I used to have an earring when I was in my early twenties. A big, fat, silver hoop. My father had always said that I couldn’t have one while I lived under his roof. That was fine. I just waited until I was 21 and living in an apartment in college. I went with my friend Chrissie to the mall and got my ear pierced. I was young, a musician, and I thought I was totally cool. And in case you are wondering, I absolutely wasn’t.
Have I scared you away? Do you want nothing to do with me now because of what I did almost 20 years ago? Have I lost all professional credibility? My guess is that you’re probably pretty forgiving of my youthful foolishness. Heck, you probably have your embarrassing stories as well – we all do. These days, though, our embarrassing stories do have a permanent home on social media sites. It acts as a virtual repository of our lives. Our college bar-hopping is on Foursquare, our sun-burned vacation pictures are on Instagram, and our bizarre clothing wishes are on Pinterest.
And that freaks us out, because it’s new and we aren’t used to it. What makes it worse is that we hear about someone’s past coming back to bite them on the behind because of social media and it paralyzes us. And you’re missing out because of that.
I remember in grade school when teachers and parents used to frighten us kids with the idea of a “permanent record”. I had this image of a dusty file cabinet in the basement, overflowing with stuffed folders outlining my every little mistake and blunder. That file would determine whether I had a happy life or would work forever in a salt mine.
In the end, it was an attempt to keep us kids in line; to make sure we were afraid of the negative consequences and would toe the line. And today I see many people being controlled by that same fear when it comes to social media. They’re afraid of a misstep and that freezes them into inaction. They’ve heard the horror stories of people losing a job or ruining a relationship and it keeps them as far away from the online world as possible. This would be fine if there was no positive value to social media… but that’s not the case.
There are so many opportunities online. To take the site we’re on, LinkedIn has a wealth of opportunities to connect and interact with prospects and clients, find answers to problems, and discover new information that can take your career to the next level. It would be shame to miss out on that because of a fear of sharing the wrong piece of information.
Is it possible to do stupid things on social media? Yep, because basically we all do stupid things in life. And that’s an all-inclusive “we”. We all make mistakes and make questionable decisions. By all means, try to avoid them making those mistakes, but understand that it’s going to happen. To all of us. And that’s OK because the other option is to do nothing and stick your head in the sand like an ostrich.
And since we are all in the same boat, maybe you can be a little more tolerant and forgiving of others’ missteps. You know what they say about people who live in glass houses. The 21-year-old me had a earring and a bad haircut, but I’ve had almost two-decades of work and experience between then and now and I hope you won’t hold it against me. I promise not to hold your permanent record against you.
This article first ran at LinkedIn.com. You can find it here.