In today’s world where nearly 10 hours of the average young person’s day are spent online, success and self-branding—in almost every field—go hand-in-hand. And yet, you know that crafting and solidifying your “brand” online means a lot of time and energy glued to your phone. You also know that all that phone time leaves you feeling alone, alienated, lost in comparisons to others, and carrying around a vague feeling of not being good, or pretty or exciting or successful enough. Sure, you get a nice rush each time you get a new follow, like, or comment, but the “high” fades as quickly as it comes, leaving you feeling empty.
Don’t delete your accounts just yet. While simply dropping out of the social media game is an option for some, for those of you who have committed to career goals that require a strong online presence, it can feel unwise to leave the social media universe entirely.
So if you are one of the 88 percent of 18 to 29-year-old Americans who use Facebook or one of the 56 percent in the same age group who use Instagram, or one of the millions who use other social media sites, my suggestion is to implement the following mindfulness hacks into your social media strategy.
1. Clarify your goals, then re-examine them periodically.
Why do you need/want to brand yourself on social media? Is it so that other people in your chosen field take you seriously? Is it to broadcast your message to the world, or to connect with others? Get very specific and write these goals down somewhere where you can refer back to them regularly. As you post, notice whether you are staying true to your goals. Is there a common theme among your posts? Is your feed telling a story, and is it the story you intended?
This is not only a smart branding strategy, it is a mindfulness practice. Without clearly articulated goals about your brand and its purpose, it is easy to fall into the trap of chasing “likes” or seeking approval for its own sake. In that zone, we tend to suffer, comparing ourselves madly against other people, losing our confidence and feeling awful when we don’t receive enough affirmation from the outside world.
2. Cultivate your brand, but don’t believe the hype.
The truth is, that we which we call our “self” is not a fixed thing. Every cell in our body dies and is regenerated every few years. It is true that we all have bodies, brains, personalities, likes, dislikes, and our own unique quirks, but recognizing that every one of those things will shift and change throughout the course of our life helps us to remain flexible and loose in the face of those changes.
If I post an accomplishment on my page, for example, and it receives a lot of likes, I feel really good. There is nothing wrong with that. But if I take myself too seriously and cling too hard to my identity as a fixed thing, I will most definitely suffer when I post something and don’t get any response, or when things actually go wrong in life (which, spoiler alert, they will). Holding ourselves and our “brands” loosely, with as much humor and gentleness as possible, makes lots of room for the ups and downs of life—online and off.
3. Be real. Others will see and appreciate it.
This is a tough one for many of us. It is very hard to be vulnerable online, especially when trying to “sell” ourselves. We often present pictures of ourselves and our lives in the most flattering light imaginable, wishing that it were true, while the “real” us sits behind our screens, flailing and failing, struggling and feeling sad, lost and lonely.
Even though it is counterintuitive, every time I see an example of someone being real online—being honest, sharing a struggle, or even just showing up unfiltered—I am filled with love and appreciation. It gives me room to do the same, to share my own messy life and still stand rooted in my own worth and love-ability. I am not advocating for endless posts complaining, whining, or being overly self-deprecating. Those do not usually help you, or the person reading them, to feel better. Just more snapshots of real life, more honesty about the ups and the downs, and more authenticity will go a long way in helping others see you in their own struggles.
4. Spread kindness, go beyond the “like.”
Nothing combats jealousy and what the Buddhists call “comparing mind” like showing love to others on social media. You don’t have to be fake or to say things you don’t mean, but if a portion of your time spent online each day is allotted to writing encouraging comments to people whose posts you appreciate, or to those who are having a hard time, has the potential to transform both of your online experiences.
When I set this as my intention for a trip into Instagram-land or the Twitter-verse, I think of myself like a Jewish-Buddhist Santa Clause, dropping gifts of gratitude and admiration around to my various heroes, friends, and people who I admire, just letting them know how they have affected me. It does not take a long time, and someone who has been on the others side of these loving gifts, it can truly make someone’s day.
I hope that I have convinced you that the social media universe does not have to be such a difficult place to maintain mindfulness and compassion, and that selling ourselves does not automatically mean selling our souls. The good news is, each new day, each new post is a chance to practice. Good luck!