This past September, I went to DC for a major conference I attend (almost) every year called FinCon. It was the first time I had attended since the release of The Feminist Financial Handbook and the podcast appearances I made as a part of promotion. I was up for a few different awards. I was presenting on a panel.
I had just gotten my hair dyed by a professional for the first time. The greys were starting to show.
It was in this atmosphere that I hopped on an elevator. I wasn’t expecting anyone to recognize me. They usually don’t. I wrote anonymously for a very long time, and am still reticent to put my picture on things. Though you don’t have to look very hard to find it anymore.
I don’t usually mind that people have trouble placing me at first sight. In fact, at this conference, there were moments I was hoping this relative anonymity would hold. I had been having health problems and at certain moments during the conference that showed in my appearance.
But I got onto that elevator, and so did another young woman. She looked shy and almost afraid to talk. When she did the words came spilling out of her mouth. She had read my book and loved it and bid me farewell when the elevator jerked to a stop at my floor by congratulating me on all my success.
I smiled and thanked her, but when those elevator doors closed behind me I stopped in my tracks.
What had just happened?
The Relativity of Success
I didn’t feel very successful. Over the past few years, I had left a career field I loved, though it was not a decision I wanted to make. I was so grateful for this side hustle I had going on with writing, and for the self-same conference that had helped me locate streams of income exactly when I needed my hustle to turn into a full-fledged business.
My marriage had fallen apart. I had come to the realization that in my adult life, I had been so focused on surviving that I had never really taken the time to figure out who the hell I was independent of my responsibilities.
My emotional landscape was not feeling very successful.
But as I stood there, frozen outside the elevator bank like a weirdo, I tried to look for what she saw. I saw a book that was getting great feedback. One that — at least on some scale — achieved what it had set out to do: Start conversations that will hopefully contribute in some small way to cultural change.
I had toured a little for the book, both via podcasts and via some awesome independent bookstores I highly suggest you check out. Thanks to an amazing colleague, I had some great business opportunities open up independent of authorship.
I was launching a new professional initiative — one that I’ve been stewing on for a few years. It was getting positive feedback off the bat.
I even saw some things she didn’t see. Some behind-the-scenes work that is often even more rewarding than the stuff that gets public accolades.
Make no mistake: I am small scale, and my ego is even smaller. I have imposter syndrome at every turn, like most of us do. I am perpetually grateful and amazed that anyone cares what I have to say about anything.
What I should have said.
She was not the only person to approach me in this manner. In retrospect I wish I had hugged every one of them and told them not to be nervous. That I had gone back to my room to have a panic attack at one point during the conference because it is amazing, but also incredibly overstimulating and overwhelming. We were in the same boat.
That the success they saw was only one part of the picture, and that I was sorry if I had become so opaque that I was presenting a social media dream life.
But in the moment, I felt equally as awkward and not worthy of their attention and frankly I’m still just shocked any time people remember my face, which I worked so hard to hide for years.
My Entrepreneurial Graveyard: 2010-2020
Everyone’s been posting then vs. now pictures from 10 years ago. They’ve been reflecting on what’s happened to them in the past decade. Where they — and frankly, we all — might go in the next ten years.
In drafting up end-of-the-year post ideas, I decided to show you my entrepreneurial graveyard for the past ten years. Technically, I’ve only been doing this since 2011, so I guess it’s the past nine-ish.
I do this because behind every success in our lives, there are ten failures. I feel like this is either something that I’ve learned from my ventures into entrepreneurship, or it is a core value I hold that has helped me function in the entrepreneurial world.
I do this to hopefully present a little less opaque of a picture. And to show you that in this next decade, if three of the things you try don’t work out, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re pursuing some type of success.
Remember that success in one sector of your life does not necessarily permeate to all areas of your life. You could be killing it at work but falling apart at home. Similarly, your personal life could be rich and fulfilling, but you struggle with income.
We’re all somewhere on that incredibly variable spectrum. Remember that, and try not to place others above or below you (she says to herself.) This isn’t a race with a definitive finish line. It’s an infinite experience.
And money is only part of it.
Early in my blogging years, I percolated the community extremely heavily. Back then, it was how you built a blog.
And I loved it.
