The humiliating experience of being alive is only made more mortifying by having to share it on Instagram — especially if you’re trying to Make It on the platform.
Being online at all comes with its own specific, horrifying kind of anxiety. It’s something that affects all social media users, with the majority of them saying that posting on social media gives them a not insignificant amount of anxiety, according to the Pew Research Center. Despite that, about 86 percent of young Americans surveyed by Morning Consult said they’re willing to try out influencing on their social media platforms. Anxiety and the internet tend to go hand-in-hand — oftentimes, it’s a fear of posting something embarrassing or cringey. After all, it’s easy to judge someone online; we do it all the time. For example, research has found that couples who post about their love online are more satisfied with their relationships, but they were also liked less.
This kind of anxiety is only amplified when users are trying to achieve something online, like fame or notoriety. The shame felt after sharing your goals isn’t reserved for the online world — there’s a phenomenon called “goal shaming” in which we feel guilt or shame after sharing our goals and motives with someone else.
Goal shaming is that terrible feeling of cringe that overwhelms you when you tell a close friend you really want to run a marathon. Now imagine you tell everyone on Instagram that you really want to run a marathon — and then you take them along for every run, every training meal, every workout, and every failure and success. Combine that with the persistent fear of failure and delusion of immortality, and it’s easy to see how that goal shaming might feel magnified.
Watching people attempt and fail to become influencers can evoke a kind of cringey, secondhand embarrassment typically reserved for Borat movies. Users point out that their friends would never let them post something as excruciatingly earnest as some creators share for clout.
So it should come as a bitter, cold, unsurprising truth that there’s some anxiety that comes when you post online in an attempt to be a creator. Maybe it’s a fear of failure, maybe it’s a fear of being cringy, maybe it’s just a fear of your friends and family seeing you put yourself out there.
Rocky Kanaka, who uses his Facebook page to spread awareness about pet adoption and help cover necessary medical expenses for animals, told Mashable that fear of judgment from his friends was natural when he first started posting videos of himself on social media.
“The people that say, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ or ‘Don’t worry about what other people think,’ that’s not fair because we’re just built that way. We’re built to do that,” Kanaka said.
A lot of his friends just don’t watch what he does online, and he’s come to the conclusion that that’s just fine. “Interests don’t always align,” Kanaka said. “What I found online by simply sharing my journey is another set of friends and community. Your friends don’t have to love what you’re doing and watch every moment of what you’re doing.”
An important part of keeping those anxieties at bay, Kanaka says, is “having a purpose to what you’re doing.”
Your friends don’t have to love what you’re doing and watch every moment of what you’re doing.
“My mission is very large: to help animals and spread awareness about adoption,” Kanaka said. “But let’s just say that you really love carburetors, and talking about carburetors. If your mission is to educate people on carburetors, and you want to share your knowledge and what you’ve learned, then I think that will go a long way.”
Kanaka compares this to creators who go online with the specific purpose of making money, immediately garnering a considerable audience, and becoming famous. That can make the fear of judgment all the more real because, Kanaka says, “it’s just not genuine.”
Daphnique Springs, a comedian on Facebook and Instagram who’s currently touring with Kat Williams, told Mashable that fear of judgment was difficult, but never anything that would have stopped her from pursuing her goal of a successful comedy career. Similar to Kanaka’s point, she says making people laugh is formative to her own self evolution, and while sharing that online certainly comes with anxieties, those aren’t there for good.
Part of her specific anxieties were because friends and family didn’t respect influencing as a career or see it as a viable financial path forward, but she said all of that judgment disappeared when she started gaining success.
“It took like a year and a half until I started to actually earn money and make a living off of it to where people actually saw that, OK, this could be a real career,” Springs said. “This is a real career now. It’s not a hobby.”
But, Springs says, that means you can’t treat it like a hobby. At work, you’re not embarrassed of the work you’re producing; the same goes for the new gig you set up for yourself as part of the creator economy.
“You have to study this like a course,” Springs said, adding that users should look into the guidelines platforms put out, like Facebook Creators and the Instagram Creators account. “In order to develop any skill, you go to some type of training… That’s what a lot of people fail to realize. That has been a major part of my success.”
Unfortunately, the key to overcoming that anxiety and fear online involves the exact same work you’d have to do to overcome IRL anxiety and fear: Find ways to live your life healthily and, if that includes becoming a social media influencer, exploring how to balance your mental health with your goals.
“Just start,” Kanaka said. “It really is as simple and as hard as that. Just start.”
“Just put it out there,” Springs said. “Don’t focus on the likes. Don’t focus on the comments. Don’t focus on anything. Just do what makes you happy. So if creating content makes you happy, you do that every single day.”