Death by Linkedin

An honest discussion about professional social comparison — and how to keep it from having a negative impact on your little soul. Introducing: The LinkedIn Effect.

You’re doing it again. You’re looking at someone else’s life on social media and thinking that you just don’t stack up to their grandeur. Their pictures are stunning. Their descriptions and hashtags are so damn clever. Their spouses and friends are attractive and happy. Their kids look like the next Kristina Pimenova. Their houses are spotless and palatial. Their photos flit effortlessly from swanky hotels to champagne brunches to Michelin-star restaurants. They’re taking hikes, dressing up dogs, & volunteering at their local soup kitchens. How do these people manage to hang family, fun, & career in a seemingly perfect balance? Surely their lives outshine yours in every way.

Let’s flip the switch and consider the thoughts that run through your head when you’re looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile. It’s a professional social media platform to connect with other professionals, learn about the latest successes and trends in your field, follow thought leaders, explore career opportunities, showcase your professional abilities/contributions, and more. So it’s pretty harmless on the surface, right? Let’s be real.

You’re doing it again. You’re looking at someone else’s life on professional social media and thinking that you just don’t measure up. Their profile picture could grace the cover of Forbes. Their headlines and summaries are just so pithy and perfect. Surely they have an editor. Their colleagues are glamorous and graceful — even in business casual. Their job titles are dreamy and enviable. Their offices are ergonomic, start-up-esque, and seemingly the brainchild of Elon Musk. Their business trips look like breezy vacations. They’re just so damn professionally happy.

Yet, you don’t think about LinkedIn’s impact on you in the same way as your other social media platforms. Your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. You can somewhat readily recognize when you’re comparing yourself to others there — but LinkedIn escapes your protective responses. And you begin the professional social comparison, or as I like to call it, The LinkedIn Effect.

Social comparison is a fancy way of describing the way you define your own self-worth through comparing yourself to others. You use these comparisons to either ramp up your self-value, downgrade your self-value, or to tell yourself that you’re doing just fine. You do this both consciously and subconsciously… and your needs can change from one day to the next. It’s complicated, but not really.

The LinkedIn Effect refers to your tendency to assign a value to and make judgments about your own professional accomplishments, your current career or job title, the amount of money you do or don’t make, the company you slave away for, your entrepreneurial abilities and more. Through LinkedIn comparisons, you come to foregone conclusions about your overall professional value, your contributions to society, your earning value, and even your potential for upward mobility.

LinkedIn also encourages you to display as much about your professional self as possible. Everything from articles, experience, education, and skill sets to your accomplishments, promotions, recommendations, and personal interests. As you compare, you’re either feeling pretty good about yourself or realizing that other people have done far more with their professional lives than you have. The LinkedIn Effect can invoke a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative — pressuring, defeating, inspiring, thought-provoking, collaborative, creative, and more.

So how do you squeeze the greatest amount of positive energy from The LinkedIn Effect and minimize the deflating energy? While it’s a little different for everyone, you can start with remembering some basic LinkedIn truths.

  • You will become the sum total of the things you dedicate your time and energy to. This is especially true professionally. The people you perceive to be more successful than you have likely worked their way to that point. While there are exceptions (hand-outs are a real thing, and everyone’s professional starting point is not created equally), the majority of successful people have dedicated more time and energy to achieving professional success than did their peers.
  • The really successful people you admire on LinkedIn haven’t stopped learning or achieving. This is vital. You often find yourself thinking how much better things would be if you could just land this position — then you’d be set. Wrong. The real success comes with using each little stepping stone as a platform for continued growth. That’s where truly accomplished professionals make their mark — step by step.
  • What you see on LinkedIn is not always what you get. The same is true for every single social media platform known to man. The life you’re looking at on the screen is not always an accurate representation of reality. The LinkedIn Effect, like social comparison, takes its toll not only in the way you judge yourself compared to others but in the way others present themselves to you. Remember that at the end of the day, we’re all humans just trying to do our best to make sense of the world and our place in it. Regardless of how we present it.

Now that you’ve explored some basic LinkedIn truths, you can use that positive energy to make uplifting conclusions about yourself and your professional value.

