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Lessons about Blogging from a 90′s Road Trip

I’m in two minds whether this story should go on my personal blog or here on ProBlogger. The lessons are about life but in the second half this post I tie them to blogging. Apologies for the quality of the images in this post – they’re pictures of pictures – my scanner died today! Unfortunately I don’t have any excuses for the clothes I’m wearing in some of the shots!

road-trip

On the spur of the moment on a cool September morning in 1993 a mate and I bundled some camping gear into the back of my 1986 Toyota Camry and left for a four week road to the red center of Australia.

It was a trip that changed my life in many ways and it all started with a hair cut.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here…. lets back things up a little….

To that point in my life (I was almost 21) I’d worked hard at fitting in.

I carefully watched what those around me in my social groups were doing and I always followed their lead.

I had the same hair cut as my friends, I wore the same types of clothes as them, I was interested in the same types of activities as them, I went where they went and acted the way they did.

As a result I was very…. normal…. a very average guy.

Actually – I’m probably being a little generous to myself…. in fact I was probably below average on many levels because despite my best efforts to imitate those around me I wasn’t really that good at it.

I’d only ever had one girl friend, I was failing my university degree, I couldn’t land a job, I wasn’t ever the life of the party and didn’t have many friends and I was pretty depressed about life.

I remember looking at myself in the mirror late one night and realising that it was really not going anywhere – and it was going there fast. Looking back I guess I had a mid life crisis of sorts (I’m hoping that doesn’t mean I only last til 42 years of age).

A mid-life crisis can lead to some pretty crazy things but in my case it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

On the spur of the moment a mate and I decided we were going to change things up and we were going to do it with a Road Trip! Neither of us had ever done anything like it before (we’d been playing it safe and doing what every else did after all) but we decided it might be a good way to get away and have some fun.

We quickly planned our trip and packed my 1986 Toyota Camry with enough camping gear for a party of 7.

IMG_0561.JPGThe night before we left we decided to mark the occasion by shaving our heads. We didn’t shave them to the skin – but it was short, shorter than anything I’ve had before.

This head shaving ended up being a very symbolic moment for me – I didn’t know it at the time but it was a turning point.

At that time we didn’t know anyone in our friendship group with shaved heads but we figured that we were going to be gone for 4-5 weeks so it didn’t really matter – no one would see us and by the time we got home we’d have at least some hair!

I remember looking at myself in the mirror that night before our trip and hardly recognising myself. I also remember being quite glad that nobody that I knew would see me until at least some of my hair grew back!

Side Note: We also decided that night that until we got home we wouldn’t shave. This turned out to be less life changing and only helped me to realise that while I’m capable of growing hair on my chin and above my upper lip that I’m incapable of growing sideburns! This has little relevance to this story but I thought I’d share it for my fellow brothers who have an ability to grow sideburns – you’re not alone!

To cut a long (5 week) story short my mate and I took the trip of our lives.

We drove from Melbourne to Alice Springs (in the center of Australia). It took us a couple of weeks to get there – Australia is big.

Getting into the outback was the best thing I’d ever done to that point – I guess you could say that I found myself and had a spiritual awakening of sorts (another story for another time).

road-trip-2

While the trip itself was an awakening where I came to many realisations about my life and what I’d bee trying (and failing) to achieve by imitating others – what happened on my return home opened my eyes to another important lesson.

I still remember nervously walking into a party the night after we returned home from our trip.

My hair had grown back a little from the ‘great shaving’ but it was still ‘skin head (ish) short ‘and I’d trimmed my attempt at a beard to be a Goatee (don’t mock me, it was the 90s).

Walking into the party that night was the first time in my life (and probably the last) that I turned heads.

A ‘whooop’ went up from the guys around the BBQ and a ‘oooooh’ went up from the girls.

At first I thought the whooops were mocking and the ‘ooooohs’ were in sympathy – but I quickly realized that they were not. People were looking at me in a way that I’d never looked at before.

Actually I suspect that many people in the room were actually noticing me for the first time ever. It was the first time I did anything unique, noticeable or different and people responded so positively.

Life didn’t magically change and become perfect that night but it did change. Things changed in many ways but two of note were:

  • A few days later a girl called me – the first time that had EVER happened.
  • Two months later I was offered my dream job out of the blue (I didn’t even have to apply).

I don’t think all this happened just because I shaved my head (I think the change in my attitude and approach to life in the outback had more to do with it) but I do know for a fact that people started to treat me differently when I started to be myself, stopped pretending to be someone else and allowed myself to be a little unique.

And How Is This Related to Blogging?

OK – crazy story and not really related to blogging – but as I looked back on some photos of this trip today it struck me what a life changing time that was and how some of the lessons that I learned on and after that trip have been mirrored in the way that I’ve built my blogs over the last 7 years.

When I first started blogging I had no idea what I was doing. I’m still amazed that I managed to navigate the setup process on my first Blogspot blog – it was the most technologically advanced thing I’d ever done!

