Every morning I felt like I was playing dress up. Wearing slacks just a little too long and ballet flats just a little too loose.
Small talk with strangers. Smiling, even if it meant grinding my teeth. One day I won’t be stuck at the front desk, I thought.
One day, I knew in my bones, I wouldn’t have to greet everyone with a smile even when I felt like garbage.
Then I became a full-time entrepreneur.
And I thought I finally had it all figured out.
I wasn’t faking my way through the day anymore. I was serving my clients and sharing online whenever I wanted to. Pictures of my coffee, videos of afternoon walks, the occasional writing tip or funny meme.
Can’t you see how much fun I’m having?
Performing yourself on social media
Then, after a heavy couple of weeks for our family, I couldn’t bring myself to share anything on social. It felt wrong.
How was I supposed to make a funny face on my Instagram stories, or share a thoughtful tweet, when I felt like the world was collapsing?
How could I share in the name of making genuine connections, when smiling would’ve been anything but genuine?
I started my business so I wouldn’t have to be cheery when I felt the complete opposite.
Yet here I was, putting all this pressure on myself to get out there. Perform my personal brand to keep my business afloat.
YUCK. How gross is that?
But it’s true. It’s how I felt. When you’re the face of your business, the face of the capital b Brand, there’s extra pressure to perform as yourself online so you don’t disappear into the algorithm void.
Enter the “labor of personal branding”
A few weeks later, I came across this post by Tara McMullin: “Why Being Yourself Is So Much Damn Work.” She talks about the labor of authenticity and personal branding. Our self image is often based on how we present ourselves online. And it’s exhausting.
Putting yourself on display starts to take a toll. No matter how authentic and vulnerable you are. Even though it’s a privilege to have this kind of labor, it’s still a type of emotional labor that’s difficult to navigate. Tara explains:
“Even when “authentic” includes the admission of dealing with a mental health issue or a family struggle, it can feel either — in reality, or in perception — like another version of producing the brand.”
It’s hard to switch off if you’re constantly feeling like you have to put your entire life on display to keep your brand going. Where’s the line between your identity and what you share online?
What to do when you’re tired of showing up
Your personal identity doesn’t have to be wrapped up in how you present yourself online. If you’re tired of the whole personal branding game, you’re not the only one.
Here are three steps to try when you’ve hit your social media wall.
1. Take a REAL break.
Tempted to skim right by this one? You need this tip the most.
Taking a break isn’t about blocking off a few hours in your day when you can’t touch your phone. When I say break, I mean a substantial amount of time away from your social apps. Think, one week minimum. Two weeks, even better.
The fact is, you have value whether or not your face pops up in someone’s feed. If you need space, that’s okay. If you can’t bring yourself to follow your marketing plan, that’s okay. The world will keep turning.
Plus, taking a break will give you the clarity you need to figure out how you want to take back control of your social media.
2. Decide how (and if) you want to show up
After you take your social media hiatus, figure out how you want to come back to the scene.
Which platforms do you actually enjoy?
No one is making you stay on Instagram or LinkedIn or anywhere else. If you don’t like a platform, hop off. You’ll survive. And, as long as you have a way to stay connected with your network, so will your business.
So which platforms make you cringe no matter what? Start there.
What do you love (and hate) about each platform?
Once you know which platform you want to stay on, take some time to reflect. Why do you want to stay here? What lights you up about this space?
For me, I’ve always loved making friends on Instagram, learning new things about sustainability and marketing, and sharing ideas about writing and editing.
The hustle culture and unethical marketing posts drive me up the wall, though.
I also really struggle with the pressure to share random pics throughout the day (every single day). There's got to be a better way, don't you think?
Instead of avoiding the platform altogether, I’m going to set some boundaries by:
Unfollowing accounts that don’t align with my values (slash make me feel icky)
Only scrolling the first 3-4 posts on my feed
Limiting my stories to no more than 3-4 days a week
I might end up sharing more or less in my stories, but I want to set an easy minimum so I don’t feel so pressured all the time.
Separate your identity from your ideas
Take some inspiration from how Tara separates her identity and ideas:
“I’m not interested in noticing the moments in my day that I can document and share to signal Who I Am and Why I’m Someone To Follow. But I continue to love the work of sharing my ideas and inviting others into a conversation so we can all learn.”
Conversations and learning together? Now that’s something I can get behind.
3. Focus on relationships
You don’t have to step on the stage every day. Sometimes, all you need is to spark some conversations behind the scenes.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been more or less MIA on the public-facing side of social media. I shifted my focus on maintaining my freelancer friendships and setting up virtual coffee dates with nice people.
I’ve been the least “productive” on social, and it’s been my busiest season in business yet. I know it’s because I stopped trying to sell and started focusing on making deeper connections with people.
The lesson: nurture your friendships and don’t be afraid to start new conversations. You never know where they will lead.
Besides, it’s not like you have coworkers when you’re your own boss. Use your social channels to create a community.
How I’m changing my approach in 2022
I’m out to make the internet a friendlier place. In 2022, I’ll keep focusing on building relationships, being helpful, and trusting the process. Now that I’ve had my busiest autumn yet, I know I’m onto something.
Here are some changes I’m making in my business. Watch this space :)
Focus on blog content
Every time I fall off the blogging bandwagon, I’m scared to get back on. (I don’t even want to check when my last blog post was published). But in the coming year, I plan to share at least one blog post a month, ideally two. I’ll stop spending hours on Instagram captions. Instead, I’ll put my heart into sharing longer-form content to serve others (my happy place!).
Have fun with it
Relax a little!
It was exactly what I needed to hear. We all take ourselves way too seriously on social and it's time we stop trying to be perfect. Treat it like you're talking to REAL PEOPLE and you'll start to find the joy in sharing again. Because then you get to have fun conversations with people again too!
If any of this resonates and you want to feel inspired, listen to the episode: Creative Ways to Show Up on Social Media Even When You Don't Feel Like It.
Find your happy place
The beauty of running your own business is you get to call the shots. You get to set your own measures for success. And you get to make your own rules. Stop worrying about making the algorithm happy. What makes YOU happy?
There’s not one “right” way to show up. Choose the way that makes sense for you.