2020 was a strange year for everyone. A virus introduced itself sometime towards the end of 2019, and not many thought too much of it at first. Then, it started to affect everyone – young and old, third-world countries and first-world countries alike. Jobs were lost, lives were changed and people grieved.

This isn’t news to anyone. We all know how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single person, be it in the simplest ways or the most staggering, life-altering sense. The New York Times is one of the many parties that have identified that feeling of listlessness and fatigue that naturally comes with dragging oneself through the day-to-day routine of dealing with the pandemic: ‘languishing’.

But even with all this negativity, people have formed new habits and hobbies that bear testament to their will to simply live in the middle of all these constraints. They’ve resorted to simple activities to either sustain their happiness or find some financial stability. It could be baking, building computers, trying out new recipes, binging Netflix shows, or tinkering with handicrafts – you name it. If we haven’t done these things ourselves, we certainly know of people who have.

TikTok and One Man’s Opportunity

TikTok is one of the more popular products of human resilience that have peaked during the pandemic. Despite having strong competitors in other social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, TikTok has bloomed over the past year. It has become a means of connection in a period of isolation.

Jonny Cutuli, a 24-year-old TikTok influencer, saw TikTok as a platform for new opportunities. Having lost his nine-to-five job before being confined in a nationwide lockdown, Jonny found himself in a tight spot. But this wasn’t the end of his story. He began to create TikTok content to quench that boredom everybody can identify with oh-so-well. What started as a coping mechanism eventually turned into a solution for Jonny’s troubles.

Born and raised in Aci Catena, a small town in Sicily, Jonny learned that one had to strive to overcome a disadvantaged background from a young age.

“There are little opportunities in my hometown, and you would need to do something unique if you want to stand out,” Jonny said.

He had always been an avid social media user. But at first, he didn’t see these online platforms as an opportunity to grow his public image. Still, that love for creating videos and expressing his creativity persisted. Only when he began to notice how other users unleash their creativity through their content did he realize that social media was a goldmine for opportunities. Slowly, he fell in love with the idea of creating videos for the public eye.

Using One’s Assets at Hand

Armed with an education in administration, finance, and digital branding during his college years in Istituto Tecnico Commerciale in Acireale, Jonny found that having a background in digital branding gave him an edge in the social media world. TikTok has, since its inception, become a platform for information and entertainment. But what makes a TikTok influencer successful is their ability to catch people’s attention. In a world where everything floods one’s senses, an influencer’s job is to draw focus to their content.

“It’s all about branding when it comes to creating online content,” Jonny explained. “We, as influencers, need to use the appropriate sounds, colors, and texts to hook viewers from the very beginning of our videos. This is what professional publicists do.”

Hence, Jonny decided it was worth furthering his studies in the same fields at Edge Hill University in the UK.

But education can only go so far. To succeed, it’s imperative to be creative with one’s arsenal. Jonny initially struggled when starting his career as an influencer. Living in a humble home with four other siblings, privacy and space were scarce. He needed to create and deliver high-quality content – the issue here was that he didn’t have the right tools for it. Lighting was a very simple, yet significant aspect of making social media content. Because these weren’t naturally available for him, Jonny set out to remedy the situation. It took purchasing a simple kit of white lighting to allow his videos to take on a more professional, appealing quality.

Adapting to Never-Ending Problems

Another problem with being a TikTok influencer is that one never runs out of competitors.

Back in March last year, the Italian government announced a nationwide lockdown when Italy was massively impacted by the pandemic. Everyone stayed at home. Everyone started to make videos – hence, the popularization of TikTok. Jonny then realized that this surge of competitors was an issue that needed troubleshooting. He had to resort to out-of-the-box solutions. So, Jonny adapted. He revamped the format of his videos. Using a simple green screen, he appeared in front of a background of GIFs or images in his videos.

This change of format certainly set him apart. But this isn’t the end of his troubles. This new video format has since been replicated by many users, and so Jonny has found himself in a new pickle: he has to find new, innovative ways to combat the competition.

The struggle is a continuous one. For instance, when his content stops being promoted on the ‘For You’ page on TikTok, he has to attempt to understand the reason behind this. He uses his advantage of having a background in commerce to analyze the statistics in his account to best unravel the issue. He continually works to adapt by reshaping the format of his videos.

“Obstacles will always be out there,” Jonny commented when speaking about his struggles when building a TikTok empire as an influencer. “But never allow them to stop you from what you’re doing. They’re part of the process; once you overcome them, they’ll lead you to the place that you want to reach eventually.”

To remain focused, Jonny bears in mind the primary ‘Why’ behind his work.

“Someone said that when you do what you love, you’ll never work a single day in your life.”

Finding a Future Amid All This Uncertainty

Indeed, young entrepreneurs everywhere have found opportunities in the middle of all this social and economic shakiness. Businesses have taken their content online, influencers have decided to help the world move forward on social media, and people, in general, are learning to pick themselves off the ground. It’s certainly easier said than done, but moving forward is not impossible.

Jonny, too, has formulated a plan for the future. Graduating and advancing his social media career is on top of his list. He plans to open an e-commerce website, where every product sold would be promoted on his social media platforms in order to gain some initial exposure.

“Personally, the most fulfilling thing [about what I do now] is that I can prove people wrong. People always say that you can’t go anywhere if you start from a disadvantaged background. But that’s not true. If you truly want something, you will find a way to get there,” he said. “The most important thing is to not give up. There’s nothing you cannot do in this life – it’s all about having the right mindset and surrounding yourself with the right people who motivate you.”

As a social media influencer, Jonny’s number one advice for those aspiring to venture down a similar path is to not let those initially low views demotivate them. Sometimes, it takes fifty to a hundred videos before an influencer creates that one video that will change everything.

Perhaps, in an era of canceled plans and uncertain futures, the youth possess within them the capacity to endure. Developing a strong mind that continually learns and adapts is key in building goals that will give a person a reason to get out of bed each day.

“If you’re growing and challenging yourself every day, you will live a happy life. If you’re not, you will suffer. The mind is like a muscle; it gets stronger when you embrace challenges and push it to the limit.”

-Jonny Cutuli