Episode 27. What My Early 20s Taught Me About Instagram & Business

I want to take you back to my early 20s, and I want to share with you how my early 20s have essentially shaped the way I view my personal brand and business today, many years later.

I truly believe that each of us have been through life events and experiences that shape us into the business owner that we are today. I really, really believe that we’ve all been through some not so fun times in life that led us to do the work we do today, especially through our businesses.

In This Episode:

How I showed up on Instagram in my early 20s

My early 20s have really influenced the way I show up online today, and I want to share with you some important lessons I’ve learned. 

More specifically, if you’re currently struggling with showing up as yourself or if you’re finding yourself doubting whether being yourself is “enough to build a business or personal brand off of”, this post is for you. 

I really hope this conversation will give you the support and encouragement to accept yourself as you are, and trust that being yourself is really all you need to build your personal brand based business, especially if it’s a coaching business.

I think up to this point, the only things I’ve shared about my university years is that I was someone who got good grades, won a number of awards and scholarships, and basically was a studious student who worked hard to get into a prestigious postgraduate program. 

Simultaneously, I also struggled a lot with things like self esteem, confidence, and self acceptance.

When I think back to my four years of university, it doesn’t make me feel happy at all.

Because I knew that I really was not myself. I tried to portray myself as someone I was not. 

I tried to behave and act like someone who didn’t feel like myself. I hung out with people who really just didn’t have the same life goals or values as me. 

I participated in activities that I had no interest in, but I did so because I thought that would make me fit in. 

For example, in my third and fourth year, I went out a lot to bars and nightclubs.

In my fourth year, I think I was consuming alcohol pretty much almost every weekend and partying with people who I thought were my friends at the time. 

But really, we had nothing in common. They were really nice people and welcomed me, but we have very different ambitions and desires for our own lives. 

I spent so, so, so much of my time worrying about what people think and tried to do things just to seem cool. 

My old Instagram accounts back then were full of selfies and basically photos of me trying to look like someone with a social life and tons of friends.

But, that’s not who I am. That’s not who I was back then, and that’s not who I am today. 

Because there was such a huge discrepancy between how I showed up online and who I really was in person, that really affected my mental health and my relationship with social media, especially Instagram.

I needed so much external validation. I photoshopped and edited every single selfie and photo before posting. 

I was so thirsty for likes. I was constantly checking on how many likes my selfies got. 

Now that I think about it, I literally don’t even look like so many of those photos I posted because I would use those photo editing apps to make my nose smaller, make my eyes bigger, make my body look slimmer…

It’s really funny to think back to the extent I’d go before posting a photo.

Of course, It’s also really cringey for me to admit this, and I do feel extremely exposed just talking about this because my early 20s is very, very unreflective of who I am, especially who I am today. 

So, who is Cheryl Lau? What am I really like? 

How I show up on Instagram today

Let me first preface my answer by saying that Instagram is all marketing. 

If you’re building a business using social media, your content is definitely marketing. 

If you’re using Instagram as a casual personal account, you’re still marketing yourself in a certain way. 

The fact of the matter is that we aren’t going to share every single detail about our life, especially the personal things, the hard things, the sensitive things, or the shitty things, right? 

For most of us, we will choose to omit that from our content online. So, I just want to say that no matter who’s Instagram account you’re looking at, every single piece of content is filtered in a way that’s meant to portray that person in a certain light.

Now, that said, I think we can definitely have a balance between being yourself on social media while still maintaining boundaries and being able to market your business. 

Going back to the question of how is Cheryl Lau really like? 

To answer this, if you were to meet me in person, I’m confidently going to say that you’d feel like you already know me if you’ve consumed my video content for a while. 

The way I show up on Instagram is quite consistent with my personality and demeanor in real life. 

The mannerisms, the body language, the way I express my ideas and articulate my key points – what you see on my Instagram stories, for example, that’s what you’ll get in real life if we meet.

How my early 20s influenced the way I show up online today

Now, let’s compare this with Cheryl from back in, let’s say 2016 or 2017, when I was in my final year of university.  

