrepreneur
@ name: @haywardlundy // @haywardlundyprojects
First time online: Age 4