As I began to blog I based almost everything I did upon what I saw others doing. I didn’t copy their content – but I watched what was working for them and did emulate it. The type of posts that they wrote, the type of topics that they covered, the style of design that they used, the tools that they were using….. much of what I did in that first 6 months of blogging was imitation of others.

In some ways that was a good thing – I certainly learned a lot about blogging by watching other bloggers and trying out what they were doing in my own context. However there came a point where imitating others started to hold me back.

6 or so months into my first blog I realised that perhaps it was time to stop imitating other bloggers and to start finding myself as a blogger. In part this happened naturally as I found my groove – but there were a couple of moments when I realised that I was not being true to myself by blogging in the style of other people.

Again – I don’t think I was doing anything unethical by copying someone else’s content or ideas without credit – but I just wasn’t being myself on my blogs.

What I discovered about blogging is that the more real I was and the more true to myself I became as a blogger the more others seemed to connect with what I was doing. Blogging also became a lot more personally satisfying when I was blogging as me and not trying to be something that I was not.

The other thing that I ‘discovered’ through those early days was that the more I was myself the more unique my blog became. There’s nobody else like me in this world (just like there is nobody else like you) and the more I began to just be me the more unique my blog became. Uniqueness is of course a pretty important thing in blogging – there are millions of blogs out there, being unique sets you apart from the crowd.

Take Home Lessons

I’d like to finish this post with a slightly modified excerpt from an email that I wrote to a blogger named Lucas Mayeur recently (shared with permission). Lucas asked me asking for a little advice about getting his blog going as he found himself a little paralyzed by all the blogging advice he was reading. I hope that my response to him is relevant to readers here:

I think it really comes down to just trusting that you’ve probably absorbed a lot and now you just have to do it and trust that what you’ve learned will come out in your blogging.

You will make mistakes along the road and forget to do stuff – but you’ll learn from those mistakes and they’ll shape you as you move forward.

Back yourself, your experience, your wisdom, your style – do use what you’ve learned from blogging advice sites but don’t let having to get it all right slow you down. In fact if you do just emulate everything you read you’ll not create anything that is truly you.

Take the principles you’ve learned and let it marinate with who you are and then do something with it.

And a few thoughts from those much wiser than I (which is quite ironic given the topic of this post):

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings

“The hardest battle you’re ever going to fight is the battle to be just you.” – Leo Buscaglia

“If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.” – Billie Holiday

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Mick Morris says:

    Darren, Thankyou!

    People are all unique (even when we are trying not to be!), thanks for reminding everyone to just be themselves.

    I’m sharing this post with my teenage daughter as a valuable lesson in life (but…. if she packs a car with a friend and disappears, I know who to blame!)

    Mick

  2. Mel M says:

    What a fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing your personal story & your valuable advice on being you. I subscribe, but don’t comment as often as I read, since I’m usually blogging my brains out & left too tired to blurf a lot, but I just wanted to say thanks & to let you know that You ROCK! :o)

  3. Kat Eden says:

    And the best part? It’s actually much more fun being yourself than trying to be someone else. Or so I’ve found.

  4. Thanks for the post! I have been reading them from recently, and I hope they will help me with my blog also…but it is rather complicated to create successful interesting posts keeping yuor own style!))

  5. Love the pictures!

    Thanks for this posting. As a relatively new blogger, I see that it would be easy to get lost in reading other blogs and trying to emulate other bloggers. While studying others is part of the learning process, it is great to be reminded that we need to write what we know and what people need to hear.

  6. Archan Mehta says:

    Hey Darren:

    Your personal story is an inspiration–thanks for sharing it.

    The road trip works as a metaphor of self-discovery.

    In one martial arts movie (a Hollywood classic), there is a famous fighting scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.

    At the start, Norris easily defeats Lee because Lee makes the mistake of trying to mimic the style of a champion fighter. Formalities never worked well for Lee anyway.

    Eventually, however, Lee figures out that the only way to win over a better opponent is to fight in a style unique to you. By not conforming to formal methods and by finding his own true voice, Lee finally manages to defeat his opponent.

    Your sojourn through life reminded me of that cult film.
    Conformity can be suffocating. It is our whims, our fancies and our eccentricities which are life-affirming.

  7. Pallav says:

    Simply amazing story Darren :)

  8. Sherry Z. says:

    One of the most impressive posts ever!

  9. I don’t usually take the time to post but felt compelled today, I guess because of the great personal story that you shared this time. I’ve gotta tell ya, it was so much more enjoyable because you shared the photos of yourself! But I’m a scrapbooker and a photographer and for me personally life is all about the photos.

    But when did you go from shaved to completely bald? :)

    P.S. I never comment so I’ll take the time now to tell you I enjoy your blog immensely and am always so thankful for the information you share here for us other bloggers.

    Corinna

  10. Dan O'Connor says:

    Darren,

    The story of your “Walkabout” has helped solidify the direction of my new website and blog. Over the years shaping hot steel, smelling burning charcoal and practicing with sharp blades has led to a somewhat unique but I hope grounded perspective on life.

