Inspiration or Permission?

Weeks ago, I sat in on a brilliant master’s thesis defense by Jess Hennenfent. Jess’s thesis, “Socially Me,” was an auto-ethnography that uncovered some important intersections of identity(-ies), performance (dramaturgy), and social media. The discussion that ensued during the defense was as brilliant as her project sounds. At one point the committee was tackling the issue of taking risks online and in our writing when one member, Dr. Acosta-Alzuru, shared that she believed one text in particular gave Jess permission to take risks in her writing. She said, we often say that we are “inspired” by something we read or see to pursue our own hidden interests, but what we really mean (sometimes) is that what we observed somehow gave us permission to pursue an idea that we previously were on the fence about. At this point in the conversation, my brain began to spiral around the tangent of this incredible observation.

Inspiration or permission?

In my opinion, both concepts are powerful. I have been, and remain, adamant that social media’s greatest utility rests in how we use platforms to exchange information, ideas and stories. I previously wrote that it was a blog post that “inspired” me to pen my first piece for Chronicle Vitae. However, as soon as Dr. A made her remark I knew that the author’s courage had given me permission to publicly expose my vulnerabilities — just as she had done through her writing.

I have a hunch that this observation will continue to stick with me in the weeks ahead as I grapple with the role of social media in various cultural contexts and social movements. In the weeks that have passed since Jess’s successful defense I have often thought of an idea, “Are you waiting on inspiration or permission?” I often follow that question up with another: “Who out there needs you to hurry up and decide, so they can be inspired or gain permission to perform a courageous act of their own?”

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How can we learn from the actions of others?

Here’s what I love about social media: its ability to connect people with others.

On the surface it seems so simple, but the power of those connections is anything but. I’m very particular about my language so I want to clarify: I don’t believe in the power of social media; that doesn’t exist. Social media is a tool. I believe in the power of people who use social media to perform meaningful actions – to spread the seeds of a new idea, to publicize little known facts, to share photos across the globe, or to simply connect with other people. These series of small, meaningful actions are the source of power that people often mistakenly attribute to social media. Continue reading

The Problem with Perfectionism

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I often identify with and am inspired by women who share their lives via social media. Within a week, I found myself being forced to confront the flip side of this: how intimidating it can be to live in a socially mediated world. If you read  What is Movement?, you’ll recall that I often ask upon meeting other women: “How can I get there, too?” But there’s a fine line between being inspired by someone and being obsessed with their life – especially when you reach the point of measuring your accomplishments against the accomplishments (or shared-on-social accomplishments) of others.

In addition to my research and personal experiences with social media, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a content curator for going on four years now. Through my work and conversations with other curators I’ve learned one thing for sure: smiles behind filters and stories told in 140 characters or less are not real. I’ve used a filter and a few enhancements to turn gloomy weather into sunshine plenty of times. What we encounter online are productions, and our reactions to them are perceptions. And as a Roman poet and somebody’s mother would say: “Things are not always what they seem.”

Pacing the fine line between searching for inspiration and fending off obsession has been a part of my journey to overcome perfectionism. Continue reading