Like most twenty-something’s nearing the end of their college careers, I thought for a long time that I would use my English degree to go the corporate route, working for a publishing company, maybe, or writing for an editorial. As my time at university started winding down, however, I felt more and more hard-pressed to take a little hobby I had become incredibly fond of and attempt to turn it into a full-fledged business. I wanted to be a blogger. More than that, though, I wanted to see if the shared love my boyfriend, Porter, and I had for photography, minimalist style & travel could help us connect with people, positively impact the social media sphere, and simultaneously create the kind of freedom we both felt our lives could never really be our own without. Fast-forward one year, and here we are: @recesscity has grown a solid following, we’ve had the opportunity to work with handfuls of brands & hotels, and, when held at a distance, my first year as a blogger appeared to be a success. There was just been one problem, we didn’t feel successful. The fulfillment we set out to find through sharing our photography on social media quickly spun out into feeling more like promoting consumerism than establishing an identity reflective of the art form we both love.
Over this past year, we continuously stumbled onto things like Garret Gee of @thebucketlistfamily’s motivational speeches on YouTube (they’re downright inspirational) and photos from nomadic travel accounts like @courtneyadamo (adopt me?) & @doyoutravel. These became the silent encouragers toward a blogging pivot we both separately but resolutely determined had to happen if we were to take back what we had originally wanted, but had somehow let slip through our fingers in wake of the pressure to achieve more “corporate” goals. So, one night over a game of Bananagrams, Port & I were having what had become a routine conversation about how great it would be to just pack up our bags & travel the world, working with a pocketful of ethical brands & hotels whose mission and design we really believed in, and sharing the kind of vintage-esque photography we love to create. Only this time it wasn’t just a conversation. It was a plan. And the very next day, that plan led to action. And so, this coming September, we’re leaving Boston behind and heading off to Italy to begin an indefinite travel arrangement, working alongside boutique brands and hotels whose aesthetic and ethical standards we not only adore, but believe in promoting the values of, but not before we have the chance to share some of the wisdom we’ve gained these past eleven months:
- There are no hard and fast rules to this industry.
When I first started toying with the idea of pursuing being a lifestyle blogger, I remember heading onto Google to try to find some solid numbers on what big bloggers were making, how they were making it, and how long it took them to start making it. A lot of sites claim to have inside scoops, and maybe some even do, but in my experience it’s best to treat the whole influencer industry as you would an infant: it doesn’t really understand its own value yet, or where it fits exactly, so its generally going to be pretty fussy. Almost every brand we’ve worked with has had an entirely different set of criteria, found our rates reasonable, laughable, or negotiable, and seemed as though they’re saying what they think sounds right, rather than what they know to be true. This makes total sense considering influencer marketing is truly an infant. Know where you stand, but expect to hear wails from time to time. If you’ve valued your blog properly, most brands will be willing to compensate you accordingly.
- Having more isn’t always having more. (encouraging consumerism isn’t always rewarding.)
Ever notice how your absolute favorite dessert starts to seem not so great by the third or fourth helping? Turns out, the same rule applies when it comes to blog “freebies”. While your first one to three free coats seem simultaneously legitimizing and exciting, by the sixth what once felt exhilarating suddenly seems draining. When I first started receiving emails from brands wanting to collaborate, I was stoked. Admittedly, I didn’t spend a ton of time researching the backgrounds of these early brands, or asking myself if they aligned with my long-term blog goals. That sent me down the path of branded posts that felt, to me, unfulfilling, and even sometimes forced. I started to see my overstuffed closet as tangible evidence that I wasn’t creating the unique & singular brand I originally wanted my blog to be. I was losing myself on the slippery slope of sacrificing my blog’s identity in the hopes for exposure through brand collaborations I wasn’t passionate about. Even if you’re being well compensated, don’t work with anyone out of fear that passing up will somehow slam shut that already small window of opportunity to “make it.” Stick to your guns. Know who you want to be, and make every collaboration an echo of the statement you want to make. Better to run a small blog you find fulfilling than a massive one that leaves you feeling empty.
- It’s a roller coaster.
I think anyone running their own business can relate to the highs and lows of being your own boss. You get to reap the full benefits of each success, but on the flipside, if you fail, it’s totally on you. What’s worse, you can pour all your energy into ventures your hopeful about only to see them flop. Learn to go with it. Let the lows pull you back only far enough to spring you forward (slingshot style). After all, encouraging words are nowhere near as motivating as feeling like you have something to prove. Bad days are a blessing.
