And Another Thing about Social Media and that Scarcity Mindset

Hey, thanks for reaching out to me last week about my thoughts on the scarcity mindset in publishing. I really appreciate it!

When I was thinking about this week's newsletter, I was trying to come up with some smart advice to give you as a follow-up. But, I can't. I can't tell you what your path is or how to find it. I never could. Finding your compass is hella complicated. It gets even more complicated when you start tacking on the stuff that goes on in this industry because of the stories we tell—and I’m not referring to the ones we get paid for.

Social media is a collection of stories. It's one of the things I used to love about it, because it was one of the few ways I was able to read perspectives of marginalized voices—people whose identities I don't share, people who are putting themselves at risk to educate other people who do have privilege, women like myself. Unfortunately, social media is not a safe place to have important, even life-changing, conversations. The tools weren't designed with a user's mental health in mind, nor were they developed to recognize how they'd be used by small business owners and microcelebrities like ourselves. You could be arguing with a bot, after all. The tools don't prioritize safety because they are structured to maximize engagement, to reward viral content regardless of its quality, for the purpose of making money from a powerful marketing tactic: trackable, text-based word-of-mouth advertising.

Word-of-mouth advertising is more complex in the age of social media because conversations have now become readable metrics. But it doesn’t take into account basic Internet functionality: private groups/chats, search engines, algorithms, time spent online, tool usage, date of consumption, time zones, etc. It also doesn’t acknowledge that people are not guaranteed to discuss every piece of media they purchase, rent, borrow, and engage with. Except, there's nothing about late stage capitalism that encourages quiet and gentle and thorough. It doesn't reward people who want to take their time to research or understand an issue, either.

Word-of-mouth advertising is also hard to separate from casual conversations where we just want to discuss our media. Post an opinion and we might get a reward—much like gambling—every time. Likes, replies, favorites. That kind of validation for our own works can be addicting. It also gets in your head. There’s an entire confusion of starving brain weasels who only want that “reward”. Add in the complexities of your own personal psyche, your insecurities and anxieties, your business situation, etc. and it can evolve into a tool that uses you instead of you using it. And once more for the kids in the back: YMMV! You’re gonna do what works for you both now and in the future. But know this: Social media is not free. What, then, is the cost besides our personal data leveraged for marketing purposes? How does the cost change who we are, what we want, and how we interact with people? What we create? And how?

Well, for one thing, it does change our rewards. An increasing number of people want to be famous; This is called the ‘fame motive’. I don’t think it’s as simple as: “I want to be famous” though. Sometimes, we just want to belong—a very, very human if not basic need. Here's a thing I learned about myself after watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Ted Talk: The quest for self-validation and the increasing desire for fame are knotted together. It can be hard to tell the difference and unpack what’s best for you, especially because fame is an extrinsic reward and a sense of satisfaction is intrinsic.

A lot of therapists don't understand this phenomenon either, unless they have direct experience dealing with entertainers, authors, game designers, etc. whose primary job is to create art in this environment. No shade on medical professionals. You gotta remember this is a relatively new issue exacerbated by harassment campaigns; both the mental health community and tech fields have a lot of catching up to do. So if you have the headspace to untangle fame and validation, you might discover what I did. I was so focused on what I didn't have—again, going back to that scarcity mindset—and that was why I didn’t feel satisfied in my work. And, because of a five-year window of personal and professional hell, my relationship with my work used to suffer, too.

I wanted to share this today to reinforce that you’re not alone in your struggles. Sometimes, finding connections through social media can be challenging. I get it. If you're struggling right now, please be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Accomplishments are a data point. That's not who you are as a person. If you ever feel defensive, or have to give someone your resume, it’s because you have been taught or internalized you’re not enough. Tons of studies have started to address that social media can facilitate and even increase FOMO and/or feelings of inadequacy. Sure, we all want to belong, but if this is something you’ve identified you need? Perhaps there’s other ways to connect that don’t also include shaky promises of external validation.

I’m here to tell you that you are enough, FFS, with or without a million followers. And when you start believing that? That’s when you’ll find confidence in your talent. Your voice matters with or without them. If you feel like a failure, that might be the myth of personal responsibility talking. Thing about brain weasels is that they are lying liars. I promise you there’s a HUGE difference between taking personal responsibility for your messes and blaming yourself for everything that’s happened to you. Some messes are not on you, friend.

So, I give you permission to acknowledge you are a human being trying to figure out your next move. We are all messy and anyone who pretends they're not is putting on a show. There is a path forward, but only you can find it. If you can't trust yourself, then know I do. You are the expert, you see, when it comes to the decisions you make about your health, your families/friends, your community, your art. So yeah, you got this.

Just like I know I do.

(Now go kick some ass. Okay? And, if you can’t do that, again… Please schedule time for self-care. You are absolutely worth it.)