Don’t give fuel to negativity. I have a “one strike and you’re out” policy on my social media feed. If I see one thing I don’t like or that’s overtly negative, inappropriate or even just doesn’t make me feel good (this includes snakes, spiders, and creepy clowns), I’ll unfollow, unfriend or block. You get to control what you view and you have to be proactive in protecting your personal feed and online energy.
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Sarah Marie, an Entrepreneur, Mental Health and Anti-bullying Ambassador, Singer, and the 2020 United States of America’s Ms. Colorado. As creative director for her branding and consulting firm, Sarah Marie Brands, she helps to create visual alignment for innovative business owners, capturing their brands to attract their highest-level clients. Her photography work has led her around the globe, with brand-aligned portraits that capture entrepreneurs and changemakers’ essence of who they truly are.
As USOA Ms. Colorado, Sarah’s platform is, Free to Be You, which empowers others with her positive message to be BRAVE, BOLD and authentically YOU. She is also an Ambassador for Day Without Hate, a grassroots organization that promotes nonviolence, unity, and respect in our schools. Day Without Hate was awarded “The Global Call to Action” from PeaceJam, a Nobel Peace nonprofit that provides youth mentoring services with Nobel Peace Prize Winners.
Sarah has been featured on ABC, NBC, Today Parents, Betches, The Great Love Debate, Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global, and sings the national anthem at stadiums and events across the United States. She resides in Denver, Colorado with her two children, ages 8 and 11.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I’ve always been an outgoing person. I started performing at the age of 4 with a singing and dancing group called Sunshine Generation. I loved sharing my voice and energy with audiences and carried that throughout my life. After moving to Nashville to study Music Business and pursue a singing career, I chose to follow a different direction and expand into a business. In 2008, I completed my Bachelor of Science Degree in Business with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship from the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.
While in college, I started my first business, a graphics and media company that produced a nationally distributed newsletter for a health and wellness company. I believe that passions can be turned into businesses and since that time has created several other businesses in various industries. Later, I founded a coworking space for creative professionals in Denver, Colorado called The Studio, which still serves hundreds of entrepreneurs across the state.
With more than a decade of experience building brands, my passion for working with entrepreneurs and businesses has expanded into a brand consulting agency where I help to scale, grow and redesign businesses helping them to attract high-level clients and create large-scale platforms. I also run a health and wellness brand where I teach others to live healthier lives so that they can show up as their best selves every day. I truly believe health is the foundation of all other success in life.
My journey has taken many twists and turns, including getting married and having kids fairly young, and then divorced at 28. Like many others, I began the path of finding my true self along the way to self-discovery. I love sharing my struggles, triumphs, and lessons learned so that others know they’re not alone and can believe that they can truly accomplish anything they desire. I’m a self-love warrior and believe in the power of owning your truth and vulnerabilities so that you can grow, learn and create a life of joy, freedom, and impact.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The opportunity to use both business and music in my career has been rewarding. I had the privilege to perform the National Anthem for one of the largest festivals in the world, opening for T.I. and Jermaine Dupri. Creating a personal brand where I get to be fully myself and express all my talents, hobbies and passions has been pretty incredible. You never know what I’m going to do next!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Years ago, while providing design for a client’s wedding invitations, I got a call from the bride informed me that I had misspelled ‘Colorado’ on her return envelopes. I was MORTIFIED, embarrassed and felt horrible. Of course, I know how to spell my own state, it just got overlooked! I wanted to quit; I wanted to hide, it cost me a lot of money to reprint. I’ve learned, however, that mistakes are inevitable and are an indication of action. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything. I learned to slow down, to ask for help, to take deep breaths and to handle mistakes with grace and class. I’m not perfect. I mess up, but I will always make it right when given the opportunity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Last year I competed for the United States of America’s Ms. Colorado title and have been building a larger platform from that experience. I have been able to serve as an ambassador for several nonprofit organizations that focus on mental health and anti-bullying. Partnering with Day Without Hate, I am helping to develop a new program to expand into more schools, teaching kids how to be more tolerant, accepting and loving towards one another. I’m excited to help grow the brand and reach a larger amount of people as we need more love in this world.
