Melissa Shepard, MD
6 life lessons I've learned from my success on social media
Updated: May 4
1. Some people won't like you, and that is okay.
I love the Dita Von Teese quote: "You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches." There are over 7.8 billion people in the world. Seven (almost eight) billion is a lot. Like, a mind-blowing number. Just for scale- a billion seconds is equal to about 32 years. So seven billion seconds ago, it was 1797, and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the 2nd President and Vice President, respectively.
With that perspective in mind, you have to realize that you simply cannot make every single one of those people like you. It's impossible. And if you truly aren't ruffling any feathers, that's probably a bad thing: it suggests your stance is unclear or your passion isn't visible.
Instead of trying to please everyone all the time, focus on cultivating the relationships you have with people who like you, care about you, and want to grow and learn with you (see my post on people-pleasing for more on this).
2. The people who don't like you will be louder than the ones who do.
Maybe you'll be lucky enough to attract some rabid superfans someday. I have a few kind souls across my social media platforms that I know I can count on to hype me up, and I love them for it.
But most people who like you will be happy enough to just passively absorb your work. They don't generally make a big fuss or shout about your accomplishments. They learn from or enjoy what you have to offer and then move on with their lives. That's normal.
But those who don't like you are much more likely to bring their grievances to your attention. It's just human nature. For example, customer service surveys suggest that customers tell twice as many people about bad experiences compared to good experiences.
Easier said than done, I know, but try not to take it personally. Realize that your viewpoint is skewed. Even if you don't see it, you are probably positively impacting more people than you realize.
3. Learn from constructive criticism but get rid of the haters.
Criticism can be helpful. Hate is never helpful. Social media has taught me how to recognize the difference between the two and how to respond in each scenario.
Helpful criticism addresses your work and not your character. Helpful criticism expresses a difference of opinion, critiques a point, sparks conversation, or even seeks to help you improve. It may sting sometimes, but you can learn from it.
Hate is different. Hate attacks you personally. The point is not to help you grow; it is to make you shrink.
As my social media presence grew, a few haters came out of the woodwork, and I wasn't sure how to handle them. I felt a very visceral pull to defend myself if I came across something mean or hurtful, so I often engaged with the trolls. I exhausted myself trying different strategies. But the results were always the same: whenever I engaged with the person, it would energize them. They would dig in their heels, and the attacks became more vicious and intense, sometimes even crossing over from the social media world and into real life in the form of serious threats or attempts to come after my job.
After screwing this up for longer than I'd like to admit, I've finally realized that acknowledging the haters isn't worth my time or energy. Engaging with the people who seek to bring you down is fruitless at best and dangerous at worst.
Now, I look out for people who want to spread hate and block them without engaging further (if only there were a block button in real life, we'd be set). I find that the haters are typically people who have no previous relationship with you. They engage in name-calling, threatening, and use personal attacks to try and bring you down.
When I encounter someone like this, I try to remind myself that their anger probably has nothing to do with me and everything to do with things going on in their own lives. If someone has really gotten under my skin and I notice that I'm carrying around a lot of anger or negative feelings towards them, I may try and do a loving-kindness meditation (like this one). Even if I don't have time to sit for a formal meditation, I may still take a moment to send them a loving thought or a few warm vibes. It helps me remember that they are still human, that we all suffer sometimes, and that sometimes our suffering causes us to engage with the world from a space of fear and hurt. It doesn't mean I have to be okay with their behavior. And I certainly still need to set boundaries (like blocking them) so that they can't continue to cause harm. But it helps some of my anger melt away when I can soften my heart toward their suffering.
4. Just start. You'll get better as you go.
I spent a lot of time thinking I needed to prepare more to be an effective educator on social media. But over time, I've realized that watching YouTube videos about how to make YouTube videos and reading blog posts about how to write blog posts isn't nearly as effective as actually making the YouTube videos or writing the blog posts. You learn more by doing, and the lessons stick with you longer.
I experienced this in my medical training as well. I was scared that I wouldn't be a good doctor and I had some serious imposter syndrome. So I studied hard, took extra classes, and spent all my free time working on research or shadowing senior doctors. I'm thankful for all of those experiences, but in retrospect, the growth I experienced in residency was exponentially greater. There is something so effective about being immersed in your work and having to figure it out as you go (don't worry- in medicine this includes a whole lot of supervision).
And besides, if you wait until you feel prepared to start something, you'll probably be waiting a long time. It's nearly impossible to feel ready for something big. Just trust that you are made out of the same stuff as the people who have gone before you.
5. You know more than you realize, and you don't have to be perfect to use what you know to help other people.
I once heard someone say that you don't need to know everything to be a good teacher. You just need to know a little more than the person you're teaching.
I know a lot about medicine and mental health, but far from everything. And the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Recognizing your limits is essential, but you must also realize that you still have so much to offer. Not only that, but you have something that only you can offer.
You may not know all the secrets of the universe, but you know a lot. We all do, and we can all learn from each other. Your imperfect knowledge may mean that you can explain something in a way that makes more sense to a beginner.
So instead of trying to perfect your knowledge, start looking for ways to help now. You'll learn as you go (see above), and I promise you have so much to offer even as you are.
6. Boundaries are critical to your longevity.
Early in my social media journey, I spent a lot of time answering every direct message, comment, and email I got. I would stay up late at night responding to people, only to find myself exhausted the next day and flooded with a new batch of messages. I would feel defeated and burned out and would stop writing and creating content for a while.
I quickly learned that I was fighting an impossible battle. I was honored that people felt comfortable asking me questions, and I wanted so much to help everyone. But I also realized that I wasn't going to help anyone if I didn't set some boundaries.
So I started holding regular AMA's on Instagram, creating special TikToks where people could leave questions, and even made an Instagram highlight answering all my most commonly asked questions. It's not a perfect system, but it has allowed me to step back a bit, knowing that I am doing my best. I try to forgive myself now for not answering all the questions and responding to all the emails. I still struggle with guilt, but I remind myself that my mental health matters too, and I need to be healthy to help others.