“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”-Leonardo de Vinci
Dr. Cal Newport recently gave a Ted Talk titled “Quit Social Media” where he went on to explain how addiction causes fragmented thought and low self-esteem, and how it is not necessary to gain followers to have a successful business. Although I do agree with most of his ideas, I was compelled to tell my story of how, the power of social media and the connections that I formed within it, allowed me to go from being stranded in a foreign country with $1.60 to my name to making over $4000 in 48 hours.
In the years prior to leaving for India, I was not a very active user of social media. I had a regular Facebook account and I had just started my Instagram account. Silly pictures of a dog eating an ice cream cone and my backyard at sunset, but when I decided to go I knew I had to cultivate a larger following. There was no reason at the time, for this rationale, it was just a feeling I had. So over the next year, I really started to focus on my social media. I started engaging more. I am a writer, a photographer, and a teacher, I used this to my advantage. Showcasing small stories, with a life lesson or wisdom spark, attached to a well-curated picture. By the time I left, I had tripled my social media followers.
These followers became friends, and they were reconnections of friends, that I had lost touch with over the years and before social media. Our connections blossomed from simple likes to personal messaging. Messages about how they couldn’t wait until they woke up in the morning to see what adventures I was posting about and how inspired they were by my travels and my stories. They turned into phone calls and coaching sessions late at night, due to the time difference, about health and life goals. My intention of cultivating a community was reciprocated by connections that I did not even know that I could make.
In this day in age, it is hard to make friends, find inspiration, to enjoy waking up to something that one may think is too impossible for them to ever achieve. Social Media allows us to see the world through the eyes of others. We get to see their best view of what is possible.
I was at the end of my travels in India. The monsoon was coming and the thick humid air mingled into the crowded 120-degree, polluted city. Most days I would take refuge in my hotel room. Enjoying an almost working air conditioner fighting against the one and only broken window pane that overlooked the chaotic Par Ganj, the wholesaler's district, in the old town of New Delhi. A fellow traveler-a stylist from London-told me once that I should stay there. It's a funny thing how a small connection with one person while traveling in a foreign country, will set one on a trajectory of circumstances. I will explain these circumstances later on in this story, but for now, I was grateful. India is a magical place and in the end, I stayed longer than what I had previously budgeted and the par Ganj will play to my favor by the time I leave.
I had 10 days before my plane left. I had spent my last chunk of money, purchasing my plane ticket and securing a hotel for the last two weeks I would be in Delhi. After a few days of city living, I checked my bank accounts and I was shocked to only have $1.60 USD to my name. I remember lying there in my hotel room. The cracked window pane allowed wafts of Indian spices to flood my room. I divided the $1.60 up into days. One meal could cost me twenty rupees, the exchange rate at that time was 66 rupees to the American dollar, which would allow me to have one meal per day for the next five days. I thought about how I could walk to the airport. I walked all over this country from the northern mountains to the southern beaches. If i left early enough I could absolutely do the twelve-mile stretch to the airport. Probably. Maybe.
I lay on my bed, flipping through Instagram and Facebook. I had so many messages from followers and friends, answering them gave me a reason to ignore my current situation so I took the night to answer them. All of them were inspired by my travels, wishing they could join me, wanting to know how they could do this journey too. One after another. They all craved the freedom that I was portraying and that they were so connected to over the last few months. And then it hit me. “Give them what they want. Give them a piece of India.” It was then that I made one post to my social media connection.
“48 HOUR SALE. YOU HAVE FOLLOWED ME THROUGHOUT THIS JOURNEY. NOW I WILL SEND YOU A PIECE OF IT.”
The next day I went into the depths of the Par Ganj. I haggled with old shopkeepers and dug through piles of items in the store shops. I got a price point and took pictures of what I thought people would enjoy. OM scarfs, Leather belts, Turkish style pillowcases, purses with embroidered Ganeshas, incense holders, and more. These trips into the market could only be done in short spurts, the heat was too much, so I would go back to my hotel and upload the pictures with prices to my social media following. Customizing orders, colors, and quantities for each individual person, logging it all into my iPhone 5. In 48 hours in the hot dusty alley of the par ganj, I had over 50 followers place orders with me. They transferred the money via Paypal. I kept in touch with them over Facebook messenger. I sent updates on the whole process. They loved it. They loved the interconnectedness that they could have with this moment. When the 48 hours were over, all the packages were lugged to the post office, put through tedious bureaucratic processes, and shipped. All the emails were answered and I checked my bank account and made $4,000 in 48 hours.
This would not have been possible without the constant contact and connection that social media presented. It gave my followers, the ones that couldn’t, a chance to travel with me. They were a part of that adventure and in the end they and the connection we cultivated saved me.