26 Nov 2008

Forget Everything You Ever Learned in High School

I stumbled across an interesting read while going through my feed reader this afternoon. Over at Copyblogger, Jim Lodico says Everything I Need To Know About Blogging I Learned In High School. Funny, because I think for me it was the complete opposite. I’ve come to find that in order to be a (mildly) successful blogger I’ve needed to forget all those “really important lessons” that were drilled into me in high school.

I didn’t learn the FATP system in high school like Jim did. I learned other stuff, the stuff that high school is made of. Here are some of the valuable lessons I picked up during my days wearing a wool skirt and blazer at a Catholic prep school.

Find the Cool Kids; Then Hang Out With Them

I was a 10th grade transfer student plucked from the comfort of mediocrity and dropped into a neurotically over-competitive world of academia. It was like a scene out of Gossip Girl. Only there was more wool. And on some days the skirts were longer.  Like all high school kids, I quickly learned that my survival would 100 percent depend on my finding a group and assimilating myself into it as seamlessly as possible. I didn’t necessarily have to hang with the coolest of the cool, but I did need to find some semblance of a support group. I needed to end “the new kid” phase as quickly as possible. This was critical to high school success. Thanks to my smartz and ability to run really fast, this wasn’t too difficult of a task.

However, hanging with the cool kids is a recipe for disaster when you’re a blogger. If all you do is stay with “people like you” and talk about who’s sitting at the In table, you’re bound for failure. If you don’t reach beyond your current group, read other bloggers, promote other bloggers and talk about other things €“ you’re going to get stuck in the circle jerk providing no actual value to anyone. It’s hard to look at ideas with fresh eyes when all you do is read about SEO from SEOs written on SEO blogs.

Blend In

High school is all about blending in with whatever group was nice enough to adopt you. If you’re part of the Meatheads, that means you must wear your letter jacket in 90 degree heat regardless of how ridiculous it makes you look. If you’re a Socialite, you must pretend to be 20 IQ points dumber than you are (assuming you’re €˜pretending’) and if you’re a Brain, you must openly covet Mr. Roger’s sweater collection. You want to look, act, speak and carry on like every other person in your group. This is how others will identify you. Its how people will know to whom you belong and to leave you alone (or NOT to leave you alone). In high school, blending in is your protective gear.

In blogging, blending in makes you suck. Blending in makes you forgettable, boring, predictable and someone no one wants to associate with. Good bloggers stand out. But they do it naturally. They don’t force it. There are lots of posts telling you that in order to be successful in blogging you have to be controversial or edgy or snarky, but that’s really not true. To be successful in blogging you have to be yourself, and if you’re brave enough to do that, you’ll stand out exactly like you’re supposed to. Because there’s not too many people on the Internet (or IRL) who are comfortable doing that. It’s why we’re all in therapy.

There’s No I In Team

High school is about team work. It has to be or most kids wouldn’t survive. You work together on group projects, there are team sports where the team can win a trophy, and you’re dressed up in silly uniforms together. For all the drama and infighting, high school is about surviving together. When you graduate, you don’t do it alone, you do it with a couple hundred (or thousand) people standing right beside you.

When you blog, it’s about you. Even if you’re writing for a team blog, it’s about your relationship with the reader. It’s about the emotion that you evoke. The attention you demand. It’s you being thrust into the spotlight to deliver. You have to break out of that team mentality. The one that says if you fail, someone else will be around to pick up the slack or hold your hair back, because they won’t. If you don’t deliver, your audience will abandon you.  This is the real world. This isn’t no college internship.

Make Friends With Your Classmates

In high school you’re encouraged to get along with those around you. You’re not supposed to start fights. You’re supposed to be nice and encouraging of your classmates. You’re supposed to sacrifice yourself to help the team. Rainbows, puppies and all that jazz.
In blogging€¦not so much. Flame wars and being controversial are encouraged. People like when bloggers offer a dissenting opinion. When they don’t go along with the crowd. When they’re mouthy and rude.  Being a successful blogger means taking no prisoners and not being afraid to write something that would get you sent to the principal’s office.

For me, blogging is about forgetting everything you learned in high school. Because once you do that and you let it all go, you’re left with one thing – the ability to be yourself and talk to people like a human, not a high school zombie.