Hannah, my step-daughter, has started a new venture with her sister, my two and 1/2 year old, that involves their own funny YouTube channel. It’s adorable and quirky (and I’m not biased at all) – and it has been allowed with the understanding that her mom and I will be monitoring the content closely – and also the comments section.
We were talking about this fun new project the other night – and Hannah mentioned that she had recently looked up an old YouTube site she briefly had which involved cute, pre-teen life-hacks and how-to videos. She told me how a former classmate of hers had left some not-so-kind comments with regard to her videos that she hadn’t seen until now.
As much as it broke my heart that someone decided to leave a negative comment on her site, we had a good discussion about the pitfalls of putting yourself “out there” publicly. We talked about her choices, which she can control – and other people’s choices, which she can’t. I told her a story about how when I first started writing publicly, I would receive one mean comment out of twenty nice ones and I’d focus on that one unkind one. But you can’t do that.
I told her to look for the good and learn from the bad.
We also discussed how easy it is to write nasty things from behind the barrier of a computer screen – with the protection of anonymity – and never be held accountable. And how she should not feed the trolls (meaning: do not engage).
The last thing I said in our conversation was, “What is the alternative though? To never pursue anything for fear of criticism? Where would the world be if we all lived like that? A pretty boring, quiet place.”
Hannah took it all in stride – the unkind comment on her old page and our conversation, in general. This kid has an old soul and I find her to be more compassionate, diplomatic and understanding of the human species than most adults. She will be just fine.
(But I’ve been watching her YouTube page like a mama hawk. Trust.)
I have been thinking about our conversation though ever since. While I hate that she had to experience a negative reaction to her simple attempt at something fun, I am also grateful we could have that conversation so early. Putting yourself out there is not for wimps and, in time, you learn to grow a thicker skin – but you never really become fully bullet proof. I am grateful she will learn this early on, because she will have that much more time to learn to be brave with her choices and unaffected by the mere threat of criticism.
Through writing publicly, I have learned so many things about myself and about other people, in general. When you pour your whole heart out there for people to see, which I’ve done in the past, you will constantly be surprised by the different reactions. And how reactions change over time… Some reactions have to do with where you are in life and what you’re writing about – and some reactions have absolutely nothing to do with you, but where the reader is in his/her life.
Here are five things I’ve learned about myself and/or others through writing publicly:
People aren’t all created and baked evenly on a sheet of cut-outs. Even your very best friends, though they may be your biggest supporters in life, may not agree with every single thing you think or write. And that goes for your entire “audience”. You can write a post one day that brings someone to tears or laughter – and then write a different piece the next day that turns them off completely. I have learned to not take this personally. As much as I like to share personal experiences, I am ultimately writing for myself and no one else. This is my story, the way I want to write it. Everyone is welcome to share their own path – or not.
Don’t let anyone chip away at who you are simply because that’s not who they are.
When I first started blogging (I really, really hate that term – but there is no way around it), there was no competition in it. Not that I am aware of anyway. People who liked to write just wrote – and there wasn’t this booming commercialization of it all that there is now. I’ve watched it change over the years into something huge. People have become their own living, breathing brand. And hey, that’s cool! (I mean, I work in intellectual property – trademark and branding law, to be exact. I’m all about branding!) And I’ve definitely changed directions over the years with what I write about and the kind of website I have, in general – but one thing has remained the same: I’m not here to win a competition. I do go through waves of promoting my site sometimes – and then I go ride other waves where I don’t want anyone to read anything I write ever.
I recently had a friend message me who is starting her own fitness business. She is in the early stages of starting her own website/blog and wanted some tips – which is awesome, by the way! She is learning how blogs work and wanted to know what I was getting out of it – or what I wanted out of it. I honestly couldn’t even answer that question, except to say, “I just like to write.” Right now, I don’t really have a purpose in writing other than to share stories, or recipes, or fluff.
I know the blog business is big business right now. There are women out there who literally do this full time and are fantastic at it and make an incredible living. You will also notice something about the majority of those women: they support other women. They collaborate with each other – and share each other’s posts – and give shout-outs. They literally bloom side by side.
And I’m all about blooming where you’re planted!
If you start to think that everyone around you is solely competition, you will wilt beneath the shadows in your imagination.
So, here’s the deal. My husband always laughs at me because I’m basically the Dean Martin of social media. I may or may not have this reputation of being slightly tipsy at all times, but the truth is: I can barely drink a full glass of wine these days (and that’s what Brian thinks is so funny). By the way, for those who don’t know, Dean Martin was the genius part of The Rat Pack who basically “pretended” to be tipsy with a drink in his hand at all times. (Seriously, why the f*ck do you not know who Dean Martin is? Get it together.)
That said, I truly do think I write the most candidly – and, quite frankly, better – when I’ve had a glass of wine. I just go for it without overthinking. And I’m pretty sure Mr. Hemingway knew what he was talking about.
Unfortunately, I tend to “write drunk” and then “delete when sober” – which is something I’m trying to talk myself out of ever doing again (the deleting part).
“Sorry, Not Sorry” is something I’m constantly struggling to say and really, truly mean when writing.
Listen, if you are going to write publicly or “blog” or even post a status on Facebook, you are putting yourself out there – and are likely going to get an eye roll or two (or seven hundred). As I was telling Hannah, this is the price you pay for putting yourself out there. I don’t have to write a blog, or share step-parenting experiences, or post my grandmother’s from-scratch recipe for tortellacci*, but I do those things because I want to – and I enjoy it. And for some of it, I will get criticized. That is ok. If you want to write publicly, or put yourself out in the universe any way publicly, you have to be okay with possible criticism. Otherwise, this is never, ever going to work for you. You will be miserable.
You also have a choice on whether you want to respond to the criticism – or ignore it. I haven’t received any criticism on my current blog (to my face), but trust me: I know it’s out there. And I choose to ignore it. (Other than a passive obligatory quote here and there… but, I mean, who doesn’t do that once or twice?)
(Shut up, I totally know you’ve done it.)
For every fifty people who encourage you, there will be at least five who dismiss you. Do you obsess over the one egg that cracked in the dozen you just bought? If you can’t learn from it in some way, throw it out and move on.
Man, that Katharine Hepburn. Did she nail it or what?
The one main thing I have learned about blogging/writing/sharing is that I love it. I love it – and it makes me happy, and it is mini-therapy, and it is sometimes an emotional purge – and sometimes just a purge of giant, frosting fluff! But I love it. And though I’m still learning how to be mindful of my own truth while also being mindful of who may be reading – and trying to not overthink even that too much – I am going to keep doing this. And I encourage anyone else who wants to do it – or who is just starting – to do it and keep doing it.
Do things that make you happy – and never apologize for doing them your way. As my sweet cousin told me last week, live your truth.
And be ok with all of the above.
*I’m sorry, I totally lied. I will never, ever share my grandmother’s from-scratch recipe for tortellacci. Even I have my limits…