Social media influences many aspects of our lives. If you’re a savvy user of social networks and online learning, you now have avenues into new opportunities that, until we entered the Social Age, never existed before. You’re now able to develop professionally faster than people could have imagined a decade ago.
And yet there’s an enormous amount of pressure to be successful in this innovative environment.
Student debt and an ultra-competitive job market add to our sense of urgency; we feel we need to do something big, right now. Add a tendency to compare ourselves to others – especially the social media rockstars and their apparent tremendous success – and we often feel we’re moving too slow; that our personal brands are falling behind.
Our Propensity to Worship Social Celebrities
At one time our society worshipped movie stars. Then professional athletes. Today, it is the entrepreneurs and early-adopters of social and technology that capture our attention. We went from Cary Grant and Grace Kelly to Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm to Mark Zuckerburg and Arianna Huffington.
And yet most of the rockstars elevated to celebrity status, the very ones you compare yourself to and aspire to be someday, may not be what you think they are.
Let’s look at Gary Vaynerchuk, for example. True, “GaryV” is a super smart guy who has blown the doors off people’s worlds since the publication of his first book, Crush It. He isn’t shy about self-promotion; he’ll tell anyone who listens all about his products, speaking gigs, investments and his latest book. Of course, he is extremely outspoken and entertaining – which doesn’t hurt his status as a social celebrity, especially among Millennials and Gen Z.
Don’t Fall into the Comparison Chasm
Before you compare yourself to GaryV, though, consider this: if his family hadn’t already owned a struggling wine company, the venture that first made him famous (WineLibraryTV) may have never seen the light of day. Which could make him a savvy early-adopter who happened to be in the right place at the right time.
GaryV didn’t start at the bottom, as it may seem like you are now. He has had years to develop his personal brand, while you are just starting out. He’s had a few failures to help expedite his learning curve, while you may be searching for your first opportunity to fail.
So why compare your early-stage career status to GaryV’s current reputation as a rockstar?
Such comparisons are unproductive, uninspiring and ultimately unfair. In the end, you are starting your career with mis-set expectations. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Not Everyone Succeeded in the Social Media Gold Rush
For every GaryV, there are thousands of failures in the social cemetery.
People who saw social media as a get-rich-quick scheme and jumped in without a plan, or a viable product. Those who attempted to use social as a delivery method for discount coupons rather than building a community. And many who thought GaryV-like self-promotion would work for them, yet they lacked an authentic brand and a sincere voice.
And then there are those who came to social media early, when it wasn’t nearly as competitive or difficult to “be somebody” on Twitter, Facebook or through blogging. Think about Scott Monty and Chris Brogan, both smart guys who deserve their personal brand fame. Did they actually invent anything? Bring in a solution to an age-old problem? Create a world changing product?
Or. At the time, did they just leverage social media channels better than everyone else around them?
The fact is, missing out on the early days of social media is much like missing out on the California Gold Rush or the early Dot Com bubble. We can lament about a missed opportunity; we can look knowingly at some of those who stumbled into success through luck or good timing.
But we can also be aware that even more people put in tons of sweat equity and invested millions of dollars only to have nothing to show for it but the experience.
Build Your Own Path
So – no – you do not want to be like Zuck.
Or GaryV, Arianna, Chris Brogan, Jay Baer, Mari Smith, Charlene Li or any other early-adopter of social. They came along at a different time, under different circumstances. Their early careers are not your current reality.
Your job, right now, is to leverage everything social media, the internet and our new economy have to offer. Start by building mutually-beneficial relationships with as many influencers as possible. Leverage social media and the internet to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can. Craft your reputation as a rockstar in your career field. And, maybe someday, recognize a common problem and find an entrepreneurial solution, Zuckerberg-style.
In the meantime, give yourself the gift of time. Value each experience. Carve your own path.
And avoid jumping into the Comparison Chasm.
About the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Harvard Business Review, Inc., Huffington Post, Bloomberg News and Switch and Shift.
Mark’s book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM), with Ted Coine is now available.
Questions? Contact Mark on Twitter.