Jan. 18, 2023

The Monetization of Self: Personal Brands and the Business of Influencing

The Monetization of Self: Personal Brands and the Business of Influencing

Influencing is big business...should it be?


21-year-old high school dropout Emma Chamberlain has a net worth of $12+ million. How’d she do it? Glad you asked. She’s a successful YouTuber who parlayed her internet prominence into major brand deals (and a coffee company). 

When I stumbled across a Bloomberg piece that cited “86% of young Americans” embrace the idea of becoming an influencer, I knew I had to do a deep dive on this Wild West of a career field (and the careers these young people are leaving behind to pursue it, like teaching and nursing). Even non-influencers tend to manage their “self” as it’s presented online, since there’s a perceived connection between the presentation of your “online self” and your ability to earn money.

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Transcripts can be found at podcast.moneywithkatie.com.

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Transcript

Katie: What comes to mind when I say “personal brand”? Where do you draw the line between your online self and your real-life self, especially in a day and age when your online persona can be so readily curated and monetized? Welcome back to The Money with Katie Show, Rich Girls and Boys. I'm your host, Katie Gatti Tassin, and this week we are talking about personal brands, the business of influence, and monetization of the self online.

When I was in college, personal branding was this fun, trendy buzzword in our tight-knit community of public relations nerds and overachievers. Since it so easily lent itself to self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, I was all over it. And while I know there's a corporate executive coach out there who will insist that this isn't really what it means, the reality is, to overzealous 19-year-olds interpreting corporate jargon for one another, this is what it meant to us. I even remember doing a presentation all about establishing a personal brand, and I don't remember what was on my cringe-tastic slide deck, but I'm pretty confident there was a section that showed examples of my own Instagram profile, with some nod to consistent filters and using the same font on your resume and portfolio, and other groundbreaking advice. Le sigh. We recited LinkedIn best practices like they were Bible verses in meetings of pre-professional student groups, and we admired thought leaders in our space, and Googled ourselves to examine the results for maximum employability.

Before I even entered the working world, it was clear to me there was a significant slippery relationship between my ability to earn money and my ability to present myself a certain way online. Even high school featured some of this “tsk tsking.” We were warned by parents and teachers alike that our future employers would be looking up our Facebook profiles and that the presence of a single red cup could be the difference between a job offer and a life of chronic unemployability. And as a high schooler who regrettably did a lot of underage drinking, I remember being genuinely terrified of this outcome, and spending a lot of time monitoring my tagged photos for red Solo cups. 

From adolescence, this connection between my ability to look impressive on the internet and my future earning potential seemed apparent, direct, and—importantly—inevitable. In that way, this is one of those slippery cultural conversations that impacts different generations differently. I have a feeling if my Boomer mom and my Silent Generation grandma listened to this episode, they'll be like, “What is she talking about? I can't relate to this at all. Monetize self online—what?” While the lion's share of millennials and Gen Zers probably won't even question the premise. 

And of course, this is an interesting discussion for someone who has, by most definitions, monetized herself online. I didn't know back in college that this *gesturing vaguely to everything around me* would become my job, and I definitely did not anticipate how layered the experience would be. When I first began, I just wanted to share my hashtag #opinions about personal finance with other people. I did not really consider the ways in which naming the brand after myself would mean that I would become the product. Now you could challenge that and say, “But Katie, you were aware of personal branding; you didn't think through the fact that you were packaging up your opinions as a product?” But the reality is I didn't really think about it like a product at all in the beginning. It was really just a creative outlet at the start. And yeah, I hoped it would make money someday, somehow, but I didn't really connect the dots between naming a brand after yourself and the potential negative downstream consequences of the commodification of self. 

Now, I really enjoy what I do, but I would also be lying if I said being so chronically exposed on social media doesn't totally ruin my day sometimes. It is vulnerable in a way that writing a blog—which is how this all started—isn't, because it's your face and your voice and your self being packaged, sold, and offered for public consumption and criticism. And to be clear, I really enjoy what I do most of the time. I'm very lucky. So please know that this is not a thinly veiled request for pity, but rather a more realistic depiction of the good and the bad that comes with the territory of willingly publicizing your opinions for an audience online.

