I was planning an essay to post on here, about someone from a previous employer who really was formative in my personal growth and professional development over the last 7 years. But, I struggled to finish the essay. Actually, I couldn’t really write more than just sentence outlines.
This left me puzzled. I wondered what could be holding me back. After some digging, I realized that I was holding back because I needed to share some private details in order to provide context to the extent of the impact of this person on me. I considered sharing these private details. What could go wrong? This is how it is now, I’m just sharing and this is acceptable now on social media, even on LinkedIn.
I decided against sharing these details and posting the essay on LinkedIn. A couple of ideas emerged as the main reasons why.
The first one was that I didn’t want to set the precedent for myself that sharing private details is part of my activity on LinkedIn. I don’t believe in constructing a work-friendly persona of myself. Ain’t nobody got time for dat! Anouk Pappers puts this in these terms:
“On the other side of this dichotomy, people usually use “professional” presence to refer to a scrubbed, work-approved persona. But this too is not realistic. We shouldn’t present ourselves as someone we are not, or even express inauthentic views, just to fit into a particular work culture. I think it is becoming increasingly important that we be our authentic selves online and that we position ourselves in a genuine manner. In essence, we need to establish and maintain an online presence across all of our accounts that accurately reflects who we are and how we want to be perceived.”
Rather, I didn’t want to turn my vulnerability into a currency, that I trade with, with hopes that the trading brings in ‘income’ later. I remember reading a Facebook post (in Arabic) a few months ago about a TikTok vlogger who had converted his overweight state into videos that brought in money for me. The post lamented that this is all it was now for him, to eat and show off his physique on TikTok. I thought further of another TikTok vlogger, who has become his signature dance – a dance and then showing off his afro. Is that all that they are now – their ‘products’? I am nowhere near their reach or fame, but I am close to them in that I could easily transform my inner life into some form of product.
The second reason was that I reflected on the differences between private and public information. I remembered a conversation I had years ago with a journalist in Sweden, who taught me the distinction between public, personal, and private information. From his training, he was taught that private is like the contents of your journal, stuff that’s for your eyes only. Others may not understand the context or importance. Personal information is where you can write about your experiences, but in a way that resonates with others. Think of you talking to friends about your experiences, showing them that they can relate. That’s personal. Public – news, commercial and legal texts. No emotion. “Just straight facts,” in my friend’s words.
Given this model, what I wanted to share in the essay is private information. I would extend his definition of private to include those also in my inner circle. Personal is what I’m prepared to share with friends and perhaps some at work, while public is whatever I post online.
The line between private and personal has been blurry for me for a while. I have written vulnerable essays on Facebook that I have set to public. Was that really a sound thing to do? The answer to that question didn’t strike me with much confidence. I wouldn’t say that I regret posting those essays, but now there may be archived pages on the Wayback Machine.
The food for thought for all of us is, what are you prepared to have the Machine index?
George Couros puts it in another jaunty way, quoting Seth Godin:
“Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.”
This pithy quote gets to the heart of my objection, that I don’t want everything on my permanent record.
The final reason was that there was no way to write the essay without these private details. Leaving them out would make the essay cryptic, and then there’s the danger of cryptic-posting in order to get people asking for more in the comments. Or, writing around the details would make the essay harder to understand. Then, what is the point of even posting it?
I found this quadrant diagram, while doing the thinking for this post. It takes the models, put forward by George Couros and Anouk Pappers, cited above to a further level.
When I analyzed my essay idea, the core idea – the guy whom I wanted to celebrate – was in the green quadrant. But the meat of the essay lied in the red square, and I struggled to argue to move it to the yellow square.
Thinking holistically – that is, engaging my emotions while activating reason – is helpful in evaluating what I put on the public record.