Sometimes the internet drives me crazy.

I was in a live Q&A chat last night with a very established and busy commercial photographer who has taken out time from his busy schedule to answer the questions of the masses. In typical fashion, the chatrooms were a bustle of activity. Not activity pertinent to the actual meat of the conversation—no, this activity was the classic peanut gallery commentary. The peanut gallery was comprised of the typical cast of characters; you know whom I mean—the “complains-about-the-audio/video-quality” guy, the “makes-sarcastic-commentary-and-thinks-he’s-funny-but-really-is-just-annoying” guy, the “self-promoting-posts-his-own-website-or-instagram-page” guy, and my personal favorite, the classic “have-a-private-conversation-in-a-public-arena-with-the-other-guy-you-know-in-the-group” guys.

As I was sitting there trying to listen to the sage advice that was being given, I found myself distracted to the point of irritation by the inane chatter of these characters. The platform of anonymity (or, if not anonymity, at least impersonality) makes people bold in their opinions and their contributions. Everyone wants to feel important and to contribute. I get that, I understand wanting to have a voice and to stand out—in fact, this was a relevant discussion point addressed by the presenter. But having a voice doesn’t mean saying whatever pops into your head. They say no publicity is bad publicity, but do you want to be that guy that is solely recognized by the influential people in your industry as the obnoxious guy, talking for the sake of talking, who doesn’t actually add any value to the conversation?

I proceeded to do what I know a lot of people are guilty of, myself included—I remained engaged. I couldn’t avoid the compulsion of glancing over and reading the comments. Every time I read another post, I sighed in frustration, and complained to my nearby husband (sorry, by the way…), “can you believe this crap?” or “who cares if there’s a slight echo” or “my god, you’re so annoying, just shut up and pay attention” or “yeah, post your personal site, that’s classy”. The lack of respect for the presenters bothered me. The selfishness of these people drove me nuts. I eventually realized that even though I wasn’t even an active participant in the chat, it was nevertheless consuming my attention and not only distracting me from the presenter, but making me irritable and bitter in the process.

Then I did something. I turned the chat off. The weird thing is, I debated not doing it for half a second. I’m not sure why I felt that way—maybe it was because I didn’t want to feel cut off, even though staying meant souring the experience. Or maybe there’s some weird part of our psychology that enjoys having something to complain about—probably the same thing that makes us watch ridiculous reality tv, or want to engage in political debates with people who we absolutely KNOW won’t be swayed anyway. But shortly after that brief pang of dissociation, I began to actually focus on the presentation.

And it was wonderful. I learned a lot, I felt more connected and engaged, and I felt more like an active participant than I had before. Rather than becoming annoyed, I became inspired. And I felt proud of myself for filtering out the noise.

There is so much noise out there in the world, and the internet just magnifies this tenfold. I think we’re all just as susceptible to getting worked up over certain things, whether it be little obnoxious things like this, or those more hard hitting things like someone smack talking your work, or telling you you’re not going to make it. The noise manifests itself differently in all of our lives. If you’re lucky, you have a higher tolerance for bullshit than I do and little stuff like what I’m describing here doesn’t get to you. I’ll be the first to admit I have little patience for, well, just about anything. I recognize this as a fault of mine and work daily to overcome it and to present myself in a positive light.  

We can’t always help our visceral emotional response to certain stimuli. What we can control however, (to some extent anyway) is the environment we operate in. In an industry—scratch that, a world—that is rife with opinions and unsolicited commentary, it is easy to become immersed and overwhelmed by them. Cut out that noise—don’t let it get to you. Make a conscious effort to unfollow those people who are always posting things that drive you nuts on your news feed, whether it be political commentary or photos of babies (gross). Stay out of the forums with insulting and non-constructive feedback. Trust me, you'll feel all the better for it.

The reality is, it’s not about you anyway. We live in a world more narcissistic than ever and much of the negative or rude behavior out there stems from insecurity or ignorance. When everyone is focused on themselves, fight fire with fire and do the same. Focus on your own path. Successful people are successful because they are driven and focused and can tune out the noise.  Surround yourself with people who inspire rather than distract you—they are out there, and more likely than not, they are some of the most successful people you know.