And now completely unironically, we'll be right back after a message from the sponsors of today's episode. 

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Katie: So let's go back a few steps. How did we get here? Let's talk about the origin of the personal brand. Google searches for the term “personal brand” have been steadily trending upward for the last 20 years, but upon further poking around into its history, I learned it originated in a Fast Company article entitled “The Brand Called You” by someone named Tom Peters in 1997. Peters writes, “It's time for me and you to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that's true for anyone who's interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work. Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies, Me Incorporated. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. It's that simple and that hard and that inescapable.” End quote. 

I am shuddering. There is something so deeply sad about having to fancy yourself the marketer for the brand called You. And I'm not even suggesting that he's wrong, just that this development depresses me a little bit. This new world of work that Peters describes is, I can only assume, a reference to the way that the internet would change our working lives. It was a prescient description of the way the self would become kind of the final frontier of monetization in an economic system that is predicated on constant unchecked growth. It's almost no surprise that we've reached this point where commodifying your personhood online is somewhat normalized. He even mentions the importance of, and he uses this word, “influence” and the financial power of reputation, which feels stunningly modern in the age of TikTok kajillionaires. He also makes earnest references to collecting business cards in his Rolodex and knowing someone's beeper number by heart, which is an anachronistic reminder of just how much things have changed in the last 25 years. The end of the article features an advertisement for Peters's new age CD-Rom, a “career survival guide” that undoubtedly takes this internet self-promotion stuff to the next level through professional personal branding. 

And while we'll talk about the business of influencing shortly, it's important to note that the concentric circles around personal branding include the way most of us show up online. Anne Helen Peterson, the author of Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, has covered social media's entrenched role in and the subsequent performance of our lives a lot, as well as the insidious ways in which it's tied to income. 

Anne Helen Peterson: What it does is it allows the content that you are producing from your life—and I use that word really purposely—the content, right? You are producing content from your life. You are not posting snapshots, you are farming your life for content for it to appear unified, right? For your life to appear as part of like one movie, shot over the course of, you know, however long, right? Like there's this real unification towards it. And I think that that really points to the ways in which influencers in particular, or anyone who has come to produce a brand of themselves online, the way that they think of producing content is that everything has to be within this sphere, this aesthetic, this tonal sphere that is very consistent. There is never anything that seems dissonant from whatever brand you have established, and anything that you do has to be connected into the brand. If for some reason it is dissonant with the brand, then you don't post it. Whether that brand is like adventurous, quirky, calm, self-care, like whatever the brand is, there are all sorts of things, from going to the bathroom to like the things that you eat when no one's watching. Like all of those things are not necessarily in line. But if you are constantly thinking of editing your life in a way that affirms to this understanding of what the brand is, at some point that becomes exhausting. Or I think there's a real form of alienation, where you feel like there's the person that is in the Instagram account, and then there's the person that I actually am.

Katie: Now the act of “branding” traditionally means to burn a symbol onto something. There is a sense of permanence and narrowness associated with the brand. Almost by definition, there have to be distinctive, unchanging, recognizable features that a brand commits to uphold. And while I suppose one could argue that on some level everyone has a personal brand without even trying, I would argue that a more apt and less 1984 term for it would simply be somebody's personality. Most human beings are walking contradictions. We hold conflicting beliefs. We don't always act according to those beliefs. We suffer cognitive dissonance; we learn new things and change our worldview. And if we're paying attention, we are probably evolving with the world around us. And most people don't fit into narrow, sensible boxes the same way a brand positioning statement for Proctor & Gamble does. The core assumption of Peters's piece, that the new age of work in the 21st century means we are all free agents who must brand ourselves competitively to be professionally and financially successful, appears to me to be the beginning of what I'll now refer to as the “monetization of the self.” 

