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Showing up for Real Life, Not Reel Life

I'm going to be honest with y'all, I have been stumbling around on social media for years trying to figure out the content that would "best" serve you. When I first started The AfroEducator... Instagram wasn't totally run by algorithms and influencing was just a little less ubiquitous. Over the last couple of years, especially with the addition of Instagram reels, I've been spinning my wheels to reconfigure how best to show up online. In doing so, I've found myself hesitant to share images or posts when I can't find exactly the "right thing" to say, create the most aesthetic reel, or share an image that'll stop you mid-scroll.

While I've never been ultra-focused on vanity metrics, when it came to my social media account, I thought they were indicators of how valuable or helpful my content is. You see, the same way I talk about fulfilling the good teacher narrative and rejecting the idea that you have to show up a certain way in order to teach well is the exact same way that I've fallen into the trap of being a good teacher-Instagrammer. I’ve fallen into the notion that I have to show up a certain way online to be taken seriously.

While I've continued to remain transparent and authentic with my content, I found myself worried about how frequently I post, whether or not the algorithm is on my side, and my stagnant follower count. For a while, I saw success solely as numbers and “likes” because I doubted the value of my voice and my experiences and I conflated vanity metrics with value.

I wanted to let you know that my priority is and has always been to help you step into the most confident, conscious, authentic version of yourself through connection, support, and action. And while I may not always satisfy the algorithm or post the most scroll-stopping images, my priority is showing up and serving you in the most honest and organic way possible.

Social media, as it’s grown, has become a performative, judgmental space that makes you take a second guess about what you share and how you share it. Is it aesthetic? Is it relatable? Does anyone even care about what I’m putting out in the world on this platform? How can I share content that gets hundreds of shares and saves? After all, the marketing gurus and social media CEOs all say that saves and shares indicate value.

Those of us who have been consistently active on Instagram before the algorithms remember when aesthetics didn’t matter. You had an awesome moment you wanted to share. You snapped a pic, layered it with the pre-set Instagram filters (Valencia, anyone?), and then you shared it with very little concern about who would see, comment, or "like" the image.

You just shared when you felt like sharing. There was an authenticity, an organic quality to Instagram that has shifted with the rise of influencing and online marketing.

I want to be clear that I’m not against growth nor is this an anti-social media campaign. I fully understand and believe that evolution is necessary. Usually, what emerges is the next best iteration of something. I mean, the entire premise of this podcast is about the journey of becoming. As social media has evolved, however, it has also contributed to a decline in social aptitude, authenticity, and in general, our ability to stay present in our lives.

A close family friend shared a few years ago about his family’s experience at a Coldplay concert. He reflected on the thousands of people who held their phones in the air for most of the concert, their attempt at capturing memorable moments they could look back on in the future. He remarked that he noticed so many folks trying to capture the moment that they were missing it.

His comment struck me in a way that I’ve never forgotten. I just felt so deeply connected to the sentiment because I had been one of those people, so busy trying to share or record experiences that I wasn’t actually present for them.

You see, I’m sentimental and I enjoy a bit of nostalgia. I love pictures and videos because I enjoy looking back on the archives of my life and reflecting on the changes that have occurred since then. Pictures and videos are these frozen moments in time that allow us to relive a more muted version of an experience, so there is definitely value in capturing those experiences.

But it's also important to be intentional about how much of the moment you capture. Influencer culture dictates that you must share the ins and outs of your life, from the mundane to the exciting. But if you’re not careful, you can end up trading your REAL life for REEL life.

I had a great conversation with Rebekah Poe (formerly Lessons and Lattes) on the podcast a while back and we talked about how pervasive the “everything is content” idea is in influencer culture. In her interview, she shared that she was consumed by the chase for vanity metrics and how she was living life through her phone. Ultimately though, Rebekah said that falling back on her core values, snapped her out of her need to constantly produce so she could show up with more joy in her real life.

