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Lessons about Blogging from a 90’s Road Trip

Posted By Darren Rowse 22nd of January 2010 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

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.
Comments
  1. Really good post Darren, personal, but I like the link to blogging! Its very true and as a new blogger I see the importance of being yourself and not trying to imitate other bloggers. As much as I want everyone reading my blog, if people dont like what I write, they dont have to read it.
    http://www.studentspayless.com

  2. Darren you look really handsome in that one!! This was a beautiful post, I liked the way you wrote it more than the content.

    http://www.dumblittleblogger.com/

  3. Wow Darren, what a wonderful story.

    It’s nice to hear the story behind the blogger every once in a while, I feel like I know you a lot better now (which is strange, because you probably don’t know me at all).

    Try something for your own, do things how you want to do it. The best advice I could get. In my studying, in my blogging, I think I can do a lot more ‘as I want it’.

    Thanks

  4. Truly great and inspirational post. It’s different from all the other type of articles.

    I have found out the same after a year of blogging. At the beginning you imitate everyone but then after a while you get start to change your blog and create a personality for your blog and yourself as a blogger.

    Thanks for this awesome article!

  5. Before I fire up my hair clippers I wanted to say that I enjoyed the story and it’s always good to look back and reflect where we came from and look for new ways to change :)
    thanks

  6. Great story, Darren. And a bit timely with how I’ve been feeling with my main blog, Blogger Dad.

    On one hand, I am authentic, everything on there is me. On the other hand, it’s a sanitized version of me. I don’t curse, I don’t always say what’s REALLY on my mind, I avoid anything even close to political, and for the most part, the blog is a SAFE blog. It’s something that could run in any newspaper as a column.

    On the other hand, there is the other side of me, who curses – a lot, who speaks my mind more often and is less afraid at upsetting the apple cart, and who is a bit more cynical than the blog me. I’ve wanted to let a bit more of that darker me out, but worry that a) I’ll offend my core audience and b) I could damage business possibilities.

    On the flip side, there is part of me which wonders if my blog is too vanilla because I am holding back.

    I’m still not sure what to do. Both sides are equally me. I’m just as much the nice guy as I am on the blog. I’m just unsure how much of the whole me to put out there.
    I’m still undecided. But thank you for giving me some more food for thought.

    I look forward to reading more about the trip.

  7. A very feel-good story and an excellent example of being ‘real’. Wonderful read, and thank you for it.

    Sorry about the sideburns ;)

  8. Really hit home on this one, I think. I have been struggling myself with all these tips bloggers give out that just overwhelm me sometimes. somehow i just keep coming back to problogger always feel like I find the best advice here. With this post I believe I can bring my own colombian accent voice to my blog and really start pumping out some uniqueness out of me. Thanks darren again for the great advice OH yea and the pics love going back to those funny haircuts and clothes back in the day lol…

  9. I started clipping my hair VERY short about a decade ago. Very liberating :) It really surprised some people at first.

    My first set of clippers – which cost $20 – finally died recently.

  10. That’s a really nice story Darren.
    I often get paralyzed by analysis too. But the only way to get over it is to start writing. Just start writing.

    Regards,
    My Business Listings,
    http://mybusinesslistings.blogspot.com/

  11. that’s inspirating,
    be “myself” is the best move

    but, does it give something useful if we tried to be someone for a while even in the end we became what we used to be ?

  12. Fabulous post Darren. I really enjoyed this one and I totally identify with the hair thing!

    When I met my wife I showed her photos of me with hair, and she told me she’d never have married me if she’d known!

  13. Nice outfit.. haha, that’s a very long post you have there Darren and very interesting and inspiring.. hope to come up with my life’s story too and post it on my blog also :)

  14. That’s a fantastic, and pretty inspiring story!

    And you look way better without hair I think.

    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. Well, I think so anyway!

  15. Hey Darren–Your posts are always amazing, but this one blew me away! I, too, spent my entire life (well, up ’til I was about 18 anyhow) following what everyone else did. I never had my own opinion before, it was always, “Well what do you think?” and “Yep, I agree.”

