Authenticity. It currently is one of the buzz words of our generation. We want it. We look for it. We long to be it.
We live so much of our lives online. As a lifestyle blogger & photographer my life is my brand. Where does my life end and my business start? There is no longer a clear difference between my work life and my home life. So much of it is intertwined. This causes a rift with authenticity and I’ve walked through it before. The end of 2014 was hard. It was so hard. I shared what I could of my side of things, I pressed further into relationships with my friends, I cried out to God, and I grew closer to my husband but I didn’t tell you the whole story.
Not because I didn’t like you. Not because I wanted to be fake. But because there are stories in my life that I am intrusted with that are not my own. There are people the Lord has placed in my life to be part of my family or part of my community and they didn’t sign up to have the ups and downs of their lives recorded on the internet.
They gladly encourage me, let me take pictures of them around campfires and at social gatherings, they show up to help me with posts or encourage me to try new things in Oak + Oats but that doesn’t mean I can or want to share their personal information, their stories, their experiences.
I have been thinking about it a lot lately. My blog is a business, my Instagram is a business, heck, all my social media is a business. A really super personal business. And it is a GIFT. It really is. The fact that I am able to share my life, my experiences, what I’m learning, how God is moving with each one of you is incredible! I do not take it lightly that I am able to connect with so many outside of my personal circle of people I see. But out of a desire to stay “authentic” we may overshare or we may put pressure on ourselves to share more and feel unauthentic.
We expect people to be real. We expect them to tell us if they really do like & use that toothpaste (not just get paid to say that.) We long to hear the stories of their lives. We compare our lives & days to our Instagram feeds. We want pictures of messy rooms, dirty dishes, and dog poop in the middle of floor (or do we really?? We will not “heart” those images as we scroll by I am sure). It is hard. Where is the line? What is the line?
I think the line looks different for different people and situations. I may be more open about mistakes I’ve made & things I have learned but it is almost always after the experience when I have been able to process with my friends and family. Maybe the Lord has asked you to be more open about your struggle with anxiety or your past eating disorder to help others who may be experiencing the same thing. Maybe you share the verses you cling to when it feels like your world is falling apart. Maybe you talk share how you are working on your marriage to encourage others without hanging out your (or your husband’s) dirty laundry.
Today I wanted to share with you some things to keep in mind when you are sharing online and also when you are reading (consuming) online information from others.
On your blog, on your Instagram, on your FB, and all those online spaces.
- Share to encourage. The internet shouldn’t be your diary. If you need to walk through painful emotions or confusing situations, write in a journal. Don’t go to your blog or Instagram to complain about a person or vent about a situation. We have all seen when this goes bad – people get hurt, things get misunderstood, people even lose jobs. When you open up to share something online, ask yourself if it can encourage someone else. Have you worked through it and learned something? Are you in the process of something but trusting that God will bring completion? You don’t need to be perfect to share, you can share your journey. Open up to encourage & connect.
- Don’t tell a story that is not your own. If you are going through something and it involves other’s stories, only share your own. And not an account of “your side of things” because that is not the point (or really fair). Share what you are learning and feeling but push against the desire to gossip. Protect the stories of those who have entrusted you with them. Part of this is also physical protection. The internet is a wonderful place but it is also unsafe at times. Don’t share too much information of other people – you don’t know who is reading. You may be fine with sharing names on your blog but check with friends before assuming they are too.
- Don’t share something you would not share in front of a classroom of strangers. This one I think about a lot. There are some things I would gladly share a room full of strangers. I would share how I struggle with perfectionism and being content. I would share what I have learned though those struggles and how I push back against them. I would share the things that have grown Bruce & I closer together and how we continue to prioritize our marriage these last five years. But there are things I wouldn’t tell them. There are stories that only my close friends hear. It is important to have those people, the ones you can tell everything to. The internet is not that place. Ask yourself if you would stand in front of a room of strangers and say what you were thinking about saying. If the answer is no, honor that.
Whether you are reading your favorite blog, scrolling Instagram, or catching up on the lives of high school classmates, keep these things in mind.
- Know that you are not getting the whole story. The bloggers & Instagram accounts you follow cannot share/ should not share the whole story. They may post a vauge post about how this week has been hard. They may share how they are feeling or what they are learning or how they are getting through things. The only story they can tell is there own and sometimes our stories are so intertwined with others that we have to leave parts of our story out of the public eye. A Facebook post is not the place to talk about an estranged family relationship, a hurtful fight, an affair, or huge financial troubles. Trust that they are sharing as much as they can with you and respect that.
- Know you are not their best friend. This one is a bit weird for me to say yet it is true. I follow a lot of blogs and I know a lot about their lives. I’ve seen them buy houses, launch new products, have babies, write books, share what they have learned. I’ve seen what their living room looks like, I know where they went on vacation, I know their favorite place to shop, and what their family likes to eat. But I don’t know them. They don’t owe me anything. They don’t need to call me first when their mom gets diagnosed with cancer or call to confess an outburst of anger or a covetous heart. That is the same for everyone you follow – they care about their readers, the desire to share & encourage, but they don’t owe you anything. Eventually they may share some of their story with you but they never are obligated. They are not being unauthentic by not treating the reader like their best friend.
- Know that they may treat their social media & websites like a job. For many of the people you follow online this is their job. I am one of them. They use their social media and websites to be a reflection of the work they produce. It is a portfolio of sorts. They may share lots of personal information but they still desire to share beautifully curated images. That doesn’t mean they are less authentic by sharing their favorite images, they are just using their passion (photography, design, styling) to tell stories – to tell their story! I tend to only take photos in certain places of my house or outside because the lighting is better and they look better. Just because I never show my 80’s construction grade bathrooms or the pile of clothes I leave on the floor doesn’t mean they are not there. Know that they are real people just like you, but don’t expect them to show their flaws all the time. Let them show the work they are proud of just like you would do in a resume or job interview.
The definition of authentic is genuine and the definition of genuine is “truly what something is said to be.” Online collaborations and friendships are so sweet. I have shared as much of my journey here as I can. I’ve gone though seasons where I have shared more or less. But I have always valued and treasured this space. When we think about authenticity, let’s challenge ourselves to be ourselves. Let’s share and encourage and come along side of each other. Let’s believe the best in those we follow. Let’s be good stewards of the stories around us. Let’s bring light and life to the world. Let’s be ourselves but be wise about what and when to share.
What does Authentic mean to you? How do you strive to be authentic? Where do you think the line is drawn oversharing and undersharing?