Last week for work I was at a blogger conference that was well outside my niche. I was happy to help out and take on whatever was needed, running an education session and volunteering as a mentor. That mentor thing seemed like a good idea when I did it, but as the time to meet with my assigned mentee drew closer, impostor syndrome started to creep in.
What if this person can’t learn anything from me?
What if I don’t have anything to offer?
I kept a cool head and figured I’d make the best of it, at least I’d be able to offer guidance in some of my areas of expertise if nothing else.
The meeting itself was fantastic. My mentee and I connected quickly, we found parallel stories in our lives, and I had real, concrete advice I could offer her to move forward. She needed someone to say, “You are good enough to do this,” and I was happy to be that person. It ended up being one of those to-the-brim, sloppy with love moments where I remembered why I do what I do and how much it means to me.
As we talked about moving forward and setting goals and all that stuff, I shared some of the best advice I could give anyone who’s living the internet life.
Anyone who says, “You must do X,” is wrong.
Anyone who says, “This is how you succeed,” is wrong.
Anyone who says, “These are the rules,” is wrong.
Anyone who says these things hasn’t been paying very close attention to the internet. We are succeeding everywhere and no two of us are doing the same things. We are experimenting and finding different meanings of what it actually means to succeed.
Anyone who says these things is not talking about you, they’re talking about themselves. And they’re too shortsighted to understand that what worked for them isn’t a universal formula for success.
I try very hard to avoid this. When I give talks on SEO, I try not to say that it’s required or necessary. I try to recognize that it is one way to build traffic that works really well for some people. I give my talks knowing that a lot of people won’t take my advice and that’s okay.
I started blogging in 2001. In a different place with a different name. It was a different world back then and there was no one telling us what to do so we just did.
When I started this blog in 2007, I began that way, but soon realized that in the years I’d been stuck in my own site that blogging had become a thing and people were using it to make money and this could now be my thing. I spent a couple of years taking notes, following advice, doing what I was told to do. I broke rules sometimes, but I tried to follow that model.
The funny thing is that model was already coming apart at the seams by the time I jumped on. The bloggers who’d come up and made it big were big fish in a small pond, but now the pond was so large that it was almost impossible to differentiate yourself from others. And with everyone trying to follow the same model and build the same numbers it became a slog.
So I quit that model. I stopped feeling like the only way my blog mattered was if someone agreed to pay me to write sponsored content on it. I stopped caring about whether I’d ever get to steady 6-figure monthly traffic. I was lucky because I already knew how to blog in a way that felt true to myself, I hadn’t wandered too far from it, and I just went right back to it.
Among the rules I’ve broken?
Oh, so many.
Post consistently! You should have the same number of posts every week!
Share regularly on Facebook! Engage your audience there! Give them content they want to see!
Promote on Twitter! Share links of your own and share links from your friends!
Pin every single day on Pinterest!
Comments are the thing that really matters to measure engagement!
Build your email list! That’s the most important thing!
Your posts should never be more than 500 words!
Find your niche! Define your personal brand!
Use your byline to build your brand! Share your writing as much as possible!
Personal blogs are over!
No one cares what you ate for lunch on Instagram!
I could go on. Almost every rule I’ve ever heard I’ve broken. And it’s actually worked out really well for me. A few years ago I thought I would only be successful as a blogger if I got bigger. Turns out I did get bigger, but not by a lot. And I’ve still been wildly successful beyond what I could have imagined, just not in the ways everyone else defined success.
A few years ago I was just another blogger who was dipping their toe in monetization.
Now I write for other sites, I get to write things I care about and work with people I enjoy.
I speak at conferences and teach bloggers new skills and I’m pretty damn good at it, if I may say so myself.
I blog about what I want to blog about and no one has yet stomped their feet and stormed off.
I started a brand new career path at a time when I needed it desperately, solely because of the effort I put into my blog.
I’m an expert now. I feel comfortable using the term. I have to use the term if I want people to take me seriously and if I’m going to remind myself that my experience and insight is valuable.
And none of this would have happened if I’d stuck with the rules I was told to follow.
I did what felt right to me. I did what I was good at. I did what made sense for my life. And that is the only rule that I really believe in.
Every few months there’s another round of bloggers writing about burnout and how their hearts aren’t in it anymore. The only way you can avoid that is to do this because you love it. Because the way you do it makes you love it more. Because you’ve made your own rules to protect your heart and your brain and keep them where you need them to be. If you don’t do that, there will inevitably come a point where you no longer love it and you wonder why you’re doing it.
So here I am. A tiny little blogger who doesn’t have crazy numbers, who doesn’t have name recognition, who doesn’t have hordes of followers. And I’m telling you that all those things don’t matter. What matters is what you do with what you’ve got and how you use your expertise and what you want to accomplish and what you’re doing to get there.
So thanks to Candice for that mentoring session, which reminded me of exactly what matters to me and reminded me of just how far I’ve come in a pretty short time. Parts of my life may get pretty messy and tough, but this blog? Has been my joy and my community and my success. And I couldn’t be happier with it.