A Guest Post by Ai Addyson-Zhang, Professor, Blogger & Consultant
I am a College Professor. I teach Communication, Public Relations, and Social Media classes at a public university in New Jersey, United States. Aside from the typical teaching, research, and service that most college professors do, I am probably one of the most unconventional professors in every possible way.
For most academic professors, the professional activities I undertake are far different from the usual academic activities. For example, I am a Twitter chat “addict.” I participate in at least two chats a week, every single week. I frequent other people’s Twitter chats as a guest. I am also an active blogger. My blog posts focus on the intersection of social media and education. Last year, I earned a Top Writer status in Social Media on Medium. I also host a weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls – Using Technology to Reimagine Education, because that’s how I envision the future of education. It is a global classroom that is not confined by the physical walls. Technology has made this possible.
Even more so, last year, I decided to venture into the consulting and entrepreneur world to expand myself to become a digital learning consultant. Social media and technology transformed my teaching experience and paved a professional path for me that was unthinkable only a few years ago. I want to help other educators experience how social media and digital communication can transform their students’ learning experience.
However, I had zero experience in the business world prior to this point. Hence, my journey of reinventing myself is one with lots of challenges and difficulties, and I am still learning to figure things out. However, this journey of self-reinvention has taught me a lot. In this article, I want to share with you the top three lessons that I learned from reinventing myself as a college professor. I hope the advice that I share can help you make better decisions and avoid unnecessary frustrations.
- Community Building
The number one lesson I learned from my journey of self-reinvention is community building. Regardless of what you do, you need an audience to support your endeavors, either by purchasing your products/services or consuming your content. Without an audience on the other end, you do not exist.
In today’s digital age, everyone seems to suffer from content overload. Do you know that on average, people reportedly are exposed to 10,000 messages a day? That number has probably grown a lot higher in 2018. With so much content in the digital space, I simply cannot imagine being a content creator, consultant, or business practitioner without having a community.
For example, last year, I launched my very first online course, which aims to teach educators to use social media platforms as teaching tools. Given that this was my first course, I needed beta testers so I could test the market, get constructive feedback, and hopefully gain a few testimonials. Because of the community that I have developed prior to this point from various social media channels, I gained 25 beta testers easily. They offered not only critical feedback but crucial mental support to help me actually finish creating the course. In retrospect, I cannot imagine launching an online product or service without an existing community.
On the other hand, if the internet is already so cluttered with information, how can you make people notice you and become loyal members of your community?
Here are two practices that I recommend.
First, support other people’s content and celebrate others’ successes. For example, I participate in at least two Twitter chats in my field every single week. I also frequent other people’s Twitter chats, podcasts, and Facebook live shows as a guest. I read other people’s blog posts, listen to their podcasts, and watch their Facebook live shows. In addition, I don’t simply passively consume their content; instead, I actively engage with them on their content by commenting, sharing, and initiating meaningful discussions. Please also note that the “people” that I am talking about here are not simply random people on the Internet, but people who are in my niche, who share similar interests, and who are doing things that I am equally passionate about. It is an intentional process. Otherwise, you can easily get lost in the rabbit hole of social media.
Second, I became a content generation machine. I started blogging in May 2017 and have been blogging on a regular basis for almost a year. I launched a weekly Facebook live show in June 2017. I also stopped posting random pictures on my Instagram page, but started producing content that can bring me closer to my end goal of becoming a Digital Learning Consultant and establish myself as a thought leader in the field. Meanwhile, I have become a lot better at repurposing content to avoid unnecessary burnout. For example, for my weekly Facebook live show, I do blog post recaps of the show and post them on Medium, LinkedIn, and my Website. I also create quote images and visuals based on the textual and audio content that I have already created and post them on Instagram and Twitter.
These two practices have helped me slowly become more visible in my field. I started to collaborate with influencers and thought leaders, and most importantly, grew a community of loyal friends who consume, trust, and share my content.
Here’s a caveat though. You have to strike a balance between content consumption and content production. I learned from personal experience that if I consumed too much other people’s content, I often left with little time or energy to produce original content. Consuming other people’s content is an effective way to offer support, build communities, and learn; however; consuming too much content might be detrimental to your own content production.
