One of the benefits of being a freelance writer is that I'm frequently able to disguise narcissism as work.
Minor cosmetic procedures, self-care workshops, weekend getaways — they're not for me, they're for my job.
But when I decided to make Insta-fame my latest endeavour, even I felt that old excuse was wearing thin.
"Isn't that a bit… vapid?" one friend queried when I divulged my plan.
"Oh no, no, no. You don't understand. It's for a story," I replied.
Her eyes narrowed.
"So you don't want to be Instagram famous?"
"No, I really do."
"Well it's not for a story then, is it?"
I developed a second line of defence. This was a clever side-hustle, I assured my family and friends; a step away from wage slavery.
It's an argument that held some weight: Instagram has given rise to a thriving online economy which ordinary people can access and exploit.
Gain enough followers and it's only a matter of time before marketing companies and big business are knocking on your door, begging for your endorsement — or so the theory goes.
See? I'm not a narcissist; I'm an entrepreneur. There's a difference.
Early on, I recognised that my somewhat average looks would represent my biggest hurdle, closely followed by my truly average photography skills.
Luckily, in answer to the prayers of the mediocre, Instagram provides numerous, beautifying photo filters. I used them with reckless abandon.
And yet, sepia-drenched photos of me looking soulfully towards the distant horizon failed to hit a mark.
Same thing for my soy lattes and pet photos — even blurry sunsets attracted little attention.
It turns out there's a limit to how much digital Vaseline you can put on a camera lens.
Even more frustratingly, there are enough genuinely attractive people on the internet to ensure the market is crowded.
Apparently, to succeed you must also need a strategy, and I didn't have one of those.
I'm not the first person to run up against this conundrum.
It's a sign of the times that there are self-proclaimed Instagram-experts who make their living telling aspiring influencers how to pull a crowd.
I set up a meeting with one such guru, Jackson Dean.
His tidy follower count of 71,000 people inspires both confidence and envy — but he said being Instagram famous was never really his goal.
"I don't want to essentially be Instagram famous myself," he said.
"But I could see that a lot of people would want to be, and I could see very simple strategies and ways of going about doing that."
Jackson imparted plenty of advice, but in particular stressed the importance of finding a niche.
In my case, he felt my work in radio and podcasting would set me apart from the crowd.
The other nugget of wisdom he offered was that my pictures needed to look more consistent.
"If you are posting on Instagram, if you want a nice looking feed, use the same filter. So find a filter that represents you," he suggested.
For the next few weeks, I rigidly followed Jackson's advice.
I took photos of myself doing podcasting and radio work. I homogenised them with my chosen filter, which provided a vibe I would describe as 'Scandinavian Furniture Catalogue'.
I thought up pithy captions.
And I gained a few new followers.
What I naïvely thought might be an easy money spinner started to feel a lot like work. Boring work.
I decided to seek out another opinion, from someone who I hoped would validate my desire for Instagram fame.
Enter Sally O'Neil, a cookbook author and professional lifestyle-based Instagrammer.
As Sally boasts nearly 90,000 followers, I fantasised that she'd have a secret recipe for overnight success and fame.
Instead, she confirmed my worst fears: for professional influencers, Instagram is a job.
"There's so many elements to being an influencer that people don't really see," Sally told me over a herbal tea in her sun-filled Sydney apartment.
"If I clocked my hours for the amount of weird things that I do that isn't just image creation, you'd be quite surprised."
These weird things include invoicing, talking with accountants, meeting with clients, sourcing props, researching, baking — along with all the other administrational dross associated with running a small business.
Sure there are perks — in Sally's case, these include free food, gym memberships and the occasional overseas trip — but there's also the pressure to stay relevant and continue delivering good content.
Staying relevant wasn't a problem in my case — I was never relevant to begin with.
I faced the grim reality that achieving and maintaining social media stardom is hard, unglamorous work.
When my friends enquired how my fame quest was progressing, I felt too embarrassed to tell them I'd started to tidy my flat and answer emails when I should be Instagramming.
"Do you realise how many hours influencers put into their feed? It's not really very glamorous at all," I reasoned.
"No, it just seems like it would be too much pressure, you know?"
So much easier than explaining I never cracked 1,000 followers.
Stephanie Coombes is valiantly continuing her 'Scandinavian Furniture Catalogue' aesthetic on Instagram as @coombles.