While many Pennsylvanians and the sports world is reeling from the scandal involving Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State one thing sticks out in my mind – that people were aware of the sexual abuse and didn’t protect the innocent victims. Instead, they only thought about themselves. Well, there is another REAL issue playing out in the world and that involves depression and those heavily involved in the digital world of online businesses. I recently read an excellent post from my friend Tommy Walker on the topic and how many solo or entrepreneurs who are building their online dreams are living another reality. It’s not something often discussed or written about in the online business world but I think it’s worth addressing and paying attention to – even if you yourself don’t suffer from depression, someone else you may know, in an online kind of way, might. So pay attention to those around you and take action. I’ve invited Tommy to guest post on Digital You and share this topic with us.
There is a fine line between being self-employed and unemployed.
If you’re one of many “online entrepreneurs” please don’t forget that.
Recently I read a post by my friend Margie Clayman entitled “How Social Media Is Broken For Me Now” and it got me thinking about how that sentiment seems to be shared by many of the people I talk to on a regular basi
Last week, Shane Ketterman from Rewire Businesstalked for several hours about how I’ve been able to grow my business dramatically over the past few months without heavily blasting Twitter, and Facebook, and all that other stuff you’re “supposed to do”.
But what got me emotional about Margie’s article was it’s subject; Bruce Serven.
Now I didn’t know Bruce personally, and I’m sure we’ve crossed paths once or twice, but if you’re unacquainted with Bruce’s story it ends like this;
On October 23rd, 2011 Bruce Serven shot his 22 month old son in the chest, then himself in the head, after an argument with his wife. (link)
Self Deception is tricky.
Like I said, I didn’t know Bruce.
But I know plenty of people who were in Bruce’s position.
Looking at Bruce’s blog, it looks just like any other online entrepreneur type. His last post was on Sept 11 titled “The things people say they’ll never forget.” and it combines humor with personality to make the point, “Don’t say you won’t forget, when you probably will.” The article had one comment.
Bruce’s Facebook Page had at most only 2 comments on recent entries and 267 fans connected to the page. Bruce’s Twitter connected to 1,748 followers appeared to have tweets that were automatically pushed out links of influential people via twitterfeed with no real interaction with anyone for at least to the beginning of October.
He had a landing page on Facebook to capture email addresses, the email opt-in on the sidebar on his blog and his description:
I’m an everyday entrepreneur, working hard to build and sustain an empire, create jobs, make a meaningful difference, and capitalize on opportunities, while passionately living a purpose driven life & helping others to find their success in life.
But, according to the local news coverage of his death it said:
On the internet, he portrayed himself as a maverick entrepreneur with his own motivational blog and Facebook fan page, but in real life, he was a man who had been unemployed for months and had recently taken a job as a forklift driver.
Don’t lie to yourself.
Of course Bruce is an extreme case, but Trey Pennington is another who committed suicide recently, and I feel like I’ve heard about more suicides in the “online entrepreneur” space more than ever before.
In Bruce’s case, his online personawas that of an entrepreneur, but in reality he was unemployed.
Being an online entrepreneur myself, it’s not hard to empathize with someone who feels like they have to maintain the persona of a successful entrepreneur while watching his entire life fall apart (he was going through a divorce at the time of his death).
The Duality of maintaining a fictional personality can become extremely stressful, and incredibly dangerous, if the fictitious personality doesn’t have roots in reality. In one world, you’re a successful entrepreneur, in another you can’t pay your bills.
The pressure builds until eventually only one personality can win, and it’s usually the one who’s lights are about to get shut off.
What about addiction?
Bruce eventually took a job as a fork truck operator, his local news tells us that. But they didn’t mention whether or not he was addicted to social media. Really, if he was or wasn’t is irrelevant, because so many of us are addicted to our virtual communication methods and probably don’t even realize it.
When talking to my wife about this today, she gently pointed out that I check my email more frequently than I smoked, which was roughly 20 times a day. Right now, I have a second monitor dedicated strictly to email so I can quickly glance over instead of switching tabs. Before that, it was bought with the sole purpose of being dedicated to Tweetdeck.
Being in this space, and having times where I poured countless hours into my computer wishing with everything that something would pay off, I can certainly empathize with the incredible amount of personal failure and frustration that Bruce must have felt.
Then having to keep that pain away from the virtual people you spend the most time with, then sacrificing time with those people to drive a forklift to make ends meet.
It must have gotten very lonely.
We live in public.
For Bruce and Trey (and the rest of us) you must also factor in the stress of living a splintered life in the spotlight. As digital citizens we’ve deemed it necessary to live out a considerable portion of our lives in public, without recognizing the potential consequences to the human condition.
In 1999, Josh started the Quiet Experiment which asked 100 artists to live in a bunker and have every moment of their lives recorded and streamed live over the internet.
The purpose of the experiment was to document the effects of “living in public” 24/7 would do to the human psyche.
Josh says of the project “Everything is free except the video we capture of you, that we own.”
By the end of the Quiet Experiment, participants appeared to simultaneously detest and crave the spotlight, doing virtually anything to get their 15 minutes of fame on a daily basis.
Josh later turned the experiment on himself. For 6 months, he and his wife would broadcast every moment of their lives, documenting and being the catalyst for the break down of their relationship eventually leading to their divorce, and Josh’s mental collapse.
Watch the trailer below.
Is it possible that the constant need to perform was a contributing factor for these social media suicides?
The price of fame.
Celebrity suicides and mental breakdowns are something we’ve become accustomed to in traditional media.
Social media has for many of us dictated we build our own version of celebrity to showcase our businesses or talents to the world and achieve widespread success.
The reality is, famous or not, we’re all subject to the same exact rules and pressures of fame. According to a study in 2007, the price of fame for successful rock and pop stars is that they’re twice as likely to die an early death.
Yet, we crave a similar high octane lifestyle. To be a well known “business celebrity”. The problem is, we’re not as well equipped as the traditional celebrity. If we have an addiction, we can’t just check ourselves into rehab and get treatment from Dr. Drew.
Mental breakdowns don’t afford us merchandising opportunities
like Charlie Sheen. Instead, we deal with mental breakdowns and our personal lives privately, while pretending everything is ok online.
No, social media didn’t kill Bruce or Trey, depression did.
I very much agree with this, reaching out to anyone who will listen will usually end poorly. After talking with my wife about this article, she suggested something brilliant, which is an “online buddy system.” An online friend who you share with in a very real way.
Yes, if you’re feeling depressed, seek offline help, but also have just one person online who you know you can talk to and share anything with.
Because let’s face it, people in the real world just don’t understand what it’s like to be a digital citizen.
I can only imagine the incredible pressure Bruce and Trey must have feeling leading up their final moments.
I urge you, please, if you’re in a place where you’re calling yourself self employed when your reality is something different, please stop the insanity and get real with yourself.
If you’ve been banging your head against a wall wondering why nothing’s working for you, take a step back and reevaluate your methods.
Working for yourself is meant to bring joy and freedom to your life, not take it from you.
Thank you so much for reading this, if you agree with it’s message I ask that you share it because this is a very real issue that is affecting very real people.
Tommy Walker is the principal at Tommy.ismy.name and is currently educating freelancers and entrepreneurs on how to sell in higher paying markets.