First of all, no way in hell would I do video content because I was already so caught up in what people thought of me and trying to portray myself as a social butterfly who parties every weekend, even though by nature, I really genuinely rather stay home and study. 

Back then, I really would have rather stayed home and watched K-pop music shows or study or eat pizza than dress up, cake up my face and go to the club. 

But I chose to do the latter because I thought that’s what I needed to do so I could take these dumb selfies and photos to post on Insta in order to show people, “Look! I’m partying with people. I have friends. Am I cool yet?”. 

Second, because of this huge discrepancy between me online and offline, that caused a lot of internal conflict when it came to my relationship with social media. 

Honestly, this issue wasn’t something I really reflected on until I stumbled on the online coaching space by accident around late 2018.

When I first learned about the online coaching industry and this thing called personal branding, I thought personal branding was pure fluff. 

Because in my mind, I genuinely believed at the time that everything you display or write or post onto the internet is done for the pure purpose of making yourself look good, such as boosting your image on LinkedIn so employers will hire you. 

It really didn’t register in my mind how one can show up as themselves and be who they are simply because they want to connect with their audience and give value to others through their content. 

It really wasn’t a concept that made sense to me at first. 

I think what really helped me reframe the way I looked at the word personal branding was when I really took the time to think about why I resonated with certain content creators or entrepreneurs who I followed online. 

What was it about them that made me follow them?

When I really forced myself to think critically, I realized it was a few key things that usually become a fan of someone’s work or content or brand or just them as a person:

1) What’s their story and how does their story tie into the work that they do today? What drives them? What inspires them? What’s their why? If I resonate with their story, I’m likely going to continue following them.

2) What are their unique opinions or stance on issues related to their niche? Do they even have their own opinions or niche? If so, do I resonate with that?

3) What’s their personality like? Do I like their energy? Is their presence something I want on my own feed? Because if I don’t vibe with their personality, there’s seriously no point following them because I don’t want them to pop up on my feed.

4) Can I gain value from following them? Can I gain educational value? Can I learn something new? See things from a new perspective? Get inspired and motivated? What’s something they can offer me if I choose to follow them?

These are the four things that, personally, really influence my own decisions when I’m choosing whether to follow someone or continue to follow someone.  

When I looked at how these items applied to myself when I was just starting out in my personal branding and coaching business journey, I realized that I had to answer these four questions for myself. 

Here’s how I answered these questions for myself: 

1) The key story I share in relation to my business is how dropping out of law school has shaped my life and business today. 

For example, being able to stand firm in my own decision and take responsibility for my own actions and outcomes is something that was heavily influenced by dropping out of law school. 

Because I had to commit to the consequences of dropping out of law school, this transferred over into how I operate my business, which was taking full ownership over the results and outcomes in my own business, and knowing that everything in my business is my own choice and a result of my own decisions. 

2) The one that’s most prominent in my messaging is the importance of building your business in a way that does not feel like a second full time job, especially if you’re currently in a 9-5 or some sort of full time role. 

Your time and energy and mental wellbeing is important, so that‘s why when I work with my clients, I help my clients build their business in a way that actually makes sense for their time capacity, personality, values, etc and feels good to them aka it’s in alignment. 

That’s one example of one of my personal stances in relation to the business coaching niche. 

For this, I think it’s important to focus on being a thought leader in your niche and making the biggest impact in your space. 

After all, people generally tend to follow thought leaders.

3) What you see on my Instagram stories is what you get in real life. 

The reason it’s so important for me to show up as myself is because I don’t want to feel like there’s a discrepancy anymore, which was what I struggled with for years prior to starting my business. 

That discrepancy really affected my relationship with social media, not to mention my own self esteem and confidence. 

I think the belief that really helped me overcome my own insecurities in regards to being myself was really believing that being myself is what my particular audience and ideal clients need me to be. 

Knowing that I’m building this brand and business not to boost my own ego, but to give value to a particular subset of people in this world. 

