Mentors vs. Influencers

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

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.

A Mother’s Salute: I am the Daughter of Sallie

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the women who are birthing live and love in your homes and communities. Today, I am participating the GirlTrek‘s #DaughtersOf campaign by walking with my daughter, Ashley.

I am Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, daughter of Salle F. Johnson, who enlisted in the U.S. Army and helped her parents pay of their home. She was a woman of poor health, yet vibrant spirit. A kind, gentle, and loving woman who was a fierce advocate for her children. She made a mean macaroni and cheese from scratch, and everyone loved her peach cobbler. She is the person who taught me how to host parties, forgive when hurt, seek Jesus, and live a life of gratitude. Today, I walk in her honor with my daughter, Ashley.

You can read more about her in my memoir, A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World.

I am also reposting a tribute that I wrote for her:

It is true, we become like what we see. Growing up, what I saw was my mother, Sallie. She worked hard and gave everything she could so my sister and I had opportunities to thrive. She served in the church and in the community. She loved family and was always hospitable to strangers. She was a humble woman who led—a woman of influence.

When she married the strong man who raised me, she made him believe that his contributions in this life were valuable. He was an ever-present father, and together they started a business. He labored earnestly and built his team. She was the keeper of the books and office administrator. They cooked and cleaned and did yard work together. Sometimes he braided my hair. They welcomed another child into our home, this time a son.

As our family and business grew, so did my mother’s faith. She was like Lydia—when she committed her life to Jesus (I mean really committed her life) she took the whole family with her. Sallie and her household were baptized. There we stood at the pulpit in our swim caps, white robes, and new Bibles with my mother sanctifying our home.

Download or continue reading at CBE website.

Let’s Have an Honest Conversation

Over the past decade, I have used my voice through writing and speaking to have honest conversations. Truth-telling is important to me. Most of the time learning about the truth and being willing to hear the truth is the first brave and humble step. We must be willing to do that before we can ever speak the truth with boldness.

I’m honored whenever I have the opportunity to have honest conversations with people who care enough to listen, learn, and share their own heart and experiences. I recently had such a beautiful conversation with my brother and author James Bryan Smith.

James is the author of several books, including The Good and Beautiful and The Apprentice Magnificent Series, and one of my favorites, Hidden in Christ. He is the director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation at Friends University. Through his leadership and encouragement, I have had the opportunity to speak at Friends University and the Apprentice Gathering twice.

The “Our Stories in the Wilderness” talk that he mentions in our discussion can be found here:

Listen in on our conversation at the Things Above Podcast.  

Share your questions and let me know if you would like to continue a conversation about A Sojourner’s Truth.

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