Don’t Troll Yourself

Finding your comrades

The next time you’re feeling good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished, go ahead and post a video about it on YouTube. 

I’ll bet something like 100% of you had the same reaction when you read that, and that it was something like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And I am, of course. But while I don’t recommend exposing yourself to the YouTube commentariat as a self-esteem-bolstering exercise, the truth is, you can’t let other people’s reactions fuck with you. Even more importantly, you can’t let how you think other people might react to you fuck with you.

Way back in 2005, I had a political blog that I tended to every day. Slowly, slowly, it gained a moderate readership, forging connections with like-minded people, some of whom I’m still in contact with today. We exchanged ideas in the comments, sent each other links, and in a couple of cases, we became IRL friends. I found my voice through sheer practice and devotion to the task. I never edited myself from a content perspective; I let my freak flag fly, and it felt great to throw thoughts and observations out there and have amazing conversations with people as a result.

I’ll never forget the first time someone left a nasty comment. I’m pleased to say that I don’t remember precisely what he said, but I do remember that it was nothing more than an ad hominem attack, that he had some observations about my intellect, and that he went on to opine about what my level of physical attractiveness must be. I remember very well the way my throat tightened when I read it. I remember the heat on my cheeks, and the knot that formed in my stomach. I remember how indignant I was, and how I thought about this shitty comment over and over again throughout that day. I let it derail me, mentally, but to my credit I did keep on writing. But I agonized over the best course of action—should I respond? Delete? Ignore? It obsessed me. What had I done to provoke this person? Was I partly to blame? Would more comments like this appear? Could I handle it?

I probably don’t need to point out that there were dozens of interested, engaged readers who left comments that were funny, helpful and enlightening, and that added to the conversation. Do you think I obsessed over those comments for days?

And then there were the comments at other blogs. More of the same from the straight-up trolls, of course, but there were also the “helpful” comments that reminded the writer that they were writing from a position of privilege, or blind to different perspectives, or not entitled to an opinion on a given topic because of their age, nationality, gender, or some other label or context. While these comments were sometimes valid,  just as many served only to dampen debate, and to make me second-guess whether I was entitled to loudly express my opinion in public.

This ushered in my (short) period of self-editing. And wow, it’s a miserable task trying to create something while at the same time trying to edit it from multiple perspectives. Nothing kills a productive, fruitful train of thought faster than pushing new ideas through a sieve of other people’s expectations and as-yet undeveloped complaints. It’s so exhausting, in fact, that not writing at all becomes the easier path to take.

I eventually developed some tougher skin. Or, more accurately, I got tired of the constant effort involved with trying to please everyone. Sooner or later, you realize that your connection with your audience suffers when you spend time away from what you share with them, and with each other, in order to please people who aren’t part of your audience. People who will never be part of your audience, in fact. Or, worse yet, when you allow irrational trolls, who are only commenting in order to derail and distract, have a part in your creative process. Once I dismissed such people from the space I’d created, I was back on my game, and was a better blogger for it.

Don’t be the me in this story. Don’t troll yourself.

In the end, you’re doing what you do for your comrades. You’re creating, you’re developing your business, you’re making what you make, and showing your comrades who you are because you’re you. Someone will show up, eventually, and tell you you suck. And you know what? They’re entitled to their opinion. Tell them that (or don’t), then remove them from your world and move on. But most importantly, don’t ever do a single thing differently because of them. You’re not doing what you do for them, so their opinion is irrelevant. Any time you devote to thinking about what someone might think about what you do is time you’re not growing and developing as a creative. So fuck them. You’ve got too much awesome to be. Get comfy with your delete key (the one on the keyboard and the one in your brain) and get back to being a badass.

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