When Personal is Professional – by Catherine Brunelle

Way(yyyyy) back in the early days of high school, I was 25% keener, 25% nerd, and 50% wall flower. But you know what else I was? A hundred percent hoping to be noticed. Between my highs and lows, all I really wanted was to be seen. So here’s what went through my brain most days: “Put up your hand! Say what you’re thinking!” Quickly followed by: “But what if you offend someone? What if other people know better? Be safe, say nothing!” A gag of nerves stifled my voice.

Then and Now

All this was before social media entered my life. It was also before I did a lot of other things like realize everyone is insecure and to some degree we’re all afraid of screwing up. However, for the sake of this post’s theme around online personas, let’s just stick with the whole ‘social media changed my life’ thesis, because it did. It really did. And I’ll prove it to you with three quick stories: Voice, Social and Career.

 Voice

“I didn’t realize you’re funny,” said my friend after reading my blog. This was itself hilarious since I’d known her literally my entire life and my blog was about having breast cancer. But I took it as a sign of a good thing.

At first Bumpyboobs was a secret from everyone, even my parents who I hadn’t then told about my suspected disease. Because it was secret, the blog was easy to name. If it had been created for the eyes of others, I probably would have called it ‘my super noble journey in conquering breast cancer’ or something like that. But this was for my eyes only, so I named it exactly what made me laugh most. The name was my unfiltered voice, aka, the endearing smart ass. That way of starting things, of doing it for myself and not others, has stayed with me over the years of writing.

Number one personal rule for blogging: If it’s my blog, it’s my story. As someone writing about breast cancer, after the blog went public I was quickly labelled a cancer blogger – people would email me asking to review their health products or just expect me to write about cancer all the time. But it’s my blog and I associate it with my identity both offline and online. Adhering to an imposed label, even one that gets attention, was just another form of self-censoring and I didn’t need that. I’m a whole lot of things and that is reflected in the posts. Those readers who dig it, dig me. It’s that simple.

My website has since changed to CatherineBrunelle.com to shake off expectations. But I have to say, it was always a secret thrill at executive networking events to direct politicians, CEOs and government officials to my website: “Bumpyboobs.com.”

Social

Once upon a time, someone I know complained about a person on their Facebook. He didn’t understand why they kept posting so many updates about their day. Who cared? Not him, that’s for sure.

These words stuck with me for a while and I had to chew them over. Why bother saying anything online? Who was I to share a stupid reflection, or picture, or anything? But then I realized, these thoughts felt like high school all over again. I don’t want to put that gag back on. And so I thought about it, and came to realize something important: different platforms, different expressions.

It’s absolutely okay to tweet a stream of observations while riding the bus in Ottawa. But if I did that on Facebook non-stop, it would flood timelines. It’s important to know your platform, regardless of whether you’re talking personal or professional. A while back I did a photo shoot of two dolls in love, which were definitely best shared on Tumblr. Any and all food pics go on Instagram. Business and life articles on Linkedin. Articles and vacation pictures go on Facebook. But best of all is Twitter, because it’s my catchall.

Be respectful, have fun, and know your platforms. If social media is a voice box for things you find interesting, weird creative experiments, and brave introductions to awesome people – then I say just go for it. Who cares about “Who cares?”

 Career

Here’s the thing. I say all this about voice and expression, but I also realize that the first thing many employers or clients do before working with you is check your social media. What we do socially reflects upon us professionally. This is a GOOD thing.

I wanted to write, so I started a blog. Suddenly I was a writer. I wanted to talk about writing, so I co-founded a podcast, suddenly I was a presenter. I wanted to become an author so I crowd funded online, and suddenly I had a novel. I was sick of being a cancer blogger, so I redesigned my website to cast off the pink ribbon vibe and suddenly I felt better. When it comes to the internet, you create the impression. There are no grades or degrees to be won – we gain our cred by taking action, and there’s no limitation on the actions we can take.

This might sound naïve, but it actually does work. I landed my first writing gig by attending a networking event and simply telling everyone there that I was a writer. All I had was my blogging and guest posts to back up that claim, but it was enough to secure steady work. It was an incredible feeling, and no one at any point said, ‘you can’t do that’; instead they said, ‘can you do that for me?’ Since then, I’ve literally created opportunities and expertise through experiments online. Today I get to work an incredible marketing job in a position that resonates deeply with my interests and values. It’s awesome.