So let's talk about when you are the product, because the way I think about this, there are two layers of the monetization of self. The first layer begs the question: Who are you, and what makes you you? And in my conceptualization, you are simply your consciousness. And what is the most tangible manifestation of that consciousness? Your attention. It has become trite in the social media world to acknowledge that if you're not paying for the product, it's 'cause you are the product. But it's true. Social media platforms only earn money because they're able to sell your attention to advertisers. That's layer one. And if you use the internet really at all, and more specifically social media, your self has already been monetized in that sense. 

The second layer, however, is a more literal interpretation of the phrase “You are the product.” Not that your attention is being sold to the highest bidder, but that you are now an atomized microcosm of a social media platform. You yourself are the platform. Also known as the “influencer.” While this trend is most obvious in the realm of lifestyle influencers or people who earn money by posting about their lives, producers of niche content like me fall into this category too. You don't have to pay to listen to this podcast, because an advertiser paid our company to sponsor it. While this type of relationship, aka advertising, is not new or novel, the direct monetization of a human being, a personal brand that can be packaged and sold in a media kit, is. Even massive celebrities in the pre-internet age did not have the opportunity (or the pressure, depending on how you conceive of it) to personally brand and monetize themselves directly online in this always-on, daily way that your average influencer does today. 

For the most part, we have accepted this reality without much kicking and screaming. That is to say, if you are a white-collar worker with a job you do from a laptop, you are probably living in this world, even if your personal brand only exists on the relatively innocuous social networking platform LinkedIn. Though more traditional work and small businesses aren't exempt. If you're trying to sell something, having a social media presence can feel like a non-negotiable. And hey, in the midst of wage stagnation and the spirit of the four-hour workweek-ification of the 21st century, it makes sense that finding seemingly easy ways to make extra cash, like sharing your morning routine sponsored by Keurig, would be attractive. This feeling is not limited to adults. 

Speaker 3: 98% of middle school and high school students, according to a Bloomberg study, said they want to be social media influencers when they grow up. 

Katie: Now, I don't think it's new for kids to have aspirations of fame. “I wanna be an influencer when I grow up” is the new “I wanna be a singer or actor.” The difference is, when musical theater nerds like me declared to the adults in their lives they were going to be an actor when they grew up, everyone kind of knew that dream would fizzle and die a slow death upon the realization that the Disney scouts were not busting down the door. But influencing is different, because anyone with a social media profile is a contender. 

Speaker 4: You could do a ton, you could do a ton in 60-second TikTok videos. It's called, you can pique interest for them to click the URL in your profile to listen to the one-hour podcast. With the lack of friction in the internet world, it's there for you. 

Katie: So let's talk about this vague sense of not seizing the boundless opportunity around you, because before stumbling into my current career path, which, okay, go figure, I always had this sense of dread that I was somehow not as optimized professionally or financially as I should be. I had small-scale influencer friends who had relationships with local businesses that allowed them to eat and drink for free in exchange for posting, and other friends who seemed to be dominating the LinkedIn newsfeed with viral posts that ushered in new and impressive job offers and connections seemingly every single year. And I felt like I was falling behind, because I hadn't yet tapped into my own unique hot spring of passive income and side hustle ideas. It felt to me at the time like a compelling personal brand was the foundation on which such opportunity was built. People like Gary V told me in books and podcasts that in the age of the internet, opportunity was everywhere, but I didn't know how to harness it, and it created a lot of overwhelm for me as an ambitious person who maybe embarrassingly wanted to have an impressive career and do really well for myself. I listened to personal branding and marketing podcasts like The Skinny Confidential, where the host, Lauryn Evarts Bosstick, extolled the virtues of “time-batching” and earning while you sleep, and how her powerful honed personal brand enabled her lavish lifestyle. She was always dropping very specific preferences and quote “micromanaging aesthetics,” and it created this millennial pink, lavender-scented, Skinny Confidential panopticon that seemed to successfully monetize everything it touched. And she, the person and her preferences, were at the center of all of it. On one hand, you could point to this type of success story and marvel at what the internet has done. Lauryn was a bartender and a Pure Barre instructor who is now, judging by the posts from private jets, one of the most financially successful bloggers of all time. People like Lauryn clearly knew what they were doing, and their ability to brand their businesses—and, by extension, themselves—created massive fortunes from little more than an impressive command of the Instagram app and marketing know-how. 

