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Do I Have To Exist Online To Be Successful?

Published on Into The Fold

Every week my to-do list includes: post more to Instagram and Twitter. It’s an easy enough task and I have an album of photos waiting patiently to be posted, yet days and weeks pass while my feed remains stagnant. My Instagram timeline is a stream of self-promotion, #AD posts and people sharing their brilliant creative work; life coaches, self-development courses, writing courses, book releases, published articles and art. Meanwhile, I sit clutching my phone as I scroll, struggling to make my contribution. 

Social media has fostered a culture where creative work is synonymous with the creator. We engage more with work that’s attached to a strong personal brand; which can make building that brand and sharing the work infinitely more exposing. So much of how we live is informed by social media: that café recommendation, the exhibition, the artwork that hangs on your wall, the books and articles you read and tv you watch. It’s rare to find someone or something with no social media footprint to follow. 

Like so many creatives, my day job doesn’t reflect my ambition to do the thing I love – write. I’m still figuring out how this might look in the future but I can’t rely on the security of my job representing that aspiration, so I must represent myself. But without engaging with social media it feels like there is a glass ceiling to the scope of possible success. The idea of having or creating a ‘personal brand’ is so entwined with the very nature of building an online profile – and that’s right down to young teens’ finsta accounts, to Instagram celebrities. No one is immune to the pressure to create a profile, literally and figuratively. Intentionally or not, we do curate personas from the words and images we put out into the world and I fear that I may not be perceived in the way I intend, or just not perceived at all. 

I need an audience, but am reluctant to dive in when I feel like every post should be evidence of my worthiness to be a writer.  I’m still figuring out how I want to give myself that voice without divulging the intimacies of my life and I’m reluctant to so publicly do that working out online. Writing on Instagram tends to be very personal and the personality of that work forms the foundation of a person’s ‘brand’; be it curt and political, or candid and intimate. But by building such a strong personal brand through what we share, we can risk pigeon-holing ourselves in an efforts to be relatable and by commodifying our personality and creativity, which is constantly evolving. Any change in creative direction by someone with a large following is nearly always led by a lengthy justification of that change; a result of the demanding expectation that one must be held accountable to those that got them there in the first place. After all, a personal brand is not just built by the individual but by the opinion and interactions that followers project on that individual.

I often think that if it weren’t for my writing, I’d come off social media completely. The irony is that it’s probably my scrolling that’s made me so hesitant to share in the first place. I compare my work and achievements to others. I want what others have and sharing my writing can feel inconsequential: a drop in the ocean by comparison. The pursuit of the ‘side-hustle’ feels rife and we’re bombarded with some notion of ‘success’ every time we scroll. One Instagram story might be telling you to stop feeling so guilty about having a ‘day off’ and you feel justified for those ten seconds until you see someone who’s hit the word count of their third novel and on a bad day, you spiral into the vortex of self-doubt and comparison. Where social media has democratised voices and given everyone an accessible platform, it can feel like you’re drowning in a sea of voices, opinions and personas. Such immediate access to this makes it difficult to outweigh the negatives with any positives. 

Although I find social media a great source of inspiration and information, I rarely come away feeling happy. Every time I think about having a break, I fear missing out on opportunities and I struggle with the vicious cycle of knowing it could help me reach a career that would make me happy. We’re fed the idea that any opportunity could be the one – always say yes and keep your finger on the pulse. Opting out can feel like the digital equivalent of not going to that networking event where there’s invaluable contacts waiting for you to pitch your best self. It would be irresponsible not to go. But those events aren’t a space where you can compare your peer’s career, beautiful home and recent girls trip to Bali, against the banal everyday reality that we only know of our own lives. Real life interaction offers less room for disparity between who you believe yourself and your work to be and what others see in you. Maybe we feel so unfulfilled by social media because of the false intimacy that is created through the very small window we have into another person’s life; having mistaken this for genuine human connection. Friendship, romance and human connection can come from using social media but for many the experience is one dimensional and passive. 

Perhaps our expectation of information being so readily available online has made us complacent in prioritising real life interaction. Prioritising real life networking, and not of the convention centre kind, but of meeting someone new for a coffee, having mentors and placing more emphasis on making creative industries feel more inclusive in reality rather than through the digital back door would offer more options to those who feel overwhelmed by the pressure of social media. Even with this shift, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter offer unparalleled, free access to invaluable contacts and information so maybe it’s a recalibration of my relationship with social media that’s needed to utilise it purely as a tool rather than the sum total of my creative worth and ‘personal brand’. 

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