This was written for the keynote speech given at the Texas Style Council Conference on March 12th, 2011.
When Grechen [Cohen] asked me to deliver the keynote speech, I took it as a great honor, as it is a great honor to be here with all of you creating a new medium, a new discourse, and a new industry based on that. It’s quite a big topic to cover in thirty minutes.
So what should I talk about? Grechen said, “What do people most want to know about blogging?”
I get that question a lot. People ask all kinds of questions from how to start a blog, how to get followers, how to make money, how to stay inspired. But what I really think they are asking is how to create something that fulfills them.
I say that because that’s why I started blogging. Not to find a job. I had one. Not to be creative, as I was a graphic designer (a fairly creative job). Not to get new clothes, because I could afford them. What I really, truly wanted was a sense of purpose in my life… and luckily I was able to find that in blogging.
A the time I didn’t know that’s what was happening. At the time social media seemed like self indulgent, superfluousness, fluff. And nerdy fluff at that! Today, as people find each other through social media, we find that they are falling in love, finding jobs, finding homes. They power actual revolutions and influence elections all through social media. It’s apparent that we aren’t using this technology to automate our lives. We use technology to be more human.
Which brings me back to why I’m here. What do you want to know the most about blogging? What I think people really want to know is how to get the most out of blogging. How to find fulfillment in their experience online. How to find a sense of purpose.
Those are the big LIFE questions. I don’t know the answer to that anymore than anyone in this room. What’s more, I’m inherently skeptical of anyone who has hard and fast answers about finding purpose. It’s different for everyone.
I could say, “Find your passion.” For some, it comes early. For some, it takes a lifetime. For me, my passions come wrapped in other passions, each more surprising than the next.
I could say, “Be yourself.” But again, that’s not been the most clear journey for me. So I’m not expecting you to find that simple either.
I could say, “Be authentic.” But authenticity has been used and abused so much over the past few years. As it, like honesty and humility [you know, when one thinks they have humility down, that's just it's not there at all]. These are high ideals we are in constant pursuit of.
What I can say is, “Be the best you can be.” Thanks Army for that advice. Be the best you can be, right now. Sometimes that means being a superstar blogger, sometimes that means getting out of bed… and everything in between.
Over the years I’ve always approached blogging from a very intuitive and ritualistic space. I show up every day and put the most I can in. It’s changed over the years. What worked in the beginning doesn’t necessarily work for me today. Staying open to try new things, trying to grow my blogs from the inside out and pushing my own boundaries has made for the most interesting and fulfilling career I could have ever imagined.
I can’t give you a formula to try to make that happen for you. And if nothing, I’m saying is making any sense, then just follow this one piece of advice, “Keep looking, and keep blogging about it.”
For those of you who this is making perfect sense… Ok, I’ll settle for partial sense. This is what I know, from what I’ve observed, experienced, and actually done to get here.
Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.
- Technology has changed everything and everyone is freaking out. The print industry is collapsing, the television industry is turned upside down– Advertisers, marketers, PRs don’t know what’s what from one day to the next. Sure there may be gurus or people pretending to know. But the truth is, no one knows what’s going to happen next.
- Nothing has changed. Good business is still run on the same principles as they always have been, honesty, hard work, adaptability and the ability to be creative. That will never change no matter what happens tomorrow.
Keep asking yourself what makes you happy.
When I first started blogging, I was doing a lot of outfit shots, and I really did find joy in that. As traffic started to accumulate and brands started sending free stuff and wanted to work with me. I realized that what I wanted in the beginning wasn’t really what I wanted in reality. I had to ask myself what made me happy about blogging… being a part of the community, creative freedom, and the ability to try a lot of new things, and why some elements did not make me happy. It was scary to step away from the common business model personal style bloggers were adopting. But in the end, it made me a happier blogger.
Keep looking for the things you love.
I failed high school English. Twice. I studied graphic design in college, just to avoid writing, and took typography just to avoid taking extensive photography classes. I wanted to be a ‘creative’ because I thought it was the opposite of ‘business’ (even though the most successful creatives are great business people). If I were to imagine a career to create it certainly would not be one that relied on those three topics. How did this happen? Because I tried new things, because I was looking for the things I loved and found them in the most unexpected places.
Focus on principles, not on technology.
If your business is based on a specific technology, then you’re at the mercy of the tools available. If you focus on being a blogger, you’re at the mercy of the lifespan of blogs. If you focus on creating great content, you have a much better chance of long term survival, because technology always changes. Always.
Trust your instincts. Listen to that place deep inside.
Time and time and time again, I have kicked myself for not listening to my instincts. There is not one time I listened to my gut telling me to do something that all logic said was crazy and regretted it. Not once. I have walked away from big, prestigious companies because the deal wasn’t right. Never once, had I wish I worked it out. What does that say? Because something sounds big and nice, doesn’t mean that it’s the right path, and it doesn’t mean another opportunity won’t come a long. Your intuition knows what’s good for you better than anyone else. Don’t sell that short for a career you may end up hating.
Find your heroes. Get a mentor.
I can’t say enough how important this is. Learning things the hard way, is so… hard. Find your heroes, see if one will mentor you. You never know what amazing things you’ll learn.
Make mistakes and learn from them.
50%… no… 60%… probably 70% of the things I do are riddled with mistakes. Believe it or not, even 30% success is still success! And the mistakes? Nothing is learned better than through mistake. So in that regard, mistakes are amazing opportunities to learn!
Try to do everything yourself FIRST, then delegate as much as possible.
I say this because you never know where your secret talents hide. Try everything. This is also good so when you do delegate you know what goes into another person’s work. You know how hard it is, or how hard it’s not. This will be invaluable in negotiations in working with others.
Working with others teaches your more about yourself than anything else.
In my mind… I’m spacey, laid back, and kind of scattered. In reality, I expect a lot out of myself, I expect a lot of the people I work with and we work very, very hard. I wouldn’t know that unless I’ve tried working with other people. Without working with lots of people, I wouldn’t know what qualities I need in a person to have a successful working relationship, and I wouldn’t know that’ it’s more about finding the right combination than finding good/bad people.
Commit, but don’t be afraid to change course.
What worked for me in the beginning doesn’t really work for me today. Does that mean I should keep going in a direction that clearly doesn’t make me happy? Don’t be afraid to change course, that’s just how life goes.
It’s ok not to know, you’re in a good place.
So many people feign to be experts. They claim they have knowledge. Which is great… but what about those of us who don’t know? Not knowing makes you hungry to learn.. and there is no better place to be than hungry for knowledge.
Try to do the BEST you can POSSIBLY imagine. Not what you think is possible now.
When people ask me, ‘how I do it.’ I usually shrug because it’s as much of a mystery than anything else. But when I really think about it…it’s comes from making a list of what in my wildest dreams I want to do.. and aim for that. It’s surprising how close I’ve come to the things on that list. If I aimed for what I thought was possible at the moment, it would be selling myself way too short of what could have actually been accomplished by trying.
So that’s it. Notice how I didn’t tell you to use WordPress, or to make a Facebook Fan Page. I didn’t tell you to sell your own ads, or whether or not to sell ads at all.
Careers in blogging, in social media can look like anything. What’s beautiful about this industry is you have the power to shape your role any way you want. You can develop the skills in any area, find your own personal super power and make that your career, or not. It’s entirely in your hands.
Blogging is not necessarily an industry for technophiles. We are not here to put anyone out of business. What blogging enables is for people to find personal fulfillment in the careers they shape, and it’s just one of the many, many, many paths to make that happen.