On setting digital boundaries
This is a long one. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in!
I’ve struggled with setting digital boundaries from the moment I set up my first Myspace account. The allure of the Internet, the always-on nature… it completely drew me in — and it’s only escalated over the years.
I haven’t gone a day without thinking about social media. It’s always in the back (er, front) of my mind. In fact, just last night, Matt and I were chatting about how much social media has negatively impacted each of us and our relationship, particularly my confidence.
Sure, it could be in part to the fear of saying the wrong thing or my past experience with hurtful comments, but I don’t think that’s the root cause of my diminishing self. It’s the comparison trap.
Because I posted about fitness for many years, my algorithms are trained to show me content which, these days, happens to primarily half-naked women (typically in a sports bra at the gym or a bikini on the beach). As someone who’s “middle sized” — someone who straddles the line between wearing “straight sizes” and “extended sizes” — and grew up hearing a societal chant telling me I need to be as small and weigh as little as possible, I can’t help but compare my physical appearance to these women, especially when it’s all I see on my feed (even unfollowing these accounts and following accounts with other types of content hasn’t helped; when I log in now, I still see these types of posts on my feed as “recommended”). One scroll through my Instagram feed and I walk away feeling less-than in every way, shape, or form.
“So why don’t you just delete your Instagram, Lauren?”
For many years, I felt like I couldn’t.
As a blogger, I was told by every article, book, video, course, and fellow blogger, that, to be successful, you need to promote your work on the “Big 3” at a minimum: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Add in Pinterest if you have any sort of visual element. Snapchat — and later TikTok — is a given. If you have a food blog, you must be on Food Gawker and the dozens of other photo curation sites. LinkedIn if you can build an audience there. YouTube and a podcast if you’re willing to take the risk and delve into new types of content. All on top of maintaining the creme de la creme: your blog.
Moral of the story? Anywhere you can link to your blog, you should. The more posts you share, the more views you get. The more views you get, the higher your confidence, at least in my case.
Even once I deleted my blog, I felt an immense lingering pressure to be active online, and it only got worse once I set my sights on becoming an author.
As part of my manuscript writing class, one of the instructors hosted an optional yet highly encouraged social media class each Friday, where they insisted you be active on all the major platforms, namely Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok, in addition to Goodreads. Week by week, they broke down each platform, explaining how to make successful content while also talking about the importance of commenting, liking, and following your peers on each of these platforms.
The ever-popular “do it for the gram” motto became “do it for the book.”
I tried; I really did. Following their guidance, I restarted my Instagram (though, when I shared my past experience building an online brand, I got a virtual slap on the wrist for deleting my Instagram with 10k+ followers because, “I could have used that to promote the book!”), shared writing updates on LinkedIn, and even tried out TikTok for a brief period. I spent hours creating a 15-second reel that got little to no engagement and became easily agitated when posts didn’t perform as well as I hoped they would.
In addition to becoming more active on social media, my publisher encouraged me to share more often on my podcast, so I did — all on top of a full time job and consulting. I burnt out a mere month into my plan, making me rethink publishing the book altogether.
These unbearably high expectations aren’t unique to the program I took. I listened to an interview last week where the author of the book, To Shake the Sleeping Self, interviewed his book agent. His agent, who started his career on the publishing side, said that being an author isn’t just about the writing anymore. Aspiring writers need to show they’re willing to be a public persona and build a sizable platform before they can pitch their book idea.
To do this, publishers — and even agents, before signing on a client — do their due diligence before meeting with a potential author by confirming whether the person has solid followings on 3–4 key platforms, including social media, email newsletter, podcast, and web properties. Within the social media category falls Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat… you name it.
In my experience, it takes a solid hour to do a well-thought-out Instagram post; writing a newsletter can take 5x as long (I’ve probably spent a good 3–5 hours writing this email so far and I’m obviously not done). Being a digital public figure or influencer, whatever you want to call it, is a time-consuming, and the unrealistic expectations are unbearably high.
After my epiphany last week around cancel culture (ICYMI: in the end, it doesn’t matter if I get “cancelled,” even on a small scale, as long as I’m being myself and owning my voice), I realized I have the flexibility to pave my own path in the digital sphere.
Because writing isn’t my full-time job, I can pick and choose the platforms I want to be on. I don’t have to fall victim to the “Big 3” mindset or even the instructions of my writing instructor, which is honestly a sigh of relief.
