A friend of mine called me all excited about a new video he posted on YouTube. It featured scenes of humans helping animals. “I’ve tried all kinds of videos,” he said, “but this one got the most views. It’s up over thirty-thousand! When I posted a serious video about business that took forever to make and cost way more money, I only got like five views …”
“But what’s the point of it?” I asked. “Does it give your business any legitimacy?”
“No. It’s just what people want to see.”
In the book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, I found myself reading through the crazy tactics used by media manipulator Ryan Holiday to get lies reported by big-name publications and learning about how he was able to get no-name brands coverage by using the right gimmicks. The legit side of me was appalled by the terrible monster the media has become; the conniving side of me wanted to try these strategies to promote my own business. But then it hit me: what is the point?
Once we consume all the flashy gimmicks, fake headlines, and throw-away stories, what are we left with? A sick void. It’s that same sick feeling you get after eating a bag of M&M’s instead of a salad. That feeling that you’ve wasted hours online clicking on headlines like “Is Trump a Baboon?” or “Could Housewives Become Extinct in 2019?” – leading you to stories with no valuable content and a dozen more tangents that link to more stories with no valuable content.
Just Add Kittens … It Gets More Views
In a world where everyone has the ability to generate an audience, how do we resist the temptation to let outside opinions dictate who we become? Seriously, do we just tinker with different ideas until we get a million hits on YouTube? Is that what is to drive what we will be publicly known for?
Your legacy is your impact on the world and those you love. For your friends and family, they will remember how you treated them. All those small acts add up to a life well lived. But what about the public component of your legacy? You may argue that you don’t have to worry about the public side of your legacy because you aren’t famous and aren’t interested in notoriety. I think you should reconsider. If you have any social media account — Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter — you are sowing the seeds of your public legacy already, and it has a far-reaching impact. When you apply for a job, meet someone new, move to a neighborhood, go on a blind date, or meet with a potential client, guess what happens next? An internet search.
People who have never met you before want to know what you’re about. They want to know if they can trust you, and they will look for every clue online. They’ll see it all. Those Mardi Gras photos. Your political rant. That video series you posted about going on an all-pizza diet.
The Lure of Fame
Because we all want to be acknowledged by our peers and experience the chemical rush associated with seeing how many people reacted to our posts, it’s easy to get sucked into the fame-seeking vortex. I’m no stranger to it myself. I’ve noticed if I post articles on my personal Facebook page, no one cares, unless the article has a photo of me. And if I post photos of nature (especially mountain and beach scenes), I get a ton of likes. It’s easy to fall into the trap of grooming your online self to be the most-liked version for your audience. This just goes up the chain. Whether you’re presenting yourself to a few close friends on Facebook or have a YouTube channel with a following of several million, it’s all the same. People’s approval matters – a lot.
Although I would never insinuate that seeking connection with others is wrong, I would like you to ask a larger question: what is the intention of your interactions?
Being vs. Doing
There are two types of leaders. One wants to be great. The other wants to do something great.
The first seeks fame. She wants to be seen as special in some way. She wants her peers to think she’s smart or beautiful or creative or talented or maybe even supremely messed up (defined by problems, like being bipolar or dealing with struggle). Her focus is approval and how others respond either feeds or tears down her self-esteem.
The second seeks the pursuit of an idea or a calling. She wants her project to be successful. Her focus is the goal and her actions are dictated by achieving that goal. How others respond is still important, but only to further her cause. Martin Luther King Jr. isn’t remembered because he was handsome, a good speaker, and clever. Sure, he was all those things. But so are a lot of people. He is remembered because he furthered a cause. It was his dream of ending inequality that resonated with so many and became bigger than the man who represented it.
Your Public Mission
What is your cause? I’m not suggesting you become the next Martin Luther King Jr., but there are ways to make your public interactions align with your values and represent something more meaningful.
For example, let’s say your focus is on being a good grandmother and friend. Your cause, in this case, would be to spread love, support, and uplift. Think about how you can do that in both the online and offline world.
I have a dear friend who passed away from cancer a couple of years ago. She was a grandmother, and one of the last things she ever said to me was: “I’m so sick of the negativity in this world. I never talk about doom and gloom around my kids or grandkids. How could I do that to them? They need hope for the future.”
Her way of showing love and support was by sharing only positivity with her family. And she continued with that theme online – only posting uplifting messages and staying away from stories of lack.
My cousin and his wife lost their 2-year-old son a few years ago and, on the week of his passing, their family spends each day doing an act of service and remembering him. On Monday, they go out for his favorite food. On Tuesday, his siblings write notes of remembrance, and they visit his grave. The rest of the week sharing your artwork or involving others in creative thought exercises.
It’s easy to default to the norm of posting photos of cool places you traveled and reposting cute quotes or recipes. But what makes these posts meaningful to you? Are there ways to deepen your connection with those you care about?
Posting with Your Legacy in Mind
Sure, silly videos are fun. So are quizzes and games. A news story here and there is great. But what do your posts, as a whole, say about you and your personal mission? Take some time googling yourself. Look through your posts on Facebook or Instagram. Is this the kind of person you want to be perceived as? Who in your life do you care most about? Do your posts connect with these people? Or are your posts mostly spam or junk or trying to impress people you haven’t spoken with in years (if ever)?
As with anything, the most important part to your online legacy is intent. What is the intent of your posts? Do you want to look cool for your friends? Do you want to make everyone jealous about the vacation you just went on? Or look like you’re doing awesome things too? Is your intent to get the most likes? (Time to start adding some cute animals to your videos!) When your intent is less about keeping up with your peers and more about making sincere connections, it will change your paradigm. It may lead to less attention on the whole, but it will result in deeper one-on-one connections and a feeling of true engagement.
Escape the Matrix
Certainly, social media is a tool for connection, but you may want to consider how much impact you want it to have on your life and legacy as a whole. In other words, at the end of your life, do you want people to say, “Gee, Hermit Dan sure posted a lot of great anecdotes online! His pictures of crazy cookies are something I will always treasure”? Or do you want them to remember actually seeing you – in the real world? Perhaps the best use for social media is to invite people to dinner parties, real-world meetups, or even a video chat.
These genuine real-life connections are what build friendships. Your online posts are passive billboards that may attract attention, but, when all is said and done, I’d rather have a few close friends who I’d do anything for (and vice versa) than millions giving my video about animals a thumbs up.
And if I promote a noble cause that resonates with massive amounts of people, it’ll be the cause that matters. Not the gimmicks I use to obtain fame for myself. At least that’s my hope. The lure of fame is pretty strong, and the temptation to do something solely for the novelty of it – to get more clicks – is a trap I hope to avoid. Only time will tell.
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