I don’t know if it’s the impending cold weather or some changes that are about to happen in my personal life (more on that soon), but I’ve found myself reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years. The blogging generation often gets a bad rap for being too focused on trends and topics that lack substance and depth, but I’ve found that the moments I’ve spent with my online colleagues over the past year have proved to be some of the most meaningful and real. Learning about real life from the Internet can be an odd thing (it often feels like learning about real life from TV or a movie) but it’s no less valid and helpful than lessons learned face-to-face. So today I decided to take a second to step back and look at the ways this incredible platform, blogging, has taught me lessons about real life. From learning to listen more and write less to trusting my gut and finding that patience isn’t everything, the life lessons I’ve learned from blogging are universal and will inform the way I live for years to come. I’m curious to know if these are things you all have learned from running your blogs, too? Or perhaps there are different lessons that I haven’t touched on here. I’m always fascinated to hear how working in this vast and varied community of ours has shaped people’s lives outside of the screen. If you have a moment to share your stories, I’d love to hear what your experiences have been. xo, grace
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Listen More, Write Less
As a blogger, I make my living by writing and sharing things online. But I’ve also learned that everyone (including me) is happier when I listen more and type less. The most important and eye-opening conversations that have happened here, happened because I decided to let someone have their moment to complain, explain or educate us about something we didn’t previously know. In the early days of blogging, it was considered rude to not reply to every comment, but these days I’ve come to feel that letting people have room to talk is the best thing. Everyone’s viewpoint is informed by a unique backstory and experience and I definitely feel better having the chance to get to understand someone through their comment rather than trying to control how they feel, talk or disagree with me about something.
Trust Your Gut
In the past 10 years, the only times I’ve regretted a decision I’ve made have been because I didn’t listen to what my gut was telling me. Working online means that you’re exposing yourself, willingly, to the thoughts and opinions of other people on a regular basis. Most of the time that is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it’s not. Those are the times when you have to cling to the fact that you know something is true/right/accurate for you. It doesn’t absolve you from upsetting someone and it won’t prevent people from disagreeing or becoming angry, but it does mean that at the end of the day, you’re operating from a place of what feels true for you. I’ve had deals and opportunities fall through for all sorts of reasons, and I can speak from experience when I say that nothing feels worse than losing out on something (whether it’s a business deal or a friendship) because of an opinion or statement that is not your own.
Patience Can Be Overrated
If there’s one thing blogging has taught me, it’s that I love being able to publish something at the drop of a hat. In the early days that meant posting brand new products at 2 in the morning if that’s when the press release came through. But these days that means being able to process something, think it over and publish on the same day, if that’s what feels right. I would say 80% of my life is spent thinking and re-thinking something to make sure I’m making a decision for the right reasons, but then there are those perfect times when I know exactly what I want to say or do from the start. Traditional wisdom teaches us to wait and sleep on things, but blogging has always encouraged me to speak now or forever hold my peace. And I’ve grown to love that. It doesn’t mean I go yelling whatever I want willy nilly, but it does mean that when your gut and your mind are on the same page, there isn’t anything wrong with speaking quickly.
Acknowledging Your Privilege is Crucial
Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time really looking at the things we write and what people around us write, too. Partially to understand how other people see us and partially to understand why so much of the Internet seems to have a major issue with design/lifestyle bloggers. At the crux of a lot of the problems is this: a failure to acknowledge privilege. Whether it’s a privilege of finance, education, race, gender or sexuality, there’s always something to consider before you start talking online. I know I’ve been privileged to grow up in a way that’s made life easier for me in a lot of respects and whenever I fail to consider that or speak from a place that acknowledges that, I’ve put my own foot in my mouth. I’d like to spend more of my time having real conversations and listening to people, and that means being more considerate and understanding of everyone’s experiences, not just my own.
Passions Can Change – and Become Routine
The blogosphere is quick to rally around the phrase “Do What You Love,” as if it’s a solution to all the problems surrounding happiness and jobs. But even the most wonderful, passion-based career, built around what you love most in the world, can start to feel like a “job” in the worst sense of the word. And even the most wonderful job will have aspects of it that aren’t fun. I am the worst admin worker ever, always putting off mailing things and getting paperwork done, but it’s part of a job I feel lucky to have, so I try to keep that in mind. I also try to keep in mind that no passion and no job stay the same forever. Blogging has taught me to stay open-minded, light on my feet and remain open to the idea that what “defined” me in my 20s may not continue to define me in the same way a decade later.
