Your Instagram Feed Is Nothing but "Success Theater": Two Experts on How to See Behind the Smoke and Mirrors

FOMO? Welcome to the club. Lodro Rinzler and Meggan Watterson, authors of new book How to Love Yourself (And Sometimes Other People), tell you how to rise above—and how to kick ass at *all* your relationships, not just the one with your phone.

Woman taking a selfie with a mobile phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you spend a good portion of the day scrolling through Instagram seeing everyone else's pictures from front-row seats at Fashion Week or fabulous trips to Turks and Caicos or painfully cute engagement pics, it's hard to stay in love with your life (even if yours is pretty great). 

Lodro Rinzler and Meggan Watterson, authors of new book How to Love Yourself (And Sometimes Other People), know the feeling, and they're here to change your attitude—or at least give you a fresh POV to help with all that FOMO.

We sat down with Rinzler and Watterson (who practice Buddism and Christian mysticism, respectively) to get real about relationships—with friends, social media pals, and most importantly, yourself.

Marie Claire: Your new book speaks a pretty universal language about common relationship problems. What are some of the ways you've seen people sabotage their relationships?

Meggan Watterson: I have experienced, especially with the women in my life, a tendency sometimes to put too much expectation on what this one love, this partner, is going to provide in their life. She's expecting this sous chef, this problem solver, this soul mate, true love, best friend—everything. and then when this person comes in, he's not that life expectation. I think one of the greatest remedies for that is that all of these things that she might be expecting this man or this woman or this partner in her life to provide for her, she tries to give that to herself right now as much as possible. So, if it's someone who's going to provide more adventure, someone who's going to provide more comfort or maybe financial stability, find ways to concretely distill those needs right now, because then when that person saunters into her life, he can add to what she's already providing for herself and he's joining the tango line. There isn't as much need and expectation that this person has to come and fulfill. 

Lodro Rinzler: We need to drop the sick expectation of what we need that human being to be and experiencing them for who they actually are. I think there's also the tendency within that relationship to get to know someone and think that they are always going to be that way. So, we solidify that human being and say okay, they are this sort of person. And then when they change—as every human being does—we get disappointed. We think "Oh my god, you used to be one way and now you're this whole other being," and we feel like this isn't what we signed up for rather than just being open to who they are now and exploring that. 

I've also found that one of the key ways we sabotage our relationships is not being prepared for them at all. We come at the relationship with a sense of wanting someone to complete us, as opposed to actually being confident, as Meggan said, in our own ability to love and be loved. 

MW:  The number one way to sabotage our relationships is thinking that we need to meet with love like love is something outside of us. When, really, love is something we give ourselves from within, and that's where it starts and that's where it ends.

Woman taking a selfie with a mobile phone

Meggan Watterson

(Image credit: Getty Images)

MC: That definitely makes sense, but isn't always easy to do. Why do you think we don't we have confidence in our ability to love and be loved?

LR:  Our society is constantly saying "Well, you're not good enough and here's how we're going to fix you." One of my go-to examples is the makeup industry, which says "Hey, you look young, you should look older, here's a product that can fix that." Then when you get older, it's like "You shouldn't look older, you should look younger, here's a product that can fix that." We do that in a thousand different ways. Through our looks, our education, our job, and there's always something more we should be doing according to certain societal expectations. We're constantly seeking as opposed to actually trying to become comfortable with what's going on in our environment right now.

MW: We live with this idea that we have to prove that we're worthy of love. We have to experience it from outside of us. We have to have this external validation that we are loved and lovable. The problem is, of course, it's impossible—it's futile. We can never actually get that validation from outside of us. It will never be enough. No matter how many people tell us we're worthy or how many credits and degrees we get, it's never going to be enough because, ultimately, we need to know it from within. We need to give ourselves that validation that we're worthy of love. That's where it has to come from.

MC: It's so interesting how people say, "I'm such a catch—you should want to be with me because of this, this, and this." It's crazy how people try and sell themselves that way.

MW: Right, because at the root of that is this idea that there is a fear, a deep fear, that they're not worthy of it. They're not actually good enough. When, really, it's our birthright. It really is. It's something intrinsic. I believe we're innately worthy of being loved.