The conversation with Rebekah reminded me of how important it is to know yourself and what matters most to you so that you can stay grounded and present. It also made me think back to my own social media presence. I mentioned earlier just how much I’ve struggled to make the Instagram algorithm happy. There’s always this running internal critique about how I should post more and how what I post should look or how I need to record more reels if I really want to experience huge growth. But I’m always conflicted when the “shoulds” are met with what I’m willing to do and what feels true to me. It's true that reels might increase my reach and engagement, but if I’m only producing reels because it’s trendy, is it sustainable? Does this content reflect who I am and what I want for my brand?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve decided to be more intentional about my REAL life. Rather than pull my phone out at every turn, I’ve decided to soak in moments with my senses. In some experiences, I leave not having taken a single photo, knowing that even photos and videos don’t replicate the exact moment anyway. I also decided that showing up for social media has to be done based on my values and what is organic and sustainable for me.

Nothing is wrong with commemorating a moment or an experience. I just think it’s important to remember not to get so caught up in capturing the moment that you sacrifice your presence.

As a millennial, I’m always hearing about how we and the generations after us are “always on our phones.” We’re criticized for our lack of communication skills and for our obsession with social media. And by and large, it’s true. Our communication skills, to some degree, have deteriorated and social media, as evidenced by this podcast episode, rules the day. We aren’t truly “visible” if we aren’t sharing the picture-perfect moments of our lives on someone’s feed - at least that’s the underlying message.

While there’s validity to those points, I believe there’s space for both. For all of its ills, social media at its core is a means of connection, which is a critical part of the human experience. We all want belonging and affirmation that we aren’t alone in our joys and our struggles. I mean, I think about my elderly grandmother who discovered the world of Facebook and Instagram back in 2018. She spends hours checking on her friends and just looking at what’s going on around her all from the comfort of her home. For over a year, it wasn’t safe for me or anyone else to visit her in person. But through the power of social media, she was able to remain connected and feel plugged into the world in a way she wouldn’t have without it. For her, and for so many others, social media is a window into a wider world that we don’t otherwise have access to. I think about myself, even, and how some of the closest and most trusted friendships I maintain exist because of Instagram.

So, living REAL life doesn’t have to mean giving up social media to be present if you don’t want to. It really comes down to having clarity around your values and your boundaries. It’s about considering how you can integrate social media in a way that allows you to still absorb real moments in real-time.

Personally, I value quality time with quality people. And as I mentioned earlier, I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I derive so much joy from looking back at old photos and videos and just remembering. I love hearing and reliving the stories from those moments. So, for me, choosing between real life and reel life looks like contemplating the following ideas/questions for any given moment or experience:

  • Do I need to capture this moment at all?

  • Why do I want to capture this moment? What is it that I want to remember most?

  • Will capturing this moment pull me out of the most important part?

  • Does the person or people I’m with mind that I’m capturing this experience or would they rather it be just a moment between us?

  • How can I minimize the amount of time I’m behind the camera and capture only what’s necessary?

In the past few years, more often than not, I’ve actually chosen not to capture these moments at all. It’s why I have long stretches of time where I’m absent from social media because I have nothing to post because I’ve intentionally refused to allow my entire life to be a content stream. Granted, I’ll admit there are a few occasions where I wish I had clicked a few photos or recorded for a few moments. But I don’t regret the fact that I have moments that are shared just between me and the special people I shared them with.

Moving forward, I’ve decided that I will continue to be intentionally present while finding harmony with sharing online. After all, I value this community and the ways that we connect through even the most simple shared experiences. It just won’t be every experience, all the time nor will I place undue pressure on myself to show up if it’s inauthentic…even if it means upsetting the algorithm.

So, no. I won’t have the most likes or views or viral content but I have confidence in the fact that what I do share, whether it’s inspirational content or everyday struggles, will reach the folks it needs to reach just when they need it.

Whether you’re an influencer, an entrepreneur, a social media enthusiast, or just someone who uses social media and you’ve found yourself struggling with how to (or not to) show up online, I hope you’ll be encouraged to evaluate what you really want for your real life and your reels life. You can find harmony between the two that allows you to commemorate precious moments while being wholly present for the people and experiences you care about most. After all, it’s your presence in those moments that you—and those special people---will truly remember.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode


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