I’m also expanding my health and wellness brand to include a personal training and sports nutrition certification to help more people be the best version of themselves. I love the versatility I get to experience in my career.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
As a public figure and someone who is very active on social media, I receive negative and rude comments almost daily. It’s become a normal occurrence for me. It’s typically from people commenting about my appearance or how I’m presenting myself (yes, my eyebrows are uneven and I have stretch marks and loose skin).
Negative comments may be something I never get used to. They hurt. Every time. However, while it’s not okay, it, unfortunately, comes with the territory. Napoleon Hill said, “One way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and to be a nobody. The world will then not bother you.” I love this quote because it really is so true — if you don’t want to receive negativity or expose yourself to vulnerabilities, then don’t do anything at all — but what good is that?
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
Whenever I experience something negative online, I take a moment and step away from my computer or phone for a time. I meditate, workout and reconnect with myself, my purpose and my vision. Remembering who I am and that others’ opinions of me are not something I will allow to affect me for any length of time is crucial in continuing with my mission and purpose. Sometimes I will also reach out to a friend or help someone in need. That helps to remind me that for every critic there is someone who needs to hear what I have to say, and that will always outweigh the haters.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
My parents taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Throughout my life, I’ve tried to be very careful and conscientious about how I speak to others, which includes what I post and comment online.
Even if your intentions are good or meant to be humorous, you never know how people interpret what you post and it’s possible they could take things the wrong way. Though you may be able to later delete a comment, you can’t take back how you made someone feel. I never want to be the cause of making someone feel less than they are.
When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
We never know what other people are going through. Negativity and hate stem from internal issues — insecurities, fear, or personal rejections and judgments. Even though it’s just ‘typing’, words really do make an impact on people. We can’t take back how we make someone feel, and that can be a really dangerous and damaging thing. When you post something negative, harsh, critical or just plain mean, you cause the receiver to feel small, unworthy and insignificant. While a strong and mentally healthy person may be able to shake it off, many people are suffering from insecurities, PTSD, mental health issues, depression, anxiety and other complexities that may cause a seemingly harmless comment to do some serious damage.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I think online attacks can often be worse than in real life. It takes some serious emotions to be overtly mean or hurtful to someone’s face, but when screened by a device, it seems to take the severity out of it — and therefore happens much more frequently. Negativity online can also sometimes be glamorized or glorified, if someone has the chance of getting attention from their negativity, it can be perpetuated.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
Shaming can be very damaging. According to bullying statistics, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear. They can resurface at later times to renew the pain of cyberbullying, possibly even damaging reputations, relationships, and careers.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
There’s a false sense of self online — you think it won’t affect people or hurt as much, you also can block out incoming responses, whereas if you were in a room and shouted at people they might shout right back, so it gives you a false sense of authority and prerogative to be negative, critical or mean.
With online platforms, people also get a false sense of reality and are in a constant state of comparison. It’s so easy to see someone’s post and get an instant perception of what you think their life is like — -or even that people are falsifying their lives online. It’s because of this false-reality that there is an unrealistic expectation of life, love, body image and success that stems from untrue information. I believe that a lot of the negativity we are seeing is a result of this epidemic — people perceive others’ lives to be better than their own and therefore attack others to make themselves feel better.
The old adage, “A picture is worth 1,000 words” just isn’t true anymore; I believe it should be “A picture is worth 1,000 perceptions.” The truth is we have no idea what people are like, what they are thinking or who they truly are unless we meet and really get to know them. It’s easy to make a judgment about someone based on what you see online, we need to realize that what we see and perceive online is not the full truth.