On the other hand, it is maybe worth asking whether or not this is truly aspirational. It's very easy to lose yourself in the blurred lines of a personal brand that you have monetized to the hilt. Where does life end and work begin? To extend Lauryn's case study, she takes frequent vacations, but she often posts about every aspect of her trip. I remember listening to an episode where she discussed how she has a driver and she gets her hair blown out weekly so that she can answer emails in the car and in the salon chair. It doesn't sound like she ever stops working, even when she’s supposedly on vacation. To my knowledge, there haven't been any meaningful studies on the ramifications of the lack of boundaries and constant communication with an audience that being an influencer requires. But I can't imagine it's great for your mental health, given my own limited experience as a small-scale niche writer and podcaster.

To be very, very clear, this is not to suggest anyone should feel bad for influencers. I am merely pointing out that I'm not sure it's as aspirational a job as the children of today seem to think it is. And I fear the long-term repercussions of such a shift. I asked Anne Helen to weigh in. 

Anne Helen Peterson: These kids are consuming a constant stream and there's an expectation for a constant stream, and that doesn't seem odd to them. The problem, though, and this was the same critique of like, if everyone wants to be a reality star and they start behaving in their real lives as if they are reality stars, if you wanna be an influencer and the expectation that you internalize, is that the way to become popular, right, to be esteemed in society, is to break your life up into these consumable chunks that are on-brand. That's really hard. 

One thing that we see a lot more of are these younger influencers being very honest about the toll that that takes on their mental health. Like people who burn out, who just disappear. A star or an athlete or a musician, there are periods where they can disappear from public life. They do enough publicity around an event and then they're able to recede. On the other side of the spectrum is, you have no control. You are…it's not even just that paparazzi are chasing you, because the paparazzi have actually been made irrelevant by the fact that all of these influencers and celebrities are their own paparazzi. They're constantly self-surveilling. And if the impetus, if the responsibility on surveillance is on yourself, there's no break, right? Like it's always, you have to be to be taping yourself, and even if you're having a hard day, or if you feel like you want to take a break, there's also this compulsion, I think, to tape the hard parts, too. So you are performing and packaging your vulnerability. 

Katie: We'll be right back after a message from the sponsors of today's episode. 

It all feeds into this very curated, specific vision of professional and financial success. Even Forbes’s “30 Under 30” has a social media category for people who have performed this dance exceptionally well. And to illustrate my own complex emotions around the topic, I must admit that getting on that list has always, you know, held some allure for me. And while I know that not every millennial or Gen Z person feels this pressure or plays into this game, to their credit, the vast majority of the ambitious young people that I know do. 

Nora Ali: With the violin, I have felt pressure to put it on social media when I practice, because maybe that'll help me build my following, build my brand, build engagement. So I have found it difficult to just play for the sake of playing and not having to post it somewhere.

Katie: That's Nora Ali, a coworker of mine and all-around very impressive person. She's a founder, a Harvard-educated ex-investment banking gal. And we've talked at length before about the pressure to maintain a certain appearance online, because you quote “never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.” As Peters warned us in 1997, we are the CEOs of our own companies, Me Incorporated. Which makes now, I think, a good time to talk about commodified authenticity, because there's no shortage of content creators who make content about content creation, to help you get started. And most of it hinges on the importance of authenticity and sharing everything, which to my earlier point about whether living a truly boundary-free life is actually aspirational, scans as a little dystopian. 