LR: Part of how Megan and I even got to this book is talking about people that we know who walk into a date or a bar situation and it's like they're presenting a resume, of sorts. Here are the many reasons as opposed to just showing up and being authentic with another human being, which leaves you more vulnerable but also more willing and able to connect with people.

MW: Yeah, and more trusting, you know, that you're enough just as you are. Right there, you know, all your messy imperfections and your positive things. You know, that you're enough, just as you are. It's so rare to encounter those people, but so attractive when we do.

MC: It's so easy to go on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter and see people posting photos of their fancy vacations or different things that they're doing and communicating how great their life is. Do you have any tips on keeping yourself from being jealous of other peoples' lives? 

LR:  I heard a term not so long ago that I think is pretty applicable here, which is, with a lot of social media today people are performing success theater. Like "Look how great my life is, I went on my vacation." Or, "Look at this one talk I gave," but in reality there were only three people in the audience. We choose to broadcast that résumé and choose to sell ourselves. But we're only presenting special parts of ourselves. So, when that happens, we have to realize that everyone suffers. We can choose to present ourselves in a certain way, but behind that there's a lot of insecurity, there's a lot of "look at me," because it's just the one thing that's going well. If people are boasting about their relationships, we might hear that their work situation's falling apart. If people are boasting about their work situation, they might be very lonely. There's lots of things behind what we see, so we have to realize that everyone else suffers just like we do. We can actually have empathy for people, even if they're posting their amazing vacation or their wonderful work event.

We can choose to present ourselves in a certain way, but behind that there's a lot of insecurity, there's a lot of 'look at me,' because it's just the one thing that's going well.

Lodro Rinzler

MW: We come from a very false belief of us thinking that love or abundance or whatever you want to call it, wealth, happiness—it's somehow limited. There's only a certain amount of it. So, if somebody else is getting a lot of that, that means there's going to be less of it for us. To me, it's just so hysterical and it's so wrong, but it can really steal so much from people. The most fiercely loving act that I practice is not comparing my life to others, really being present inside of mine and really, really acknowledging everything that is around me, right now. On a very pragmatic note, I totally unfollow or unfriend those people who are the success theater hogs. You can feel it. That energy does nothing for me. So, I have a feed that's been very carefully pruned and I just have those people who are really living the life that mirrors mine, one where they're really genuinely immersed in their own life and doing what they need to do, what they've been called to do and it can bring them suffering and I'm with them on that, it can bring them successes and I'm with them on that. It's a balance. 

MCWhat are some of your tips for getting to love yourself?

MW: I want to start off with two incredibly concrete ones. One is a mirror exercise, which when I initially started doing it I totally made fun of myself for even doing it. Looking at yourself in the mirror, at your eyes, not all of your imperfections and everything because most of the time when we look in the mirror that's what we're doing. You know, we're putting our makeup on or we're seeing how horrible our hair looks—we're criticizing. So, it's looking in the mirror and it's looking not at how you look, but looking at the presence, the person behind your eyes, actually looking at your gaze, like gazing into your own eyes. It's really powerful because you see this precious, powerful kind of presence, this essence come up from behind your eyes. The more I began to really meet with that presence, that warmth, that love that would surface from behind my eyes, the more I began to be able to connect with that sense of love being actually within me, not something that someone gives me, but something that exists inside of me, and that was crazy. That was life changing and that was a revelation and a revolution, really, to be able to know that. I don't need to go anywhere, find anyone or become anyone different. 

The second one is a meditation. It's one of the points where Lodro and I deeply connect. We both have a meditation practice and mine is called the Soul meditation. It can take place anywhere. You can be on the elliptical machine, you can be on the subway, you can be in an airplane, it just takes the intention of dropping into the heart and really going into kind of a space of what you feel like is the truth for you or the core of who you are. Sometimes I go within and I ask questions, but other times I go within and I just connect to that sense of truth that love is within me, that love is right here and that love can always in every moment guide me. I just, in a spiritual way, give a fist pump to my soul and just let that love begin to emanate and guide me and lead me throughout the day. It's amazing how much that shifts everything for me.

