I was pondering what to cover on the 1000th post on this blog. Rachel Happe responded to my query with an excellent suggestion of a topic:
So here goes a wandering meditation on what I’ve learned on a multi-year journey of blogging.
First, a little history. I began blogging about 4 years before I published my first external blog post. When I worked for a large financial services organisation, I convinced one of the admins of the new SharePoint site to turn on a blog site for me. My goal was to blog every day about something I had experienced or learned in the day.
At the time, it was the only one in the organisation and there were a few risks in putting my voice forward which I mitigated by keeping the audience small at first. That blog was soon magnified by the network reach of a growing Yammer network. Quickly, other executives, usually far more senior, started their own blogging.
I created my first external blog on the predecessor of this site on Tumblr (seemed like a good idea at the time) a year before I left that organisation, which is around 6 years ago now. Three years of practice internally had helped me refine my approach and I wanted to share more externally, not just to the closed community of an organisation. About 3 years ago, I migrated all those posts to this site on WordPress and have continued to post consistently since, still trying to post daily much of that time.
Discovering my Voice
The first lesson of this experience was discovering that I had my own unique voice. I also learned that I should embrace my own way of writing, focuses and messages as a strength. Success came when I said my thing, not when I tried to ape others.
When I started blogging, I read many ‘how to blog successfully’ articles. I experimented with the advice, but my own voice prevailed. Ultimately, I rejected much of their advice. I found I couldn’t blog on only one topic. I couldn’t use SEO keywords. I couldn’t tie my posts to current events consistently. All those suggestions are great if you want your blog to be like others. I wanted to say my piece.
When I started blogging, I was trying to replicate some of the posts of those I admired. People like Stowe Boyd, Lois Kelly, Harold Jarche, Euan Semple, Jen Frahm, Seth Godin, Esko Kilpi, Catherine Shinners and Susan Scrupski were role models for me. However, if you look at the work of those remarkable bloggers you soon realise that I couldn’t copy them. The world doesn’t need clones. It needs diversity. I needed to speak in my own way and do my own thing. When I stopped copying and started being me, I enjoyed it more and the engagement lifted.
Discovering my Purpose
When I began blogging consistently I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career. Exploring my ideas and passions on the blog became a way for me to discover and refine my purpose.
Discussing ideas on the blog, led others to raise questions and make suggestions. Purpose doesn’t exist for you alone. Purpose is about the impact you have on others and the change you enable. Expressing my purpose and putting it into action in that way helped me to refine it through the work.
Putting my Intent in the World
Putting my intent into the world through the blog and through the social engagement that it fostered solved what I wanted to do next. When I saw my perspectives and ideas were unique, could add value and be valued by others, it helped me to develop the confidence to build a consulting practice.
The reputation fostered by putting this intent forward has led to work and speaking opportunities that helped reinforce my purpose and give me the chance to practice. The consistent practice of blogging has also been a way to refine and learn in that work.
Connecting with Communities
Blogging has been a path to meet others who share my purpose and to exchange ideas with them. My practice on the blog led to a wide engagement with the Yammer Customer Network, meeting the Change Agents Worldwide community, becoming a leader of Working Out Loud week, joining the Yammer MVP community, engaging more deeply with Learning practitioners around the world, working with healthcare communities, joining the Responsive Org community and many more.
Blogposts became the topics of discussions on twitter chats and forums around the world that led back to new interactions and relationships that enhanced my practice and my networks. Not all of those interactions were situations where people thought my posts were right, but I have been lucky to largely avoid the ire of others for what I have said.
Reflecting, Learning and New Practice
In a busy world, time to reflect on what we do is a gift. Communities to share that reflection process are a blessing. Learning new ways of working and being able to share new ways of practising that work are the benefits.
Over 1000 posts, I have learned a lot about myself, my work, my relationships and my world. Some of the biggest and most personal learnings don’t show in words on this blog. They were side benefits of the work. Others are here but the personal learning has been spun into its organisation context and buried back into a richer and more human approach to the work I do.