    I spent my whole adolescence dressing like everyone else, talking like everyone else, behaving like everyone else. I didn’t have any idea who “Jennifer” was because I never allowed myself to be Jennifer.

    In high school, I would avoid joining clubs and organizations I was interested in just because I didn’t want people to judge me for the hobbies I had or the things I was interested in.

    I even used to lie to people about being a writer because I didn’t want them to make fun of me. I remember a moment in my senior year English class where my teacher was handing out awards and I won the “Most Poetic” award. I remember be so embarrassed that everyone in my class found out I was a writer. I actually hung my head in shame as I walked up to receive the award.

    It wasn’t until I got accepted into my first-choice college that things began to change for me. I looked around and realized the people I’d been hanging out with were going nowhere and were probably holding me back. I started to look for new people to hang out with; people who were willing to be themselves, even if no one liked it.

    I then looked back on my life and realized I’d been made to conform at such an early age, it’s no wonder I was living my life the way I had been. I remember my third grade teacher would remove the pencil from my hand and tell me I was holding it wrong and fix my fingers so I was holding it her way. I think that’s the beginning of me trying to be like everyone else. Because when I stood out, people noticed me and gave me attention; at the time I didn’t like it.

    Now I know that I could never be anyone, but me. It’s a daily struggle and fight to be who you are in a society that conforms and that has beliefs that are different than mine. But I know for a fact that when I look back on my life now, I’m going to be happy knowing that I lived my life for myself and not for anyone else.

    I ran into a quote the other day that I think sums it up perfectly: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”–Oscar Wilde

  16. I enjoy reading stories like this as they are inspiring to me as a reader.

    I think I’m no good at trying to emulate others so I naturally be myself and I hope that it does show in my blog. I really enjoy the ability to connect with others using my blog as the connecting point/medium in which to do it.

  17. I’ve never commented before, but this is a seriously fantastic post. So eye-opening to where I currently am with my blog. I think I’m in the middle of a similar “mid-life” crisis and the application of lessons from your road-trip has been oh-so-helpful. Thanks a million.

  18. The great thing about being “old” is having boatloads of stories, most of which I’ve forgotten. But now that I think of it, I do have many road trip stories. A gold mine forgotten, now remembered.

  19. Very inspiring story. Thanks for sharing!

    Darren, you know what finally tipped the scale and led to your realization and subsequent paradigm shift?

  20. inpirating story, as well as a beginner tentung much to learn from the senior bloggers but not copying the article but how they preferred article.

  21. The great thing about being “old” is having boatloads of stories, most of which I’ve forgotten. But now that I think of it, I do have many road trip stories. A gold mine forgotten, now remembered.

  22. I love this post!

    Back in the 1950s, my father and some friends decided to drive from the UK to Pakistan – you could do that kind of crazy shit then – in a Land Rover. He, too, agreed not to shave until the journey was completed. We still have the 9mm cinefilm of him shaving his beard when he got back to London.

    Your tale reminds me of him telling me that incredible story.

  23. Amazing story! I can relate to it since my first road trip in the US has been one of the most awakening experience of my entire life.

    Darren, you are absolutely right:If one wants a great life, then one must not follow other people, because regular people are… regular people.

  24. Hi Darren… I’ve been following you for some time and I’m really glad you put this post up… My first buzz cut started when I joined the USMC when I was 17… I’m 31, 10 years out and still buzzed, I can only imagine the amount of money I’ve saved on shampoo and haircuts…

    I think every guy needs a road trip like the one you took… Mine was for 3 weeks on a crotch rocket by myself across the US when I was 19 and on leave. I learned a lot about myself on that trip as you did on yours.

    On that trip I had a theme song Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party”… The song’s verse is “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself…” I’ve applied that theme to every part of my life including my blogs… So far it’s never let me down…

  25. What a great story! A good example of pushing yourself way out of your comfort zone and finding who you really were.

  26. Very cool post Darren. I love the fact that you used your own life experiences to emphasize the importance of authenticity. I read people’s blogs because of their story more than anything else. Glad to hear about the personal side of the guy behind problogger.