LR: One of the words for meditation within the Tibetan world is gom, and that can be translated to "become familiar with" or "familiarization," and it's basically saying meditation, at least from a Tibetan view, is a process of befriending ourselves, getting to know ourselves better. The more we get to know ourselves, the more we fall in love. The same way that if you're actually going out and you meet a new friend at a party, you don't just sit down and say "OK, I love you now." You sit down, you get to know them better, you become familiar with who they are, their quirks and their eccentricities. Then, gradually, you're befriending them, you fall in love and it becomes a friendship. The same can be said for falling in love with ourselves. It's not like you hit a button and then all of a sudden you're like "Oh, I like myself more." It's actually gradual familiarization process and it's something that takes a little bit longer than what I think most of us feel comfortable doing. Meditationis something that's often considered a quick fix these days, but if someone's really willing to commit a little bit of time every day, or just a couple times per week, it's transformative in terms of their ability to love themselves.

MC:I think it was you, Meggan, who wrote about how when you're in a relationship it's important that you put what you really need in front of the other person, which is not an easy thing. How do you do that?

MW: I think it's incredibly difficult, but I've experienced that it's the way through a relationship so that each person can grow in the ways you both need to. I think so often what we do is try to meet someone else's needs. But that comes from a fear, a sense of worthiness and that fear that we won't be loved unless we meet those needs. We get afraid that if we don't end up being this person that our partner needs then they're going to leave us. The problem is then we become someone we're not. They fell in love with us when we were being fully us, and our greatest responsibility in a relationship is to remain true to that sense of who we really are and to never betray what I refer to as my own soul. To not betray those needs that I genuinely have is terrifying, but that's the way that the relationship can remain alive. It's really based on love. Staying committed to someone means remaining committed to what it is that we need and to what it is that we truly love.

MC: Do you think that it's a coincidence that you both entered relationships while writing this book?

LR: One of the things I really love about Meggan is that she walks the walk. She does the practices she writes about. She really thinks deeply about these things on a daily basis, and I think when someone does that, they do attract a certain energy to their life. In my own experience I think contemplating love and kindness, both for myself and others and generally just exploring these things, I find that I become very open and vulnerable. I think that invited, in my case, someone who had been in my life for years, who I've known, we'd been friends, and got to know during this time and ultimately fell in love with very quickly. I think I was writing the chapters somewhere around just being open to whatever comes up when she happened to meet up with me and a few friends for a drink and I was going to Salt Lake City and she had never been and I was telling her how beautiful it was and she wanted to go and then I invited her and lo' and behold, five days later, we were making out in Salt Lake City. We were moving ourselves from our existing relationship to explore that, but it was totally because I was sitting there writing about how one needs to remain open in their dating life. Obviously it was a very big risk to invite someone along with me that I never been romantic with before, but it worked out.

MW:  Right during that dating chapter is when I met the man who I write about in the book. So, the falling in love chapter… I literally was falling in love as I wrote that chapter. I really lived the book and lived what it was we were writing about and got to experience how true it all is. I've always emphasized this importance of finding the love that's within us and connecting and practicing to that love and knowing that that love is the greatest love story we will ever live out.  

This book gave me this tremendous opportunity to finally practice my own truth and really remember that this beloved that I've been searching for through mysticism and pilgrimages, all of this amazing, incredible, divine stuff, is me and is within me and is a love that is inside of me, that I can always connect to. There was this line that came through me when I was writing the final chapter of the book, that you don't have to find your beloved to become beloved, you just have to remember that you already are. That's the greatest lesson this book gave me. That's something I get to live now, I get to have with me, that this love is something that is mine and that no one and no circumstance or anything can take from me. No matter how a relationship goes, or what happens or doesn't happen in my life. I get to have this. It's invaluable. I can't describe what that's like, but it's like a gigantic diamond inside me rather than on my finger. It's amazing.

LR: Our editor would say "I hope you guys know you're both going to be in relationships by the end of this," and we were like "Hey, that's not the point." You know, and we did, but it isn't the point. This book isn't about like, how do you get your happily ever after, it's how you can continuously live happy, regardless of what's going on.

MW: It actually is how you get your happily ever after. It just might not look like what your ego thinks it's going to. It's how you connect to that love that we always have access to. It's that love is here, right here, and we can start loving ourselves right now. We don't have to wait for anything, or anyone, in order to do that.

How to Love Yourself (And Sometimes Other People) is out now from Hay House Inc.