Feeling self-conscious online, and Laura Jane Williams on Hashtag Authentic
I finally got around to listening to Laura Jane Williams’ episode of Sara Tasker’s brilliant podcast, Hashtag Creative, the other day. They talk about so much good stuff, and I really recommend listening to the whole thing, but there was one chunk of their conversation that really resonated with me. While chatting about how to write spellbinding Instagram captions, Laura says that “we’re all terrified of being laughed at…. and when we are earnest we open ourselves up to ridicule”. And with that one sentence, she succinctly put into words the biggest challenge I have with creating and sharing content online: I’m terrified of being laughed at.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve written over the last few years – Instagram captions, tweets, blog posts – that I haven’t shared for this very reason. I’ll get about half-way through writing something, and then the face of someone I know will pop into my head, and I’ll wonder “what would they think of this?” Sometimes it’s the face of someone I went to school with and haven’t seen in ten years. Sometimes it’s the face of an extended family member who works in IT. Sometimes it’s the face of one of my old London friends, who I used to drink and get sarcastic with. In my head, they’ll read what I’m writing, then roll their eyes, or laugh, or tell someone how silly I am.
So I stop writing; sometimes completely, sometimes I’ll switch to a safer subject, and sometimes I’ll just extract the honestness from what I’m saying. Tone it down. Make it less.
I’m not naturally socially confident in-person and second-guess myself a lot – although I can put up a good front – but I am definitely more self-conscious online. My theory as to why this is, if you don’t mind me getting a bit therapy-ish, is that I don’t like that I can’t read people’s reactions to what I’m saying. Yes, some people “like” what I write, or comment on it, or message me, but most people who see it don’t say anything, so I have no way of knowing what they think. And I find this really unsettling. In person I’m pretty open, and am known amongst my friends for having a fondness for filthy jokes and innuendos, and not much of a filter. I over-share a LOT. Yet I feel happy doing this because I can read how people are responding, and edit or tweak what I’m saying to fit the mood. You can’t do that online. You can’t change the tone of what you’re saying to fit who you’re talking to, or adapt as you go along. You just have to put your words out, and let them sit there.
Yet, this is something that I’m really keen to overcome. I don’t want what I share online to be dictated by what I think other people might think of it.
Sara said something that really, really helped. She said that she has a whole family that roll their eyes at everything she does online, but that she thinks “oh good, it’s not meant for you”. It really stuck with me because I’ve never rolled my eyes at anything either of them have said online, I think they’re both amazing, and love what and how they share. And I guess that is because their content is meant for me.
They liken the process to panning for gold: you have to sift out the mud and stones in order to find bits of gold. You have to put people off in order to find the people you want to connect to.
They also referenced an Amy Poehler quote I really love:
“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”
It is, I think, so easy to be judgemental. So easy to roll your eyes. So easy to laugh at someone. Lord knows I’ve done more than my fair share of it. And, let’s be honest, a glass of wine and a bit of a bitch can be very therapeutic. But I refuse to judge anyone who is being honest about their experience. And I want to spend my time online with people who feel the same.
And the people who do judge? Well they’re not the ones I’m creating content for, and I need to keep reminding myself of that. And keep hitting publish regardless of what they might think.
So if you are also someone who struggles with feeling self-conscious online, then here are a few things I’ve done, and am doing, to try to help me do just that.
1. Write a list of a few people you ARE creating content for. They can be people you know in real life, or just enthusiastically follow online, but when you start worrying what people are going to think, picture their faces, and think how they are going to react to it.
2. Think about what the purpose of each of your content channels is, and write it down. If you are using them as a way of building a community, or attracting clients or customers, then it serves a very different purpose to someone who just uses it to share family and friends pictures with other family and friends. And that is ok.
3. Don’t listen to, or invite the opinions of, people who are not your target audience on your work. I used to ask people what they thought of my work who it was definitely not meant for. Now, I’m much more careful.