  27. VERY inspiring. I wish I could have read something like this early in my career. I think most people are taught to be average and somehow expect above average results.

    Hilarious part? I saw the pre-shave picture and thought I was reading a guest post.

    Standing out is definitely the way to get ahead. Nobody wants to pay a premium for bland results.

    I’ve caught myself not writing enough because I somehow think that my work needs to match some imaginary standard. I don’t read much that fits “the standard” so I don’t plan to write to a generic standard any more!

    Thanks for your story.

  28. I love this story!

    It might sound like a cliché, but it’s also a fact that a road trip has helped many of us find ourselves, or at least our voices.

    People do look at you differently after a road trip. Think of how many people don’t have the courage or won’t ever make the time to have a big, or even a smaller, adventure. And be glad that you weren’t one of those people.

  29. Trips like that can be very life changing. I had a 6 month trip travelling oz, nz, thailand with my Now wife about 5 years back. It certainly motivates and reminds you what you work so hard.

    Great post, thanks, brought back a few memories.

  30. Darren,

    This was just what I needed today! I’m going thru a re-design, to make my site more ME and have been receiving a lot of critique (I did ask for it!) along the way. Last night I decided it didn’t matter what other people thought, so long as it was ME and made me feel confident. Reading your post was that final nail that I needed.

    Thank you!!

    I’m more excited than ever to launch my new design this weekend!!

  31. I find the first 6 months of my archives painful, but I did learn an awful lot about blogging.

  32. Thank you. This post was very inspiring.

    “Blogging also became a lot more personally satisfying when I was blogging as me and not trying to be something that I was not” – I can feel you, I have similiar experiences. If you want to run a succesful blog you must be yourself and don’t care about other people’s opinion. Marcus Aurelius said something about this: “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own”.

  33. Excellent use of taking such a personal story and turning it into something practical for the readers. The story will always be the best vehcle for getting an audience to remember the point you are trying to make.

    As we all move deeper into the blogosphere, with more and more competition, the ability to make your work personal with your own stamp and your own offerings is going to be more important than ever before.

    It’s getting crowded out there, but everyone has their own voice.

    -Joshua Black

  34. Your post is so relevant not just to blogging. As a visual artist still trying to find my style, I find myself trying to shed the ‘rules’ and ‘lessons’ I learned with formal art training (fitting in per se) so that I can be myself artistically.

    But I also know you have to know the rules before you can break them. So I learn all I can from other artists and bloggers but be as authentically me as I can when I blog and make art.

    Very inspiring! And you haven’t aged a bit!

  35. How cool! I think all your readers are happy to hear more about the personal side of you :) And, totally related it to blogging, too. I LOVE the retro photos! As if we all didn’t already feel like we know you, we really do now!

  36. You learned at a young age what has taken some of us years to understand. That there is really no one else like you and that is exactly how it should be. Bless you for you insight, and bless you for sharing you with us.

  37. In real life I am actually quite unique and original. Really.

    Most of my friends and colleagues (with the few exceptions similar to me) like to party all night, chase girls/boys, get drunk…

    I rarely do it. Almost never. I actually never got drunk. I am not some kind of a rebellious type of person, I just don’t like it, and I don’t do it – period.

    I am a computer addict. I love playing computer games. I can spend hours and hours. But at the same time, I MUST go to gym at least once a week (when the schedule is too busy) and stay in a good shape. Most of my friends who are also gaming addicts don’t do any kind of exercise.

    However, don’t get the wrong impression! I am one of the main jokers and mood creators wherever I go. I am not affraid to cause a laughter in front of the 100+ people audience plus professor on University. Even professors that don’t like when students express themselves in that way. I don’t really care, I don’t need to be liked by them (however, most of them already started to be fond of me)

    The fact that I WANT to make significant money online sets me in approximately 1-2% of people in my country who have similar goals. Probably not even that much. I am under huge pressure of everyone I know. My mother even told me that I am mentally sick.
    It’s because my country (Croatia) is still far behind USA, UK and Australia, countries where people are more aware of the opportunities that come with new technologies and inventions.
    —————

    I can go on like this whole day

    The problem is that somehow I can’t transfer my “aura” to my blogs. It’s true that I still use free blogger platform and domain, and the part of the problem probably lies there too but even if I had my own hosted blog and domain, that problem would still remain.

