Tefi Pessoa, known by her moniker @hellotefi, has built a massive community as an online personality with her painfully hilarious, relatable, and comforting videos. Becoming the internet’s bestie during the lonely times of lockdown, Tefi’s humor and friendly persona continuously uplifts those who interact with her content, whether it be her juicy TikToks on celebrity news and pop culture history or helpful relationship advice. Within a little over two years since she’s joined TikTok, she’s amassed 1.5 million followers on the app, landed hosting gigs for fashion magazine InStyle and MTV, and inked paid partnerships with brands from Savage X Fenty to Bacardi. Talk about an impressive résumé.
For Tefi, it’s been an incredible joy making content she enjoys and forming connections beyond the screen, but she also reveals that being a digital creator isn’t always as glamorous as it may seem. Behind the lucrative brand deals, exciting media opportunities, and allure of online fame lies a career path that can sometimes be tainted by loneliness, a sense of insecurity, or other challenges — things that aren’t often talked about in the open that many content creators can probably relate to.
We sat down with Tefi to chat about how she takes care of her wellbeing as a full-time creator — from how she combats imposter syndrome and deals with negative comments, to overcoming creative block and loneliness.
Did you go into social media thinking you’d make this your career? What’s your internal dialogue when making this decision?
When I started becoming a full-time creator, I didn’t have a job because of quarantine. I don’t know if I had a definite moment when I decided to be a full-time creator. I was in a place where I didn’t know what was next, but I was trying to remain positive as we all were. Recently, I was on TikTok and I saw this girl saying that she failed at being an influencer. That really struck me because that was never an option for me. I just never thought I would fail. I look back and it’s a little crazy of me that I never had a plan B, but I never thought I would be in a place where people would look to me for advice. The only skill set I really have is to be myself. I really lucked out there.
At the time, I didn’t think there was anything else I could do. I thought maybe this could be a jumping spot and when quarantine was over, I could go back and do the Tefi Show on Youtube.
It was never about my own channel — it was about the future opportunities I was always trying to build, and it was always about building a community. It was never about the followers, it was about a sense of community around my page and familiarity. The idea of success was how well I was connecting with people, and if they wanted to continue to get to know me.
You discussed the challenges that come with being a creator on Twitter in response to your friend, Drew Afualo, another content creator who shared that being an influencer is stressful. Can you elaborate your own experience?
I think something that everyone is scared of at some point or another, is people finding out that maybe you aren’t so incredible. It’s imposter syndrome.
When I do pop culture content and I submit my videos for review on InStyle, I think, “My god, I hope they don’t realize I’m a phony.” There’s this constant worry that you have to step up to the plate. And without really wanting to, people make you a role model.
Every six months or so, I try to make a video talking about how I’m not perfect, I’ve done things that I’m not proud of, that I’m always learning and I want to do my best — you have to remind people of your humanity. I knew that going in because of how people look at influencers. You’re constantly getting these sassy comments, and I don’t know why people on the internet feel like they’re so close to me they can tease me — I don’t even let my best friends tease me.
I haven’t overcome imposter syndrome. I think there’s a conversation to be had about “you are more special than you think you are, but also way less.” There are so many mistakes that we all make, and to think that people are noticing every single little thing and to be hyper-anxious about that is a little narcissistic. I would only truly worry about imposter syndrome if I was pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. And I really think that I am truly myself so, I can’t be an imposter of that.
You want to please brands.
I didn’t expect that to be [the case] with brands as well. You always want to lead a good example, but sometimes, you just don’t deliver the content that you know you could. To work with a brand is exciting and it’s how you pay your bills, but everyone has an off day. When someone says, “We’re terminating this contract, we don’t really see this going anywhere,” or “we’re going in a different direction,” or “you don’t fit this voice,” it’s heartbreaking.
It’s a lot of pressure to be constantly creative, and that’s something people don’t realize. Not only do you have to come up with your own concepts for your own social media and your own content, but brands want you to come up with entire content strategies. People have teams of people for that, and it’s just you. It could be executed really well, but they will have something to say about the quality or something else.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Unfortunately, we’re constantly witness to other people and how well they’re doing. There’s been a few times when I don’t get a contract or somebody walks away. I’ll be scrolling and I’ll see that a [peer] of mine got the contract, and it’s frustrating. But it’s a state of mind where you have to realize people are also working with you because you’re yourself. There’s a lot of pep talking involved as an influencer.
You have to live a life of ignorance.
You have to pretend people aren’t zooming into your photos, and you have to pretend that people aren’t screenshot-ing you and putting you in their group chats. You have to pretend that people aren’t DM-ing your photo to each other trying to figure out your personal life. You have to pretend. If they are, we hope they respect us enough to do it behind our backs.
There are times when you don’t feel creative, you don’t feel funny. It’s all public, so it’s weird. People are an audience of the theater of your life. Remaining relatable and creative is really hard. Once people can’t relate to you, they don’t care about your narrative because they can’t relate to your narrative, because the world is a mirror.
I was in Portugal recently, and I met a friend of a friend. He was talking about being liked and said something that really stuck with me. He said, “No one is Nutella. Not everyone is gonna like you.” I love that. Now, sometimes when I see a negative comment or a negative DM, I think, “Whatever. I’m not Nutella!”
Can you talk about the importance of supporting fellow creators? Why is it so important to use your platform to do so?
