A friend asked me the other day how I decide what to share online, and what not to.
He’d noticed that I started talking more and more about stuff outside of work and marketing: mental health, the dog rescue work I do, my personal experiences and values and beliefs.
It’s a considered risk, and one a lot of people aren’t comfortable taking. Many people try to keep the lines hard and fast. You’re either personal online and no business, or you’re all business and you keep the personal out of it.
I’m both, I guess. Which means I’m not everyone’s flavor, and that’s okay with me. So here’s a bit about why I’ve chosen to be open and honest online, and what that experience has been like.
People aren’t automatons.
Last I checked, I was actually a living, breathing human being. I wasn’t just a marketing and business machine.
I have feelings, thoughts, opinions, humor, good days, bad days, friends, family, pets, a job, hobbies, and lots of things I’m interested in intellectually. I’m multi-dimensional, and I like it that way.
It’s a choice. Some people work hard on the “personal brand” thing and want to be known for one thing and one thing only. They might want their digital presence to be a means to a end to drive leads for their business or get speaking gigs or sell online courses. That’s all fine. It’s just a choice.
I much prefer a bit of humanity both in my own content as well as in the streams of those I follow. I like knowing the people behind the work. Your mileage may vary.
We’re setting dangerous standards for ourselves (and others, for that matter).
One of the most pernicious issues of our digital world right now is the carefully curated, cultivated, filtered ideal we’ve created. (So much so that I’m writing a book about it.)
While we sit and post our carefully edited photos and regale our friends and followers about our charmed life, most of us sit behind the phone or the keyboard wondering when we’re ever going to catch up, when we’re ever going to be enough, why we can’t find the success so many others seem to have easily stumbled upon.
While we hoped that social was going to encourage realness and authenticity, I think in some ways it’s done anything but. While the jackasses of the world are perfectly comfortable being their jackass selves thanks to the steroid shot of keyboard anonymity, the rest of us look around at how others appear and relentlessly compare ourselves to what’s happening out there. And whether we like it or not, we conform to it. We say a little less, or say it a little differently.
We “keep it positive” so as not to offend the shiny happy people. We only post the fifteenth, carefully lit and filtered selfie, not the one we actually took the first time. We share our successes, minimize our failures, stay quiet about our struggles. Weakness and messiness, after all, aren’t attractive.
I call bullshit.
Stigmas only die when they’re brought out of the darkness.
Many now know that I’m a fierce advocate for mental health, largely because of some of my own experiences with anxiety and depression since college.
The over-filtering isn’t going to help people feel safer and more secure about discussing these things. And I think that’s a really big problem.
Since when are human flaws and chronic illnesses the measure of a person’s character? Since when do we think Jane is amazing…until she talks about having a bad day, or expresses doubt, or admits to fear? Our standards for what is “real” have gotten so warped, we’re shoving so many people into silence because they’re sure they’ll be even more broadly rejected than they already feel if they share their struggles.
So, I decided to be a poster child for my own theory. I think that if we drag these issues, kicking and screaming if we must, into the light, they can’t possibly fester and rot in the darkness like they usually have. Turn on the lights, and the monster under the bed is really an old sock. I’m not diminishing the severity of these issues, quite the contrary. I’m saying they DESERVE the light of day, our attention, our focus, our acceptance if we’re ever going to see them for what they are and address them as a very real, very present, very human part of our society.
And being judged doesn’t scare me anymore. So I’m going to lead by example, put it out there, talk about it, and hopefully in the process give someone else the courage to raise their own voice. If not on the internet, at least to their family or their doctor or their spouse or someone that loves them and can help them.
That seems like a worthwhile tradeoff for the jackwagons that might find me untoward for talking about my depression on Facebook (yes, they exist, I promise).
I am not my job. Plus, that’s boring.
Back to the job thing.
Back in 2008, I made quite a name for myself (accidentally, mostly) as a social media blogger and “Twitter famous” person. I wrote about what I knew – marketing – and people liked it so they read it.
But after a while, you can only answer so many questions about marketing. Or at least I can.
I’ve always appreciated being professionally acknowledge for my skill set. After all, that’s what allows me to keep a great job and talk to cool clients and do what I believe to be interesting, meaningful work to advance businesses into a digital world.
But that’s not the sum total of who I am. Just like I’m not my depression or anxiety, or I’m not just a mom, or I’m not just a woman, I’m not just a marketer.
I also realize that I am defying the advice of many dozens if not hundreds of my peers by letting the peas touch the mashed potatoes here and blending my personal and professional.
But as a result of this exploration, I think I’ve come up with a better “why” for myself than I had before. Because I think what I do is more than marketing and communications.
I help humans find their voice.
Sometimes, that’s through the lens of business and a brand to tell their story. Sometimes that’s a person who has learned to give validity to their fears and doubts for the first time. Sometimes it’s someone who finally gets help for their depression or anxiety. Sometimes it’s someone taking a leap of faith to write that blog or article or book.
For whatever reason, my ability to speak and share out loud empowers others to do the same. And I think that’s a hell of a “why”. So I’m sticking with it, and I’m refusing to box it into just “marketing”. Kottler eat your heart out.
All this to say…
This is a really long-winded way to say that I choose what to share online by knowing I want to do three important things:
- Express myself, because I find doing so helps me understand myself
- Help others find their own voice, because I know how powerful it is to do so
- Find my common humanity with others, and let them know they’re not alone.
You can do it differently. You can have different goals. You can decide this kind of path isn’t for you.
But I’ve found mine, and I intend to walk it with my head held high and my writing brain at the ready. Because I think we need more voices, not fewer.
And I hope all of this can help you find yours, too.