Some 20 years ago, when networks like MySpace and Facebook began transforming our digital lives, parents and teachers were quick to point out the dangers of putting too much of our lives online. Today however, the question of exposure versus discretion has grown more complex as personal branding has become an essential part of our careers. Especially young people today find themselves stuck in a transitional period, asking if they should unabashedly share their passions, struggles, and vulnerabilities, or rather guard their privacy amidst the vast expanse of the internet.
Welcome to the Jungle’s expert in The Lab, Brianna Doe, reflects on baring one’s soul in a digital arena, the blurred lines between authenticity and self-presentation, and what authenticity actually means in the age of social media.
I built my first ‘personal brand’ on Tumblr and MySpace. In high school, I’d spend hours curating my Tumblr to make sure it reflected my truest (and always coolest) self. My MySpace account featured the latest song, the coolest design, and a meticulously curated Top 8 of my closest friends — frequently updated following every fight, new inside joke, or after-school hangout. While all of that was going on, my parents and professors kept telling me not to put too much of my life on social media. On one hand, they said, it was a matter of safety; on the other, you never knew which potential employer was checking you out.
I didn’t heed their advice. But only a few days after landing my first job in college, my manager pulled me aside. I had posted a quote on my Instagram story that questioned religion, and I was reminded that the business owner was Christian, “so just watch what you post.” I set my Instagram account to private the next day.
In 2020, the situation repeated itself — in reverse. A family member warned me against posting my feelings about George Floyd on Instagram. “You can go to the protests, but don’t post about it on social media,” she said. “You might get fired.” In the moment, I agreed. But by the next morning, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took a deep breath and posted my feelings anyway. The first ‘like’ came from a former manager.
The wonderful thing about social media is that we can connect with people from all over the world — people of every age, race, background, and lifestyle. The problem is that some of those people could be the reason you don’t land the job you’ve had your eye on, get passed over for a promotion or turned down for a speaking engagement.
In 2018, CareerBuilder conducted a survey and found that 70% of employers use social networking sites to research candidates, while 57% have found content that caused them to not hire a candidate. More recently a woman posted on TikTok about getting a $40k salary increase with her new job. She was fired.
But what should we make of all the warnings about digital footprints and employers checking our Facebook when, in the same breath, we’re told to “bring your full self to work,” and to “find a company that will empower you to be yourself”? What if my full self isn’t deemed professional enough?
And in an era where so much of our lives are spent in a digital space, what does it actually mean to ‘be yourself?’
Most of us want to bring our full selves to work. We want to be able to embrace our personalities and show up in a way that makes sense to us. But if we redefine professionalism, doesn’t that mean we also have to reset, or redraw, professional boundaries? And if we do, what would a psychologically safe workplace look like?
I post on LinkedIn. I occasionally post on Instagram. But my LinkedIn content is only half of my story. My Instagram account (which accounts for another 50%) is set to private. And I rarely accept follow requests.
That being said, my first post on LinkedIn talked about my struggles with imposter syndrome and finding my voice. It went viral. And lo and behold, my new manager was one of the first people to ‘like’ it.
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
More inspiration: Brianna Doe
Leadership and personal branding expert
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