When I fully embraced this, it did take away a lot of the self imposed pressure because I now know that me being myself and showing up as myself is of value to someone out there, and that matters more than my ego or supposed need to be cool. 

4) As for why people should follow me, well, I hope that my Instagram and Podcast content can answer this for you! 

Hopefully, my content gives you a reason to stick around hahaha and I also hope that you found a reason to continue listening to this podcast and watching my Instagram stories and consuming my Instagram content 🙂

The importance of showing up as yourself, especially when building a business or personal brand

There’s one more thing I want to add when it comes to showing up as yourself without any self-imposed pressure to put up a front or trying to behave a certain way simply because you feel like that’s how you need to portray yourself in order to be liked, to sign clients, to get followers, etc. 

If you’re building a coaching business or any sort of personal brand-based business, the more you show up as you are, the more money you’ll make. 

This means not doing what everyone else is doing, and instead to remember that your unique story, your unique set of experiences, your unique message… 

All of that is uniquely setting you up to give value to a particular group of individuals who literally need to hear your story and message from you.  

This means NOT keeping your message to yourself just because you think no one else is talking about it. 

This means NOT hiding your story because you feel like people won’t resonate with it. 

This means NOT obscuring what your natural personality is like because you think people won’t like you for you. 

Your people. They need to see you as you. They need you to show up as yourself so they can see themselves in you.

They need you to be an example of what’s possible for them. They need you to show up as you are so they can feel safe being themselves as well, regardless of whether that’s on or offline for them. 

This is because you are here to help people and tell people what they actually need to hear. 

Your work, message, and story will help people, especially your ideal clients for your coaching business. 

This is also why I focus heavily on doing what represents me and feels good to me so I can show up 110% myself and so I can operate in integrity.

Because people can tell when you’re trying to be like someone else. 

And guess what? You don’t need credentials or a fancy title to share your ideas and opinions and thoughts. 

You don’t need to have a grand or dramatic story to share it. 

The right people need to hear that story.

Likewise, You don’t need to be overly vulnerable, just be honest. 

For example, dropping out of law school is something that’s quite different in the online coaching space, and it’s a story that really grabs attention. 

At first I thought I was a boring nerd, but we’ve truly all done cool and interesting things in our journey up until this point. 

There will always be someone who, regardless of whether they’ve heard this story before or not, who needs to hear this. 

Even if they’ve heard it before, they need to hear it again. I say this a LOT on my Instagram stories, but you truly never know who needs to hear what you have to say.

When you’re starting out in your online coaching business journey, no one has heard your story. 

In fact, no one else even has the same identical story as you.

Use that to differentiate yourself from others.

This is also why one of the things I do with my clients when they first join my business coaching program is that we drill down on their brand positioning. 

We identify the particular elements of their brand story that we will leverage to help them stand out from other coaches in their niche, starting from day 1. 

This is how adamant I am about showing up as yourself and sharing your story. 

It actually can make a difference for your business.

Why your past experiences matters in your business

Remember, you can definitely connect your past experiences to your current business. 

For example, I’ve been able to apply some of the skills I’ve developed from my research career when working with my clients. 

My super systematic and step-by-step approach stems from my research background, and so does my knack for being analytical and thinking critically about my client’s situations. 

Similarly, you can definitely transfer some of your pre-existing skills and experiences into your unique approach when working with your coaching clients. 

Whether you may be aware of it right now or not, I’m certain that a number of your existing soft and hard skills will creep into the way you work with clients. 

If you can identify these experiences or skills and articulate them to your audience in a clear and compelling way, that could definitely strengthen your brand positioning. 

The same goes with your story – if you can communicate the relevance of your story and the why behind what you do to your people, this can further that sense of know, like, and trust between you and your audience.

We’ve all probably been guilty of trying to be someone we’re not at some point or another, especially when it comes to how we show ourselves on social media platforms like Instagram.

I hope that you were able to relate or found value in some way. 

More importantly, I hope to see you show up as yourself more than ever as you use social media to build your coaching business.

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