You know that one person in your industry who seems to really have it going on?
They’ve got thousands of social media followers. People seem to love every post and tweet they send out.
You hear them speak at conferences and on panels. You see them featured in industry publications, holding awards or sharing how you too can up your game and start doing well for yourself.
Their firm looks like the ideal business; they must be working with great clients and generating enviable revenues. They reach a massive amount of people who all seem to rave about how wonderful they are — and they enjoy a massive amount of success.
That’s how it seems on the outside, anyway.
But that’s the funny thing about the world we live in today. It’s easier than ever to paint an amazing picture of yourself.. and completely fake the whole thing.
The Deceptive Nature of Social Media
It’s easy to sit on the sidelines, watching that person rack up recognition and press and accolades. It’s also really easy to feel badly about yourself in comparison.
But remember, social media is self-created propaganda. Even if someone isn’t flat-out faking it — and plenty of people do fake it — they don’t share the good and the bad in the same proportion that it actually happens in their lives.
I’m 100% guilty of only sharing the good while never mentioning the bad. I’ll excitedly tweet about my new writing project, but I ain’t telling nobody that I just lost a client that had been paying me $2,000 per month.
I’ll share photos of myself speaking in front of a crowd, sure. But do you really think I’m taking a picture of myself after I’ve had a bad day, gotten in a fight with my partner, dropped the ball on a client’s project, and spent 3 hours on the couch crying and feeling like a total failure?
Nope. Not happening.
Even though bad things like that do happen in my life, I’m unlikely to choose to put them on display.
I’m not intentionally trying to deceive anyone, but the end result can be the same: you get a distorted view of my world, through a “it’s-good-all-the-time!” lens.
That’s the first thing to keep in mind when looking at anyone’s social media account. It’s a censored account of a life (or more often, of a business, which is even farther removed from that person’s actual self and life).
It’s not a tell-all, true-life documentary of what actually happens day to day.
I believe it’s our responsibility to remember that everyone, even people who are honest, sincere, and authentic, have that good-stuff lens applied to online life by default. That means we can’t get caught up in the comparison trap, and we must remember that we see them from just one (overwhelmingly positive) angle.
That’s the deceptive nature of social media. It’s on us to keep perspective when we engage with others on these platforms.
But unfortunately, this only scratches the surface of the deeply inauthentic stories and images you can find online.
Social media is deceptive by nature. And we can get into real trouble when that’s combined with people on social media who intentionally deceive their audiences.
Why You Can’t Compare Yourself to Other Entrepreneurs on Social Media
The person who sends out a million selfies with upbeat proclamations like, “Just getting my #entrepreneurlife hustle on! Working hard on the weekend because #business doesn’t grow itself,” can be the same person with 1 client, struggling to get prospects in the door.
The person who claims they have great advice for others on how to go from employee to entrepreneur may indeed made the leap and quit their job to run their own firm, but that doesn’t mean they run a successful, sustainable business.
And the person who just shared that they’re no longer running their financial planning firm but quitting so they can spend their time teaching others how to leave the corporate world to start a successful financial planning firm is peddling little more than snake oil, preying on the hopes of others.
No, not everyone who shares excited selfies of themselves hustling hard long after the rest of us have gone to bed or who excitedly shares a picture of themselves at a TV studio before they go on camera is a fraud.
That stuff is awesome! That deserves to be celebrated!
(And who wouldn’t be jazzed about getting to be on TV? Heck, I get excited when I see movies that were filmed in places I’ve been. I’ll still tell anyone who listens that the coffee shop in Spotlight where Rachel McAdams had a scene is two blocks from my house.)
But I know for a fact there are individuals out there who present a false image of themselves — and have deceived an entire industry of professionals into believing the story they created.
Those people piss me off. Their need to completely fake it and pass themselves off as something they’re not harms others.
It’s so easy to get caught up in what we see on social media and think it’s real. Then we get down on ourselves, because we wonder why we’re not doing as well.
Not only that, but this completely distracts you from the work you should be doing. You can start thinking, how do I do that myself? I need to keep up!
But would you still say that if you knew the person you desperately wanted to “keep up with” barely had any clients, no profits, and their business was failing?
Here’s the thing: you could actually be doing better than the person you’re comparing yourself to. You have no idea what their business or their life actually looks like, and they’re doing themselves and all of us a disservice through their inauthenticity.
The Key to (Sustainable) Success: Authenticity
Imagine you share the stage with someone who has so far managed to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes. You, on the other hand, worked hard to get to where you are and dedicated yourself to being authentic on that journey.
You stand on the stage to share your experience and your knowledge. You feel confident because you worked your way to success and have so much to show for it: you accomplished goals, you run a strong business that only continues to grow, and you have a pipeline of opportunities lined up and waiting their turn for your attention.
Now imagine that other person, who stands next to you not through the work they’ve done but from the false tales they’ve spun. Imagine how downright terrified they must feel at every moment.
At any time, they can be found out. They can be exposed.
When you feel tempted to pretend to be something you’re not — or to flat-out lie — pause and reflect. Then ask yourself: which person do you really want to be on that stage?
I truly believe authenticity is the only path to real, lasting success — especially today, when so much of what we do lives online, and creates a natural barrier between what other people see and what actually happens every day.
Creating a false story to share on social media pays off right now. People get the instant gratification of an audience’s’ accolades and attention.
They may even fool folks today and tomorrow.
But eventually, they’re going to have to drop the illusion and actually pull a rabbit from their hat. The people who are inauthentic won’t be able to do it, and I hope that reality stops you from following them down a very tempting path.
The audience of inauthentic people will pull the curtain back. They’ll see what they thought was a powerhouse was really just an insecure, unsuccessful person trying desperately to pull enough levers and strings to keep the game going.
If you simply choose to remain authentic and honest, you won’t find yourself in that unpleasant situation. Authenticity allows you to build something real, a solid foundation from which you can proudly stand on — and that’s worth more than you might think.