Parts of this are probably going to come out wrong, but I hope you’ll bear with me as I suss this out. I think there’s something important here for more than just me.
It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me!
The most valuable work lesson I learned this year? Not being so trigger-happy on social media. It’s a lesson I’ve learned before 10 years back, albeit I had to find that reminder in an unexpected place.
But as for the more recent version of this lesson, I didn’t have a lot of choice in it initially; I was representing another company for the majority of the year, and they didn’t need me bringing drama to their door.
The thing I should’ve expected that still surprised me? How much less was brought to mine.
I have a new appreciation for my peace, and there are more than a few reasons why.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched people I’ve really enjoyed as humans – and even promoted their work publicly – lose their fucking minds on social media. A lot of this stems from mental illness, diagnosed and otherwise. Some of it is more insidious than that.
They’ve blatantly abused the people around them and the platforms they’ve so meticulously built, from literally getting themselves committed to comparing marketing to rape to jumping on the social justice bandwagon for profit to creating mobs to otherwise going all the way the fuck overboard in public in real-time.
And yet… time and time again, we watch these people rise to the top of the heap just to set themselves on fire. Their success is just as predictable as their inevitable fall from grace. (Not that it matters to them, because there aren’t enough of us telling the truth in public about what’s happening for them not to be consistently enrolling new acolytes.)
Because people want the easy answer, a guru who’s got it figured out. Even folks who know better STILL fall into this trap. I know because they tell about the money they wasted on the useless mastermind/coaching program/basic ass business course they opted into in a moment of weakness.
The thing about easy answers and speaking in absolutes is… The internet rewards this behavior.
I should know. That’s how I grew my first audience when I was 22 without realizing what I was doing.
When I started writing online, I was working part-time at a Starbucks, going to college, and trying to find a way to get my kid and I out of poverty.
With my first viral post happening within two weeks of me starting a website and blog, I felt like I’d struck gold. I instantly had thousands of people listening to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had some power, some measure of control.
When I turned it into dollars, I knew I’d found a way forward.
When you’re a traumatized, self-aware 22 year old trying to find your way out of a life where you have no options, you’re willing to try nearly anything. And when you find something that works for you? That looks like your ticket out?
You’re going to tout it as the Almighty Right Way, because you have no life experience and no reason to believe you’ll get another chance or another option. For me, it was minimalism and working online.
What’s wild is that people will believe you because they wish they had that kind of confidence and certainty.
That might sound arrogant, but before you judge me, consider for a moment how many books by men you’ve read that purport that message in one form or another. (Anything with the word “stoic” in it probably qualifies.)
I was 24 when I wrote a book of essays on motherhood and my desire to find an alternative to what I saw portrayed in the media and in the depressing-looking lives of the women around me. Recently, I was rereading it, and I was surprised how much of it was well written, how much I still agreed with.
However, there was one notable exception.
There was one essay about why people were going to intentionally start having kids before 25. It felt hollow, not my voice at all – and I was disgusted. (I know it’s popular to cringe at your old work, but for the most part, I don’t. I have a lot of empathy for the kid I used to be.) As I read it, it took me a minute to remember why – and for who – I’d written it.
A friend of mine connected to me to a somewhat famous writer I respected who had been discussing alternative approaches to motherhood who I’d been reading for a while, and she pulled some strings to get me on a call with her.
The woman on the phone told me my fastest path to publishing was to lean hard into the anti. Be flagrant about being young and right. Intentionally push buttons. Piss people off. Fly off the handle and rely on being smart and pretty enough that you can assume you’ll get another chance if you overstep too far. At least they are talking about you! You know, Fox News commentator type shit.
She gave me the name for the essay, said I could let her know when I was ready to start pitching it places to drum up interest to sell the book, and that she’d blurb it. I’d hit the new author jackpot.
I wrote the essay, included it in the book, but the longer I sat with it, the longer it just didn’t feel right. Unsurprisingly, I never got as far as traditionally pitching it.
Why? You could say I choked. At the time, I couldn’t have really told you why I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I had plenty of personal reasons on paper not to. Among others, I was in an abusive marriage, had a new baby, and a dozen other reasons that made me too busy/distracted/etc.
But the truth was, I didn’t believe in it anymore.
Poor or not, I didn’t want to be that author, that shell of a yet-another fake ass fucking persona.
While I’m aware that you can always reclaim your image ala Tucker Max or who the fuck ever else after getting famous for being a shitty person who games the media machine, but I was not willing to sacrifice my integrity for views. I’m still not.
I’m not interested in leading a self-righteous mob – because mobs always turn on the rage inducer eventually.
I’m also not interested in diluting my platform for every real and imagined outrage that comes along (and not sharing something you care about doesn’t make me garbage). I don’t have to participate in performative wokeness (especially when I know that’s not how I create real impact #RememberTheBlackSquares). I am not required to be a buzzkill every time someone dares to have fun on the internet.
You know, like when everyone suddenly wants to get indignant or preachy about people having fun with AI images when it’s mostly fear-mongering and an aversion to trends. (The real issues with AI go far beyond anything to do with copyright or theft, but I’m not going to pretend I’m qualified to host that entire discussion here. And as a writer who’s had their work stolen frequently, buys artwork as I’m able, and supports small businesses, anyone who comes at me with “not valuing artists” can fuck off into next Tuesday.)
More than one thing can be true. It often is. Since social media isn’t a place that values the kind of nuance I want, I’m not having a lot of those conversations here.
If I’m building something rooted in a personal brand, I’d rather build something sustainable. I’m fine with it happening more slowly.