An Ode to Internet Role Models
Wow has it really been 2 months since I last wrote? That’s too long. Shame on me.
Anyway, I’m back! I’ve been peen pressing myself to write lately and had been disappointed every Sunday night when I realized I let another weekend go by without putting pen to paper (or finger to key). Ironically, it took some thinking on my lack of creative inspiration at a bar last weekend to figure out what I wanted to write about next — inspiration. I know, genius.
In my late-night, beer aided scribblings, I began toying with a concept I’d heard from one of my favorite voices in the business and academic communities, Professor Scott Galloway, called sweat equity. Basically the term describes the ratio between the amount of time you spend sweating vs. watching other people sweat — Prof G applies to exercise, but I think it has a foundation that can be relied on a bit more universally. It’s actually similar to the consumption/creation balance I wrote on very early on in the blog. It’s basically saying the same thing — invest more in taking an active role in shaping your life instead of watching other people do it and living vicariously through them. Fairly simple.
Why We Struggle With Boredom
It’s predictable as death & taxes, so why don’t we make it work for us?
However, the more I’ve thought on it, the more I realize that MO is predicated on a few things:
- The self-awareness to recognize your levels of vicarious consumption.
- The mental ability to frame your recognized passivity as something you can change to a better alternative.
- The literal freedom and agency to make that change.
That last part in particular has stuck with me. Especially as my brother and sister get older (17 now) and I’m more in the position of “giving advice to my younger self” than I’ve ever been in before, I’ve become aware of just how useless that advice can be when given carte blanche.
Young adults in particular are in an interesting bind with regard to their ability to self-manifest because they’re often either financially dependent on someone or so burdened with other responsibilities (school, work, toxic relationships with a parent or spouse, and even a kid) that they don’t have the means to do it.
Although I pride myself on the fact that I don’t have many people I look up to now (I consider myself my own role model), reflecting on my own adolescence has opened my eyes to how much I relied on the internet for sources of positive motivation and inspiration at scale when I was stuck at home, forced to live in ways that I believed were categorically wrong.
Whether it was YouTube, Instagram, or even Reddit, I used social media a ton in high school — interesting to hear from the anti-social media guy I am now, but hear me out. I spent hours per day scrolling and watching, not to communicate with people or see what my friends were doing, but to instead check in on my “internet role models”, a group of entrepreneurs, authors, professors, athletes, and musicians who I looked to fill the gaps in perspective, optimism, and self-esteem that I wasn't getting from home.
In the most tactical sense, I was outsourcing those values to sources that aligned more with my core than the environment I was being raised in, but to me, it was a continued affirmation of the genuine goodness of mankind and the unparalleled power of the internet to scale that goodness across the world. I still can’t believe that I was so formed and shaped by people who didn’t know I existed and never thought I would meet in person. That is, until I did.
Among my internet role models, the one with whom I had the most intimate relationship with was Gary Vee. I won’t ramble much on who he is, as I’m sure most of you reading have either heard of him or watched a vid of his, but I’ll just say that he singlehandedly helped craft a lot of my mindset. I’d like to think the pieces were always there, but he gave me proof that my type of thinking and values could translate to the real world and enough of an example to keep me from giving up on myself throughout the numerous times I felt lost in high school and college. Definitely give him 30 minutes of your time after finishing this piece — I know he comes on strong, but I promise you he will improve your life if you let him.
I got the chance to meet Gary the fall of my senior year (which feels like a literal lifetime ago) at a meet-and-greet in the wine store he worked at as a teenager. It was a surreal moment; meeting at that point my idol gave me a sense of closure I didn’t expect. In a weird way, I felt like I already knew him, which I told him when I shook his hand and had him sign my shirt (a birthday gift from a friend who I also turned onto Gary around then). It was refreshing, humbling, and empowering to see he was just a normal guy, doing his best to make the world a better place and drive impact in the most true way he knew.
I was off social media by then, but remembering exhaling as I got home and knowing I didn’t have to watch another video of Gary in my life. His work had already been done, and I could close that relationship knowing I had taken and internalized from it what I needed. The same thing happened for nearly all of my role models, albeit to a lesser extent — as I discovered more about myself and became more comfortable in my own skin, the people I had used as reference points for my own identity came down off their moral pedestals. Athletes became cool athletes, rappers became cool rappers, authors became cool author, but none of them were people I wanted to be like anymore.
I say all of that to say that I’ve done a bit of a 180 on the potential I see in social media. Strip away the bullshit and it’s the best tool we have in accessing democratized moral education. There’s real value there if you use it correctly like I did. The fact that I don’t need it anymore as a source of dopamine is as much proof of its benefit in my developmental journey — it helped me craft a stable and reliant self-identity. Take that Zucks.
I urge everyone to take inventory of who they’re following on social media and critically analyze why they’re following that person. Our feeds are just mirrors of our own shortcomings, jealousies, and aspirations, and can be used as therapeutic vessels that inspire us to begin to work on ourselves, provided you’re willing to do the work. As someone who has, I know now how dutifully it’s served me. For anyone looking to “beat the algorithm,” that’s how you do it.