Screenshots are Real
In real life, we have often benefited from people having memories that fade over the years. If you’ve said something you regret, people can generally forgive and (sort of) forget. But that doesn’t exist in the Internet. Sure, there will be another scandal or issue for people to focus on, but screenshots are alive and well and can be not-so-friendly reminders of behavior we’ve contributed to the web. Thinking about this makes me a lot less quick to express opinions or spout off rants that aren’t positive. It doesn’t mean I don’t have those thoughts, but remembering that some people could see and save that rant is a friendly reminder to keep those thoughts to myself most of the time.
Time Away from the Computer is 100% Necessary
As an extreme introvert, I’m someone who could easily spend a week indoors without ever going out. I’ve done it before and if I didn’t adopt a dog, I would probably still be prone to fits of major homebody-ness. Life online is alluring and tempting in this way that real life isn’t, because it feels like (the operative word being “feels”) you can control the information you receive. If you’re desiring a certain type of response, you know exactly where to get it. But in real life, things don’t work that way. You have to engage face-to-face, receive negative and positive (and everything in between) responses in real time and you don’t have a school of Internet supporters who will pop up right away to remind you that you’re the best and everything will be just fine (thumbs up, clapping hands, happy face emoticon). Without realizing it, the Internet was enforcing my introversion to an unhealthy degree and finally forcing myself to have a life outside of the screen (where no one knew – or cared in the least bit – what I did for a living) was the key to finding real balance.
Letting Go Is a Terrifying But Beautiful Thing
FOMO and YOLO culture would have us believe that every major decision is always right at your fingertips and just about to be missed. You know that dream life you want? If you would just join in and do this thing and say yes and sign up RIGHT NOW, you could have it! The catch is, not all decisions can happen that way. It’s impossible that every great thing that will happen in your life will be missed if you don’t say “yes” to everything, right now. So learning to say “no” is important. But I’ve found that saying no actually isn’t the hard part. It’s dealing with people’s reactions that is the hard part. Sometimes it will be fine, but sometimes you may have to let someone down or miss out on something. You might even be replaced by someone you consider a competitor. But at the end of the day, you have to consider who you plan to have by your side when you’re 80 years old. Will it be that blogger you’re always trying to beat in every competition? Will it be that hot new company you really want to partner with? Probably not. It will most likely be your friends, family, partner, whoever really matters in your life. So learning to let go of the things that seem like you “have” to do immediately is a great skill to learn as early as possible.
There is No Need for #1
I will never understand the Internet’s desire to choose a #1 or imply that there can only be 5 or 10 “great” types of anything per year. I wish instead people would give out awards or general pats on the back for people doing great things throughout the year. I think that would truly reflect the sort of wide-ranging, talent-deep waters that we work in online. The wonderful thing about the web is that there’s plenty of room for everyone here. Yes, you have to work harder to stand out in a deeper pool of people, but now we all benefit from the fact that readers want to read many blogs, not just one. No one is saying “I can only choose ONE design blog to read! No more!” They are reading dozens and dozens and aggregating even more via Pinterest and other social media outlets. Once I understood that concept (that there’s room for everyone), it made me approach life a lot differently. I used to feel embarrassingly jealous of or possessive of my friends but when I got my mind around the fact that the term “best” didn’t mean anything as long as my friends were good friends and we were all supportive of each other, I let go of feeling the need to be someone’s “only” or “best” friend. Having friends at all is a true gift so ranking any of them seemed silly.
Good People Are Everywhere
I would never expect to find more faith in humanity after working in the blog world, but I have. Sure, there are days when I want to throw my hands in the air and yell, “Really?”, but most days I feel pretty amazed at how much talent there still is to discover, how much kindness and generosity lives online and how many people genuinely want to connect with and help people they like. Every job has its up and down days, but I am consistently grateful that my “office” (the Internet) is a place where there is a constantly growing and evolving group of co-workers that can contribute something wonderful to not only my life, but everyone else’s.