I started my Army transition journey 12 months ago. The first piece of advice I received was to build my network. So that is what I did. I started connecting with people on LinkedIn, in the business domains I was interested in. I had an abundance of conversations, and during those phone and Zoom calls, a single word kept being repeated, influencer. Most of the time, it was from other service members who had completed their transition. The conversations would typically go like this, “Yuma, I can’t tell you how important it is to build your network, but you don’t need to be an influencer. It would help if you created your brand, but there is no need to be an influencer. It would be best to put yourself out there to be relevant on social media, but there is no need for you to be an influencer.”
I took this advice to heart. The people giving me the advice are well respected in their fields. Some had decorated military careers and were doing very well on the other side of the uniform. I followed their advice. I networked and posted on social media, but very carefully. I mean, I don’t want to influence anyone. Influencers are bad. Influencers are shallow, profiting from sexualization and material possessions. I continued to network and post, but I was not gaining any traction, and I felt like I was holding back. I kept coming back to the advice I had received about not being an influencer, and it didn’t sit right with me. So, one early morning, when I awoke 30 minutes before my 5 am alarm clock, I picked up my phone and searched the word influence. Influence: the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself. As soon as I read the definition, I realized what I was missing—being an influencer.
I have been an influencer for as long as I can remember. I played basketball growing up. Basketball was life from age 10-19, and I was a leader on all of the teams I was a part of. At 19, I joined the Army and rose reasonably fast in the ranks. I have had as few as two direct reports and as many as 3,700 as the Director of Professional Development in Ranger Regiment. What was one of my primary functions in those roles and all roles in between? You guessed it, providing influence. So why now, after all the years of being an influencer, would I suddenly halt as I entered my transition? I think the answer is obvious. We have given in to the world and accepted the new definition of an influencer. When many of us picture an influencer, we think of scandalously dressed women (or men) selling us something. If I tap the search icon on my Instagram, 80 percent of the suggestions are half-naked women selling something or themselves. Influencing. I can see how this product inundation using influencers can lead to an adverse reaction to influencers and what it means. But, this is exactly why we don’t need FEWER influencers but MORE influencers.
Kids these days, always on their cell phones. Their heads are always down, and they are distracted by those dang video games. Does this sound familiar? Back in my day… Yeah, back in your day. We could all go about our lives blaming other people and circumstances on the problems of today’s youth, or maybe, just maybe, we could “seek to understand.” (Stephen Covey). Instead of moving away from the problem, we should move to the point of friction and lead by example. Provide some influence. I see more and more parents moving away from social media. When in reality, we should be moving towards it and engaging it. We live in a digital world full of hidden danger. How can we expect to lead our kids and have meaningful conversations about those dangers if we lack understanding? Failing to plan is planning to fail.
What is the “so what” of it all? We need positive influencers in the world today—people and leaders with morals, values, and principles to stand up and speak up. Make an Instagram reel dance with your daughters. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, but hopefully, you set the stage for her. It may help her see she doesn’t have to hide in her room and post crazy dances to vulgar music for attention. Maybe, it is the catalyst for a conversation that saves her life. Maybe another father sees it, giving him the courage to do the same for his daughter and saves their relationship. No matter what path we choose, we are influencing our homes and communities. There is a catch though. Are we providing no influence, bad influence, or positive influence?
I am choosing to be an influencer. I will give all of my energy to be a positive influence in all domains: private, FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Podcasts, Instagram, and whatever platform is next. I will seek comfort in being uncomfortable. And I will not use the line, “kids these days”. I will instead say, what have I done today to influence kids to be better kids? What have I done to influence parents to be better parents, companies to be better companies, and people to be better people?
Don’t be an influencer? No, be an influencer and a change agent for good. The world needs us, and the world needs positive influence.
Footnote: I am not asking everyone to become social media influencers. Influence transcends social media. What I am asking is that we take responsibility for the next generation. Be part of the solution, not the person who only points out the problem. Serve others. Be a volunteer youth coach, board member, become a mentor, Boy scouts, Girl Scouts, volunteer with your church, do something. If you do start a TikTok account, more power to you, and be sure to give me a follow.