I took a hit for Millennials, so you don’t have to.
There are two — maybe three — sides to every story. If you’re fully invested in the virality of a recent scandalous article circulating the internet that talks about my alleged “search for Instagram fame,” here’s my side of the story. Straight from the source.
Who Wants to be Instagram Famous
Let’s start with something very basic. Why do you think every mention of this supposed “need” or “search” for “Instagram fame” was an article title and not a direct quote? Because who in their logical left-side of the brain a) actually believes they can be Instagram famous and b) who would ever admit that? Add in a c) why would that be something for me to achieve?
For more than 5 years now, I’ve worked hard to pursue my career in Public Relations and Marketing. One that I’ve excelled in and continue to be praised for by peers, colleagues and industry friends — heck yeah for self-confidence! In recent years, the word influencer has popped on and off my desk and with the social media visibility I already had, I’ve become quite the inner-circle guru on all things influencer and digital marketing. Doesn’t hurt that I’ve built up an audience of my own over the years.
As the story tells, I came to NYC in 2013 for a dream internship. Those days, nothing was paid so I was living in NYC, fully paying for the rent and exaggerated Lifestyle, on $100 per month and a handful of plastic. Flash-forward to my post-college full-time entry job at industry standards of about $35,000 annually where I was still using those handy dandy plastics to help curate my Instagram-worthy Lifestyle. This meant constant online shopping for a big closet (yes, I developed a thing for personal style), endless Açaí bowls and brunches (I never cooked a day in my life post-grad), and at around 2016 a need to feed my newly acquired travel bug (thanks for that one, ex-boyfriend). Of course, over the course of my career I quickly started to build on my personal wealth, but without any sense of financial literacy I was merely adhering to paying a minimum payment on time and disproportionally continuing to spend on a lifestyle that could not catch up with my means.
Let’s Talk About Debt, Baby
I want to make something clear if this is as far down as you’ll read. I have no credit card “debt” as I write this, except for the $50-$200 on one of my cards becase I usually put a thing or two on it each month just to keep it alive (hits “send payment” as we speak). Most U.S. based news already told you this if you read the whole article, and most International news omitted this piece to scandalize how irresponsible Americans are about their money.
It’s funny to me that everyone’s so enamoured with the $10,000 number. In my interview to NY Post I was asked “about how much credit card debt do you feel you accumulated over time,” and my casual response was “I have no idea, maybe $10k?” To me, that was well under the average of $16,000 (look it up) and probably accurate given I had $1,000 here, $2,000 there and a little residual balance everywhere. By the start of 2017, I had already chipped off about a third of that which I realized after sending verification documents to Business Insider — the only publication that actually fact-checked and crunched the numbers. This was natural, as by this point I was making about double the salary I had as an entry-level PR gal. Lifestyle creep, ya’ll.
By the start of 2018, I was clear on my credit card debt entirely, and clear of the dirty habits that got me there. And this was only achieved by being transparent with myself about my finances and making repayment the priority. The wake up call came when I was planning my move to New York City over summer 2016 and I tallied up how much I’d actually accumulated. “Shoot, am I really going to enjoy NYC if I’m spending money each month to pay off this lousy debt,” I thought to myself. Because of this, I planned to live my first year or so in NYC by living well under my means in order to quickly eliminate the credit card bills that were haunting me. I took the under $1,000 apartment in Manhattan’s North Pole, went out with friends just about a handful of times each month, and learned how to cook (what a concept) so I could do more groceries and less spending on dining out. I also kicked the online shopping addiction in the butt and made use of the closet I’d already built with services like Rent the Runway. The one thing I did continue - and kicked into overdrive - was my traveling. However, this time I was doing it well under my budget with the hacks, miles, and about $1,500 of Delta credit, I’d accumulated through jet-setting the previous years. There was a nice pay-off for something.
Thankfully, my finances were never in such a dire place that I was bankrupt or in a dangerous situation because of icky credit card debt. Plus, I was lucky to continue to earn more money through a strong focus on my offline career, paid partnerships with brands who wanted my Instagram audience’s attention, and a little bit of luck in the crypto craze. I’m very thankful it was “easy” for me, as I know this is not the norm or reality for many Americans struggling daily with debt. In all this, I also became rather obsessed with my personal finances. I made a “financial health” document to help friends become transparent about their finances, developed an endless list of life hacks and shortcuts to doing things I loved on a dime, and even gave myself “dates with my bank account” where I cracked open wine and played with my numbers to decrease debt and increase investments.
My next step is to work with a professional to help me continue to build on these habits and chip away at student loan debt so I can truly be debt-free. I recently stumbled on The Financial Gym — financial advisors that don’t intimidate you and share my common belief that talking about personal finances shouldn’t be taboo. I recommend everyone taps a professional as there’s so much to learn. And as I generate nuggets of knowledge, I promise I’ll continue to share with all of you.
Get A Real Job
There’s something else we need to address here, and it’s “being an influencer.” This entire scenario should not demonize full-time Influencers who’ve built careers off their page. From the marketing side, I can tell you we need your audiences.
