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Online Congruency

I’m sitting in a diner in Birmingham, Alabama, smelling the ground coffee beans wafting through the air, sifting through emails from friends. One in particular stands out.

A close friend is amid the tedious med-school application process, and she’s worried about her Facebook account being used against her by the folks who review applications. Now, I don’t even have an undergraduate degree, so I’m likely an unfit advisor on grad-school matters, but then again I don’t really see this as a collegiate affair at all. Rather, it’s a matter of congruency.

For the longest time, I myself led two separate lives: professional JFM and personal JFM. There was Corporate Me, prim and proper, ostensibly flawless; and then there was Creative Me, flawed but beautiful (beautiful because of the flaws, perhaps). For obvious reasons, the two mixed about as well as glass rubbing against concrete. So I kept them segregated. Corporate Me didn’t talk about his love for writing, and Creative Me loathed hiding himself from the world. It was almost as though both sides were ashamed of each other.

Over time this took its toll, until eventually I realized living two separate lives was exhausting, even disingenuous. So instead of hiding one half from the other, I decided to change my activity to align both halves.

In my friend’s case, she wanted to go as far as changing her name on social media. My advice: Do you do anything online you’re not proud of in real life? If so, I wouldn’t change my name—I’d change my online activity. Your online persona should be a mirror of you, and nothing to be ashamed of.

For me, there isn’t an online self and a real-life self these days—just myself. Whether I write something online, speak to a crowd of people, or have a one-on-one conversation with a friend, my life is congruent.

Don’t get me wrong: I still have a private life. Like most people, I enjoy having sex, sending tarty text messages, and walking around the house naked—I just don’t share those details publicly. Not because I’m ashamed, but because they are private (and because they don’t contribute to the greater good). There’s a big difference between a public online profile (an extension of one’s self) and a private intimate conversation (personal interactions not meant for public consumption).

Deciding what’s private and what’s public is a personal matter. Share whatever you’d like. Just don’t be ashamed of who you are. Shame is ugly, and you’re far too beautiful for that.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.