Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Thoughts on online presence, labeling, identity, and motivation
For years, really since I had written the Complainer's Journal, I struggled to figure out how I would brand and market myself to the world. I followed some of the brightest and most successful online personas and tried to emulate their example. I called myself taking their advice, but looking back, I was always a bit off when they asked...what do you want?
I think that I had to reach certain milestones to even answer the questions that were being asked by the faces on the IG feed:
What do you really want?
What are you here for?
What are you an expert at?
What gifts do you have?
For me those were really hard questions. Being at "expert" at Middle Grades English and reading does not set me up to be an expert at marketing, or building websites, picking color schemes, publishing books and articles. But even so, I waded in and experimented with many different mediums (even writing for a site called Medium) and curated a tool box of skills I have used to benefit other people.
Besides writing a memoir (and that is a new label I will address later), I have created a website for an evangelist and orphanage principal in Pakistan, edited formatted and published a book for a rehab house whose CEO has some incredible goals (Follow Penny Foskey of Angels in Flight) , and just recently edited, formatted, and published a book about adoption for Lynn Howell. I believe this book will help women who have been through abortion or adoption to feel loved and valued. I see all the grunt work I put in figuring out how do to those things to publish and market my own work as a preliminary to what God had in store later in unifying with others. Its humbling and beautiful and worth every late night to know that God used my process in being an author to uplift others - it is true that being a small piece in the background of someone else's dreams and hard work is more fulfilling than posting my face on bookstore windows. They, and God could have done it without me, but thankfully they didn't.
This whole experience has been waves of stretching out and then retreating for me. Putting my face out there (literally, have you seen the cover?) and enjoying the recognition of podcasts, article interviews, even a local tv interview, and book signings lulled into the daily beat of motherhood and later the lockdown of Covid19. I sank into those shifts for a while and felt an hush over me, so much so that I stopped writing daily devotionals online and stuck to more occasional blog posts. Later I found that I needed that quiet pause to redirect me.
Part of the crux was this...
To be marketable, one must be an "expert". And as much as I would love to go to Bible college, get a counseling degree (at one point I said I would do...who knows), the truth that I wouldn't fully share is that my expertise comes from experience. There lies the conundrum…yes - stacks of books and hours of therapy and podcasts make me qualified to speak to healthy and unhealthy relationships...no I can't talk about it.
Not to mention it pained me each time I was looking at my phone as one of my children was speaking to me.
Being a teacher by nature, education, and profession, my first inclination was to market my work as "self-help" and share advice through different mediums. But being that I choose not to be an open book (hehe), I can only go so deep with my readers and followers. I also read A LOT! I learn about a lot of different subjects all the time. You might could say that my hobby is research; for this reason I susceptible to phone addiction. The more I learn, the more I change my mind. This made me extremely uncomfortable in coming across as a Bible teacher. What if I wrote something about a passage, and later changed my mind?
The process of writing The Complainer's Journal wasn't a one and done. Well, the first draft was - I wrote it over a weekend. I felt driven, from what I suppose was the Holy Spirit - I am too reverent and careful to claim with certainty because it also could have been the release of repentance and hope of change driving me - the Holy Spirit guiding me to get to it all out. Then for reasons both holy and self serving, to get it out to the world's eye. I published, then I grew, and then I edited and republished probably 5 times. I decided that there was enough Christianity that used the "turn the other cheek" verse to enable abuse, and made sure my book made delineations for the difference between loving abusive verses just annoying people. My doctrine of love in action changed with more understanding, and my edits reflected that.
The same happened with the Workbook. I wrestled with prayer ideas therein, coming dangerously close to appearing to scared to ask God for much. The book is largely about how the prosperity gospel is a catalyst for complaining when we declare and claim and God doesn't bless. Its about reorienting your prayer life from a Christmas list, to a pilgrimage of God's will.
If it weren't for the spoken prophecy of a IG face bigger than me ( I don't want to share her name because I will not use it here for hits) I would probably still be tweaking it. "Rest and rejoice in your completed work". And so I finally powered down the computer and was relatively quiet for a long time.
Since then I have enjoyed many peaceful moments. After working to take all the advice I had written out, my life is considerably better.
I am not a woo woo person, but I do think valid testimony should be shared. Around the end of a particularly hard time, I got a message from that Evangelist in Pakistan. If you want to support him, there are highlights for him on my IG feed. He is a young man, honest, big dreamed, and the "father" to 43 orphans. He said he saw me, surrounded by dark, when a light shone over me and a voice said, "Your darkness is over". I cried. I was in desperate need of light. Since then, there have been many blessings I can count, and though I know life is not a string of one happiness to the next, I am thankful to God that He personally showed me His love for me in the person of Jesus, in the prophecy of Adil, in the slow healing of my heart's wounds. I finally started to realize just how much I spurned being truly loved, and began to accept that blessing.
