On Building Confidence And Not Dying Of “Exposure”

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exposureIn the nine years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve watched as my peers toiled mightily. Poured their hearts out, flicking endlessly back and forth between WordPress, Typepad, email, Facebook, then Twitter, then Pinterest, then Google+, and everything in between, making sure they’re reaching out, answering back to their communities and supporting other people’s work. You’ve never seen a multi-tasker in your life like someone in social media.

It’s never ending. Your readers will contact you at 3am in the morning. While you’re on vacation. When you’re in the hospital. And that’s okay because you love them, you’ve created something with them that’s hard to explain but yet it’s there and it exists and you keep feeding it because you love it and them and, to your delight, it keeps growing. There’s always more to write, new ideas to chase after, and new people to help, and while we sometimes complain about it because it’s exhausting and draining, we also love it. I love it as much or more than I love cheese, and that’s saying something.

What blows my mind is what people have created from those initial sparks of passion. They started with one blog post. Maybe it was 200 words, maybe 1000. And they worked and worked and worked and worked and for some, through that hard work, and a good idea, and capturing the needs and wants of others, through their authenticity and consistency and perhaps a little bit of luck too they now have a platform. Some are writing books. Some are starting companies or nonprofit organizations, running events, vlogging, creating how-to guides, or writing at multiple sites because they have such interesting things to say. Others have become one of the go-to people for their topic because of their blog. Or the kind of person everybody calls about ______, because everyone knows how much she cares about and devotes herself to _________. Or simply someone people look up to because of what they have to say. There are different levels of influence and varying ways it manifests, but there are a lot of bloggers that do have true influence now.

They did it themselves. In their pajamas, maybe. While eating a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies or a party-sized bag of chips, or coming in and out of their home offices or dining table desks while chasing after dirty diapers and negotiating sibling truces. They did it, not strictly from 9 to 5, while rushing between their computers and smartphones and the dishes and the school pickup or the other job, the one that does pay.

Pretty soon the rest of the world started taking notice of the platforms they had created, and companies wanted in. Because who wouldn’t? When you have a group of people who are loyal, who have bought in, and who trust someone and watch what they say, that can be a powerful thing. When the business and mass media worlds said we could play in their sandboxes, we jumped right in. We said sure, brand A, brand B and brand C through Z, because who are we? We need the EXPOSURE! We haven’t done anything of value, or paid our dues. We’re not worthy. We’re (in many cases) “just moms.”

We  eagerly offered up our services, even if it was unpaid and meant getting less sleep than we already were. Sometimes that made sense. I’ve done and still do some things because I care about the issue or the organization enough that remuneration isn’t necessary. Other things I’ve done because I was dues-paying, and it was worth it to develop new relationships. I respected that I had a lot of work to do to establish myself and I was willing to do it. Yet most things I did and continued doing, I hate to say, because I didn’t believe in myself. I couldn’t begin to say, “Hey, what I’ve done is valuable. What I do is valuable.” Instead, I did everything that was asked of me freely with a grateful smile on my face and a side order of exposure. Yes please, sir, may I have another?

I had good people whispering in my ear, Katherine you need to value yourself, and I kept shoving them off, nodding politely, saying yeah I’ll get to that soon, but I never would because I couldn’t see what they saw. I wasn’t comfortable in my own worth.

I’m that comfortable now, y’all. I’m happy to say I’ve graduated from Exposure University, I got my diploma, and after nine years and a goodly portion of dues paying, I’m moving on. I am saying no. It’s hella awkward, but there’s something about hitting rock bottom, when you have no more time and energy left to expend except on what really matters to you, that allows you to get past that discomfort. I’ve come to realize I’ve been teaching people not to value my work and my time. I’ve been personally training them to use me at their will because I was too embarrassed to stand up and say “I have worth!”

You know how sometimes in the news they report that someone died of exposure, usually because they were stranded alone out in the elements? I was starting to feel like that’s what it would say on my tombstone — “SHE DIED OF EXPOSURE” — except I wasn’t stranded alone, I was just working for free. That’s when things started to change.

Now I’m aware I don’t have to please everybody. I’m building confidence that I have indeed created some things that have value and I’m very proud of them. I can say, “I appreciate you thinking of me, person who addresses me as ‘Dear blogger,’ but the beauty of the community I have and how much I love it means I’m not going to sell it to you for a gift card. I’m not going to spend the time to do the research, write something serious and valuable, and use my social capital to endorse what you’re doing if it doesn’t make sense. I’m not going to retweet something my readers and followers don’t care about 30 times for a few bucks. It’s not going to help me, and to be honest it’s not going to help you either. We can do better. Let’s do work that is strategically aligned with what I do and believe in and what you do and believe in. Let’s make a real impact together.”

From now on, I must take my self worth seriously. I hope the world takes you seriously too, because you’ve all been doing amazing things and people wouldn’t be reaching out to you if they didn’t already buy into the fact that you’ve done amazing things.

More importantly, let’s help each other build confidence and take ourselves seriously so that other people will be able to. Don’t let yourself die of exposure.

Photo credit: © Gina Sanders – Fotolia.com

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