It’s probably a word that sparked your interest in 2017, made you wish you’d stuck with your high school blog in 2018, and has oversaturated your Instagram feed in 2019 – influencer. Now that the people who started shamelessly taking selfies back when we were still judging have made their dreams a reality, everyone and their mother wants a piece of the fame (and free stuff). While there’s certainly more to being a content creator and online influencer than that, the fact of the matter remains that everyone just wants to ‘be somebody’ and Instagram gives them a more effective and affordable platform to do that than ever before.
Have you ever gotten into a heated discussion about how social media is making us victims of comparison and ruining our lives? Hold your horses, because being an ‘influencer’ is not a new concept. Be honest – how many of us had ‘girl crushes’ (i.e. ‘I want to be her’ obsessions) in middle and high school? You probably aren’t proud of it, but I admit that there was way more than one person whose success and style I was oddly transfixed by through the years. Sure we weren’t on Instagram at the time, but we found other ways to obsess. Human beings are biologically inclined to have a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, so while comparison isn’t always awesome, it’s only natural.
So we’ve gathered that being influenced by others can be negative, but according to our teachers (more on them later), it is possible to “surround yourself with positive influences.” Though Instagram also has plenty of inspiration to go around, there’s probably a lot of people IRL whose presence as a mentor or friend had a positive impact on who you are today. Reflecting on some of them might bring you a little peace, or even a little appreciation for a word that existed long before Instagram redefined it!
1. Your Classmates
You sat next to each other in school, but stayed in touch by passing notes instead of DMs. While everyone in the classroom may have impacted you in some way, there are likely a few faces that stand out from the rest. What was it about them that struck you? For me, finding someone else who had a passion for something as strong as I had for water skiing and pursued it while juggling schoolwork was something I greatly admired. One of my classmates would train at the ice skating rink every day before and after school, while another held many local, state, and national pageant titles that required constant travel. These activities, much like my own, weren’t offered at school and required serious initiative and passion to be pursued with such determination. There were so many others whose ability to ‘do it all,’ ‘rise above,’ and persist helped me realize that anything is possible and that there is no limit to how well-rounded I can strive to be.
2. Your Teachers and Coaches
I’ve found that as people get older, others stop asking for our opinions as much and we compensate for that by offering them unasked more often. Sometimes this can be annoying to others, but more often – and more importantly – it is a productive result of our childhood teachers encouraging us to make our voices heard. Many of my K-12 teachers made opportunities for quieter, less confident students to suggest answers and offer meaningful contributions to our classroom discussions. Their passion also fostered a culture of enthusiastic learning amongst students in my district that allowed us to explore any subject without shame or ridicule from our classmates. Maybe you feel a similar appreciation for many of your former teachers, or even just one who made learning fun. Whatever your experience, the work of these individuals has probably had a significant influence on the way you view and approach learning today.
3. Your Siblings
These might be starting to sound obvious, but hear me out – how different would a person’s childhood be if they grew up with an older brother versus two younger sisters? Your parents may serve as your first mentors, but your siblings serve as your first example of (or experience as) a leader. My older sisters had almost a decade on me, so their wisdom guided me through middle school with a reassurance that I would be okay and their empathy allowed them to calmly talk me through my fear of growing up in high school. Watching them go through college while I was still in high school gave me the chance to learn from their successes and their mistakes, and indirectly influenced everything from the college I selected to the career I chose to pursue. Similarly, I got to be a leader myself while my younger brother watched me grow up. My high academic standards may have pushed him a little forcefully to succeed on report cards, but he is now one of the smartest people I know and needs to be in order to earn the degree in applied mathematics that he’s passionately pursuing. Whether you were the leader, got to have leaders, or had to fend for yourself, siblings (or a lack thereof) probably influenced your leadership skills and style today.
4. Your Celebrity Idol
American Idol, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance?… what do these televised competitions have in common? Their premise that you could be the next champion motivated many young artists to deliberately listen to contestants share their journey from small-town kid to Hollywood star. They were so genuine and easy to relate to compared with other celebrities that it was hard not to throw all your money at singing lessons or a new guitar, but inspiring more people to invest their time, talents, and finances into the arts isn’t a bad thing. Sure it was the success of these shows with ‘real people’ that led trend-savvy marketers to enter the social media market in partnership with content creators down the road, but ultimately many of these contestants were as genuine on TV as off and made a point to use their newfound fame as a platform to instill hope and ambition in their audience.
5. Your Parents
While all families are different, you most likely owe some of your childhood success to at least one one person who raised you. I remember as a kid wanting to be as fun as my mom and outdoorsy as my dad when I grew up. Before bed, I would always beg them to tell me stories. My favorite story of my dad’s was about the test-flight he had to pilot to get his license back in college, while the best stories my mom told took place at her family’s old cottage in St. Germain, Wisconsin, which I was even able to visit! Sure I got mad at my parents sometimes, but more often than not, I strived (and still strive) to be as awesome as they are. Especially now that I am an adult, looking back on their journey as parents only makes me more understanding and appreciative of the dedication and sacrifices they made to always be around when I needed them, be a good role model when I needed one, and provide answers to my many questions about life, learning, love, and more.
Whose influence are you grateful to have had growing up? Who do you hope to influence today through your words and actions? While these inspirational mentors, role models, and peers may have shaped our lives long before Instagram, you can still embody these values with the content you post on social media today to be a positive influence for others!