For the last few years, I’ve let the trolls beat me down.
And I’d like to apologize for that, to both myself, and to you.
Let me back up and explain.
When I first started blogging back in 200something, I was a newer kid on the block and not totally sure what I was doing.
But I was freshly minted out of the corporate world and determined to take control of my professional destiny. So I started a blog, hung a shingle, and went after it.
I’d always loved the web and its potential because I was around in the early days of watching its impact on the nonprofits and volunteer communities I worked for, then again in the for-profit world. As social media rose in both popularity and utility, I fell in love with it on both personal and professional levels, and knew something big was afoot.
I blogged like crazy, I got some communications clients early, I learned as I went and I worked my butt off, participating on Twitter and (reluctantly) joining Facebook and dusting off my professional speaking skills, willing to take the stage for free anywhere just to get the experience and hone my knowledge around social media.
I gained traction, respect, awareness, and clients. Then a client turned into an employer when Radian6 came along, because the chance to work with an exciting startup in the social media space in a social media and community role was too good to resist.
That job brought even more opportunity to build a community team, get out into the world to evangelize social and its potential, work with amazing clients and customers to do their social better.
It also came with a cost. One that I let happen.
With success often comes criticism. Sometimes, it’s warranted and fair, and worth considering for the sake of improving yourself and your work.
Then there are just the people who make a career out of being critics. I don’t mean thoughtful, considered critics who are in it to improve the world for everyone. I mean people who personally tear other people down, gossip, call names like children do, and make a mockery out of people and their professions.
I haven’t talked about this publicly much. Maybe ever. But I am now.
I ended up with this cadre of people who rarely mentioned me by name in public, but who would rip me apart behind my back to anyone who would listen (which of course comes back to me, eventually). I had one person — very well respected in some circles even today — look at me to my face and say that part of my problem was that I really needed to lose some weight or I’d never be taken seriously.
I had one career troll who took to calling me the “social media hostess” because community work had no apparent value in the world. I had nasty emails from people telling me that I was nothing more than a fraud, a hack, some woman who came out of nowhere, made friends with a few of the right people, and got lucky. I had a couple people make nasty remarks about my being “too good” for people and behaving as such. And while I’ll admit that that criticism was likely even been valid at times (that’s another confession post for a different day), no one came and talked to me. No one sat me down for a kind conversation. Instead, I got publicly admonished in blog comments or in the gossip conversations because no one had the courage to talk to me to my face.
I was accused of sleeping my way to recognition, and the list of men that I was supposedly having affairs with was longer than I would ever have time for, were I so inclined.
I started listening to the criticism. I couldn’t distinguish between criticism that was warranted, thoughtful and potentially useful, and the attacks on me personally that were taking chunks out of my confidence and self-esteem.
I started listening to the attacks on my chosen profession that said that social strategy wasn’t a “real” job, believing that maybe I did just get lucky or that maybe I didn’t deserve any of the praise or the recognition I had received. I started hiding from kudos that came my way, pulled away from the social media community somewhat, even changed the focus of my job to be less externally-facing, turned down speaking engagements, throttled back blogging and participation online.
They had beat me down. And they had won.
Fast forward to 2011. My business partner, Matt, and I were sitting over hot dogs and beer and, aside from the social media community drama, talking about a missing piece in the social business world that we kept seeing.
And no one was really addressing it. So we decided we would.
I left my job that year, and we started SideraWorks, a consultancy focused on helping companies get a handle on the whole social business and internal collaboration beast.
Which meant I had a dilemma in front of me.
All the hiding I had been doing wasn’t going to work anymore. My social platform was still valuable, important, and something I’d worked hard to build. Here and there, people still knew I was out there and I’d get recognized on some list of social media professionals or women in tech.
Speaking opportunities still existed, though admittedly the faucet had slowed down some (so I had some work to do to rebuild that).
And I had to make peace with the fact that my profession was and is contributing something useful, important, and valuable to the business world.
The success of my business depended on it.
I had to learn — really learn — that the people tearing me down were the petty people, the insignificant jerks who spent their time and energy throwing rocks at other people instead of building something useful themselves. They didn’t take massive risks and create things to be put out there and criticized, they simply took on the mantle as the “saviors of the internet”, tearing down anyone who remotely got in their way. Hell, they’ll probably show up in the comments just to be jerks again. It’s what they do.
My business partner has worked really hard at restoring my confidence in my work, assuring me that the things I write and create are valuable, that my strategy is sound, that the guidance I give our clients is good.
Instead of looking cross-eyed at being recognized in an article or a list of social media people, I am thankful that someone took the time to notice and acknowledge me, and I say thank you, with sincere gratitude (even the ones that are obvious link-bait).
I am feeling great about the content I’m building, the programs we’re designing for clients, because they ARE good. They’re worthy of recognition because they’re useful and valuable and built in the real-world for real companies with real problems. And they work.
I am participating online in a way that feels authentic and real to me, complete with a renewed enthusiasm for social media and online communication as a whole. Because all those years ago? I was right. This is important. It is changing things.
What I’d forgotten is that every industry or profession has opportunists, who are bandwagon jumpers and do crap work and make other people look bad who are in the same field. Every industry has its resident assholes, who are determined to stir the pot and create drama because they lack the confidence or the ability to just put their head down and do work. Every industry has its share of critics, naysayers, bullies, snobs, you name it. My profession is no different.
They don’t determine my success or failure. Only I do.
So, back to my apology.
To those of you who have been my friends and colleagues through thick and thin, who have stood by me through all of this stuff and actually knew it was happening, thank you.
To those of you who have always been a part of this community and wondered where the hell I’d gone or why I wasn’t around so much or why I seemed less-than-enthusiastic about my work at times, I’m sorry. You deserved better. If you’ll still have me, I’d like to give you reasons to be excited again.
To those of you who throw rocks, I hope you find something more constructive to do with your lives. But you won’t get my energy anymore.
And to my business partner, Matt, who kept pushing me and cheering me on even when I didn’t believe it myself, thanks for sticking by me.
So. No more hiding from my work.
I love what I do. I’m damned good at it. I’m going to blog, I’m going to write another book or two, I’m going to post like crazy, and teach, and build stuff and get incredible new clients and ROCK a bunch of stages this year, even if I’m having to rebuild some of what I once had.
Because I’m proud to do what I do. I am. I enjoy this work, I believe in its potential to change the world of business, and I know it’s a place where I can make a gigantic impact on the the world through my experience.
I may have forgotten that for a while, but I’m not going to do it again.
Thanks for being here. I’ll see you soon.