I think anybody online would be able to tell you that there can be 45,000 good comments, and those two negative comments just wreck it. So many people go out of their way to tell other people who are internet-facing how awful they are. I think people think that their comments don’t get seen, but I really sit there and read them. I try to scroll past the negatives, but they really do mean a lot. There’s been so many times when I said things and people were like, “That is so offensive.” Seeing those words, “I don’t think she meant to hurt anybody,” is enough for me. That means the world.
The idea that the trolls could be right: that you are this horrible person, that you are so offensive, that you should be canceled means that all this time trying to get to know the people around you, and trying to build a community and create something in your name is wasted. That’s the worst thing you could ever do — feeling like you wasted time trying to be liked and we’re not really liked.
For [online personalities], there are many people that viscerally hate them just to hate them. There are many people that don’t like me, just because people like me. That’s a really hard pill to swallow.
You mentioned in the Twitter thread that as a content creator, you have to read comments in order to ensure people and brands like you and your content. And you called it a “game.” Can you talk to us more about that?
When you start working with brands on sponsored content, you have to look at comments and DMs. You have to choose — sometimes between mental health and getting paid a certain amount of money. If your engagement rate isn’t high, neither is your rate. When people ask me, “Do you have thicker skin?” Unfortunately, I do.
No one wants to be strong. No one wants to be good at the game of reading terrible comments and DMs, and thinking, “Well, I have to read this because I get paid to engage.” That’s the game that people don’t realize.
Yes, we can block and ignore [negative comments], but we have to check. We have to read them, we have to like the comments. To let that go is to let go of a higher rate, and a higher rate means more money. And anyone that says they don’t want to get paid more is a liar.
Have you experienced being in a creative rut? How have you navigated this while also ensuring consistency in your online presence?
The moment you start feeling like you’re in a creative rut, you know that you’re no longer having conversations. I try to bring it back to a conversational place, where I never want to feel like I’m presenting to people. I never wanna feel like I am talking to a phone. I try to imagine the phone as a vehicle to connect with people.
When I’m in a creative rut, I try to listen to popular and trending songs, and I give myself a challenge of the day where I ask myself, “How many concepts can you come up with using this trending sound?” That’s always fun for me. Or I pick a story to tell about someone, and as soon as I start doing that, I feel back in conversation.
I never try to over-explain, but I try to make it sound like we’re at brunch. I feel like the brunch mentality helps keep people creative, because people always tell you what they relate with and from there, you can take little pieces. The moment you start feeling like you’re talking to a screen or you’re presenting yourself, that’s when the creativity goes down because of the pressure to present.
You said having an online presence is “a job that involves a lot of self-reflection and can feel lonely.” Do you usually work alone? How have you managed to feel less lonely when doing so?
The way that I feel less lonely when working alone is interacting with people who respond positively to my content, and calling my friends and having dinner with them. You are constantly having people tell you how they feel about you. Even when it’s people saying positive things, they’re still telling you how they feel about you, and part of you wants to stay in their good graces. When you work around people who are not content creators, it’s weird to explain that you want people to like you, because your check depends on it. You need your insight graphs to go up because brands are always checking that. You always need to be collaborating and networking.
It’s definitely lonely because it’s a weird way to relate. When people say, “Is this selfie great?” I’m like, “Who f*cking cares?” It doesn’t matter, nobody cares that much. But if it’s an influencer who’s posting an ad, I like to stop to like and comment on it, because I know that moment when you don’t want to beg but you do. I do it on my Stories and say, “I’m posting an ad in 25 minutes.” You don’t want to beg, but it is lonely in the sense that the people that don’t know you support you the most, and the people that you’re closest to don’t comment or like your sh*t. Like, I use you to come back to Earth, but you don’t like or share my sh*t either. It’s so weird.
How do you take care of your mental health while growing your business and online presence?
Walks are everything to me. I go for walks and play things I haven’t listened to in a while. I walk around and I’ll people-watch. Anything that has to do with real life. Sometimes I don’t want to go to dinner with my friends and I have to. It’s annoying. But then I get there, and I’m like, “I’m glad I did that.”
Something that helps is tapping back into the real world for a second, before I take the blue pill and go back to work. I really enjoy the people that I interact with. I see similar usernames and I recognize people in my DMs, and have created friendships with people I’ve never met in real life. And I look forward to sharing with those people.
What are some tips you can share with other creators for taking care of their wellbeing?
I always tell myself, “Why do you imagine the people that hate your content, but you don’t imagine the people who will love it?” And that helps a lot.
You just gotta be realistic with it. Take your time. I think people are so used to seeing people blow up overnight. I’ve been doing this for two and a half years, and that’s relatively early. I know people that have been doing this for 10 years and have just got to a million followers. You have to be easy on yourself.Tthe comparison game is a prison that locks from the inside — you have to enjoy what you do. And if you’re obsessed with the views, it won’t be fun.
You may get 3,000 views, 300 views, 30 views — if 30 people walked into your house right now, you’d be psyched. Stay psyched. The videos that I’ve done that don’t perform at all are weirdly the videos that people bring up to me on the street. It’ll reach who it needs to reach, so just be grateful that you’re having a good time. Be grateful for the audience and the opportunities. Be grateful for letting people see you, a lot of people aren’t that brave. Having a great time in the public eye is great! You’re gonna do great as long as you do you.
Photos: Courtesy of Brendan Wixted