How Much Should You Share with the Internet, Anyways?

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Chelsea, New York City, June 2013 (Photo by Sarah Peck)

This is the third in a series of posts about building your voice on the internet and making work that sees the light of day for people who have been wanting to blog, create, make, or write. I host a quarterly writing workshop for people interested in learning more about storytelling and writing. The class will re-open for summer enrollment soon–I’m  currently updating the program and hard at work behind the scenes for the next class, which should be live in July. But first: when you do make something, how do you know if you should share it? 

How do you know if it’s okay to share your personal stories with the big wide internet?

Many of us have stories that are hard to tell to our friends, let alone the public. When is it right to share a story, and when could it get you in trouble? When building an online space or a brand related to you, how do you know if it’s okay to tell your story? If you have dreams and visions for the future that don’t align with your current direction with your employer, how transparent can you be about it?

One problem with writing so much personal stuff is wondering when and how to share it.

When I write, I often wonder whether of not I can share this immediately with other people. Knowing when to take your writing public (and when it’s still something you need to work through in community) is a difficult thing to gauge. When is your story worthy of other people being granted permission to see it?

I often share only about a quarter of the things I’ve written, if not much less, and I make it a rule to only share things that I’m nearly done processing or when I’ve found (or nearly found) resolution to a particular idea. While I write as a means to figure things out, I rarely share things as I’m going through the turmoil itself, for many reasons.

My mind is a fickle, raw and tender place, and I’m not always ready to put that space out into the world for judgment–nor is this beneficial to me as a person. I often need to discover my own thoughts and ideas before I can bring them to light with a larger audience.

When I’m working through an idea or a problem that’s raw and tender to me, I guard it closely and give it only to trusted people who I think can cradle my idea (and my heart) with enough tender kindness to assist my in my journey of discovery; each added circle is an extended level of intimacy that is granted permission to care about my heart as much as I do.

I don’t share the things that feel too scary or uncomfortable or too present; those I keep only within an inner circle of close companions and friends, expanding the circle as I get feedback and confidence and resolution in the particular process. Brene Brown articulates her thoughts around this beautifully, and I adhere to similar philosophies. As Brene Brown writes:

“Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.” 

As we circle into the places of darkness and respect the struggles that make us human, remember these boundaries, excerpted from “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown:

“I don’t tell stories or share vulnerabilities with the public until I’ve worked through them with the people I love. I have my own boundaries around what I share and what I don’t share and I stay mindful of my intentions.”

“First, I only share stories or experiences that I’ve worked through and feel that I can share from solid ground. I don’t share what I call “intimate” stories and I don’t share stories that are fresh wounds. [Second], I follow the rule that I learned in my graduate social work training. Sharing yourself to teach or move a process forward can be healthy and effective, but disclosing information as a way to work through your personal stuff is inappropriate and unethical. Last, I only share when I have no unmet needs that I’m trying to fill.”

Learning these boundaries and rules can be difficult as a new writer, especially in the age of the internet where everything is recorded and visible by anyone. I’ve had my moments when I have essays up in public forums, presentations to give to large audiences, and a professional demeanor to uphold—and while the public world churns along (or dissects my teenage and past angst), I maintain a separation between the events of past and the current events that might dominate my emotional landscape.

Several years ago, during the worst of my breakup with my ex-fiance, I would come home late at night after work, let go of the armor that got me through the day, and quite literally crawl in through the garage to curl up on the carpet alone to the temporary bed I was sleeping on. The shaggy carpet smelled of stale cat and the room shook with the heat of the dryer adjacent to my tiny room. I would lie stone flat on the ground, staring up at the ceiling in such pain that I thought I could never eat again. I had a total of four outfits I could bear wearing, and I slept for days in the same outfit. I couldn’t find a way to eat, think, or cry, and I called my sister just to hear her talk to me on the other end of the line. I didn’t know what to do; and still, despite an inclination that wanted to paint the story across the social web and internet world, I knew that I couldn’t. I didn’t talk about much of this for well over a year, until I’d sobbed my way through my sister’s Kleenex boxes and worked closely with a therapist to help move through the hurt.

