As I write this, I’m thinking of one specific example of how hard something has become. I’m not talking about how difficult it is to get up in the cold, dark mornings but admittingly, that has become quite hard. Imagine this: a young 19 year old putting herself forward for her University’s Apprentice challenge. This meant student stardom for a few glamorous weeks in October – front cover of the student magazine, being followed by a camera crew of 3 people, being chosen out of the hundreds to apply (slight exaggeration) to represent the side lined, the unrepresented, the forgotten: the language students. I put myself forward for the QUB Apprentice in a whimsical ‘why not’ sort of way. I didn’t mind much whether I got through or not, it was something fun to do outside the classroom. I had to send in some written answers much like a job application along with my CV and the hum dinger: a self taped video in which I pitched myself to be picked as one of 8 final Apprentices. This video took, as far as I can remember, approximately a half an hour, a few takes and a wink from myself. Press send. Done. Easy.
Fast forward a few years and there I was, filming myself again in the same ‘pick meeeee’ way. But this time it was a lot harder. I took hours instead of minutes, the lighting had to be right and the clothes had to say I’m stylish and professional, I had to smile lots and be energetic!!!! I don’t remember having to think about any of these things a few years ago. I just did it without as much as a bat of an eye lash. Granted, there is definitely more at stake this time around: a real life job is much more important than pretending to be Lord Sugar’s new sugar. But the process was basically the same. Sell Yourself. Something changed, it felt different this time. Was it me or my level of intensity towards the process? Or does the world actually not revolve around me and has something changed in society, has the world adjusted itself without telling us?
There is palpable pressure. I felt it during the numerous takes of my ‘Pick Me’ video. Get it right. Say it perfect. Sit nicely. Don’t be too pushy. Don’t be too lack lustre. It was a race to perfection. Ulitmately, I gave up on trying to be perfect and just said what I needed to say with certain endearing gracelessness. But this attempt to be perfect, to do the right thing, to say what they want to hear (what do they want to hear??) and make good decisions, all of this is new to me. I’ve interviewed before and sold myself to people etc., etc., but something changed in the way I felt. Surely, it would be better and I would come across better if I chilled out. If I was all like, whatever dude, pick me or don’t pick. I’m too cool to care. But that’s the problem: we care more AND there is a spotlight on us which is shining brighter than ever before. Why do we care? Because we’re getting that little bit older and the decisions we make now might actually mean something? Because every single one of us has a stage, a stage upon which no one is really paying any attention to (they’re all probably looking at their phones or in the mirror) but nonetheless we need to perform on this stage. Just look at the success of LinkedIn: sell yourself from the comfort of your bedroom. Perform for us even when you’re not looking or when we aren’t paying attention. Just in case. Be desperate but don’t come across that way. Present yourself as a successful human being at all times. Before LinkedIn and all the other big boys of social media, there was nothing that future employers could peek through the curtains at. Just us and our experiences and our references and our credibility. But now, now you say you’re a real good team player but you only post selfies on Insta? That’s not team playing. Is this why I got a bit too nervous at my filming? I’m concerned about putting a certain image of myself across because perhaps they can pick holes in it? *Note to future employers: I have an impeccable record, there are no holes to be found* It used to be cool not to care but now it seems that must care about every little detail. Is the knife and fork in the right place? Can you just move out of the way so I can get a good angle? What filter should I use? Is it too early to post another picture? I only have 73 likes, should I delete my picture because it’s not popular enough?
I’m wondering if our old friend media and his cousin technology has anything to do with this onset of pressure. Four or five years ago, we did have Facebook but it, I would argue, had more power then because everyone used it and it alone. Now there are too many social networks for one dominating one. When I was 19, I knew if I posted something on my Facebook, everyone would see it. That’s pressure! But I didn’t care. Now if I post something I’m not sure even 10 people would see it because there so much else to catch their eye. Technically, that should take the pressure away, yes? There’s more stuff floating around which makes you really a small fish in a massive pond. But it doesn’t feel that way, does it? Would girls be modifying their image so intensely these days if they didn’t feel that pressure to be perfect? If it wasn’t for certain ‘influencers’ on Instagram trying to make a pretty penny and sell lip fillers, would girls still do it? Would we all be living in ignorant bliss with untamed eyebrows and fuzzy hair and crocs without the beast of being connected to everyone and everything all the time?
Yes, I do realise that technology and all that goes with it is actually really beneficial and gives us more opportunities and I shouldn’t be barking at it but the fact remains that with the rise of having a public life; a life on stage, a life in front of the camera, there is much more pressure to perform. We’re all celebrities selling a product or a lifestyle to our ‘fan base.’ The reality of the Britney Spears’ headshaving incident circa 2007 seems a lot closer to home now than it did then. And that happened nearly a decade ago (?!!>$*#). So maybe the machine hasn’t changed at all and what happened to Britney could happen to us all. It’s not you, it’s me.
Whether pressure is evolving or is the same force it always was, I know that it’s there to push me to do better and be better. But is enough enough yet? Can I stop caring so much and go back to my teens?