Design, FAQ, Misc

What I’ve Learned After Two Years of Instagram

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Two years.

Two years since I nervously hit “publish” on my very first Cotton Stem Instagram photo and held my breath.  Two years since I said “yes” to the Nudge from above to try something new, to take a risk, to put myself out there.  Two years of learning, failing, trying again.  Two years of losing my way, of learning what it means to create balance and boundaries, of finding my tribe and my people.

Two years.

And you know what?
It feels like all of two minutes has passed!
Here are a few things I’ve learned along this crazy journey that I wish I’d known from the start…plus a glimpse back at the first few photos I posted to @cottonstem!

1 – Find your tribe and love them well.

Oh man, if you had told me two years ago that there were thousands upon thousands of buddies waiting to be found on Instagram that shared the same interests, life stages, values and love of all things decor, I would have laughed!  I started my IG account as a new mom to my fourth little daughter, and it felt as though I hadn’t stopped for breath, let alone a creative outlet or a gathering of community, in what seemed like years…because it HAD been years, ha!  Once I started @cottonstem, it was like a door was opened to so many like-minded, amazingly talented and super kind-hearted Insta-pals that just made the whole thing that much sweeter.

2 – Know “YOU” before you ever put yourself out there.

This one is so so so dadgum important.  Social media is a place of inspiration and community, but it has an underbelly, make no mistake.  We all fall prey to comparison and competition, so before you ever put yourself, your craft, your home, your style, your heart and soul out onto the Internets, be secure in who you are and what you’re about…because people will try to change you, judge you, make you defend yourself, pull on you to be their everything.  If you go in with a firm grasp of YOU, then it’ll be easier to stay the course and stay true to the YOU that you are meant to be!

3 – Establish the WHY of your Instagram.

Let’s be real: IG can be a time suck.  In order to stay focused on the purpose at hand, it became apparent that I needed to clearly define my “why” for running this account.  Without it, I had lost track of my boundaries and sort of started to burn out, to be honest.  Once I took a sec to literally write down my “why” for Cotton Stem, things bounced back into focus and I felt in control of this platform I’d created.  Maybe take a sec and jot down your “why,” too!

-creative outlet
-support my little fam
-be a light on IG
-build my tribe

4 – Say NO and say YES, even when it’s hard.

For awhile there, I said way too many yes’s and found myself lost and drowning in a swirl of people-pleasing.  It’s so easy to do, because the people in my tribe are AMAZEBALLS and I wanna do all the things with all the people!  But…it took its toll, and I came very close to burn out.  I had to learn the hard way to say NO in order for my YES to mean more.  Likewise, I’ve had to learn over the past two years that sometimes big things come when the “yes” is a bit scary or intimidating.  Sometimes I felt too inexperienced to say yes, too new, too green, too this, too that, and it held me back from some seriously freakin’ cool opportunities.  These days, if I feel a peace from Up Above about a big, seemingly scary YES…I just go for it and figure it out along the way!  Learning the value of our yes’s and no’s is crazy important if we’re going to survive in the world of social media.

5 – If this is my job, treat it like a job.

What I mean by this one is that I was taking ZERO time away from Instagram/blog in the beginning.  Granted, I was putting in my hustle to get this Cotton Stem gig off the ground, and the payout was good.  But…in the hustle, I forgot that I was hustling in order to make this one-time hobby a job, and I didn’t set aside time away to rest.  Having zero boundaries took me to a dark place about a year ago, and I learned from a scary panic attack on my bathroom floor just how crucial boundaries are for a creative-based job like this.  Once again, I put pen to paper and mapped out how to make this social media gig work for ME, instead of working myself to a pulp for IT.  Boundaries look different for everyone, but I think mine truly saved my job and my mental health.  Now a year later, I can confidently say that things like taking weekends away COMPLETELY from @cottonstem along with other daily boundaries have changed the game for me and made this a healthy and happy place to be creative, to earn an income for my sweet fam, and to try to use my platform for good while building my tribe!