Speaker 6: Once you really start kind of embarking on this journey, if you haven't already, I encourage you to almost immediately start sharing what that journey looks like on whatever platforms you feel the most comfortable sharing this on. Maybe that's YouTube for you. I feel like that's TikTok for a lot of people nowadays. I feel like TikTok is usually a little bit more short-form, and maybe if you want, hold yourself accountable by sticking to a schedule to do it consistently. But just start sharing yourself online as often as you can. And again, as freely as you can.

Katie: To make it clear, I don't blame these creators. They are responding to market demand. The clip that we just played has over 200,000 views. Clearly people are interested in this information, but as I allowed the YouTube algorithm to lilypad bounce me from video to video about this topic, I kept coming back to this core question: What is the end game here? Is it fame? Is it money? Is it a desire to be seen? Like, what are we trading all of this transparency in sharing and openness for? What are we hoping to get in return for it? Colin & Samir, two YouTubers who make videos mostly about other YouTubers, have an apt analogy for this. 

Colin & Samir: Being Emma Chamberlain and being a creator is basically like owning the bakery, working at the bakery, and being the bread. And so if someone doesn't like the bread, it hurts on every level. Oh, that's good. Yeah. As opposed to maybe a more traditional job where you're not the bread. You're not the bread, right? You're maybe someone who just works for the baker.

Katie: That clip, for the record, comes from a longer video about why Emma Chamberlain quit YouTube. For the uninitiated, Emma is a wildly successful young YouTuber who parlayed her internet prominence into a coffee company, a podcast, regular features in magazines like Vogue and Architectural Digest, and even an ambassador model gig with Louis Vuitton. She went to the Met Gala, for crying out loud, and she's only 21 years old. 

Emma Chamberlain: Hi, I’m Emma Chamberlain. We're in New York City preparing for the Met. Come along with me for the day. 

Katie: According to Fortune's list of top creators, she earned $12 million in 2021. So why would someone who's clearly so good at this decide to stop? Well, listen for yourself. 

Emma Chamberlain: When something is that all-consuming, burnout is completely inevitable. And throughout those four years of me creating YouTube videos, I've dealt with burnout time and time again. Burnout on YouTube is a little bit complex. 

Katie: She is referring to the fact that when you are a lifestyle creator, your life becomes your job. Everything is potential inspiration for content, and it slowly reorients the way that you experience the world and your life. Emma Chamberlain is not just a person anymore; she is a behemoth brand. Again, we've seen this happen with celebrities in the past. This isn't a new concept in that way, but what is new about it is the complete lack of gatekeeping. When there's practically no barrier to entry and everyone's eligible, then it stands to reason that many more people are going to try, especially when the potential payoff seems, and frankly is, so gargantuan. It highlights why this topic is complex. It's hard to feel bad for someone who earned $12 million for making videos, but on that note, I don't think feeling bad is the goal here.

Another example comes in the form of Alex Cooper, amateur podcaster turned ginormous Spotify acquisition, pulled $60 million at the age of 25 to host her raunchy show, Call Her Daddy, exclusively on Spotify. This was a normal person who went from schlepping around shitty apartments in Manhattan to almost centimillionaire status in approximately two years flat. Influence and personal branding in the age of the internet is obviously a very powerful force financially. It is a king and queen maker, but it also makes me nervous. I don't know that we want having a commoditized online self to be aspirational After all, is it really additive at scale? Does it create value in society? What are the downside risks of 98% of young people growing up and wanting to become a YouTuber? And I would ask, isn't the free market supposedly good at solving for things like this? You know, the reallocation of resources to necessary areas, market forces? This is a quandary for which I have no answers, but I think it is a question worth asking. For example, there is no shortage of new stories about teachers and nurses quitting to become TikTok stars. 

Interviewer: Rebecca has moved to doing social media full-time. 

Rebecca: I often get messages of people asking me for advice on situations. 

Interviewer: Bittersweet that you're not fulfilling this career, or do you feel you did? 

