My high school friend Mary came to see me last weekend and were catching up on the last fifteen years when the conversation shifted to blogging. Mary knew Teenage Terra and she was curious how I went from there to here. As I was telling her the story she went, “Terra you need to share this in a post!”
At 15 I wore braces and was waging a full on war with acne. But that didn’t matter- I was aware of the latest trends and figuring out eyeliner in my mom’s minivan in the Kmart lot. Cargo pants were in and I wanted a pair, so I sewed my own pockets. They were corduroy and I cringe thinking about them now, but it made me realize something.
The Summer before college, I worked at Burger King. I made myself save two thirds of my paychecks but the rest I spent on makeup. I was always always trying to figure out what was on trend but my style. It was before YouTube so everything was trial and error (besides my chats with the girls at the Clinique counter).
It took years to look the part, but it was always there- that urge to understand fashion and beauty and interpret it in a way that felt authentic to me. It didn’t matter whether I was at class, flipping burgers or going on a first date- I always wanted to look my best.
Then something cool happened- my friends started asking me to do their makeup or to help them shop. And I found that even more fulfilling.
Brands changed after college, but the same urge was always there. Then Juliana came along and everything changed! Well, sort of. 😉 I still wanted to look and feel my best but I had a lot less time. YouTube was around by then though, and I found myself watching videos like this after I getting my girl to bed.
I also loved to scroll Pinterest for outfit inspiration. One day I came across this image:
I have no idea what it was, but I was obsessed with the top, the necklace, the accessories- but mostly how it all came together. I clicked the link and it took me to Olivia’s blog. She’s rebranded since, but her old vibe resonated with me in a way I can’t express and I think I spent a whole night reading her posts.
Before that I was vaguely aware of blogging but I had never followed anyone specific. These girls had their own platforms to share their perspective on fashion and beauty with girls like me. I was hooked!
I thought, I want to do that!
So I did. And I did what I always do…I jumped in head first!
I curled my hair and put on heels before picking up Juliana. Around the corner from her daycare, I handed my iPhone camera to the UPS guy and begged pretty please.
Once I got Juliana to bed, I googled ‘how to start a blog’. I opened a WordPress account and uploaded my first post. I had so much fun and couldn’t wait to share more!
Most people were supportive but some asked me why, cautioning that most blogs fail and few ever go on to generate income.
I remember just one week later being at a leadership conference in Cincinnati and thinking long and hard about where I wanted to take it all. I didn’t care if it made a penny but I wanted it to be big– and I wanted it to get big because it shared something genuinely helpful and relateable, something a normal girl like myself could read and apply, from a contouring tip to a new trend.
Pretty quickly I realized in order to grow, I needed to understand the mechanics of blogging. And so I set out to learn. Thanks to Google, blogging friends and YouTube, I got a much needed crash course in photography, composition, lighting, editing, SEO, Pinterest, etc. After about 9 months of late nights I could finally feel the momentum.
And it was exciting!
This was one of my first pictures that went viral on Instagram:
I never went into it thinking about money but opportunities started to come alongside the numbers. That was where things got sticky, because without realizing it I started to care and focus too much on that. As a blogger, you’re surrounded by so many numbers- page views, visitors, bounce rate, impressions, engagement rate, follower count etc.- and it’s easy to get fixated without even realizing it.
Instagram in particuarly became a big source of numbers focus: I started to care too much how my many followers I had, how quickly that number grew, how many likes my photos were receiving or how many views my Stories got. It was addictive- when the numbers were good I was happy, but during the slower periods I felt unhappy and somewhat inadequate as a blogger. Instagram became an unhealthy place, fueled by the amount of time I was spending on it.
All the time I spent on Instagram caused my own voice on the platform to get diluated without realizing it. When you constantly see what others are doing it’s easy to internalize the same script. And that’s when my growth started to slow. I didn’t see the connection at first, but as my relationship with Instagram became more unhealthy, I finally called it off for a time. It was amazing how getting off the platform for a month gave me perspective.
I realized while I started my blog to provide a unique value, I had somehow gotten swept up into providing a more generic one in the pursuit of numbers. I took a step back and thought about what mattered. I realized that before the shift I had already built an awesome community with you so really my job was simple- to serve you. Without the noise and numbers of Instagram it was a lot easier to focus on that.
During the month off however, I got messages from many of you asking me to start posting on Instagram again. Since it mattered to you, I decided to resume but set some groundrules for myself. This probably sounds sooo off the wall, but most days I don’t keep the Instagram app on my phone. I download it to share a photo and reply to questions and messages from you. I make sure I’m thorough and when I ‘m done, I delete the app until the next night. Now Instagram is just another social media platform like Facebook or Twitter and my blog is my primary platform to connect with you on a deeper level. Instagram is great for an outfit, but this is where we actually get to know each other, you know?
This is already longer than I swore I’d let it get, BUT I want to quickly share what comes next.
In the next year, my focus is going to be improving the quality and relevancy of my posts, improving my branding, and having fun! Branding is crucial with a product, whether it’s an iced tea, an airline or a beauty blog. We are all busy and you need to know immediately when interacting with a brand what it’s about and what it can offer you.
The biggest thing I’ve learned these past two years is this:
If you really want something, you can always have it- but you have to really go for it.
I mean, pull out the stops, be fearless, don’t think ‘what if I fail?’ or consider negative outcomes. No matter how challenging your goal, you will succeed if you have a strong passion and bring along the guts, the grit and the will to learn.
Will it be scary? Oh yeah.
Will you grow as a person? Like crazy.
But there’s bliss in finding your calling and fearlessly going after it with all your heart.