We tell our students this all of the time: the internet is forever so don’t put anything on there that you wouldn’t mind future employers seeing. As a child who straddled the development of the internet, I was in a way a part of the preliminary group who dared to share, though I’ve yet to discover anything too incriminating. Thankfully there was no Snapchat or Instagram when I was in high school.
Yet, this sentiment has come up a quite often in my life and place of work: don’t put anything online that you don’t mind others knowing about.To unpack this: don’t put anything online that might derail your chances of acquiring adequate employment.
Now, this has nothing to do with photographs of an elicit nature, rather, it has more to do with the fact that mental illness can still get in the way of your dreams if others know too much about it.
“Just know that people read this, so make sure you don’t mind them knowing about everything you’ve been through. I wouldn’t want that to impact your chances.” –Said by someone who cares
In the past, this would have sent me sprinting home and in a few simple, tearful clicks I would have deleted every post that mentioned my past trauma’s.
Today, my only response to this sort of statement is:
I am me. My past is me. I pride myself on being authentic and I don’t like to lie. I am not perfect. You are not perfect, and if I’m to be punished for being genuine and vulnerable, well then, we still have a long way to go, don’t we?
I’m not making this up. People still question me actively pursuing my voice. I know it comes from a place of love and concern, but it only perpetuates this stigma that we can’t share what we’ve been through and then expect to get the job we want. Suddenly, we're torn between two parts that we need to keep us whole. Career or integrity, which would you choose?
Truthfully, I’m pursuing my career in light of my experiences. I aspire to work with, coach, and teach teenagers. If ever there were a group of people to understand my plights, it is them, and visa versa.
In my heart, I can still feel 14-year-old me bumbling through grade 9, my braces shining, my hair dull, my skin raw, and my clothing choices questionable. I connect to every insecurity my students hold on to, and I know in my heart that my purpose is to be there for them. I am meant to be the one that I did not have.
Try to remember what it was like to be a teenager. They’re concerns about bullying, relationships, and appearance are not insignificant worries. These misconceptions of themselves plague their minds until they can’t focus on anything but those harmful words or the makeup that won’t cover up their skin. Working with kids in the generation of social media makes me thankful that this was not a tool that could be wielded against me during these bleak years. A single scroll through Instagram and you can see the joy drain from their cheeks. How did they not get invited to that party? Why were they not in this picture? How does her hair look so shiny? I wonder if anyone will ever love me like that. Now, I have the chance to bring their spirits up and change their perspective. My writing, which they’ve discovered online (as young students often do when they’re curious about a teacher), has led to some incredible conversations. My honesty has prompted them to open up and talk to me about the insecurities and fears, and that, dear hiring committees, is worth more than the career you assume my honesty might spoil.
May we stop pretending to be better than we are. May we stop hiding that which makes us vulnerable and simply accept that we are perfect with all of our imperfections. I think we’ll all be better professionals once we’ve embraced our flaws, for they are not faults; they are a strength that is unique to us alone. Hiding only perpetuates the stereotype that mental illness is a weakness. Be the person you needed when you were a teenager. I know I am.