- Create an identity your passionate about & that you find personally fulfilling.
This is where I feel we most dropped the ball in our first year as bloggers. Did we establish an identity? Sure. Did our audience know the kind of photographic style to expect from us? Definitely. But it turned out that creating art and putting it out into the social sphere, for us at least, wasn’t personally fulfilling. Personally, that word is incredibly important. We believe every person is called to a different purpose and because of that every person defines their own success a little bit differently. Right when my blogging started to pick up a more serious audience, I noticed a nagging feeling that just wouldn’t go away. Like I was missing something. And I was. Sometimes you can stand right in the center of someone else’s definition of success, and find that your own is, unfortunately, miles away. This was definitely the case for me. While style bloggers come in all shapes & sizes, the “biggies,” so to speak, the twenty-somethings who’ve made careers out of this industry and have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of followers follow a pretty predictable pattern of success. When we finally sat down and wrote out the channel markers of that success, the reason for that “nagging feeling” became all too clear. To put it simply, our definitions were different. Very different.
Here’s some things you can expect in the calendar of a 2017 big shot style blogger: front seats to runway shows at fashion weeks across the globe, collaboration deals with luxury designers, an endless stream of outfits shared on social media to continuously wow their audience and instigate purchases. Of course, a whole lot of bloggers involved in those activities also do a lot of good in the world, and I don’t mean to snuff out all that success as superficial, they’re artists in their own right, and deserve the respect that calling earns. But looking at that list of “business activities” I just wasn’t interested. It didn’t pull us & it certainly didn’t light a fire under us to give this blogging thing everything we had. But fortunately, something else did.
When you wear an item of clothing you’re wearing the realization of someone else’s dreams. That’s a powerful notion, particularly when you become a liaison for promoting that dream. You have to start thinking about whose dream you want to play a part in helping to fulfill, and whose you don’t. Once we looked at social media this way, at the interconnectedness of bloggers and the brands they choose to work with, things clicked pretty quickly. In order for travel and style to matter at the degree we felt it needed to in order to try and make this our life’s work, we needed to be fully invested in the dreams of every brand, hotel, airline, or what have you we signed on with. In order to be fully invested, we decided we wanted to work only with companies backed by the kind of values and creative energy & integrity we could fully get on board with. That approach to blogging collaborations would be enough to not only sustain the level of fulfillment we were after, but grant us access to the “making the world a better place” mantra I believe some part of every person wants in on. In short, this swerve would allow us to make a positive mark on the style & travel industry we were proud of, passionate about, and ready to commit our lives to. Finally, we’d found an approach that deeply resonated with our personal definition of success.
- At some point, you have to take a leap of faith.
You know how, as a kid, it gets harder and harder to jump the longer you’re standing at the edge of a tall dock? The stakes don’t change, the options are the same, but the lingering causes an anxiety increase that’s nearly unbearable. I hate that feeling. Always have. I also happen to have grown up around a lot of high docks. So, I learned young that if I wanted to jump, I was going to. That simple. It turns out life isn’t all that different from a dock edge. A lot of people will talk about the leap, even more will hang out right beside it, but the majority would rather watch from the sidelines than take part. The sidelines are where the anxiety is, where the lingering is, and where there’s no end in sight to those feelings. Jump. It could go poorly, but better to take a risk and learn from your mistakes than wondering for the rest of your life what would’ve happened if you’d let your feet leave the ground.
Our trip around the world could be the best decision we’ve ever made, or quite possibly the worst. We could run out of money, drive each other crazy, or figure out we aren’t so great at this blogging thing after all. But how great is it that every “could” in life can be resolved? The world might be conditional, but all the conditions rely on you. We don’t have to wonder what might happen if we chase our dreams. We can try & know for sure. And for us, no matter what happens, true success lays right there: in trying and knowing.
Author: Anna Lisa
Author Bio: Anna Lisa runs the ethical style & travel Instagram and blog, @recesscity. After a year of blogging, she and her boyfriend, Porter, decided to change their approach to have a more positive impact on the social media sphere. Together, they’re preparing to travel the world indefinitely, working exclusively with ethically driven brands and sharing their day-to-day lives through the photography they’ve become known for.
Link to social media or website: https://www.instagram.com/