This blog has a small audience. There are probably more posts, than consistent readers. It is not a numbers game. I won’t win any awards. There are many posts with only a handful of readers. I once found a post that only I had read. I blog mostly for myself. Many of my posts are a process of working out new actions or exhorting myself to improve my practice. Put that intent out there and it helps you to deliver against it.
A System for Daily Practice
To even go close to write a post every day, I had to build a system to enable that to happen. That system was built around a few key elements:
- the habit of writing: I sit down most days with my first cup of coffee and I write. The coffee is the trigger and when I was a consultant and not every day was booked blogging was my trigger to start work. That’s how I start my day and my goal is to publish a post at the end of each writing session
- working out loud: to publish in one session you can’t be a perfectionist. You have to embrace that the post is a part of a journey, not the end point. It also allows for you to revisit or develop posts later in further blogposts.
- a format of a post: to publish in one session you need to have a simple idea, developed, supported and expressed concisely usually in around 500 words. Larger ideas are broken down into their components and played out over a number of days. I’m not always the best editor of my own work but this length allows time for a few read throughs and amendments before publishing.
- a pipeline of ideas: I take notes continuously on paper and online. I’ve always compiled long lists of ideas for candidates for blogs, even if it is just a title that I save in WordPress as a draft post. When I am stuck, I work through that list, edit an abandoned draft or use some of those ideas as inspiration for a new topic.
- looking for connections: I accumulate connections that enhance the pipeline of ideas. When you have a post in the pipeline, you inevitably see other materials that are relevant and can be related. The connections are there, but we often don’t go looking.
- inspiration: Picasso is reported to have said ‘inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’. I agree. The practice of writing daily made it easy for inspiration (or even suggestions) to find me.
I am much more attentive to the world around me, because I write consistently. I know I need to feed the pipeline of ideas, to research connections and to have material to share. When I see interesting work, I follow and I engage with those people because it helps me to learn.
Attention only happens with focus. The topics that this blog addressed helped me to focus on a narrower range of areas that I want to learn and to write. My reading and conversation tastes are eclectic, but focus helps me to find relevant gems in even widely divergent domains,
In an era where we are easily distracted, focus and attention is a gift. It is also the only way to get things done.
Writing is a humbling task. There are no perfect words and no perfect ideas. No matter how long or how well you do it, the next page starts blank. You can learn some tricks of writing, a pretty vocabulary and some flowery grammar, but you have to do the work.
The post of which you are most proud will be ignored. The post that was a late night rant of frustration will strike a chord with others. The perfect idea will seem stupid the next day. The post that took weeks will never be published because it never resolves the right way. There will always be spelling and grammatical errors. Jokes will be misunderstood. You will hate editing your own work. Whatever happens the next day you get up and write again.
Writing is a perpetual reminder that life is a process of mastery. We make each effort better than the last. We build on what we do and we learn and we do again. A little humility helps.
Writing a lot helps bring clarity. It helps you to express ideas in simple jargon-free language (mostly). It exposes when your own ideas, your expression, or your own goals are muddy.
With the tools available to us, it is easier than ever to write a lot and say nothing. That is particularly the case when all you do is paraphrase others. Clarity of the value that you add and how your view is different is important. Sometimes people are craving a clear stand. Be brave enough to be wrong.
The ability to clearly express and simplify an idea in a single sentence so that you can share it with others is the greatest challenge. I know I have made a difference when someone finds that sentence and highlights it.
I am the beneficiary of much privilege. You can see the privilege in the assumption that anyone wanted to read my writing when I started.
The process of blogging and engaging with wider communities has helped me to understand that others don’t start from the same place or get the support that I got to write. I am now far more aware that my experience is not universal and that others need help to share their voice, to benefit from and to feel safe doing so. I can’t be aware of that and be neutral, so I see that as something I want to address in my ongoing work. If work is to be more human, then everyone needs to feel able to realise their human potential.