Only a few times in life does a moment make the hairs on your neck stand up and your eyes water.
Recently, I was teaching a class on writing. It went off without a hitch.
We were talking about what stops us from sharing our thoughts online. We got two-thirds of the way through and one question came up in the chat.
It stood out.
The student’s question boldly said, “I’m afraid to share my toxic workplace story on LinkedIn that made me suicidal.”
Nobody saw the tears in my eyes
The question took the breath out of my lungs. I felt like the answer would have a significant impact.
I braced myself.
The student was afraid to share his rather difficult story on LinkedIn. Understandably, telling people a toxic workplace made you want to take your life isn’t an easy topic.
Strangers are likely to judge. Future job prospects could be ruined. Your personal brand could be negatively impacted. Your colleagues and customers may distance themselves from you. There could be blowback on LinkedIn if people misinterpret your story or think you did it to gain attention or likes.
There’s a lot that could go wrong so the student was right to second guess themselves. I told the student and the class my unfiltered thoughts.
The problem many people have is they use social media for selfish reasons. They constantly think about how everything impacts them.
This is why they fail.
The student’s story when flipped on its head had the potential to change lives. Think about it. He shares the story of his toxic workplace that we can all relate to. He writes how it makes him feel.
Then he gets into the darkness and the thoughts of taking his own life.
Many will have no clue what that feels like or what he’s talking about by this stage. But a small few will understand it perfectly. Those people will have had similar dark thoughts and contemplated taking their lives, too.
A very small percentage of the audience will actively be going through the exact decision to continue living or end their life.
After seeing this piece of writing, there’s a good chance they may snap out of the spell they’re under.
They may decide to rethink their decision. They may even decide to continue living.
At the end of my explanation as to why we must share our stories, I said:
You’re being called to a higher power. You have a gift. How dare you take that away from people.
The question the student had to weigh up was: save himself from embarrassment or potentially save multiple people’s lives. That’s a far different decision from “how will this post make me look?”
Everyone on the Zoom call felt what I was saying. There was raw emotion throughout the class. My co-teacher Todd felt the same bizarre feeling.
I had tears in my eyes by the end.
No one knew. I didn’t tell anyone. But I’m sure a few people felt the raw emotion in my voice and knew how deeply this question moved me.
A powerful example to turn your thinking upside down
In 2020, popular podcaster Tim Ferriss did something crazy.
Tim is known as a mega-cool tech bro entrepreneur and author of the book The 4-Hour Workweek. He’s friends with every cool bro in Silicon Valley you could imagine. Even Tony Robbins.
His public image was as close to perfect as it gets.
The success of his podcast made him untouchable. So it shocked many people when Tim decided to self-destroy his personal brand.
He released a podcast episode that boldly announced a male sexually abused him as a child.
It’s one of the most difficult podcasts I’ve ever listened to. To hear a boy’s innocence be taken away by another human just blackened my heart. I felt anger, rage, sympathy, and sadness all at the same time.
This dark event is what led Tim to almost take his own life in college. Yet it had many positive effects. Tim became obsessed with the pursuit of success to the point where he found superstardom.
Yet no amount of success could make up for what had happened to him.
When asked why Tim released this deeply personal story, he stated it was to help others who’ve gone through similar trauma. Helping others allowed him to heal properly.
Sharing tragic stories can help stop more tragic stories from being created.
There may be a solution to the embarrassment of sharing your stories
I joined the internet in 1996.
My username was craziest boy. LOL. No one at the dawn of the internet used their real names. There were drug dealers and rapists online, we were told. The web was a place bad stuff happened.
Back then using an anonymous username and hiding your name was the norm. Then I joined Facebook in 2005. For the first time ever I used my real name. Pretty soon the entire world did the same.
Suddenly, using our real names online became the norm.
Now the internet is going back to its roots. People see there can be some disadvantages with using our real names online.
The Web3 crypto movement has taken us in the opposite direction. You may have seen animated profile pictures in tweets or on platforms like Discord starting to spread like wildfire.
You may have also seen barcode usernames too.
This is no accident. People want to share their stories and talk about their jobs without facing unfair prosecution by their employer or boss.
They also want to hide from the (sometimes) embarrassment of talking about what they do in the bedroom or who they choose to sleep with or a difficult situation they overcame like childhood abuse.
Barcode usernames and monkey profile pictures let us do that.
I predict the fear of being judged online will be overcome by the anonymous plague taking over social media. Great. If it helps people talk freely then it’s a good shift in internet culture.
We’re sick of all the judgment and canceling.
What this all means for you
Stop thinking about how you’ll look sharing stories from your life.
Most of the fears you have about sharing stories online aren’t real. And when you act with courage and share them, people have the beautiful chance to deal with their own problems.
Who knows, like my student, it may save a life, too, by sharing your story.