    It seems I have something to say as well as knowledge and skills to share.

    But, like the fear you felt just before the new you stepped into the room with your friends, so too I am a little afraid of how my voice will be received.

    But
    ““Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss”

    Thanks,
    Dan

  11. lori says:

    Thanks for this. it was truly inspiring.

  12. Jeshmal4u says:

    I am in a starting stage of blogging(with 5 months experience ).. This story gives me confidence.. somebody criticized me on my posts.. now i considering it as uniqueness friend…

  13. Here’s another problem with not being yourself: It’s exhausting!

    I spent a lot of time when I began my copywriting career trying to figure out “how” I should sound, or who I should sound like. Writing became a tiresome burden for my as I tried to emulate some sound or tone I’d read somewhere. True, I did learn a lot from the process, just as the great composers used to learn from hand-copying their mentors’ manuscripts. But it was only when sheer fatigue forced me to chuck that attitude and just write in my own voice that I discovered what that voice was. And then writing got easier.

    Not easy, but easier.

  14. Paul Sabaj says:

    I love the story. It seems like your trip allowed you to find the things
    about yourself and develop your style. I was fortunate to have a career as a firefighter that gave me a lot of time off to travel. I think that a two week trip every year to re-evaluate where your at is a great way to start a year off. There’s a lot to be learned from trips and I hope to bump into you and the others on the road or a seminar,

  15. Paul says:

    This was a very nice post. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with us.

    http://foryouredification.wordpress.com/

  16. When did you take eyeglasses?

  17. I was very…. normal…. a very average guy
    and now, i am still a very normal, and a more than average guy

  18. Eric says:

    I like this as it’s what it takes to really stand out from any crowd be it blogging or in person and such.

    Just be you. That’s the hardest job you’ll ever have as well as the easiest because people would rather copy one another and yet still stand out from the crowd at the same time.

    I also didn’t know you had a personal blog… Cool!

  19. AdventureRob says:

    Wow, this is ringing bells with me this. I’ve just completed a drive across Australia too and learning a lot about myself doing all this travelling. Being unique and myself is something I’m not afraid of anymore either, as it turns out it’s a lot better this way. In fact this is pretty much what my blog is about.

    Oh and it’s got a name now: it’s called a quarter life crisis. Usually as a result of realising life isn’t meeting expectations and you still got a good 60-70 years left of it :-) So changes happen in the early 20s.

  20. Sometimes I think the only way you find your voice is by trying to copy others and finding out what doesn’t work for you, as long as you can recognise that and not feel like a failure that can be a good thing.

  21. mk akan says:

    Quite a touchy and revealing story…its sometimes hard not to be yourself when you have mentors and people you look up too.but at the end ,we cannot be better than our mentors in what they do.its better to be john than to be another Micheal Jackson.because we cannot be Micheal Jackson than Micheal.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  22. First, it was neat to see those photos. We all can relate to you today as the successful guy you are. I really got into the “be yourself” stuff, when I realized that you were just like me, once. You’ve made yourself into what you are today by improving your strengths and not dwelling too long on your weaknesses. However, I think you did it by realizing who you are and staying that person, instead of trying to hook onto someone elses style. That quote from Dr, Suess nailed it for me.

  23. Jon Tremain says:

    Darren,

    I admire your decision to shave your head. I’m going bald and clinging to the picture of what I used to look like. It’s a form of denial. I use excuses like my face is too fat to shave my head, or I’ll never get another girl to look at me. I’m in denial about a lot of things, including who I am as a writer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your personal stuff. I makes me stop and think “who cares what someone else thinks about how I look”. It’s what’s inside that counts, and I need to let some things go and be myself.

  24. Darren,

    I agree with everyone else here.

    This is quite inspiring because it’s something quite difficult to know how to make your mark and there is a lot of information and it doesn’t become too much at times.

    I really appreciate this honesty and this call to uniqueness.

    Krizia

  25. Herman says:

    Darren, That was very good ! It was cool to see some early photos of you, and to imagine you as a follower, instead of the Leader you have always been to me !
    The Road Trip awakening of your true self is a very profound thing, but probably a universal experience for young men trying to learn and become who they are meant to be.
    I’ll bet this time in life was also when your interest in religion and the ministry began as well ?
    Thanks for another great read, herm

  26. I think both lessons as you have given here are important to take on mind seriously as these lessons can change your life too. Blogginig nowadays is really very good part to know and to do for earning good money. I have noted some lessons and hope they will be useful for me.

  27. Shirley says:

    You’re right, Darren, imitation is something which should be avoided in blogging because this prevents your voice from being heard in the noisy crowd.

  28. Mariz says:

    What a very insightful post! I really enjoyed reading it and got reminded about how important it is to remain true to one’s self – be it in blogging or in every facet of life. Thanks for sharing this.

  29. Nice shots…haha, you guys are so funny…South Australian…Nice Place…Thanks for sharing.

  30. Andy Gibb says:

    Love the story. Almost Landmark-like . Know about them?

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