To a new year and coming full circle
One of the things that I have loved the most about being a blogger is the storytelling. I blame my love for this writing style on my elementary school teachers whom, in their efforts to teach us spelling, grammar, and penmanship, would encourage us to view the most mundane details of our lives as an opportunity to tell a story…one that we would write over and over until it was ready to go on colorful construction paper tied together with yarn to create a book with hand drawn pictures we drew ourselves and would later present to our parents.As a young child, I wasn’t traveling to far away places, so my stories consisted very much about everyday life experiences, like climbing my grandfather’s cherry tree and eating them with my cousin till our stomachs hurt, or the new glittery pink jellies my mom had bought me and how they would make my feet sweaty in the summer months, or my love for Snoopy and how I would cry when my mom insisted on throwing him in the laundry. I had stories for days.
When I started as NYCity Mama in 2008, I loved the idea of writing to tell the stories of my city of New York. I wanted to tell the stories that gentrification was erasing and publications were ignoring. I did it as a form of rebellion. I was angry with the kinds of stories defining my hometown, ignoring the impact communities like mine had on the city and its history, or ignoring my communities entirely. I wanted to show what about the city loved so much through the mundane tales of just living there. I never expected the audience, or the awards, or the accolades and I certainly didn’t expect the incredible opportunities that followed.
Like many bloggers before and since, these opportunities allowed me to tell more stories beyond my city. I made friends who remain friends still. I traveled a lot, so did my family, and I was able work from home and raise my children, and even get a couple of dogs.
Over time though, I found that telling the story was getting harder and harder to do. It used to be that the beauty of blogging was the freedom it allowed us to use our most authentic voices. While traditional publications were beholden to their advertisers, sales, and subscribers, blogging allowed for a more free spirited form of expression. All that mattered was that you had a good story to tell, one that resonated with people and connected communities, both close and far, to each other. It made people not feel alone. It informed and inspired. A narrative that was less edited and controlled and curated, and more personal, and raw, and real.
Eventually publications, advertisers, and brands took note of the power of blogs and shifted their attention and money this way. And it was amazing to get paid to blog about your life or experiences, while still in control of your voice, narrative, and style. But, with those investments came the rules, restrictions, and criteria of the traditional until the goal wasn’t about the story anymore, but about the money and the clicks and popularity. Suddenly everything is for sale. The old adage “sex sells” and the traditional media and marketing practices of selling a fantasy, took hold. And trust me, it is a fantasy. More and more influencers are depressed and stressed over the pressure of maintaining a brand or image long after their life circumstances, their goals, and/or their bodies have changed. It is, in all honesty, the unspoken epidemic of our overworked, underpaid, over saturated space.
You have otherwise self-respecting traditional journalists, who represent established publications, trying to stay relevant by dedicating entire timelines and days upon days of “discussions” to insult, minimize, degrade, and devalue the blogger industry. An industry they now work so hard to emulate and compete with. Worse yet, they are often supported by voices who once dedicated their careers to cash in on the work and content from the very industry they now belittle.
The competition became fierce making room for unethical behaviors and deceitful practices. Granted, the space was never perfect to begin with but it is significantly worse. Paid-for-content (advertisement) that is not disclosed as such, the purchasing of followers and likes, the manipulation of content to satisfy the search engine gods – this last one is actually taught and considered a savvy business strategy for making money off your blog – consumes how we operate and takes away the whole concept of what blogging used to be.
And I get it. It is an incredible gift to be able to blog, make money, be independent and travel because of it. I never in a million years would have been able to dream up the incredible opportunities this platform, this work has given me. I want to support and encourage anyone who has a skill that works in this medium. I think it’s a beautiful thing to start and own and sustain your own business, especially if it is the product of years of content creation and storytelling, whether through words or visuals. I want to connect with creatives and collaborate with them, but man is it easy for them to get lost in the noise today.
I still like telling stories. I still love the online space and all the good, enriching things about it. I still like meeting and working with other creatives, but I knew I had to find another way.
Taking a leap and building something of my own
Our media company, Brave World Media, is into its second year of operation. We have had the pleasure of working with Finger Lakes Wine Country helping to improve and grow their online presence and brand. I have done social media training, online strategy and growth development, helped FLWC in coordinating and planning for hosting the over 600 attendees to TBEX in the region. We also developed the design and look for the brand at the conference.
Our goal as a company is to empower brands and give them ownership and control of their stories. We have been working hard to connect them with influencers and bloggers who share their spirit and would be their greatest cheerleader. We aim to find great people, not based on stats or numbers or following, but those spirits, who like myself, get excited about telling the story – even from what some might consider the most mundane of situations.
It’s been enriching because I’ve gotten to work with really special, talented, kind, and professional people, whom I already knew and love. Two of those are Megan and Scott, of BoboandChichi.com. I met them in Jerusalem, then again in Ireland, but it was after hosting them on the media tour of Finger Lakes Wine Country that we really connected. They are now our video/photography and social media development partners at BWM. We even got to travel to Iceland together!
