If you’ve been consistently reading this column, you may have noticed that I draw some heavy boundaries when it comes to my career. For instance, my co-workers can miss me with chats about politics. Same for Afrocentric art. And dating a co-worker is a big no-no. Those boundaries extend to my digital life, too. As an example, I prefer that co-workers don’t follow me on social media, and vice versa.
The reasoning, though, might not be what you expect.
Of course, there’s the classic dilemma of how much of your life outside of the office to show your colleagues. I’m not an online oversharer anyway — more of an IRL kind of guy — so that’s not a huge deal to me. But keeping professional associates disconnected from my social media accounts has more to do with etiquette and personal tolerance. Allow me to explain.
At a previous job — back when I was younger and a little bit more carefree — I thought following co-workers was harmless, even polite. Within my first month there, I was following co-workers on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Many of my co-workers followed me back. But some didn’t. And in the words of His Airness, I took that personally.
The unreciprocated follow had a slight sting of rejection. It’s petty, trust me, I know. And as a professional, of course I’d never bring it up when it’d happen. It wasn’t that deep. (Plus, who wants to look that thirsty?) But that didn’t stop this imaginary affront from living in my head rent-free. That was the case with one smug guy named Mark. Sure, his social media behavior is his prerogative, but when I noticed he followed several others in the office but not me, it caused this one-sided friction in my exchanges with him. Carrying around resentment for such a first-world reason just wasn’t worth it.
I felt like a real-life Black Larry David, bravely challenging social conventions while curving my colleagues.
At that same job, another co-worker, Andrew, followed me on all socials during his first week on the job. I felt the pressure to follow him back despite barely knowing him — I may be petty, but I’m no hypocrite. I quickly wished that I was. See, Andrew was a self-care advocate, very clearly angling to be an influencer in the wellness space. Every morning and evening, he’d tweet about namaste and other things that I can appreciate in spirit and attempt to put into practice, but don’t need to be reminded about while I’m drinking a beer after work and idly scrolling. And certainly not three to five times a day. Could I have benefited from the positivity? Maybe — but it just became annoying, partially because the energy didn’t seem to align with Andrew’s high-strung office persona. The zen he was peddling felt like a front.
Unfortunately, my commitment was already made. And another one of my arbitrary, unwritten rules at the time was that I couldn’t unfollow colleagues — no matter how hard I’d roll my eyes when their posts entered my feed. When I started my next job, I knew not to set myself up for that awkward dance. I’d tell co-workers some variation of “I don’t really use my socials much” or a more straightforward “Sorry, I try to keep my social media accounts separate from work.”
I’ve only had to take a firm stand once. At our holiday party, there was a photo booth where a bunch of us crammed in for a picture. One of my bosses asked everyone to enter their Instagram handles for tagging purposes. When I declined and he asked why, I said, “It’s just my thing. I try not to follow co-workers on social media and prefer they don’t follow me.”
“Oh,” he said. “You know what? I actually respect that.”
“Thanks. It’s not personal, I just try to keep those worlds separate. Plus, who needs the pressure of committing to following someone because they followed you first? I just avoid it altogether.”
“Interesting,” he said. “Let’s get another drink.”
Being one of the few Black people on the job means that a lot of photos were taken with me that night, most of which prompted a conversation similar to the one I had with my manager. No one made a fuss, and some even expressed a bit of envy for not establishing this boundary themselves. I felt like a real-life Black Larry David, bravely challenging social conventions while curving my colleagues. Cue the Curb Your Enthusiasm instrumental score.
Granted, it hasn’t worked perfectly; some co-workers go ahead and follow me, unaware (or in spite) of my philosophy. And that’s fine. Free will and all. I don’t make my accounts private, but unless you’re one of the rare few who has elevated from co-worker to real-life homie, the only thing I’m following is my intuition. Send tweet.