(And even if I’m making it up as I go, at least I’m going!)

So there you have it. Three very quick stories about creating an online persona helped me find my voice. Thanks to Red Brick Rooster for this opportunity to share a piece of my story!


Catherine Brunelle is a content creator, marketer and author of the perfect book club novel, Claire Never Ending. Visit her website at CatherineBrunelle.com and do be sure to say hello over on Twitter.

State Suites and Titillating Tweets – by Eliot K. Waddingham

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My name is Eliot Waddingham, and I use gender neutral pronouns.

Did you feel that? That tight little clench in the back of your neck, like you’ve just heard someone announce a radical political view?

Don’t worry, I felt it too.

You’re feeling it because you’re thinking, “Oh boy, here’s another one.”  I’m feeling it because I know that’s what you’re feeling, and I just wanted you to refer to me using neutral pronouns.  I can’t do that, however, without inadvertently making statements that cause the majority of people I interact with to assume other things about my identity.  I’m a communist, a vegan, and a militant feminist. Probably. You never know with those people.

But wait! There’s more. I’m also a Christian. More accurately, I’m a theistic rationalist.

I know, I know. That’s an unnecessary level of detail when you haven’t even bought me a coffee, yet!

I attend St. Alban’s Anglican in Ottawa, and between frequenting the music team and occasionally giving a sermon (http://eliotinterchange.com/2015/07/13/telling-our-stories-me-the-ethopian-eunuch/) , lots of people know my name there even if I don’t always know theirs. As part of my leadership at St. Al’s, I’ve also lead two workshops about gender and sexuality and how these things intersect with faith. I was once on a panel of ‘millennials’ talking about why we still go to church. Despite my incredibly verbose and awkward manner of speaking and just generally taking up space, people seem to be interested in my opinions on things there, and I share them.

So, that’s my personal life, which honestly, is not as simple as I’d like it to be. Being queer and Christian is not something that comes without contradiction, or, rather, contradictions have to do with what people assume I think or feel about [insert religious/queer rights issue here]. If you were friends with me on Facebook, you’d see a collection of religious memes, political posts encouraging Canucks not to vote for Harper in October, and a lot of geeking out about how Nepal just created third-gender passports. Oh, and pictures of my cats. Kind of a lot of pictures of my cats.

You would also see on my Facebook a number of reposts for whatever is going on with my job. I am very privileged to be the head of research for an “edutainment” company called Bold & Mighty. (You KNOW you wanna click through that one. Did you do it? Don’t worry, I’ll wait). I post daily “On This Day in History” posts, in English and French, corral a pretty rad team of researchers, and occasionally write more in-depth blog posts about historical events, like this one about an air raid on a German dam that would make a great blockbuster film (http://www.boldandmighty.com/blog/2015/5/17/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-dam-busters). Though I usually feed most of the social media posts into a bot that will post them for me at higher traffic times, occasionally, I have to do things manually.  Because our Facebook page insists on being tied to my “personal” Facebook account, when that happens, the feed will show that: Eliot K. Waddingham on behalf of Bold and Mighty posted this. This can sometimes be sweet, because people like my grandmother will post on our daily history facts and comment about how much she loves my job.  It’s also a little frightening.  I work for a company whose spoken purpose is to educate Canadians about Canadian military history.  Military buffs, by and large, tend to be conservative people, who probably wouldn’t like the pride flag gradient I’ve had over my profile picture for a month.

