Slaying the Dragon: On Marketing, Mental Health and Being Authentic Online — Tribeless

How I used to see Marketing and Social Media. Not anymore. © reddit

Hello, friends. It’s been a while.

Today is September 1st. This month has always meant a lot to me — four years ago, on the last day of the month, I hosted my first Tribeless Dinner… and the rest, as they say, is history.

This year’s birthday month is shaping up to a particularly exciting one. Today, we’re wrapping up our first virtual Train-the-Trainer for a national campaign on anti-bullying. This Thursday, we’ll be launching a limited talkshow series on FB Live — a dream I’ve harbored for years — with me in the hot seat! And next Saturday, I’ll be giving my first ever TEDx speech (virtually)…

… And this is just the first two weeks!

Team Day! From L — R: Shawn, Gwen Lyne, me (Gwen Yi), Sim.

Yesterday, on Hari Merdeka, we had our first in-person Team Lunch in a long time … followed by an all-hands Marketing Meeting. This is our attempt to ensure all the cool stuff we’re doing gets communicated in a timely, non-stressful manner — and no one person has to shoulder the load alone.

If you’ve followed my journey with Tribeless from the beginning, you’ll know that Marketing has always had a Sisyphean quality for us. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve started and failed to sustain any meaningful marketing initiative, from email campaigns to social media hype-fests.

Today, I’m coming clean with the real reason why we’ve been so inconsistent. Maybe you can relate to it.

My first “official announcement” of Tribeless on my Facebook page. January 2017.

Since the conception of Tribeless, I’ve been fully in-charge of managing PR and Marketing. It was something that came “naturally” to me — I was very share-happy on social media, raking in dopamine hits from comments and likes — so Shawn left the reins to me.

Little did he know that I threw myself into it with a scientist’s precision and a tycoon’s greed. It started out innocuous enough: a couple of PR photos here, a few BTS articles there. Once I knew how the ‘game’ worked, though, I couldn’t help myself: I wanted MORE. More engagement meant more opportunities, which meant more things to post about. It became a twisted cycle I wasn’t aware I was perpetuating.

My savviness turned to obsession. I distinctly remember looking at the ‘Active’ count on my Facebook friends, feeling a tight pinch in my chest whenever it rose above a certain number. “There are 400 people online right now,” I’d think, fervently trying to compose my next post in my mind. “Need to capitalize on this. Need to share. Need to post.”

The first time I ever admitted to my social media addiction…on social media. November 2018.

It all came to a head in November 2018, when I finally entertained the idea of taking a “social media break”. The weeks leading up to that were fraught with anxiety and sleepless nights. The announcement I refer to in the post is about stepping down as CEO of Tribeless, but instead of worrying about that, I was instead tossing and turning about how people would perceive ME. If I would be any lesser in their eyes if I wasn’t the entrepreneur wunderkind I’d hyped myself up to be.

To my surprise, the social media break went fine—more than fine, actually; it was the first time I’d woken up refreshed in a long, long time. I realized just how toxic my relationship with marketing and social media was, and how much freer I’d felt when I wasn’t feverishly posting.

I ended up extending the break for two more weeks, a month, a year.

My last sentence on that post was “I’ll let you know how it goes”.

But I never did.

Since then, I’ve posted on Facebook, of course — but it was with a close-fisted caution I’d never experienced before. Much like a recovering alcoholic with a pint, the sips I took were tentative: a birthday post here, a work update there. To be honest, I was terrified: of slipping back into my old habits.

Of getting addicted to external validation again.

Marketing for Tribeless slowly shifted to its official page and off my shoulders. My mental health improved. I was developing an identity beyond my work.

But the loss of responsibility also brought with it a rush of existential crises: there were months where I was paralyzed into inaction, asking, “Who am I to Tribeless? What kind of work do I want to do?”.

There were no answers.

I didn’t have the luxury of paralysis, unfortunately. Work demanded to be done. The company had to be run.

So I was a Swiss army knife for months, at turns designing posters, whipping up content, conducting trainings, organizing events. Anything that utilized my skillset, but kept me promptly out of the (social media) spotlight.

I was content. I just wasn’t happy.

And then, like water receding from a rock, the answer came to light.

In December 2019, a full year after I cut myself off from social media, I was awarded the prestigious title of Obama Foundation Asia-Pacific Leader — a mind-boggling designation I never expected to receive.

At first, I was thrilled. The impulse to share with my online community was swift and sure — but it was quickly soured by fear. “Will the addiction come back?” I worried. “Maybe I should hold off on talking about it…”

But the award came with a prettily packaged PR mandate, and all of a sudden, I was thinking about all the opportunities I’d wasted…all the things I’d turned down…and I didn’t want to look back on this incredible honor the same way.

My first press release, facilitated by the OF team 🥺

So, I burst out of my shame-filled chrysalis — and discovered, to my surprise, that I had sprouted wings. I was reaching out to journalist friends, fielding interviews, flitting from one networking event to the next…

… And I loved every second of it. 🦋

I even posted on social media again…and only felt the tiniest twinge :)

That’s when I knew I was ready.

Ready to get back out there. Ready to share again. Ready to serve.

Not for myself. Not for anyone else. But for the sheer joy of the work itself.

Highlight of the conference for me: Facilitating Empathy Box for my fellow APAC leaders!!

To be honest, I don’t always have a mindset of service. Altruistic phrases like “speaking my truth” or “spreading Tribeless’ mission” don’t always have the ring of truth. More than anything, I’ve learned to put my mental health first, tend a close circle of friends, and keep a firm pulse on reality.

The biggest difference, though, is I’ve found something worth serving —

Something I would fight for. Die for. Something I believe in with all my heart.

My team.

I’ve always been a lone wolf. A glorified poster child. I’ve never had to work with other people before… Much less share a dream with them.

The Tribeless Team. From L — R: Sim, GL, me, Shawn.

But The Tribeless Team — which consists of my boyfriend, my best friend, and my little sister — is the band of merry-men I never knew I was looking for…

… And Marketing is the dragon we’ll slay together.

No more knight-in-shining-armor. No more one-woman-show.

No more battling with anxiety and addiction alone.

We’re going to handle Marketing — as a team.

Our first attempt at this is through our lil’ team talkshow— a brain fart we had on our usual raucous Retrospective sessions.

“Why can’t Marketing always be this fun,” one of us said, as we were sniggering about something or the other. (I can’t remember what..)

“Why couldn’t it…?” Shawn said, looking like a replica of the 🤔 emoji.

And just like that, #SeeTheHumanFirst was born.

The concept is simple — to commemorate Tribeless’s fourth birthday, all four Tribeless teammates will take turns being in the hot seat to share our personal story…so we can see the human first (I’m up first this Thursday!).

The other three will listen, empathize and respond using The Empathy Box. There will be zero cuts, zero prep, lots of plushies, mixed dialect swearing and emotional #realness.

I can’t predict what will happen. But if it’s even 1% of our usual dynamic, it’s gonna be a super fun time.

I hope you’ll come play with us. 💛

“That’s the tea” — Synchronized tea sipping. The kind of hilarious sh*t we do.

Gwen Yi is the founder of Tribeless, a training & consulting company that teaches empathetic conversation skills. Her favorite party trick is rapping FloRida’s “Low”.

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To be TRIBELESS is to #SeeTheHumanFirst • www.tribeless.co