Professional focus – Be the change I want to see
When thinking about what I wanted BWM to be, I knew immediately that what it wasn’t going to be was another blogger resource provider. I didn’t want to create a business where I pimp out bloggers for a paycheck. I am and will always be a blogger and social media professional, and have done pretty well in this space. I want to work with others who have the potential to really help our industry be the best that it can be. We all win when our industry succeeds.
I come from a hospitality family and grew up surrounded by around the customer service industry. I have trained in communications, and am working on getting my certification in Hospitality Training to help businesses improve in all the ways they interact with their consumers. This year has brought me closer to that path.
I also knew that though I wanted to work with my community of influencers and bloggers, I didn’t want to work with them in the way that brands and destinations have worked with me in the past. There are some great people I have worked with, and then there are some that have failed in building the kind of rapport that would motivate me to continue to help them curate their message. We talk a lot about relationship building, but fail to actually take the time to invest in making it happen. I also listened to my peers and have watched so many of them struggle with unethical contractors, unrealistic fee offers for high demand work, and see abusive treatment of small business owners and entrepreneurs. So much of what this medium allows is the ability to create something of our own. There is a lot of incredible talent out there, and sadly a lot of brands who exploit it. Sure, there are also some really unethical and down right shady types in the blogger / influencer space, but with enough effort, those are easily weeded out.
I am hoping to also do more work to help diversify the space, and open up more opportunities for professional bloggers of color. I am done complaining and am instead creating the change I want to see in the space.
A lot of this kind of work is offline and behind the scenes. A lot of it relies on asserting your success by helping others do well and succeed too. This reality forced me to check my ego and helped me to find my validation not in adoring public affirmations, but in seeing others succeed because of the work we’ve done together. To some it looks like I haven’t been doing much of anything, but the truth is, I rarely have time to even contribute content to this blog. I am proud of the work I have been involved in this year. It’s been a tremendous growing experiencing professionally and personally.
Continuing to grow BWM is my main professional goal. I am looking forward to speaking at more conferences and travel a bit, though I have found stability and reliability of not being away all the time to be huge components in successfully building my business.
I want to continue to write for others and work with brands, even outside of BWM, but I want them to know that one-off gigs are not things I am interested in investing in. Want to work with me? Let’s work to build a story together and a more meaningful, long lasting partnership. Let’s bring back the true meaning of relationship and collaboration.
Personal focus – Living, giving, and receiving a life of joy
We’ve experienced so much good and joy this year. Whatever stressful, frustrating moments we’ve had can’t even compare to the positives.
I’ve continued to be involved in my community, doing everything I can to help those suffering from the current political and social injustices of today. Among my current work, I am a volunteer interpreter helping legal teams working to assist Spanish-speaking immigrants being detained while they seek asylum. It is an infuriating, saddening, eye-opening task. One I hope yields to more happy endings than not.
I made an effort to spend more time with friends and people I love. I don’t even have a lot of photos of all the enriching moments I shared with others, because I am also trying to remind myself that not everything needs a Tweet, Instagram, or blog post. Somethings I can keep to myself.
My husband adopted our oldest, something we have all wanted for years. Finally it happened and we are still on a high from it.
For a year I have been sharing all the fun stuff to see and do in the Finger Lakes. Because of my client, I have been there a lot, but I had already been to the region several times over the course of almost a decade. My family and I love it there. Working there is such a gift, but we would go anyway.
So we bought a house.
It’s an old farmhouse built in 1870. It sits on 2.5 acres, surrounded by a couple of vineyards and a creek with a few waterfalls that leads to a couple of larger waterfalls that spill into the Keuka Lake. There is farmland, and distilleries, and wineries, and breweries, and lots and lots of nature.
I have friends there, whom I love dearly and look forward to seeing as much as I can when I am there.
The house is old and needs work. We will most likely be working on it all year. And then there are the neighbors, some whom we’ve already met, all of whom have been so kind and friendly. There are stories, so many, many stories I want to tell about the area, and the history and the life there and the people. My mind buzzes with excitement at the thought of it.
We traveled and considered different places, but in the end, our hearts chose this beautiful destination for a home.
I started an Instagram account (TheFLXCottage) for the house, and really for the collection of memories and special moments of our life in Finger Lakes. Like when I started blogging, I am not sharing the content to get paid, or garner popularity or fame. I want to go back to blogging the way I started. Just sharing the mundane, everyday life – some of which we don’t see, some of which we take for granted. Maybe some will find it inspiring or educational, or even entertaining. Maybe, like in 2008, it will just be my family and friends who follow, and that’s OK too. They have always been my greatest cheerleaders and readers. And at the end of the day, that is all storytelling is about, finding a reader, even if just one, that will be willing to take that journey with you.
My continued gratitude to all the readers and followers, friends, and family, professional partners and peers who have contributed so much to the support, work, writing, and happiness I have felt this year. I appreciate you.
I love everything you shared Carol. So happy for you ❤️
Thank you, Toni xox
One thing I love about reading your blog is your authenticity…I will ALWAYS keep saying that! So glad about your new home in the country side…I look forward to the day my family and I owe such a beautiful kind of home. Would be following the journey *wink* And I have been following what you have been doing with Brave World Media. I really look forward to working with you guys some day soon. Well done, Carol. And please continue being your authentic self *smiles*
Thank you so much!!