Just 5 months ago I changed my career to start my own business. It’s been a long time coming but it was time to jump in the deep end. All in. That meant saying goodbye to my online anonymity and putting myself out ‘there’.
Imagine having no social media… nowhere to post, nowhere to scroll, nobody to follow. That was me. For ten years.
There was a certain irony in the moment I deleted my facebook account way back when. It was within that very world of social connection that my relationship with my husband first began, flourished and metamorphosised from virtual flirtation to the land of real life. With my poetic (and ever so slightly dramatic) hat on, I was pressing ‘delete’ on all the conversations, the memories, the history of our beginning.
What was I thinking?
You see, I had a new career — an exciting adventure into the land of secondary school senior leadership. A land where leaders needed to be anonymous beyond the walls of the classrooms and offices we inhabited. A land where leaders needed to perpetually wear the armour of responsibility, morality, and professionalism.
Understandably, the last thing you want curious 15-year-old eyes stumbling across is an open profile of all your nights out, relationships, friendships, likes, dislikes, family pics from the 80s that seemed endearing to share with the world at the time. Goodness knows what your English class would think of you if they saw that you had visited other places beyond your classroom, that you stayed up late for reasons other than completing assessment marking, that you were… human? Worse still, what if your colleagues also saw these images, these vapour trails of your life — how could you line manage them and hold them to account if you were… human?
It’s perplexing that this was depicted to us as a horror story of what could be, a cautionary tale of what would be, if we continued to stoke the facebook fire. At no point did we simply get a helpful lesson in privacy settings. But then, at no point did I question this.
The scenario was set. I was 30 years old and about to be a senior leader. Anything that would help me to live up to the professional, responsible, respected vision of ‘leader’ (not to mention ‘senior’) that I’d been sold through many a training session. I needed people to take me seriously. Instantly. Conveniently, I always did enjoy drama at school — give me a local amateur dramatics society and a school production and I was all in! Well, now I had the chance to take on a real-life performance.
Did I mention I was going to be a ‘leader’?
- I had bought the suits.
- I had changed my hair colour to a ‘less blonde’ blonde.
- I had hidden my foot tattoo within the confines of my shoes.
- I had deleted my social media accounts.
- I had googled myself to check that I didn’t exist.
As I write this now, I want to give the ‘old’ me a comforting (and probably slightly patronising) hug, and tell her that all this doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. And if it does matter, you’re possibly in the wrong job. But she wouldn’t have listened to me. She was so full of hope, of wide-eyed optimism that she could change the world, not to mention suffering from a serious case of imposter syndrome.
She needed to work through the façade of leadership to discover her own leadership style — she needed to strip away the layers of veneer, the costume, the performance, and be herself. Her true self.
The days when her foot tattoo peeked out from the side of her shoe were the days a student’s eyes would light up and ask “Miss, is that a tattoo on your foot?”, with genuine interest and curiosity. A connection on a human, conversational level. A debate about the boundaries of professional dress and stigmas of tattoos. The days when she would share something from the weekend, something familial, vulnerable, were the days colleagues would open up too. Moments would be shared over smiles, laughter, and an appreciation of the humanity below the surface appearance of the labels we wore: ‘teacher’, ‘manager’, ‘leader’.
I appreciate I’m now talking about myself in third person — who have I become?
Strangely enough, I didn’t miss social media at all. I loved the anonymity of being offline. It provided a beautiful simplicity to communication.
But then, I also didn’t know what I was missing.
The problem with anonymity is that if you ever want to re-enter the social media atmosphere, it’s harder than it should be. It’s a shock to the system. A plunge into icy water. A feeling of ‘I’ve just turned up late to the party, everyone is happily clustered in their friendship groups, and I’m stood awkwardly in a corner on my own’.
So here I am. Stood in a corner. Not totally on my own, but feeling that sense of teenage angst I thought I’d left in 1999. The day I found myself googling ‘how to post on Instagram’ I had to smile. The irony of doing everything I could to be successfully anonymous for so many years and now creating my own business and wanting to declare to the world “Hi! I’m Claire! I know I’m late to the party but I would like to get to know you! I also might be able to help you!”
Step by step, bird by bird, I’m opening up to the world. I’m coming out of my cocoon and reintroducing myself one post at a time. It will take time. I have a lot of catching up to do, but I’ll get there (wherever ‘there’ is).
The main thing is, I’m here now.
I’m also noticing how much more enjoyable it is with an extra decade of emotional wear and tear to my life. My skin is thicker, my priorities in place, my veneer well and truly worn away. I’m me. I’m honest. I’m human.
Hi. I’m Claire. I know I’m late to the party but I would like to get to know you. I also might be able to help you.