I want to tell you a story about insecurity. Insecurity born out of the deep desire to be known, loved, admired, and respected.  A desire I think we all share.

This story is about a woman who, despite teaching wedding planners not to compare themselves to others, did just that.  She lost herself in a season of transition and forgot her worth and value, with or without an audience.

The measure of her success became the amount of likes, comments, and followers she received on Instagram instead of the knowledge and belief that she was successful because she was good and she helped others.  She bought into the popularity myth, not much different from the one she briefly believed in high school.  She should’ve known better but the pull to be seen and admired is sometimes so strong that it can momentarily lift us from the truths that keep us anchored.

This person I’m referring to is obviously me.  And this is a true story.

Last summer, in a season of major professional and personal transition, I felt like I wasn’t enough or growing fast enough.  So I did what I know most people in my profession do: I checked out my “competition”.  And not just my competition, but people in the professional world that I simply admired.  Comparison quickly followed and I realized that according to my following on Instagram, I was falling short.  I had this panicky moment.  I knew I was just as intelligent, capable, caring, experienced, ambitious, and talented as most of those people but the numbers on Instagram didn’t reflect that.  According to the numbers, I was an amateur.

Now, I know I’m not an amateur.  I ran a successful wedding planning business for nearly a decade.  I planned over 200 weddings for amazing couples with zero bad reviews.  I have spoken at conferences all over the country, have been featured in major magazines, mentored and coached countless wedding planners, and released a course for wedding planners earlier this year.  I should be proud (I am proud)! But last summer that darn number really bothered me. It’s silly, yes, but when you work for yourself, void of compliments and praise from a boss who is impressed with your gusto and ambition something as trivial as social media acceptance can become vital.

I decided to hire a company to help me manage my Instagram account.  The objective: to increase my followers which would then increase my engagement.  This company said they would spend hours liking and commenting on related Instagram accounts and all the followers would be organic – no fake or purchased followers (because where is the satisfaction in THAT?!).  It seemed reasonable and they seemed reputable. I saw my following nearly double over the next six months and felt satisfied.  My service with them was over and that I’m-not-cool-enough feeling subsided.  I was becoming legit on IG!

Fast forward to this summer and cue my friend Jasmine Star.  Jasmine is brilliant and kills it on Instagram.  We all want to be as cool as J* on IG!  So when she asked for a group of beta testers to test some ideas she had on organically growing their Instagram following and engagement while she created a course on the subject I gladly volunteer.  And this is when the BOMB dropped.

You guys.  A lesson I learned from Jasmine is that if you have any fake or spammy followers Instagram will catalog you as such.  Your engagement (likes and comments) will be lower because the algorithm has placed your account as low priority due to the other accounts you’re associated with.  That means your account will not get in front of the right audience.  That sounded interesting and I started reviewing my engagement.  I realized that for someone who had 7.2K followers, I should have way more engagements per post.  This was a MAJOR red flag for me.  That’s when I decided to look into my followers – all 7,000+ of them.

Last week, I sat down and went through every single account that follows me and here’s the hard truth:

3,000 of my followers were fake accounts.

3,000! FAKE ACCOUNTS!  I was bamboozled.  And I have NEVER in my 34 years been bamboozled.

To my surprise and extreme disappointment, buried deep within the real followers were all those fake followers.  One by one I removed them and with each a piece of my pride was removed as well.  It was a good lesson in humility and self-worth.  To be honest, I cried a little.  I cried because I was embarrassed that I had let a number on a tiny screen define how I felt about myself versus what I know to be true about myself.  I cried because I have never been tricked by a company before.  And I cried because this social media game can really get in our heads and that’s sad.

Once composed, I tried contacting the company, but unsurprisingly they are gone.

The lesson here is that we all make mistakes fueled by insecurities.  Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, where you looked left and right and felt small compared to the big fish.  Don’t.  I’m in the business of educating others to shine and even I fall short sometimes.  Luckily for you, I’m also in the business of sharing my mistakes so others don’t make the same ones.  The other lesson here is that no matter how many followers you have, remember that those followers are PEOPLE.  Real people.  It’s easy to focus on numbers but when you stop and realize that those 20 or 200 or 2000 PEOPLE are real and following you because something you’re doing resonates with them…we’ll thats what social media is all about.  And the final takeaway here is to NEVER trust any social media management company promising to organically grow your following.

I want to remind you (and myself) that you are valuable, worthy, seen, admired, ambitious, wonderful, kind, and brilliant.  You don’t need a number on a screen to confirm what you already know about yourself.

Shine On,