All of these experiences culminate in a shift of what I want to do with myself, what I want to put out there. If you've followed me a while, you've seen how open I am about new ideas and plans, forming identity and focusing presence. Even right now, I am still working on the plant nursery and considering my last addition to the Complainer's series ( a compilation of the materials I made for speaking engagements, magazines, and journals).
After speaking with a friend the other day, mulling over what the purpose of this all is, I confided about my doubts of projecting myself as an "expert". Like the marketing giants say, we are all an expert in something. And even though I may have spend hundreds of hours on self help, I just didn't feel right about being a "self help guru". There are plenty of people willing to share their stories and their degrees for that.
"You wrote a memoir" she said. "Don't label it as self-help".
And labels are so important, empowering, and guiding. I wrote a blog post about that a couple years ago (plug)...
Why is something so obvious, sometimes not? Thank God for friends! Having a handful of women friends in particular has been a specifically answered prayer for me. I hold them dear.
She asked me what filled my "bank account" emotionally by being online.
The old influencer questions raced by me again...
What do you really want? Community and relationships, some validating book reviews, messages from people who were helped by my story - no exaggerating, every time I tell God, "ok I think I am done writing", I get a message from someone.
What are you here for? *see above* - Entertainment, growth, learning, catching up with people and learning from others.
What are you an expert at? Asking questions and overthinking. Growth in healthy relationships.
What gifts do you have? Family, Friends, a phone, interests, stories to write and share, testimonies, and the gift of being able to see information objectively (5 ennegram)
How would you answer those in relation to the time you spend online?
For this season in my life, how ever long it is, I am dedicated to being a mom, gardener, and story teller. Parts of my online presence will be of my own story, some technically fictional but that ring as truth for all of us. I commit to asking more questions and listening, story telling and sharing than teaching. I am leaning into heavier social media boundaries (uninstalling the apps, and going to more intentional laptop use than scrolling use) of a year off from social media to invest time in other writing projects.
And as Malinda Fuller wrote in Obedience over Hustle, "If our businesses, social platforms, or ministries give us influence over thousands or millions of people but we have lost the respect and affection of our children, what have truly gained....If we have lost the ability to shepherd their own hearts, dialogue with them, and say, 'Follow me, as I follow Jesus', then what is it we have so willingly given ourselves to?"
Looking back at the couple of years I spent hustling myself, I remember a colicky baby, and me crying over a crashed website I had built from scratch. If you haven't tried to market anything online before, you don't understand the amount of hours, creativity, and attention it takes to make a tiny dent in the internet on your own. Its consuming at a time when I had decided to stay home FOR my babies, but relatives, acquaintances, and parts of popular culture eyebrowed at me, that diapers weren't as a dignified as websites and platforms (or really maybe, that's what I heard in my own head).
As of today, my book listing for The Complainer's Journal and Workbook have been changed from "Self - help" to "Memoir". My latest book is short fiction, but is true for all of us mother's or caregivers who have stayed up late with an ailing loved one. I'm slowly cracking away from the veneer of hustling influencer I was cocooning in, and hovering over the fields full of stories I have to share with my children and with you.
I hope that you jump aboard with me on this shift from personal marketing via social MEdia, to engaging selectively with you on SOCIAL media.
* Update - since deciding on these things, I have gotten positive confirmation by being invited to contribute to a new Christian magazine and meeting some more people in the field who are farther along than I am. I thank God for his faithfulness to my fickleness.
I must also point out the shift that comes when you go from taking pictures of family just because, rather than getting shots of things because it would make a good story. We just went to Callaway Gardens Fantasy Lights this weekend. There was a couple ahead of us that got out of the car every so often, stopped the whole line of vehicles to get a selfie in front of a scene. When we live to share our lives, we miss being in the moment. We may end up coming off as selfish. No one waiting in line (following the rules by staying inside the vehicle) appreciated their dedication to the perfect selfie. I had just decided to become much less active in stories, and I felt this great release from calculating the perfect story shots, subjects for posts, ways to increase involvement. My whole life doesn't have to be documented - I can make an impact sharing the vulnerable items that I want to, sharing where Jesus has healed various chambers of my heart. I can do this and trust the people meant to see it, will see it, because with my addictive phone habits, I can't keep chaining myself to a screen for marketing. I may mature as my usage changes, for now, its uninstalled. If you have read this article, would you share it? When you read the post I share for it, will you comment about how Social helps or inhibits you? I am interested to know the boundaries that various effective and successful people have. And success means, professional public face, mom homeschooling, mom working and caring for home - all of it. It all is so important and we can learn from each other.