It's Time to Put Down the Phone, and Look UP!
If we believed everything we read on Instagram, we'd all be endlessly successful, slender unicorns wearing rainbows - and getting there would've been pretty easy. The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words: in Instagram terms, the average motivational quote is equivalent to about a thousand hours of hard graft. The question is: are we actually putting in that work, or just being reminded by tens of square images that we should?
I'm not knocking Instagram, or motivation of any sort - we all need it, especially during times of need (before a tough day at work, after a tough day at work; before a gym session; at any stage of setting up your own business). There are some wonderful Instagram accounts out there (check out, for example, @clean_eating_alice and @oliviaashton5678 if you haven't done already - now there's some inspiring imagery). I do get the sense though that we're being bombarded by messages telling us to be positive, to believe, to dream, and that as long as we work hard everything will turn out all right in the end. Again these are great platitudes but that's the problem: they are platitudes, not real, solid, grab-hold-and-yank tasks or advice that we can follow. Most of us know what hard work is in some capacity and can do it when we have to (exam cramming nights, anyone?) but if left to our own devices and a handful of social media accounts: what will we actually be able to achieve? There are more self-employed individuals and entrepreneurs now than ever before, but are we equipped for the challenges this presents? Are we so involved with presenting ourselves well on social media that we've lost the skill to reach out and ask for help when we need it? Do we value experience and mentoring or do we just expect things to ‘work out alright in the end’?
As you can probably tell, I’m a big believer in skills development. I may not have stayed within one industry during my career to date, but the skillset I’ve been developing – since I was about 8, if I’m being honest – has remained a constant: writing, editing, and relationship-building. I have a mentor whom I’ve been working with for about two years now, and before that I had advisors developing everything from female leadership to technical knowledge. In the first six months of running my own business I have learned how to build a website, negotiate trademarking and legal contracts, create a brand and set an effective fee structure. Note the lack of writing, editing and relationship-building skills in that lot! Until this year I had not felt capable of taking on my own business because to do that means you must be good – no, exceptional – at most things if you want to succeed. Failing that, you must be able to reach out and ask for help.
The way we interact nowadays fascinates me. I know couples who have mobile phone bans during certain hours of the day, or at the dinner table, to force them to interact. I have also witnessed a brunch where everyone - and I really mean everyone - commented on each other’s social media posts rather than conversing with them in real life. As someone whose previous job meant having no mobile phone or internet access during working hours, this concept – that we can be sitting next to someone and still socialise only through a machine – just doesn’t compute. Work questions, yes, are sometimes best asked in writing or in a way that won’t disturb an open plan office or facilitate an argument. I get that. However the idea that we would opt for getting to know someone via an online persona over face to face suggests one of two things: we either don’t want people to know the real us; or more worryingly, we don’t know who we really are in the first place. We talk, but do we embrace our authentic self? Or are we so busy worrying that we should be happy and successful that we default to saying we are, even when we’re desperate for someone to help us out a bit?
Everyone has different motivations, but everyone’s motivation is personal. This is a crucial element in understanding how we can be the best versions of ourselves, achieve all the goals we set on New Year’s Eve/at 3am after several too many glasses of wine/when our boss asks us where we see ourselves in 10 years’ time and we panic-choose (yes, we’ve all been there!). If our main source of motivation is impersonal (social media posts, platitudes) how can we expect it to drive us forward? To succeed means something different to us all, so to succeed we must all understand our core values, our core skills, and what we lack: that knowledge and those skills we will need to achieve the dreams we are so encouraged to chase. To leave it there would be foolhardy. To excel where so many fail – in the pursuit of freedom, of money, of happiness – we must engage those individuals who can help fill our gaps in skills and in knowledge. Look up, and look around you. Find those who have what you lack, and seek to learn from them so you can better yourself. Who knows, you may have a skill they need, too. We cannot operate or develop in isolation. I hope our thumbs do not become more important than our voices.