I remember the day that I finally shared the story, talked about and opened up to what I’d been through—and I found deep connection and soul-sisters across the internet who reached out and said, “I know. I’ve been there. And thank you, for sharing.” It was only after I’d found the ways to heal that I was able to share my story and learn from it. And like many of the painful moments we each go through, I know (now, at least), how much of my resilience and growth came through these experiences.

Writing is first about creating a relationship with yourself and then about sharing the stories. I use writing to discover and work through my emotions—capturing and recording the raw states of being, storing them in a place to revisit and reconnect with later—but the stories I publish related to emotional wounds are often long healed or well on the way towards healing.

A good rule of thumb to ask is “does this make me feel anything still?” If you’re still feeling pain or angst, or hoping for a response from others, consider keeping it in a smaller circle for now, or holding on to it until later. Likewise, if there’s a response that might be hurtful—and by this I mean if someone could read this and do something that would hurt your feelings—also consider that you might not be ready to share the piece just yet. Protect yourself, and take care of your heart. You always come first, no matter what. Sharing is second, and can be metered out to those closest to us and only later to larger audiences.

In the name of vulnerability, sharing is important. But in the world of the internet, it’s also good to be cautious about where you share and what you share, and keep it close to yourself at first.

Writing is first a journey into your own mind, and remembering to respect yourself and your soul is critical. Share everything with yourself. Put your words down, write your heart out, and keep that journal flush with ideas. This is your place, your soul, yourself. Part one of the week on persuasion is developing an authentic relationship with yourself. Learn how to listen to your ideas, how to applaud them, how to shape them, how to let them take the form that they want—as stubborn as they may seem at times.

First drafts are okay. You are not the Messiah, and your message is not going to be perfect. You can write first drafts, second drafts, and third drafts. This can be a work in progress. You are allowed to edit–in fact, you are allowed to change your mind! You can write later, “I wrote this a while back, and now I think this.”

Make mistakes. (And you can ask for forgiveness). If you make a mistake, you can take action to fix it. Don’t hold back from something because you’re worried about outcomes that are not yet real. Dive into them and make a lot of mistakes. (That’s actually the better outcome).

Start small. If you write a post and no one shows up, it’s because you didn’t invite them to the party. Write something and then share it with a couple of people that you think would actually be a good audience for it. Write them a personal message and say that you wrote something. (“Hey Susan! I wrote this essay and I’m wondering if you have time to read it and tell me what you think! Ideas, comments, general feedback is perfect. I’m new to this and just starting to share my ideas. Thank you!”). 

What about if you over-share? Remember, we live and learn. Don’t admonish yourself too harshly for oversharing. We can ask for permission (if you let the cat out of the bag about your future dreams and your employer lets you go, perhaps the universe was giving you a gentle shove). You can recover from most things and ask for forgiveness in places of error.

But my general rule is to write it out in my journals first, develop stories that are publicly share-able (usually a fraction of the writing that I do) and then tell the stories that help the message when the time is right. Much of the writing is for me (discovering, learning, processing), and many of the experiences become useful stories later.

What rules do you have for sharing yourself with the internet world? Have you ever been afraid to share something, and if so, what is the number one thing that’s holding you back?

AND–if you’d like, share a piece of your work in the comments below! There are lovely people who read this blog. Share away!

With love as always,

sarah signature

The Fall Mastermind program is underway. If you'd like to be considered for the January 2018 cycle, click here to apply.

One Response to How Much Should You Share with the Internet, Anyways?

  1. HT Lee says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post. I reflected back on what I share, and I noticed that I share different things differently in different platforms ie. blog, social networking.

    My blog is more on my expertise on Life and Executive Coaching, and I do write a few personal stories, but not much. On Facebook, I share more on my personal account, but I create categories for different people eg. work, family, friends, restricted etc. for privacy purpose. On Instagram, I mainly share pictures about food and travel. On Pinterest, mostly inspiring pictures and quotes. My Twitter is just an extension of my Instagram and Facebook.

    I’m introvert by nature, and I often share more stuffs online than with real friends. I guess writing gives me more time to process through my thoughts and structure them like how I want them to look. It’s often “easier” than spontaneous communication.