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
- Use it as a tool. Social media often gets a bad rap, but if we can see it for the powerful tool that it is, we can use it to do a lot of good. Oftentimes we hear how terrible social media is which causes a lot of people to fear it: ”I’m afraid to get negative feedback so I just won’t put myself out there.” However, social media and online communities can also be a very positive tool for connection, inspiration, and change-making. We have to understand it while taking care of our mental health and responsibilities and being proactive in eliminating the negative behaviors that are plaguing our online space.
- Choose positivity. If you can harness the power of online connecting, choose to set an intention to be a light online. Encourage, inspire and add value to others. You never know who’s day you might brighten and how that will impact them positively.
- Don’t give fuel to negativity. I have a “one strike and you’re out” policy on my social media feed. If I see one thing I don’t like or that’s overtly negative, inappropriate or even just doesn’t make me feel good (this includes snakes, spiders, and creepy clowns), I’ll unfollow, unfriend or block. You get to control what you view and you have to be proactive in protecting your personal feed and online energy.
- Take a moment. Sometimes I’ll craft a comment or response, and re-read before I post only to discover that my words may be perceived in an unfavorable way. Remember to take a few minutes before you post something. I keep a notes folder on my phone labeled: “things I probably shouldn’t post online.” When I’m feeling sassy or frustrated, or even when I think I’m being funny, I write it in the notes first to get some feedback from friends before I go public with it. Usually, I find that it didn’t need to be posted in the first place, then I can safely delete it from my device — no harm is done.
- Don’t react. People spreading negativity may be looking for an ego boost, and unfortunately, those types of posts often get a LOT of attention. If we can commit to ignoring the negativity, I think we can work to change the narrative to make our online space a place for healthy connection and community.
Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?
This is a tricky one because while you have the right to say whatever you want, that doesn’t mean that you should. The difference between social media and speaking in a public forum is that we can control who we let into our social media feed and who we don’t — so if you don’t like what someone has to say, unfollow, block or unfriend. While it’s their right to say whatever they like, it’s your right not to engage. You might not be able to kick someone out of a public forum, but you can certainly remove them from your online world.
Using social media and having your content publicly available (as opposed to just a private post or account where only your personal following can view and engage) is somewhat of a risk, you have to understand that if you’re going to put yourself out there you WILL receive criticism and negative feedback. That’s part of life — it doesn’t make it right but if you can learn to not let the naysayers get to you, you will do more good by amplifying your voice and letting your light shine. We need to teach people how to cope with challenges, opposition, and negativity, not hide from it.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
I feel like media outlets do a good job of limiting and providing tools to counteract harmful or hurtful attacks. You are in control of what you allow or don’t allow into your feed. It’s impossible to completely eliminate poor behavior on these platforms. I think we have a social responsibility to be proactive in not allowing for negativity to go viral or get online exposure.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Brene Brown’s quote: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen” is a reminder to me to always show up courageously and let myself be seen. Recently, I was part of the Love the Skin You’re In campaign, which promotes self-acceptance and body positivity. I’m a mother of two, and my photos in the post-show my stomach post-pregnancy which includes my stretch marks and loose skin. As a fitness brand and pageant competitor, this was really risky and bold, but I wanted to show people that while I have seasons of my body being in really good shape, I also have seasons where it’s not. Whenever I’m afraid or scared to post something raw and vulnerable, I think of all the people (women specifically) that my story may help. People that say they are inspired and encouraged by my openness. It makes the haters not matter. If I can inspire one person to live a better life by being courageous, then I’ve fulfilled my purpose.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’m a HUGE Rachel Hollis fan! I absolutely love her story, her vulnerability, and her courage to constantly show up and be seen online. She calls out bullies, stands up for herself and doesn’t let the negativity stop her from being her fully authentic self. I love observing how she handles the haters and negative comments. She ALWAYS turns it into a teaching moment for her audience, as opposed to just ignoring it. It shows people that negative comments and haters will be there — it’s inevitable, but it’s how we handle them and continue to show up that matters.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!