I put a lot of myself into my work. Like a lot of online (and offline) creators, we have a tendency to give give give and blur Work Self and Personal Self. This is a choice though; no one told us to do this. No one forced us to start a blog, or website or channel or make a thing no one asked for. Careers advisors now have to say “put yourself out there!!” but there’s no guidebook on what to do once you’ve fully put yourself out there and succeeded. Oh Crap, After Seven Non-Stop Years, I Am Now Out There.
It’s not without purpose. I chose to live a life where I’m rather exposed. Maybe you did too. Maybe you are also aware that no one owes you anything, and yet you keep plugging away. You keep writing. You keep pitching. You keep sharing. You keep making. You then realise some people are reading your work, and then what?
To write is to connect, and any maker will probably be OK admitting that their work is an attempt to use their time on Earth to hopefully create something meaningful. We make things because our biggest fear is that we may one day look up from our phones and realise five years has flown by with nothing to show for it but a few good selfies and a few quid in the bank.
This doesn’t mean being right all the time. The beauty of life, I’ve realised, is you don’t have to have solid opinions all the time. I say “I don’t know” more than when I was a teen (ironic, that.) You can float around a bit, if you like. When I’m not making or sharing my work, I’m lurking online, listening to the rattling of cages, watching the tweeting turning to shrieking, as one group of people turn on another group. Sometimes I learn by lurking on the peripheries, and sometimes I enter into the arena, and come out wounded, reminded of my fragility. Sometimes I observe hurt individuals protecting their space and message them instead because you realise you can’t connect with a character limit. My true Twitter relationships have blossomed elsewhere; you’ll find us in a pub. Not much time for Social Media Formalities anymore. We could spend our whole lives bread-crumbing each other.
You realise you have to be aware of the wider world, politics, news. But when it comes to your own personal universe, it’s about taking a step back and not really caring too much about what people say about you. Your job isn’t to be universally liked or credited, your job is just to put things out there that feel good, from the heart. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know what’s On Fleek and what’s Off Fleek, you can lead with your imagination.
I’ve noticed recently that I hardly ever get a hard time from men on Twitter. It’s been years since I’ve had any misogyny or sexism thrown my way (lucky me!). Maybe it’s because I’ve stopped writing for certain women’s magazines, but the missiles often thrown at me are by young girls. Feminists who are fighting the same fight as me. Odd.
When I interviewed Lena Dunham the other week, I can’t pretend I didn’t get some backlash. I mean, like or dislike who you want! But people tweeted me saying they were “disappointed” with me, by associating myself with Lena. A woman I do not know through headlines, but through the warmth of in-real-life meetings. In this Internet-age people will easily become the Poster Girl for [Insert Bad Thing Despite Doing All These Good Things]. Isn’t it tragic that when it comes to young successful women, what goes up, must come down? Some women can easily become a neon signpost for The Woman I Don’t Want To Be. Our identity comes from who we follow, what we “like”, who we “retweet”. Me too. Some people may always think I’m just a privileged blonde girl who has a glittery-pastel-coloured life. Ew, unfollow.
In a world where Twitter is fast becoming out-of-context clickbait, real lengthy conversations are valuable. The Podcast revolution is actually a really fucking great thing. Raw conversations. Remember them?
It’s not my job to write about Who I Am anymore. I did that when I wrote my book. I’m so proud of that book. But I’m not interested in explaining what I’m about any more. If anyone cares to actually know much about me, they don’t have to go far. I’ve made it my life’s work to be honest and hopefully helpful when it comes to Getting Yourself Out There and I’ve only just got started. When The Metro wrote an amazing piece about my platforms being a place that lifts up other women, it was a reminder that actually I still have a lot of work to do in that arena. We all do.
By starting the podcast (top 10 on iTunes Business charts, hi), I’ve tried to prove getting off social media and having real conversations can be useful. Not to listeners, to me. Self-development 101 is to talk to people. I’ve confessed to judging people who drink green smoothies (and asked myself why?) in the company of famous foodie Melissa Hemsley who hasn’t herself gone without Daily Mail backlash; I’ve discussed learning from past mistakes with Lena Dunham; I’ve discussed how every one of us is now a media company with marketing guru Seth Godin; I’ve learned about the utter shit that trans activist Tyler Ford has to endure online daily; heard body-shaming experiences from 14-year-old Rowan Blanchard; the powerful story of starting your own podcast network when you’re a Black British Millennial woman by Imrie Morgan, and how your mental health can suffer when mining your private life for #content with LGBT author Ryan O’Connell. I’m not saying this to justify myself, I’m saying this to say: I’m here on this planet to learn. To grow. To defend myself when that feels right, and to be say sorry when things feel wrong. I’ve got a whole load of different guests lined up and I’m going to keep learning and keep talking. There’s no deadline on that.
If we take off our Instagram filters for a minute, the world is a mess. We are posting and commenting online from a vulnerable place. We also know more about each other than ever before without really knowing anything at all. Mental health problems are rife. We are struggling along, connected to each other but not really speaking. Sometimes each of us will do something wrong, or weird, or just plan whacky. We will all make mistakes. In this climate – politically, socially, generationally – we need to be more forgiving. Unless you have done something horrendous (like, criminal and BAD), I for one will never publicly shame you. If you accidentally used the wrong word to describe something, or if you said something you don’t know much about, or if you accidentally lash out at someone – I’m still gonna be here for you. Welcome to the Human Club.
I’m turning 28 this year, and what I know for sure is 2017 has been my year of shedding my “people-pleasing” skin. If you don’t like what I’m making, you have a get-out-of-jail-free card. I’m doing my thing, and I’ve never been more sure of my winding path ahead of me. I had no readers for years, why would I need that validation now? I still did it every day then. So I will continue to do it every day now. My motivations run deeper than whether people like it or not.
Boundaries are important. Whether that’s unfollowing something that makes you feel icky, whether it’s not replying to an entitled email from a stranger in your inbox, whether it’s saying NO to unpaid work or whether it’s going home early from a dinner with your friends because you need some alone time. Set your boundaries, my friend. Set them and be free. I’m only just learning the true importance of it all.
We shouldn’t feel guilty for ever dipping out. If someone or something isn’t your vibe, guess what, they are 3.2 billion+ other people out there on the Internet (and IRL WORLD) who might be. Don’t feel indebted to people. And don’t hang onto the hate either. Spend your time on other things.
Most of us are just here, dangling on the edge of this strange mundane roller-coaster, trying our goddamn best. Before you think the worst of people through a few pixelated words and images, ask yourself if you are only harming yourself by curating an online world that isn’t offering you real conversations.