The average person spends about four years of his life looking down at his cell phone. In four years, you can earn a Bachelor’s Degree, complete two Master’s programs, or finish one Ph.D.

Today, we are more connected than ever, yet we are more lonely than any time in history. Being connected does not always equal connection. We are connected, but alone. And so, this begins my story as a recovering social media addict.

Millennials check their phones more than 157 times per day.

I admit I am a compulsive checker of Facebook and Instagram. I’ve had numerous internal dialogues that went along these lines:

“Am I where I should be in my career now? Let’s see where my high school friends are now. Do I match up?”

“How many “Likes” did I get on my post? How did she get over 100 ‘Likes’ for a picture of food?”

“It’s a Friday night. All my friends are out having fun and I’m here looking at Facebook. I’m so boring.”

We all want to be validated, loved, and feel a sense of self-worth. When we don’t feel this way, we subconsciously turn to social media. Over time, our identity becomes tied to the number of ‘Likes” we receive or the number of followers we have. When we don’t receive ‘Likes’, followers, or comments on our posts, we tend to believe that we’re not popular or relevant enough. This then becomes a vicious cycle of addiction.

Sense of unworthiness or loneliness > Write a post or take a photo > “Nobody ‘Liked’ me” > Repeat

Growing up as an only-child Vietnamese American and millennial, my parents always wanted me to succeed in everything I was involved with from sports to academics to music. If I was not at the top, I wasn’t good enough. Sooner than later, my parents discovered that their golden child was not so golden after all. I never made it to the varsity level in track and field. I got cut from the soccer team. I got rejected by all of the colleges I applied to in my senior year of high school. I can barely tune my guitar. I was a very shy person and struggled with loneliness for most of my life. My parents constantly compared me to my peers and cousins.

Eating dinner with my family one evening, I remember my parents telling me, “Why aren’t you more social? Your cousin plays the piano so well…how about you? What talents do you have?” What do you expect a 13-year-old boy to say?

My pastor, Rick Warren, said: “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”

For 24 years of my life, I lived as a prisoner, a slave to validation and people-pleasing. If I couldn’t please my parents, then I’ll please my friends and acquaintances. This morphed into the form of social media addiction.

I wanted to be relevant so I put on a mask for my life to appear more exciting than it really was. I would see what my “friends” were doing on Facebook and felt a need to post something exciting to match their level of adventure. I would make a trip to a casual restaurant into a grand excursion.

Whenever I achieved anything, I wanted the whole world to know and my self-worth would be measured by the number of likes and comments I received.

Along with people-pleasing comes FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – “the fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great” (Urban Dictionary).

Over time, I let three factors enslave my life:

  1. How well I’m liked
  2. How I look
  3. What I’ve achieved

In the last three months of 2016, I decided to fast social media. This became one of the most liberating experiences of my life. It allowed me to draw closer to Jesus and understand that my worth does not come from people or achievements, but Him alone. I became more emotionally and physically present with the people who I was with. I chose to live a life free from the pressure of people’s opinions.

This year of 2017 is the first time I feel so free. I chose to leave a job I was doing very well in, pursue something I enjoy, and move to a different city despite friends’ opinions. I chose to have the honest and difficult conversation with my parents about their unrealistic expectations of me, knowing it could turn ugly. I chose to forgive my parents for not always supporting me emotionally.

Life is a series of choices, and those choices inevitably become our destiny. You have the choice to either live in slavery or freedom. Social media is a tool, not a prison.

Choose to live without the pressure to impress. Choose to live in your identity as sons and daughters of God. Neither people, looks, or achievements define who you are. You deserve to be free.