Maintaining a sense of self when your career relies on an online presence

Image via Envato Elements

I don’t think of myself as an “influencer.” I share a lot of pictures, thoughts, and ruminations on social media, but I don’t feel that my tastes, preferences, or opinions are superior to those of anyone else. I’m a writer. Over the years, I have accumulated bylines in various Dallas-based publications, and I have goals to work my way up to getting published in national publications, however, I don’t think I could’ve made it this far in my journalism career without the internet or social media. Face it, hardly anyone reads from a tangible magazine or newspaper. Most people just read online articles, if they even decide to read past the source tweet or the headline.

For me, my favorite part of being a journalist is seeing total strangers comment on my work and talking about how it impacted them. Yes, it’s nice when your friends and family comment on your articles, but it’s different when you receive honest, unbiased feedback from people who previously didn’t know you exist.

Last month, the editor of one of the food publications for which I write was hospitalized after suffering a stroke. When I found out, I was shaken. I nearly had a panic attack because this man is like a father figure to me. I quite literally called the hospital pretending to be his son and he knew exactly who was on the phone.

While on the phone, he told me he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to post my work on the blog, and that was fine by me. I obviously wasn’t going to demand he edit and share my entry, and of course, I would’ve rather he prioritize his health. Plus, I have other publications on which I can share my work, so that was the least of my worries.

Later that night, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and noticed that nearly 90 percent of my pictures are of food. I realize that I am a food blogger, but my restaurant reviews are just a small portion of my journalistic endeavors. It dawned on me that my followers don’t really know much about me, other than the fact that I go out to eat and drink a lot. Loving food isn’t a personality trait, and I felt the need to show others that I’m more than just “the dude with the food.” But how?

I remembered a movie I had watched about a week before my editor had a stroke. It was a Netflix film called Cam, in which the main character, Alice, is a cam-girl whose entire world comes crashing down when she is suddenly unable to log into her account. Granted, I realize food blogging and sex work are two totally different things, but after losing a large platform, Alice is distraught, as her entire career largely depended on her online presence.

My editor is quickly recovering, and I’ve been able to attend tastings on a regular basis again, however, this experience taught me a lot about myself. After temporarily losing one of my platforms, I had a lot of time to reflect on my career, think about my long term goals, and find other productive ways to pass time.

For anyone whose career demands an active social media presence, below are a few things I learned from my month-long hiatus from food blogging:

It’s okay to only give your followers “surface level.”

Your followers don’t need to know your entire life story, as long as they know you have expertise in one area. I’m perfectly okay with my Instagram feed being 90 percent food, as it shows my followers I am knowledgeable of good restaurants and bars in town, and it also allows me to separate my private life from my public life.

You need hobbies that don’t directly relate to your career.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy swimming, hiking, and putting together puzzles. While I’m sure writing is my calling, having other hobbies allows me to hone my skills in other areas.

Give yourself the validation you need.

Working in social media, one tends to seek validation through likes and interactions. Instead of basing the quality of your work or character on social media interactions, keep a journal; write down a list of things you like about yourself, or keep track of good things that happen during the day.

Never stop networking.

If you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self while maintaining an active online presence, meeting with other bloggers, writers, influencers, and artists helps a great deal for discovering new opportunities and coming up with fresh ideas.

Millennials are perhaps the biggest “freelance” generation, and that means spending a lot of time online sharing our work and seeking out paid opportunities. However, it is important to remember that you exist outside of the internet. Although freelancing often entails bringing your work home, you mustn’t let work take over your life. Maintaining balance and order is vital.

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