These two years have taught me so much about myself, about social media (the good, the bad and the nutty!), and, more than anything, I’ve been given a place to be creative among my fellow tribe members, all while earning income for my family and (hopefully) being a light in a sometimes dark online world. Whether you’ve been part of this tribe with me from the beginning or you’re here for the first time, I appreciate you so much!  Thank you for being part of a pretty dadgum awesome two years of ‘grammin, buddies.

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  1. Erin, thank you for being such a light! You’ve inspired me and I’m so grateful! You’re words have truly resonated!!!
    Jenny @fitzgeraldlane

  2. Madison Haas says:

    I just love the cotton stem, Erin! I’m an incredibly young (19) newly wed military wife. Right now we’re currently building our first home. In the past months I’ve fallen into a rut with not being able to express myself creatively and o feel like I’m gonna explode! Interior design was always something in my life that i was passionate about. After spending years on my personal Instagram, following home decor accounts and blogs I got down to thinking about starting one of my own. I can say your account influenced me the most between being an E-designer (what I’m aspiring to be), being yourself online, all your blogs and post, I decided to go for it! So I just started my account. Coming to yours anytime I need a push of encouragement or motivation. Take it from me, you can say you’ve be a light. You’re truly a light to me through every post. I love have an online Godly woman I can look up to in my faith, design, marriage, fashion and motherhood for the future. I’m so incredibly thankful for the cotton stem and loved this post. Thank you Erin!

  3. Lisa B says:

    Such wonderful words of wisdom, Erin! I’ve learned so much from you! Thank you for being a light! :o)

  4. Leah says:

    This is all very sweet. Years ago I read your blog Superfluities, and then somehow stumbled on your Instagram account and it took a while to put the two together. I’m not sure all the paths you took in between but it’s fun to hear your sweet thoughts again!

  5. Tameka says:

    Thank you for sharing your passion for design, fashion and of course farming and beautiful family with us. I look forward to many more years to come as a Cotton Stemmer.

  6. Martha says:

    So completely honored to be part of your tribe.
    Thank you for your inspiration and giving true heart back to your tribe. Hugs ❤️ Mart

  7. Whitney says:

    Thank you for what you do! You are the only Instagram account I’ve always followed consistently. I always think we would be friends, which must be why you’ve been so successful at this! Everybody feels like you’re their buddy! 😉 Keep doing you! ❤️

  8. Emily Wood says:

    Thank you so much for hitting “publish”! It is so refreshing to follow someone like you on Instagram. I find myself looking forward to check your feed each day! Thank you for being a light! You are such a inspiration!

  9. Patti (italianblonde1) says:

    It has been so fun to watch your account flourish! Even though you joke about not knowing what you’re doing, you’re a natural in front of the camera and your ideas are always so ahead of the curve!
    I appreciate your down to earth openness and friendliness…
    Cheers to many more successful years doing “YOU” you are an original 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸

  10. Megan Dammeyer says:

    Thankful for you. 💖

  11. Debbie St. Ours says:

    We’re all so glad you stuck with this! I’m older than most of your tribe, I’ m pretty sure, but I love your style and enjoy watching your sweet family. I am the mom of 8 kids. 6 boys and 2 girls. Now I have 8 grands and have 5 boys and 3 girls! It’s great to watch your “little women “ and dream about soft things and pink!

  12. Lauren says:

    Cotten Stem has brought so much joy and inspiration to me as an influencer. It’s amazing how it’s only been two years! How did you cope with the frustrations of making this a living? I love what I do but trying make a full time gig and a living is so challenging and there times I want to throw in the towel but then people like you remind me that a dream can come true if just keep at it and believe.

  13. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s so nice to here. I’m almost at my one year mark and it’s been overwhelming. Plus I’ve been very sick and had to have major back surgery. So it’s a little depressing at times trying to make a go of this crazy ride! But I’m better now and stories like this keep me going! The funny thing is I started blogging because I was sick and home bound and I thought it would be something easy to do!!!🤪🤣. Can you imagine ! Lol!

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