How Cocktail Parties & Instagram Are the Same & How To Do/Use Both for Self Acceptance & Personal Growth

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BY JACQUELINE COURTNEY, LIFE + BUSINESS CONTRIBUTOR

I am still surprised to think that less than a year ago I felt very hesitant to even post a photo to my personal Instagram, for fear of not knowing what I was doing, fear of being judged, or some other semi-irrational reason… and now here I am, writing a column (that phrase still sounds so very sex & the city fancy I just love it, I wonder if I will ever tire of it or be able to stop referencing it, perhaps… perhaps not…. )

For me, putting myself ‘out there’ has created both a channel of connection and a means of self-reflection, a time for self that has helped me grow and accept myself more, as a mother and as a woman, in ways I am still surprised by.

I’ve connected with women and mothers in person and online, both of which have brought me support and helped me feel less isolated, and surprisingly, much more confident in my own skin. I think isolation in various forms is one of the things that women struggle with regardless of how they navigate the lifestyle and work shifts in their life in the earlier years of motherhood. Certainly so for me; isolation from others, isolation from community and in some ways, isolation from parts of self that you aren’t sure how or where they fit.

So in that spirit as I reflect on the last 9 months since I turned 35 and decided to ‘put myself out there’, I thought I would talk a bit about my journey and my advice about how you can put yourself out there more too; both to find connection in new ways and with new people if you are hesitant at all about it, like I surely was. And then ultimately, to hopefully settle into yourself more and more and keep growing into your new and next best self.

Ok, so, for starters, ‘putting yourself out there’ seems most often to end up in a discussion about the internet, as it is where we all so often assemble in the stolen moments. I, for one, always reach for my phone in that little pocket of time when Ryan may be falling asleep or may be about to charge back out of his room. Maybe it is five minutes, maybe it is twenty, but outside of a book or something on my work list, that is the only thing I have the time to do. In these pockets of time especially, the internet is very relevant in how quickly you can choose to check in or check out, and how long you will stay. It’s more flexible even than a phone call, and so it can be a significant default to how we share and connect in the modern age.

But the internet can be really weird. Intimidating. The promise of access and transparency but with a veneer that often makes you feel like it just isn’t honest, but it also is. The metrics around ‘likes’ and all that jazz. The funny thing is though that I don’t know if it is really that that different than showing up at a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone, or where all of your friends are running late. You show up to a pretty shiny place, the tables and decor are manicured in such a way that the room feels elevated and different than the every day, and all around you, people are shined up in their new dresses, cute shoes, sequin sweaters (well maybe the sequins is in my cocktail party fantasy, because, I tend towards a strong affinity for the sparkle). Anyway, people aren’t there in their pajamas (probably), and their hair is done, and everyone is putting their best face forward. But they are also all multidimensional people, and they want to connect in meaningful ways that vary; some just want to network, some want to see and be seen, some want to meet some useful contacts for their career, some want to talk to an adult and have a meaningful conversation because they are out on a rare evening without their baby, some want to find a new friend or lover… you get the idea. They all want to connect in some way, that’s why they came. And yes, some people are really good at working the room, right? They look like they belong there and are laughing to a group of people and appear as though they have never ever felt the least bit insecure. But you know, they probably already knew a few people at the party. Or arrived an hour before you did and have already loosened up and started to connect, so they feel less nervous. Or they have been on the cocktail networking circuit all month, and so this feels routine. The point is, Instagram and the internet, and these other forms and mediums of putting yourself out there are no different. There are forums and communities where we all go to be inspired, to connect, to share and to grow and where when you arrive its hard to break the ice, you get insecure about how you will be received, you aren’t sure if you belong and worry what if people don’t like what you say; but everyone feels that in some way and its more about finding your people in that room and just, owning and loving yourself.

So, with that in mind, it really isn’t so bizarre, or scary, things like Instagram. No more than a normal instance where you are stepping out to meet new people and learn new things. I have found, and perhaps I am biased, but we all want to connect. We all want to be seen, congratulated, have an authentic way to toot our own horns, and the horns of our nearest and dearest. We want to revel in our wins and find community in our pain, and one of the best ways for that, especially as a time-strapped, busy, tired mom like myself, maybe, sometimes, online. I am definitely not advocating online over human connection, but the truth is, for me anyway, that now that I am a mother it is exponentially harder for me to get time to connect as frequently; to see people in person. So micro online communities for me where I meet other mothers, other entrepreneurs, or even develop and connect more softly with people I have met online but are newer relationships, can fill a void and support a different way of relationship building because in truth, I don’t have as much time as I used to for that professionally and socially. And if I am being really, truly honest, I didn’t feel like I always had enough time and energy for it before I had my son either.

For example, sometimes 20-30 minutes chatting with women on posts and via DM on the gram is just what I need to not feel totally out of touch but also not over-leverage my time or need to be away from home. I can do that in my pajamas, eating frozen pizza. I can have more brief, less in-depth connections with women but still be in my most basic and un-fancied self. That, for me, is totally awesome. And I have been so surprised at how positive these have been, and how much of myself I have found in these other women, many I have never met IRL. I have been so surprised, that even behind a fancy follower count and curated feed, to find women that are just like me. Building businesses, raising tiny humans, figuring it out one day at a time, and wanting to share and connect in that, to stay connected to these other facets of self while having so little time and energy to do it.

For all the negatives that social media can get, and I agree with a lot of them, but I have found the experiences and connection I have been able to foster to be overwhelmingly positive as long as I focus on balancing my time and energy, and ‘unplugging’ when I find myself treating online networks less as a tool of connection and inspiration and too much as one of a measuring stick. The worst is falling into the impossible always to outrun, fomo but I would like to point out to that point, that feeling like you are missing out or aren’t as great as someone else, that isn’t because of the internet, it just surfaces it faster and more furiously, because I have felt the exact same thing when I go to a meetup or meeting of minds and meet impossibly chic mothers with gorgeous children or killer businesses. Which is all to say, the internet isn’t the enemy, but it is a tool, and it is how we choose to use it and don’t use it.

As I read this back, I guess it sounds like I am like, I LOVE THE INTERNET! Which is really, so weird to ponder, because I used to give my husband such a hard time for posting on Instagram and sharing things. But I think I just didn’t get it, or maybe I didn’t need it then, I don’t know. And perhaps it isn’t Instagram or online connection so much for you. Maybe it is showing up to one of those shiny cocktail parties or an intimate mother’s group, those are always amazing and can bring really deep connection in a short time also, they are just less likely to be a daily occurrence because #life.

Whatever it is, if there is a piece of you that feels lonely or disconnected, or adrift, just reach out and put yourself out there in a new way, and I can almost surely promise you, SOMEONE will catch you and see you. And maybe also, it will be me or another woman in the mother untitled community. But no matter the why or the way, put yourself out there because you are beautiful and honest, and human, and we all want to know and see more of you if you are willing to share it. And on the other side of that sharing and connection, will be a new perspective on how you see yourself, which is probably the best gift of it all.

Jacqueline Courtney lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the mother of a 2.5-year-old boy named Ryan, Founder & CEO of Nearly Newlywed, a startup advisor and writer.