I’ve had this blog for about a year now and I’ve only posted sporadically. I can be something of a perfectionist and many posts perished in the planning stages due to excessive self-criticism. Nothing I had written had much of an impact until my post about Aaron Swartz last week. I have been humbled and somewhat overwhelmed by the positive feedback I have received from those who read it and I’ve tried to analyze what it was about this post that made it different from the rest.
Sincerity and honesty
The internet is a very sensitive BS detector. Savvy readers can tell when you mean what you say or when you’re just trying to sell them something. My motivation behind many of my previous blog posts was to draw attention to myself or a product that I wanted to sell. These attempts to increase my own stature ultimately failed. I wrote my post about Aaron Swartz with the sole motivation of articulating my feelings. There was no “follow me on Twitter” call to action. There were no links to side projects. This resulted, somewhat counterintuitively, in more Twitter followers and click-throughs to my side projects. About 10% of those that came to my blog in the last two days clicked on my ”About John” page or other blog posts. I wrote something personal and people wanted to learn more about me.
Letting ideas simmer
My initial idea for a post about Aaron Swartz was to be entitled “Aaron Swartz was not Robin Hood.” I intended to articulate my anger over a broken justice system with a dash of why copying digital data is not the same as stealing physical objects. It wouldn’t have been anything new or different than the many other posts that had been written. I probably would have lost steam somewhere in the second paragraph and never finished writing it. I allowed these thoughts to roll around my head for a couple of days until I figured out why I was angry and I wrote about that instead which I believe led to a more compelling and useful post.
The last time I hit the front page on Hacker News, everything broke. This was partly Bluehost’s fault, but also my fault for not realizing that there might be some problems if you serve a giant 150,000 character image-as-table out of a MySQL database. When the site managed to load, it loaded very slowly. It was somewhat devastating to have potential readers unable to read what I wrote. I have since switched to Octopress and even when traffic was at its peak (about 2000 pageviews/hour) everything remained zippy and responsive.
You might not be bad at that thing you say you’re bad at.
In high school I excelled easily in all my math and science classes whereas I “struggled” in English and history. I arrived at the conclusion that I was just “better” at math and science than other subjects and I distributed my effort accordingly. In retrospect, it is likely that I was just more interested in what was currently being taught to me in calculus and physics which facilitated a higher level of engagement. Even though I have since logically concluded that I wasn’t born inherently bad at writing, every compliment surprised me emotionally. This has helped me realize that I shouldn’t let a self-imposed (or externally imposed) childhood label keep me from writing or doing anything else for that matter. You’ll get better at that thing you think you’re bad at if you practice.
I need to do more with my life.
This was a realization that I came to while I wrote the blog post, but it didn’t really cement itself until I saw the response to it. If I can make a difference by writing one blog post, what kind of impact could I have on the world if I reach my academic and professional potential? I was newly motivated to be the best version of myself I could be. This led to a reevaluation of my goals and my progress towards them. I have decided to get a real job and reevaluate my education options. If anyone knows of an open web development position that might be a good fit for me, please let me know about it or pass along my resume.