June 13, 2019

By now, we all know that social media is the land of “highlight reels”—all highs, no lows, barely even any “mehs.”

I know that I’ve personally taken the bait, posting something on Instagram that didn’t reflect how I was currently feeling, guilting myself into should feel happy moments that I think a selfie will cure.

But there’s a new challenge to the notion that our most authentic self—the one that stumbles, learns, and grows—has to stay under wraps.

In a May commencement speech at Northeastern University, Tara Westover, author of the bestselling memoir Educated, talked about the photos she posted on Facebook after graduating college. In them, she appeared happy, hopeful, grateful—“but this was a fiction, and I knew it,” she told the crowd of graduates. “(The pictures) showed my life as I wanted it to be, rather than as it was.”

The photos didn’t show any of her struggles along the way (including growing up in rural Idaho with survivalist parents), and hid her real experience.

Those real moments were experienced by what she calls “the un-Instagrammable self,” an identity she says we all possess. It’s the person who makes mistakes, prevails through failure after failure, endures moments of grief, pain, and heartbreak.


This self isn’t typically getting love on social media, but it's the one that truly matters most.

“Everything of any significance that you will do in your life will be done by your un-Instagrammable self,” Westover told the graduates. “It is, for example, your un-Instagrammable self who is graduating today. I’ve yet to see a Facebook or Instagram account which is devoted to photos of someone studying or attending lectures or writing essays.”

"Everything of any significance that you will do in your life will be done by your un-Instagrammable self.”
- Tara Westover

Westover said in her speech that we all have multiple identities: Who we are with ourselves, who we are with others, and the virtual self we create and share on social media.

It’s easy to get swept up in that last avatar that we create for ourselves online—but in doing so, we subtly send a signal to our real selves that we’re not good enough.

Westover’s advice: Start trusting that your un-Instagrammable self—in all its flaws—is your biggest growth opportunity.

She summed it up best in a quote from her speech you might want to jot on a post-it:

“Sometimes I think that when we deny what is worst about ourselves, we also deny what is best. We repress our ignorance, and thus we deny our capacity to learn. We repress our faults, and thus we deny our capacity to change. We forget that it is our flawed human self, not our avatar, who creates things, and reconsiders, and forgives, and shows mercy.”

Her challenge to the new graduates: “Today, I would like to pause for just a moment to appreciate the parts of you that you don’t put online…And tonight, as you upload that photo, take a moment to check in with your un-Instagrammable self—and thank them for getting you this far and for taking you the rest of the way.”

And that’s a challenge to all of us, too.

Today, how can you appreciate your un-Instagramable self? The one who doesn’t get the Lo-Fi treatment or captured in a bright boomerang video, but the one who stumbles and learns and perseveres and keeps going through it all? The one who got you to where you are today, and will take you to where you want to go?

Greet your un-Instagrammable self with compassion and curiosity, and know it’s a version of you that’s enough—and one that’s leading the way for you to continue to grow.

Watch Tara Westover's full commencement address:

Read next: How to Stop 'Playing a Part' and Uncover Your Authentic Self

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