The reason why I’ve only worked with a handful of major brands, and not made some career out of an online presence, is because these things take time. In order to stream a regular flow of content, you have to dedicate time to create it. That also involves the cost of hiring professionals to do it because “asking your friend to snap a pic” here and there doesn’t cut it in the long run.
And think about how much influencers get paid: a minimum of $100 per post for the small folks and upwards of $15,000 per post if they’ve got more than 1 million followers. Many of these major influencers can easily make more than me and you combined, plus they’re getting most things for free so have very minimal expenses. There are also influencers like Sincerely Jules or Something Navy who’ve taken their online stardom to create offline businesses like clothing lines. A huge cheers to these entrepreneurs, and those who are yet to come, for making “being an influencer” a real job.
So, What’s This Whole Thing Really About
This NY Post story would be nowhere without Daily Mail. If not for this tabloid picking up the headline and exaggerating it by 3, no one would care about “the Instagram girl who had debt and paid it off within a year.” The real importance of this story is the thought that our obsession with Instagram has gotten so bad, it’s ruining people’s lives and putting them in debt.
We are all so obsessed with proving that social media is a bad place. And we’re all guilty of making it so.
We’ve developed habits of using social media for the wrong reasons, so much so that we’re starting to talk things like “social media detox” and “giving up social media for lent” in order to “make more connections with real people.” News flash: those connections with real people are what Instagram — and all these other social platforms — are seeking to achieve.
Before social media, how else were you able to look up real people at travel destinations on your bucket list? Or, connect with someone halfway across the world who shared similar aesthetic? Or, if you have a unique passion or hobby, where else do you have access at the touch of a button to find a community that shares the same passion or hobby? Social media is not the enemy. We are just its biggest downfall. The way we use social media has developed into a dark place of judgment, dangerous “now” mindset, and huge disconnect. I mean, if you started reading this because you thought I was an “Instagram star wannabe who is bankrupt,” then you’re guilty of scrolling past a lavish headline and making your opinion of me before being thorough.
We’ve also lost this sense of authenticity online, something that we so crave to achieve offline. We’ve run into habits of trying to one-up each other — whether you have 100 followers or 10,000 — that we’re posting content for the sake of content and doing things for the sake of taking pictures of them. Hey, I have to check myself every day for this. On top of reminding myself to continue to live responsibly, I have to stop myself from trying to emulate the things I see online and recreating them for the sake of “catching up.” Am I actually doing this for the pure joy of this moment? Or am I a doing this because I want to show it off to my followers? Point proven as a feed curated by “stuff” (Lissette of the past) brought only a fraction of the audience I now have after “speaking my truth.”
Theres still enough time to change it.
If we all commit to changing a habit or two, we can continue to make social media a thriving place. It truly starts with all of us because social media cannot exist without us.
Be authentic. We grow up being told that the secret to life and success is to “be yourself,” so much that we are convinced it’s a made-up mantra. But it’s our most powerful weapon. Developing a sense of self-confidence and being that person offline and online is such a sigh of relief. That means not always portraying a picture-perfect lifestyle, but admitting that sometimes it’s farthest from. It means living at your means - whatever they are - so that we can get a more realistical portrait of your life. And having more conversations about what it means to be “authentic,” because we’re all still learning about this every day.
Make connections. Stop the habit of only endless scrolling and tapping, and throw in a comment or two. Tell the girl her avocado toast looks AMAZING because she probably stood on top of a chair at a crowded restaurant to get the perfect lighting of her brunch plate. Tell that guy “thanks for sharing” when he posts about his cool experience of a place to visit in your city. And tell that other friend they “look so happy” the next time they post a smiling selfie of their friends. If we just commit to having more dialogue online, those social media “detoxes” won’t be necessary because we will live more balanced lives from the connections we build using places like Instagram as tools.
Don’t do it for the ‘gram, do it for you. Along with being authentic and building connections, make sure what you’re putting out is for the joy of yourself. If you want to take that selfie instead of “taking in the moment,” do it because you want to have something to remember that moment with and not because you can’t wait to show it to your followers. Life is so much more fulfilling when we are doing things for ourselves instead of in a quest to prove ourselves to others. I learned this the hard way and work to better myself every day, challenge yourself to do the same.
Well, this entire thing was entirely unexpected. One day I’m building up people to be “Marketable Millennials” and the next I’m the prime example for why my generation sucks. For that, I’m sorry. I don’t have a speaking tour or game plan in mind for how I’m going to leverage this new platform I’ve been given, but for now I’m just going to take it all in. I’m listening to what people have to say — good or bad — and learning about the state of my generation from it.
A very immediate ask that I have for all of you, if you’re still reading this, is to go here to make a donation here to a cause that is — as you can imagine — dear to my heart. The mission of Dress for Success® is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. (How perfect is that?)
I’d also like to challenge all of us to make steps toward becoming better versions of ourselves online and offline in order to continue to make social media a better place.
It starts with all of us, and I am really optimistic about the direction we’re headed.
I’m an open book, always open to discussion, and can’t wait to continue diving into and uncovering this important topic. Let’s chat.