Rebecca: Stepping outta the classroom might have been the hardest thing that I've ever done. Like I feel like I still have my students, even my students from years ago. Like in social media, they constantly are coming back. They're constantly trolling me in my lives. Can't get rid of 'em at this point. 

Interviewer: What does it do to the brand when it's out there as the teacher who does social media when you're not the teacher anymore? 

Rebecca: I think it's very on-brand with teaching right now, to have left.

Katie: The country probably needs more teachers and medical personnel more than it needs more TikTok stars. But who can blame them? Would you rather work 60 hours a week as a teacher making median pay, or earn multiple six figures for doing short skits on TikTok? That is not to suggest it's an easy job, but it's probably easier and less time-consuming than teaching fourth grade. And it importantly does not require a master's degree and overwhelming debt. What I'm saying is the present incentives are jacked up, and I am candidly not sure what we as individuals do about that. I would think at some point we would reach saturation, or ad budgets wouldn't be big enough to support the glut of hopefuls willing to hawk and chill for $500 a post. But frankly, I think we still have a long way to go before that happens. I asked Anne Helen if she had any thoughts about this conundrum. Is this responsible for wage stagnation? Is it a solution to wage stagnation? How do we think about the interplay between the economics of influence and, well, the jobs that we need to keep society running? 

Anne Helen Peterson: I think it has to do with passion jobs just generally have become less and less stable, right? Like they have become gig jobs in a lot of capacities. So instead of someone being a staff writer for a local newspaper, they're trying to cobble together freelance gigs. And in order to attract those freelance gigs in whatever capacity, you need to have an online presence. One thing that I have heard so often from people, not just journalists but, you know, authors, artists, designers, comedians, all sorts of different people who are working in these pretty fraught fields is, “Okay, I actually, I love it. I love not being on Twitter all the time. But where else am I going to find an audience? What is the solution?” And for some people that's TikTok, and then they're like, “I don't like making videos of myself. You know, like there's a reason I'm a writer; it's 'cause I don't like being on camera. Or one of the reasons is 'cause I don't like being on camera.” Some people podcast, right? But like, how there's a sea of podcasts and how do you get yourself noticed there? Instagram, Substack, all of these different, more niche audiences, but you still are performing. 

And so I think that you can look at this transfer of like it used to be the organization, the company, that was in charge of the marketing for your job and for the content that you produced. And now all of that responsibility has been individualized, right? So it is incumbent on the individual to do all of their own marketing, to find all of their own work, to pay their own health insurance. 

Katie: And in all of this, what happens to the value of privacy? Earlier in the episode, I posited a question: What are we hoping to get in return for all of the openness and sharing and authenticity? Not to be too on the nose here, but I would assume a financial payoff, says Money with Katie. 

Speaker 8: If you guys watched my last video, you know I had a bit of a moment where I was like, what am I actually doing with my life? And I came to the conclusion I wanna start making a little bit more content about [inaudible], influencing, making money, kind of like owning this all as a business, because I feel so strongly that you don't need to have tens of thousands and like hundreds of thousands of followers to make money on social media and treat it as a business. You just like really don't, especially in 2022. I feel like the words micro influencer and nano influencer, like there's just so many types of influencers and content creators nowadays. It's not like you have to have a million subscribers to make money.

Katie: It's funny—there is a trope that old-money people, the old-money rich and powerful, love privacy; that the wealthy, the truly wealthy, exchange their money for privacy. And it's becoming clear to me that in the age of the internet, we plebes trade our privacy for money. And when you're an aspiring content creator who's trying to turn their life into a business, life itself becomes performative. Something to be recorded and edited and blasted to a growing following. It'll be interesting to see where we are 10 years from now. Will the teachers and nurses and, hell, even people like me who left traditional jobs to make content on the internet, still be doing this? Or will we all return to our traditional gigs with our tails between our legs? People like Addison Rae and Charli D’Amelio will be fine because they earn many millions of dollars per year, and they could afford to never work again even if their TikTok stardom fizzles out. But small-scale influencers pulling in high five or even low six figures, that's not “never work again” money. And I'm not sure what happens to them if their influencing career doesn't ascend to the big leagues. Sometimes it really is better to just work for the baker rather than being the bakery owner, the baker, and the bread, as Colin & Samir put it.

