when everyone is a motivational speaker

On LinkedIn, it’s called “broetry.” It’s those posts that tell a story, with lots of line breaks for dramatic pauses. It’s usually a story about how that person overcame adversity or a story about something great they did while hiring or managing an employee. It’s meant to be a lesson, a piece of advice to impart on their network, but it’s also essentially a humblebrag about how great they are. It’s always motivational, with the same recurring themes: if you work hard enough anything is possible, you can overcome anything, the only thing holding you back is you.

LinkedIn might have pioneered motivationalspeak, but it’s made its way over to Instagram, too. My Instagram feed is flooded with selfies (or sometimes professionally photographed glamour shots!) accompanied by motivational speeches in the captions.

The unusual thing about motivationalspeak on Instagram is it doesn’t just come from influencers with millions of followers; it often comes from your average joe cousin or friend or work acquaintance. A byproduct of social media culture is that everyone now has a “platform.” People think of themselves as the star of their own show and their friends and followers are their audience. The result is that many more people are giving speeches on Instagram, even if it’s just to a hundred of their friends and family members. It sometimes feels like everyone is a motivational speaker or self-help expert.

Many motivationalspeak posts fall into two categories: toxic girlboss messaging (i.e. the Rachel Hollises of the world: you can do anything! the only thing in the way of your success is you!) or obvious self-care aphorisms, the kind of posts that tell you you’re allowed to take a break, as though you were waiting for someone on social media to give you permission to do so.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the role of MLMs here. When I first noticed motivationalspeak on Facebook years ago, it most often came from women who had become involved in MLMs like Beach Body, LuLaRoe, or Young Living. MLMs really pioneered the idea of using social media to market and sell to your friends and community early on, and they trained their members/salespeople to use motivationalspeak to recruit more members — there are hundreds of blog posts out there on how to use social media to recruit people to your MLM. By posting long, multi-paragraph posts on Facebook about how the MLM had changed their life, given them freedom from a traditional 9-5 job, and allowed them to take control of their schedule and income, the implication was that you too could similarly change your life by selling shakes/essential oils/buttery soft leggings.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with motivational speeches and life lessons and similar platitudes. (Except for “live, laugh, love.” That one needs to go.) While it may come from a place of good intentions, its usage by influencers and MLMs gives the impression that that these are cynical ploys for engagement and building personal brands.

Reading motivationalspeak *feels* like being marketed to — which makes it feel even weirder when it comes from people you know in real life. Why is my high school friend giving me a motivational pep talk on Instagram? Sometimes when you’re just trying to exist, and maybe catch up on our friends’ baby photos, it can feel exhausting to scroll through your feeds and find even the simplest selfie has turned into a self-help lecture you didn’t sign up to attend.

Good things to read

It’s about time for us to stop wearing masks outside, Slate.

Confessions of an overnight millionaire, New York Magazine.

The politics of everyday life: leisure, New Statesman.

You’re gonna miss Zoom when it’s gone, The Atlantic.

The return of my garbage self, The Cut.

Return the national parks to the tribes, The Atlantic.

The spectacle of anti-Asian violence on Instagram, Vox.

The triumph of the celebrity endorsement, New York Times. Amanda Hess on how celebrity endorsements went from being seen as selling out to a creative triumph.

Rosie could be a riveter only because of the care economy. Where is ours?, New York Times.

Good things to cook

This week I was on another Simply Julia kick, so I made three recipes from the book: almond chicken cutlets, Tex-Mex meatballs (sounds weird, but I promise they were good!), and white pizza-style kale!


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