Early on, my bloggy friend Michelle taught me about cross-pollination. I don’t know if she even knows that. It’s something she taught me by example.
We would all read, think about and comment on each other’s content religiously. You could even use the comment section to find new bloggers.
I suppose there is an element of this today, but back then, this was a much larger part of the picture.
Anyways, in Michelle’s comment section, I would find beauty bloggers. That’s not really my thing, but they were such lovely people and I learned a bit about how to put on makeup!
Eventually, she explained that she loved personal finance, but with the amount of time she put into her blog (which was incredible — I’ve never known anyone to work so diligently with the hours she had available to her,) she needed to mix it up sometimes.
I started doing the same thing with mom blogs. As a new mother, and a relatively young mother, it was hard sometimes to do all the things and feel all the feelings and wonder if you were the only one going through it.
Blogs changed that for me, allowed me to build deep friendships across verticals, and allowed me to build IRL relationships with other bloggers here in my hometown of Pittsburgh back when I was the only PF blogger in the region of whom I was aware.
One of the awesome things I saw on mom blogs was the way they were building community. One of the most prolific tools I saw for doing this was link-ups.
Do you guys remember those things?
Once a week, everyone would come around and share a post via a linky tool. Then, you were supposed to comment on a couple other people’s shared posts.
I decided to start one for the PF community. I had awesome support from a handful of other women who helped me launch Financially Savvy Saturdays, or #FinSavSat, and a community was born. I ran it for about a year, and then handed over the reigns to the fantastic Mel of brokeGIRLrich who ran it up until very recently.
It was never monetized. After a while, people started having SEO concerns with link-ups after some algorithm changes, often because they were not written properly from an HTML perspective. As a result, participation eventually plateaued.
The point is, from a business numbers perspective, it was an unprofitable venture. If you want to label that a failure, you totally could.
But what it did do was build a bit of a tighter-knit community. When I went to my first FinCon, I had people to talk to. We were already interacting on a weekly basis. On top of the personal relationships, I discovered cool money tricks to apply to my own personal finances that I would have never read had I not been browsing the shares.
Another thing I gained was a deep sense of gratitude for Mel beyond the joy I got from reading her content. She was a rockstar for carrying it on and did us all a great service.
The Frugality Challenge
After I came home from that first FinCon, I was motivated. I was energized. I had so many ideas and I implemented half of them at once. Of those, about half were successful. The other half kind of fizzled off.
The most successful of those that fizzled off was The Frugality Challenge. My income had gone up, and I was feeling kind of guilty that I wasn’t spending as much time on frugality as I used to. I’ve since learned to let go of that guilt in select circumstances where it doesn’t serve me, but that’s a whole other thing.
I started the #FrugalityChallenge on Twitter to get myself back on track and build community.
It was really taking off there for a minute. So much so that it caught the attention of a young brand in the space, Tiller.
We wanted to start rewarding the winner of the challenge each month with a gift card. In order to do so, though, I felt like I needed a better method than a Twitter hashtag to accurately track points and be fair. So we switched over to Facebook where we could log everything extremely accurately in a group.
When we switched platforms, participation didn’t fall off at first, but growth did. The hashtag was popping up organically on Twitter and converting new participants in that way. It just wasn’t the same on Facebook.
Eventually, we closed up shop. We had killer competitions while it was in operation, though. And it helped me get in touch with my frugal roots.
That Tiller company? They continue to have a great product, and have grown to a point where years later, we were able to resume our relationship in a new capacity. Today, they’re one of my favorite freelance writing clients.
The Shut Down Project
During the latest government shutdown, people were suffering. It was ridiculous.
I kept hearing about all these people trying to get by without a paycheck, trying to decide if they could even continue working in government moving forward. Trying to figure out how to recover from a crisis they were still in the midst of with no end in sight.
I knew several people who had relayed these stories to me about friends or family members. People from within the PF community.
I gathered some colleagues together to source some cash to help alleviate their economic struggle in some small way. That part went okay.
But at the end of the day, it was hard to get recipients to come forward to gather the cash. It’s complicated as a government employee, and there were bureaucratic lines that were harder to navigate than I anticipated.
What have been some of your “failures” over the past decade, and what have you taken from them to create successes?