My approach and my advice to anyone who's weighed the pros and cons and has still decided to enter into this brave new world of packaging yourself as a product, to some degree, is to save and invest aggressively while the going’s good. Because a deep recession would probably mean a lot of ad dollars drying up, and there's really no precedent for what happens to influencers during recessions since we haven't had a meaningful one since 2008, before the dawn of the influencer age. Even 2020’s downturn was kind of a bit of a blip, as that recession only lasted two months. A deep economic downturn that lasts years could be the end of all of this as we know it, or at least the end of micro influencers and the shuttering of channel doors for all but the most talented. Whether your digital self is packaged online for indirect professional and financial advancement via personal branding on LinkedIn that ushers new opportunities or connections your way, or your self is directly monetized through advertising or a more literal personal brand, we haven't experienced a meaningful economic downturn since the advent of social media, which makes it hard to predict how it will impact job and earning opportunities more broadly, too. 

Anne Helen Peterson: There are a lot of people who I think are using social media as the engine for their side gig, right? And the reason they have a side gig is because their full-time job does not pay enough, or because they cannot find part-time work, right? So I see this a lot with moms or with other people who for whatever reason cannot be in the workforce full-time, right? Because they can't find childcare, because they're disabled, because they're caring for an elderly parent. There are so many reasons why someone could not be in the workforce full-time, even if they wanted to. But there are so few part-time jobs in the United States that are like 70%, 60%, whatever, you know, the needs that people need in order to cobble together a lifestyle. So because of that lack of part-time work availability, you see people resorting to things like becoming Poshmark influencers, right, eBay influencers, or I think, most vividly, people, especially moms, getting into MLMs, which is a side hustle. And in order to succeed in an MLM, you have to completely monetize that part of your…like all of your connections… you need to, any part of your personal life, your friends, your family, a friend of a friend of a friend. You have to rely on those people and turn those connections into monetary connections. 

Katie: Moreover, it's worthwhile to consistently reexamine our relationship with our online selves, recognizing that they're not the real us. And revisit the question: Is the juice still worth the squeeze? No matter where one falls on the spectrum described before. As we've seen, it can be an incredible professional and financial tool when utilized well, but maintaining intentional healthy boundaries and operating with some basic ground rules are necessary to prevent a complete blurring of real self and commodified self. 

A few easy ways to do this? Establishing elements of your life or self that you choose to never share, or putting limits on the time you spend in these spaces. Social media and monetizing your personhood on the internet has a way of transitioning you out of the present moment. When you are consciously or unconsciously constantly filtering your experience of life in the material realm through the curated lens of what's deserving of the brand you're building for yourself online and the story that you're telling about yourself, there is a tendency to lose yourself in the space between the two. It's worth asking explicitly whether the money and opportunity that may follow such a performance is actually fair compensation for spending all of your waking hours in this liminal space. In that way, the monetization of self is akin to the frog in boiling water analogy. You may be so deep in this game that you don't even notice the extent to which your performance of your personhood is osmosing into your lived experience anymore. And in a paradigm where it's encouraged and easy to justify maintaining a formidable online self for professional or financial gain, the buck, and that boundary bleed, has to stop with you.

At the end of the day, I am not sure where all of this is headed. All I know is I don't really want to be the CEO of Me Incorporated. The hours seem like shit. 

All right y'all, that is all for this week. I will see you next week, same time, same place, on The Money with Katie Show. Our show is a production of Morning Brew and is produced by Henah Velez and me, Katie Gatti Tassin, with our audio engineering and sound design from Nick Torres. Devin Emery is our chief content officer, and additional fact checking comes from the lovely Kate Brandt.