After giving myself permission, I set off to figure out my digital boundaries.
As a starting point, I went straight to Matt, who I knew would challenge my inner thoughts. As expected, he asked a thought-provoking question: “Do you prefer creating content or the feeling of validation that comes with sharing content?”
I was stumped. After a few days of back and forths, I narrowed it down to the creation, particularly the writing — at least in this season of life. I love the flexibility and the ability to create on my own terms, and I love engaging with others who I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. What I don’t like is the nitty gritty that comes beyond the writing — for Instagram, for example, I would much rather focus on writing a caption than taking a “perfect” photo, editing said photo, deciding which hashtags to use, figuring out whose profiles to comment on, and which photos to like, and everything else that comes with being a content creator on Instagram.
From there, I thought about the platforms that allowed me to do this; to focus on storytelling more than promoting. The “Big 3,” TikTok, Snapchat, and Pinterest were obviously out. Email, however, is one of my favorite platforms centered around writing.
Maybe it’s the fact that you “own” your subscribers, in the sense that you can take them platform to platform, whereas there’s no possible way to do that on a site like Instagram. There’s also little to no negativity, at least in my inbox. Plus, it’s easy: I just write, test, and hit send. Guess that’s my first platform.
For the second platform, I couldn’t stop thinking about LinkedIn. I’ve gravitated to the professional platform since I first joined, and I like the idea of being a pioneer in that space. To this day, I see dozens of comments a week stating, “LinkedIn isn’t Facebook” and that “you can’t be personal on a professional platform,” but I disagree. In my real life, I tell my coworkers personal details — not overly personal details, but things like what I did over the weekend, what books I read, what I’m looking forward to. If that’s the case, why is it looked down upon to share those things on a professional platform?
With that in mind, I decided LinkedIn would be my second platform. However, not posts in the feed. For some reason, I worry about that; instead, I chose to test out one of the platform’s newer features: a newsletter, which would, as I hoped, allowed me to focus primarily on the writing aspect. Plus, I could use my weekly email as a starting point to minimize the risk of burnout.
Two platforms down.
The third was easy: the podcast. I never thought I’d be someone to have a podcast, but turns out the platform is quite a match for someone like me who enjoys talking. When I first started the podcast, I was in dire need of something, anything, to help process some negative emotions I was struggling with. At the time, I relied on writing as a form of therapy, and when I was unable to get access to a professional due to full bookings, I decided to hit record and read my journal-like articles aloud, knowing talking helps me process things.
I made the recordings public because I didn’t really mind if anyone hears them; after all, I published the writing I read to a public site (Medium). Beyond the sense of healing I get after finishing an episode, the entire podcast endeavor been a massive growth opportunity for me. It’s given me the chance to learn the ins-and-outs of recording, editing, publishing, getting on Spotify, and other things that I don’t think I would have otherwise explored. It’s different than your typical podcast with interviews and conversations. It’s a one-woman show (literally) that I can make completely my own.
For the last platform, I have my website. That’s a given, and something I’ll continue to maintain as a home base.
The thing that’s different about my approach is that it’s all about the act of writing and creating content. I get that I’m probably missing out on the opportunity to share my work with more people who might resonate with it, but it’s not worth the anxiety and burnout that accompanies posting on more platforms.
One thing that’s easy for me to do is get so caught up in creating content that I forget to take a metaphorical breath. To help manage that, I scheduled time throughout the week to work on each platform (e.g. Tuesdays are for email, Thursdays are for LinkedIn, and Saturdays are for the podcast) so I don’t feel overwhelmed and pressured to release content every day (or up to 5x a day, which I used to do! Hard to believe). On the off days, I’ll fit in movement, relaxation, or extra family time — whatever my body needs.
For the first time since my early blogging days, I feel pretty good about these boundaries. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on some corner of the Internet that I “should” be on, and I tried to set myself up for success by giving myself permission to use the same base content (from the email) for the newsletter and the podcast, rather than creating completely new content.
If I want to explore outside of these channels, I can, but it’s up to me and totally on my terms. There are no expectations whosoever, and it feels freeing in a way not to be tied to Instagram or Facebook or Twitter simply because I feel like I “have” to.
So that’s the long-winded way of sharing my internet boundaries and congratulating myself on forging my own digital path.
I’m curious: do you have boundaries for where, when, and how often you post on the Internet?
Until next week,