    I guess I just have to realize that last “thing” when I set up everything else (niche, domain, hosting, design etc.)

    Anyway, quite an inspirational story, Darren

  38. Great post. Don’t be like everyone else. Be yourself.

  39. John Christensen says: 01/22/2010 at 10:34 am

    Great post, Darren. There are few things more powerful or eloquent than someone speaking openly and honestly. And being authentic is not as easy as it sounds. A friend reminded me recently that sharing with other people is not about teaching (my tendency), but rather simply about sharing your experience. Let the reader/listener come to his/her own conclusions.

  40. Really inspirational post! It seems that show our own voice is the golden rule in blogging. We will never reach the top if we still imitate other blogger voice.

  41. Funny that Darren, but I think you still look kinda average!

  42. I enjoyed this; thanks for posting. I think the best way to develop your personal brand is to allow your personality to shine through in your writing, as you did in this example.

    When the things that make you unique and interesting in person come across in your blog, it suddenly changes from an academic read to an interchange of ideas (and sometimes emotions). Win/Win for Readers & Author.

  43. That is awesome Darren!

    I had a discussion just the other day with my mate and was talking about packing up my little Suzuki Swift and just start driving west somewhere for a few days and see what happens. (I live in Brisbane)

    I’ve been stuck behind a computer my whole life really. While I enjoy it and I’m very comfortable with it, it would be great to do something a ridiculous and random and just GO. The computer will always be here, but if I’m always ‘here’ then I’m never ‘over there’.

    I think partly the reason why I quit my job was because I wanted to do something different, a bit risky and exciting. 9-5 isn’t for me and quitting my job was part of ‘finding myself’ as you described.

    If my mate and I go on a trip there’s probably a good chance my Suzuki will break down, but that’s part of the fun. Also not picking a certain destination to go to is part of the fun too. Just drive, music pumped up, air blowing in your face. We’re going, and I’m sure it’ll be a bit of a life changing experience!

    The trick I think is finding something and sticking to it, with your own unique gel. With blogging if you’re just starting out you’ll probably start a half dozen or so blogs, they won’t all work out, but if you keep working at it and finding who you are in the blogging world one of those blogs will pull through and you’ll be onto something amazing like what you’ve done here Darren.

    Thanks for sharing your personal story. Reminded me of the possible trip and has got me excited ;)

    Sarge | BeginnerBlogger.com

  44. Hi Darren,

    Thanks for posting this. It’s always encouraging to hear about other bloggers’ trial and errors. It gives the rest of us plebs a little hope that even though we probably really suck (and our mothers are the only people who will ever truly love and understand us), there is in fact hope if we keep at it and keep testing, trying new things and evolving.

    On a side note, the 90s – what a wonderfully tragic and tasteless era – all I remember of it is the colour mustard and limp microwave vegies.

  45. I enjoyed the flashback to the 90s, where glasses were goggles and hair was big. :)

  46. I think the most important advice you provided was finding yourself and your own niche. I know to most this can be quite a challenge, but like yourself, once you overcome this obstacle, what incredible rewards lie ahead. Thank you for the great story.

  47. Wow. Inspirational post. I do try and be myself in my blog, and when I started I tried being myself, and did relatively well, then was forced to restart and decided to be more conventional. So far “being conventional” has got me nowhere, so I am returning to my old ways. And I loved the Billie Holiday quote.

  48. …I’ll sing to that!

  49. Now, this is one of the few posts on problogger that I really want link to, on my blog.
    I don’t know why, I feel this is my story.
    Yours was in 90s Mine was in 2000s. [No, thats no a gap of 1910 years :)]

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