How about you? Do you have a community who is willing to support you and advocate for you? If not, maybe it is time that you start cultivating a community for yourself. Always remember that social media is a two-way street. Without serving and giving, you are unlikely to receive what you are looking for. You have to build a foundation before you build your business and before your business can take off.
- Be Yourself
It is hard to not compare yourself to others or worry about what others think about you when you are doing things outside of the norm. As an educator of almost ten years, I was under the impression that teachers should only be doing teaching, research, and service. Anything outside the realm of these three activities would be considered inappropriate.
My self-limiting belief caused lots of stress and anxiety when I just started the self-reinvention journey at the beginning of last year. I didn’t even feel comfortable at putting the word “consultant” in my LinkedIn bio. That title did not seem to belong to me. I was so worried about what other educators would think about me.
In retrospect, all the worries were unnecessary. Who knows? I might be creating a new model for teachers. What I learned from my experience is that teachers need to be practitioners. That is how we can shrink the gap between education and practice. In fact, everything that I do outside the classroom has made me a better teacher inside the classroom. When I teach now, I don’t have to rely on textbook or Internet examples to elaborate on a point; instead, I have vivid personal stories to share.
In a similar manner, my content creation also suffered from my self-limiting belief. I didn’t feel confident in sharing my voice or message. If someone had told me at the time that I needed to be myself, I wouldn’t be able to accept it, because the last thing I wanted to do was be myself. What helped me overcome this self-limiting belief and start to embrace who I am was a family decision to relocate from the United States to South Korea for two years. Strangely, being in a foreign environment allowed me to be a lot more risk taking and carefree. I later read this in Adam Grant’s book, Originals, that being in exotic environments CAN help people become more original.
Why? Because there is only one you. You are unique.
Nobody can create your story better than you. Nobody can pursue your passion better than you. We need to add our voice and personality to our storytelling and professional practice, without worrying about what others may think about us. For example, the reason that I am so passionate about education was that i was a victim of the traditional K-12 educational system in China. I never openly shared this only until recently. I wrote a blog and discussed how twelve years’ formal education in China killed my interested in learning and morphed me from a curious little girl to a test-taking machine who hated school and learning. This unfortunate experience, however, also planted a seed for my existing passion in education. And I started to add that voice to my storytelling.
How about you? What makes you, you? Are you creating content or stories that can only be created by you?
Embrace you and learn to be you. Don’t focus too much on others; and don’t worry too much about what others say or think about you. Instead, focus on what you can control, that is, the content and work you produce.
Internet, Technology, and social media are like everything else in life. For as much as I love technology, the digital space can be poisonous if consumed in excess.
One thing I learned from my self-reinventing journey is that by becoming more visible, there will be more people who will start to like and dislike you. When I had someone block me on social media for the first time, I was crushed. It was a devastating moment. However, as I get to know more social media marketers and influencers, I’ve come to see that negative interactions online are unavoidable and are beyond our control. I like what Russell Brunson mentioned in his book, Expert Secrets, if you haven’t pissed off anyone by noon yet, it means you are not marketing hard enough. The truth is that there will always be people who love and hate you at the same time.
However, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to remove yourself from a negative state. This is where self-care comes into play. For me, I practice self-care via daily Yoga and meditation. These spiritual practices have allowed me to quiet my mind and to stop the chattering voice of self-doubt and self-judgement. They have also helped me tap into the divine energy and be connected with the universal energy of love. I have learned to surrender myself and to trust that the universe has my best interest in mind. These spiritual practices along with a supportive community (point one) have helped me survive challenging situations.
I truly believe that we cannot help the poor by being poor ourselves, or the sick by being sick ourselves. The only way we can help others is when the self is abundant, full of material, spiritual, and physical wealth. When you have nothing inside, how can you help others? Start learning to take care of yourself. This is not selfish, but a prerequisite for you to take care of others and to maximize your value to society.
Ai Addyson-Zhang is a professor, blogger, live-streamer, and digital learning consultant. She received her M.A. from Syracuse University and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, both of which are located in the United States. Ai teaches Public Relations and Social Media classes at Stockton University in the US as an Associate Professor. Outside the classroom, Ai serves as a Digital Learning consultant. She conducts research and offers independent consulting services in this area. Ai is also the host of the weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls — Using Technology to Reimagine Education. Ai’s live show has been watched by people from thirteen different countries. Her recent interview with Mark Schaefer gained 1.2K+ views, 21 shares, and 230+ comments.