When I was growing up, I lived in a (small-c) conservative family. My father and his parents come from a very British tradition of keeping your business to yourself. My family was, and still is, very involved in the church. For as long as I can remember, a particular sort of tension often cropped up in church life about having, “private,” issues you dealt with in the family, and having, “public,” matters you shared with the broader community. Churches have a lot of good to them, but anyone who’s gone to one for an extended period of time will know that gossip is a vicious weed in those circles. Everyone talks about everyone else. It is allowed, to a certain extent, because churches were considered to span that bridge between, “public,” and, “private,” life. It used to be that we had this expectation that people–average people, less so for celebrities or politicians–would leave their personal problems in the personal sphere and put on a private face for work. And similarly, it didn’t matter what your political views or sexual identity were as long as you could get the job done. As Pierre Elliot Trudeau once put it, “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

The historian in me needs to point out that this idea has always been a fallacy–in the 1920s, Ford famously implemented his “$5 A Day” wages, which were only for workers who were married, kept their house in good order, and ideally abstained from alcohol.  Look at the British royal family or the Clinton affair. Look at any tabloid magazine in any convenience store! We’ve always been obsessed with the “personal,” and frequently have let the personal impact the political.

This is particularly relevant now, as never has it been so easy as it is today for the political to monitor the personal. How many articles have you read about the importance of curating your Facebook page, avoiding those drunk photos and keeping away from expressing too strong a political opinion on anything? How many times have we been told that potential employers are looking for your Facebook–they want you to have one, and they want to see something about you, something personal, but something positive. Well-put together, ideally with at least one quirky interest, but nothing you wouldn’t show your great-grandmother.  This is where things can be difficult for me.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of my identity (even more than the Queer Christian thing) is that I am open, and always have been, about my ongoing struggle with mental illness. I’ve always made it a point to be open about that part of my life.  Similar to my more-recent coming-out as queer, I find the only way to decrease stigma is to talk about myself with candor – and occasionally, humour. While that’s a cute little life philosophy, what doesn’t fit on the convenient business card blurb is the anxiety that comes along with it.  I lay it out pretty clearly on my blog that having depression makes me a crappy 9-5 employee (http://eliotinterchange.com/2015/07/17/on-salaried-existence-spoon-theory-and-digital-nomadism/), and that can be off-putting to some.

This is about the time where I’m supposed to sum up what I’ve written in something pithy you can post as a tagline if you share this on Facebook (which, hey, I hope you do! I’d love to get talking about this in the comments). But the truth is, I don’t have an easy summary for this, nor do I have concrete conclusions about what it means to be a Complicated Human in a Digital World. I do my best to own my contributions to that virtual cork-board where we all create ourselves, status by status, share by share. Some of these contributions are complicated — it’s not easy to be queer, to be Christian, to be both. To be chronically depressed and clinically anxious, and still hold down a job and some university courses.   Paradox and ambiguity characterizes many of these, which makes them hard to pare down into simplistic views and soundbites.

In my opinion, all we can do — and admittedly, I’m not always great at this — is think before we talk, and try to be who we are. The century we live in has brought us a lot of cool stuff through this Internet thing.  It’s never been easier for me to find those people who fit in the Venn diagram of queer and christian, geeky and introverted, mentally ill and wanting to talk about that. The cost, of course, is that we’ve also got problems like Weinergate, a Facebook timeline that has forever chronicled that stupid stuff I wanted to share with everyone at age fifteen, and subreddits about creepshots.

The internet is holding us to a level of accountability we’ve never seen before, and it’s brought the “personal” and the “private” so close together that the letters have started to blur. There may be no place for the state in our bedroom, but we did make space for our smartphones. To mix metaphors–we’ve built a new bed. Let’s start talking about how best we want to lay in it.

 

eliotw

Eliot is a 22-year old self-described “gender bandit” with a big heart and a weakness for Bridgehead lattes. Professionally, they do research and monitor social media for Bold & Mighty. Personally, they like to knit, embroider, and watch 80s sci-fi. You can find them at eliotinterchange.com

 

Social Media Personas: Who am I?

One of the best things about my job is that I get to meet such a wide variety of people both on and off line. So naturally I want to share some of the insight I have gained from these individuals with you guys!

I’m so generous.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some guest pieces written for THIS HERE BLOG about online personas. I have picked writers who rely heavily on social media for either their profession or their professional hobby and have unique challenges in terms of how to represent themselves online.

We all navigate the tricky waters of personal vs shareable. Let’s see what advice these folks can give us. Then at the end of the series I will be posting my nuttiest blog yet summarizing my thoughts on how to figure out what you should share and what you should spare.

Happy reading ready readers.