  • In this moment, you are who are you. The same applies to where you are professionally. Acknowledge who you are, where you are, and own it. Own it like you’ve never owned anything before. Then examine the patterns of the successful people around you and the people on LinkedIn. Write it down. Decide who you’d like to become and where you’d like to be. You’ll start to see that you can work toward improving your professional reality just as much as the next person. Own your goals. Learn how to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. While you may not be the next Elon Musk, you can certainly become the best version of yourself.
  • This one is big. Really big. Care less about what others are accomplishing and focus on seeing HOW they are doing it. Focus less are others’ outcomes and more on their processes. I’ll write an entire article on this concept in greater detail. The LinkedIn Effect can have a profoundly negative effect on you if you only assess others on the basis of their purported professional standing. The positive energy of the LinkedIn Effect comes when you can start understanding the processes people use to get where they are. This is where the learning begins. Remember, it’s human nature to compare the perceived strengths of others to the perceived weaknesses of our own. Don’t let the glossy depictions of others’ work lives leave you feeling less-than-desirable professionally.
  • If you like to keep your professional endeavors to yourself — take pride in that. Be empowered by your personal decisions about what to reveal to the world. Most people overshare in an attempt to inflate their self-importance. They also selectively share depending on how they wish to portray themselves to the world. People don’t document their demotions on LinkedIn. They don’t photograph their weak moments, advertise their missed deadlines, or make mention of the Starbucks they spilled on their lap this morning. What we’re seeing on their social media is Facebook Fabrication. We’re seeing LinkedInflation. We’re seeing a slim minority of the reality they’re actually living.
  • Some people, most people, like recognition. They like the feelings of accomplishment, professional respect, influence, etc. It’s human nature. And here’s a sad fact you’ve never considered: many people highlight their professional accomplishments in order to overshadow the areas of their life that aren’t so good. Don’t feel pressured to outshine so-and-so’s highfalutin social media profile. Be happy with where you are professionally. As you take reasonable steps toward your professional goals, your profile will build itself naturally.
  • Fake it till you make it. Demonstrating where you’d like to be is just as important as exhibiting where you are now. You may think other people have some elusive “it factor” or that their experience is far more valuable than yours. Even worse, that they’re smarter than you. They’re not! You’re only fooling yourself. Part of taking positive steps forward professionally is having confidence in your ability to master new roles, create value in positions that you may not be 100% experienced in or qualified for, and making it clear to others and to yourself that you are capable of exceeding expectations in any role you choose to pursue. Don’t let a lack of experience hold you back from confidently pursuing new opportunities.
  • Lastly, love yourself professionally. Harness the positive energy from the LinkedIn Effect, minimize the negative thoughts, and just love yourself. Know that everyone on LinkedIn had to start somewhere, and that the majority of them struggled with the same feelings you’re having now. Loving your professional self means embracing what you have done — no matter how small. It means contemplating what you can learn from past experiences, both negative and positive. It means telling yourself over and over that you are worthy of progress, you are capable of learning, and that you’re uniquely endowed with attributes specific to you. And love yourself enough to begin the push — whether it’s in your current position or in the positions you’d like to reach. Know that you can become as professionally capable as you’d like to become.

The LinkedIn Effect is real. And LinkedIn can be one of your greatest resources if you learn to harness its power. On the flip side, it can also be your worst professional enemy if you allow it to stifle your perceptions and stop you dead in your professional tracks. Employ the points above and you’ll find yourself progressing toward the types of career roles you’ve always wanted and envisioned. Perhaps you won’t become an astronaut or solve the quantum mechanics of string theory — but you can accomplish a good majority of what you set your mind to.

Follow me on Medium here and share this article if you’ve made it all the way to this distant end. I attempt to churn out writings on topics that really matter to me and to others — with the help of a truly brilliant editor, Mia Lucas. It’s my hope that these writings reach the exact people who need them and promote embracing ourselves and others wholeheartedly. Even challenging societal norms as a whole.

Comment, critique, suggest topics — and remember that we’re all humans doing our best to make a dent in the world. Cheers.