Everyone has a story to tell during the COVID-19 quarantine. Perhaps as a byproduct of isolation, people are sharing stories and connecting online now more than ever. But being constantly plugged in, especially to social media, has arguably left people more anxious than enlightened. While anxiety can stem from a variety of factors, it doesn’t take long scrolling through a few posts before you begin to ask yourself, “What am I doing with my time during quarantine?”
The psychology of social media and its effects on self-worth are well documented, and it starts to become very easy when you’re in isolation to compare yourself with your peers and feel like you’re not doing enough. But does this narrative or these feelings change on more professional networks like LinkedIn? Arguably not.
On LinkedIn, we’re seeing heart-breaking stories of people losing their jobs and a community of professionals coming together to help out those in need. But, there is also an acceleration of another type of narrative: seekers who are hyper-productive secure a new job in x-amount of days. We love these types of stories, especially in tech as they fit into the “hustle harder” mantra.
But the reality is that a job search can vary between individuals, industries and career level. This is compounded by data showing that countries are experiencing an overall decline in job postings compared to the previous year and a surge of seekers who may have unfortunately lost their jobs during COVID-19. We also tend to forget that not everyone has the same physical capacity to dedicate 100% of their time to searching, applying or networking for a job, nor the same mental capacity to bounce back immediately after losing a job.
That’s not to say that there aren’t cases where finding a job in a matter of days doesn’t exist, but that these stories are heavily popularized on platforms like LinkedIn – and why wouldn’t they be popular? Who doesn’t like a good story of succeeding when the odds are stacked against you.
The other popular narrative is that the quarantine is not a problem, but an opportunity. Individuals are using platforms like LinkedIn to showcase and market how they’ve optimized their time while seeking validation from their network. It’s not merely about learning how to code or starting a business out of passion, but how can you constantly communicate or “tell a story” about what you’re doing. This can leave users sceptical about the authenticity or intention of a post. Is the person behind the post motivated by what they enjoy? Or are they just doing it to seem impressive on LinkedIn? (The latter of which is equivalent to “doing it for the ‘Gram”).
Hence, the same behaviour we see on platforms like Instagram are being replicated on LinkedIn: we’re glamourizing productivity through one narrative and holding individuals accountable to an expectation that’s quite contrary to reality. We’ve taken a familiar archetype and applied it to how we tell our story of success amidst adversity. We see viral tweets about how Shakespear, Picasso and Newton created magnificent feats in times of great uncertainty and compare them to our journey.
Measuring up to that expectation can be daunting and answering something as simple as, “What are you doing during quarantine?” can make us feel self-conscious or guilty. In an article on PsychCentral, Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, LCSW says that this feeling of ‘productivity guilt’ comes from forming an “association between our performance and productivity with our self-worth.” This can be heightened in a professional space where we might feel judged by our peers on how we spend our time.
You might be saying, “Doing something is better than doing nothing.” But at what point did we start to be uncomfortable with ‘nothing’? Not in the literal sense of the word, but the idea of being content with the present. On platforms like LinkedIn, we need to shift the narrative of success away from classic archetypes and stories of hyper-productivity, to a more transparent picture of chaos: there are times where we create, fail, become stagnant, overcome obstacles or receive rewards.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s not to take advantage of the present. But, the hard truth is that the story of ‘nothing’ (individuals thriving in their day-to-day) will never be as popular as those who tell tales of overcoming the seemingly impossible.