I have a love/hate relationship with social media.
I love that I can use the tool to connect with a diverse group of people from all over the world. I love that I can learn and be challenged by them, and offer unfiltered communication, knowledge, and inspiration. I love that I can get different perspectives and see the most beautiful pictures of places that I have never been and experiences that I have never had. I love that it is mostly free.
I hate that just because people have access to use these tools, their “followers” assume they are experts on an issue. I hate that some folks can’t seem to distinguish between facts and opinion, or they incorrectly assume that both have the same weight. I hate that our culture has conditioned us to believe that online “followers” has anything to do with a person’s value, importance, or contributions to this world.
Influencing the culture and using social media has its place in our society. Beyoncé is probably the greatest entertainer of my generation. She has a fierce beehive following. I’m amazed by how quickly her fans gather, buzz around, and come to her defense. She has offered us great art that is sometimes connected to political advocacy, and she has inspired—and some would say empowered—generations of women. Yet, the reality is that many in her hive don’t know her, have never physically touched or come into close proximity with her. She is an influencer, but she is not their mentor.
On the other hand, there are plenty people of great character who are doing the humble, yet important tasks, of going to work every day, loving their friends and family, and faithfully investing in their communities year after year. They are respected among the people who know and love them. They become reliable, trusted, and steady hands while learning, teaching, and investing right where they are. These people may have influence over a smaller flock; they may or may not be on social media, yet they often make excellent mentors.
People place ridiculous expectations on cultural influencers, and some of that is a direct result of the cultural influencers’ own rules of life, along with the toxicity of deceptive practices, creating illusions, and having poor boundaries. I know that it takes 30 or more shots to get a near perfect image on Instagram, and minutes can quickly turn into hours when debating with folks on Twitter. As a leader and mentor, I don’t have that type of time to waste. Instead of taking 30 minutes to get the right Instagram shot, I can be praying or doing yoga. Instead of debating and having conversations with random people on Twitter, I can be having deep conversations with my real friends, mentors, mentees, my spouse, or my daughter.
I mean think about it, people who are effectively leading organizations don’t have time to tweet all day. So, most influencers have a team around them doing the work of creating the illusions of perfection and simplicity (this looks easy), while inviting their “followers” into the most intimate parts of their lives (or so we assume). We sometimes forget that reality television is scripted, and for most cultural influences, their social media is scripted in the same way.
What does all of this say about us?
If we are honest, part of the draw towards cultural influencers is that we want to be like them. We want to live how they live, go where they go, and hang with their friends. We want their lives because we perceive that their lives are better. Beyond comparison, looking at them feeds an emptiness within ourselves. After all, if I can follow and talk about what somebody else is doing, then I don’t have to consider my own ways. I can stay distracted. There is no time to invest in my own life, relationships, or personal development.
When I think about cultural influencers, I often ask people to consider Janet Jackson’s words, “What have you done for me lately?” If you can speak clearly to that, great! If you can’t, then there is no reason at all to elevate culture influencers—many of whom are social media entertainers and marketing experts—as your mentor. By-in-large, these people are showing up on social media to sell products: their ideas, art, books, classes, etc. You can purchase those products to learn from them. Otherwise, we should not expect anything more.
If you want a true mentor, that often requires real physical relationship. Sometimes it requires a financial investment. Developing that relationship takes clarity, intentionality, time, and honesty from the real you and another human who cares enough to partner or invest in you.
This year, I officially launched my customized leadership coaching, consulting, and mentoring business. Some might think the influencer’s life is what they want. We look up to them because of their perceived success. To obtain clarity about their success and work along the way, however, each of those influencers have had coaches and mentors. An influencer may be what you want, but a mentor or coach is what you need. Get yourself a mentor.