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Forget careers. Blogging changes lives

December 12, 2008

I used to be a lurker.

You know who they are: those surfers of the web who revel in dark, unknown corners. Who consume but don’t reciprocate. Whose existence is known to none but themselves, whose presence we are never aware of as anything more than a number on our blog stats that might pique our curiosity. They lurk and disappear back into cyberspace, and no one ever has to know; no trace of them is left behind.

I knew the ups and downs of Penelope’s divorce, Ryan’s workaholism; but until recently I had never so much as left a single comment on any of their blogs. Your first reaction might be: creep! But something like 90% of blog readers are equally creepy lurkers. Chances are, you are lurking right now and will read, digest, and move along without ever saying a thing to me (including you, email subscribers – I know who you are!). You’ll never voice your opinion. So before you call me a creep, don’t forget what you’re doing right now: creeping.

Daring to commit your opinions and your intellectual thoughts down in words, permanently etched into pixels in cyberspace, is unnerving. It takes balls that most people don’t have, and that is why the vast majority of users of the Web are what we so affectionately refer to as lurkers. They’re afraid to voice their opinion and let anyone who Googles them find them; afraid that someone will disagree and criticize them.

I was one of those, and I was hiding. And for a long time that was a theme in my life: hiding. I have about 4 drafts of blog posts I have written over the years, saved in my archives, about how I hide different parts of my life from everyone. But, in my typical fashion, I never posted one of them. Because it takes courage to even blog in the first place. It makes you an outlier, it makes you different, and that opens you up to a whole new level of scrutiny.

Blogging is at once intensely personal, yet unnervingly public. And it connects people in the most individual, human, personal way. Of my college-age friends, I have very few who have blogs. And when one of them first started her blog, she proceeded to get mocked and made fun of behind her back, constantly. Her blog is a joke to the rest of them, constantly bantered about; every new post is gossip fodder, eagerly devoured. Spending so much time around people like that had left me paralyzed, afraid to just be who I am; and prancing around in that living charade was exceptionally tiring. Why did I care about these people again? It was illogical and irrational.

The difference between me pre-blog and me post-blog is simple: I went from an invisible, hiding lurker to a real person, and an outlier. Seems simple, but that transformation is empowering in a way you’d never expect. I went from letting others define me to defining myself. Instead of always having to hide what I do from people, I can just…be. I have something to say that is worth saying, and I actively contribute to the conversation.

It’s no longer a simple matter of writing a blog and hoping someone reads: it overflows into every other area of my life. Now, I want to have more conversations and put out my opinion on everything. I want to seek out new people and new perspectives and constantly learn from everyone around me. I want to explore new ideas, challenge them, and be challenged. I want to do something worth doing, instead of just what everyone else is doing. And sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, most people aren’t willing to do that. But blogger are.

The mockers matter less and less, because, really, I’d rather drop them from my life now. When one of my favorite writers, who is far, far more successful than me, emailed me out of the blue and told me she loved a piece I wrote, the game changed a little. When my work started to get noticed by some others, the game changed a little. I no longer care to be just one of millions of college kids that are exactly the same. Who wants to blend in?

I realized I am different from them, but instead of continuing to try to hide it I started to reluctantly embrace it. I constantly strive to be an outlier, to be above and beyond, to put myself out there and be someone who challenges the status quo — and not someone who maintains it. I no longer want to be part of the norm. As one blogger said, that’s fifth place, when I know I want first. But if your presence is never known, how will you make an impact? How will you leave your mark? The simple act of voicing your opinion and expressing yourself means you are challenging the status quo, however insignificant you feel. But if you aren’t visible, to the world you don’t exist. If you’re just lurking and not participating, you’re outdated, obsolete, last year’s season. That’s not even fifth place; that’s invisibility.

Now, I’m no longer letting things happen to me. I don’t let others tell me what to do. I don’t believe in destiny; I just go out and make things happen. And I tend to brazenly defy everyone who doesn’t believe me. I realized that the way I defined myself and my life had to change. And in doing so, I won the inner battle that has been raging inside of me for twenty years. I killed the inner critic, the voice that stops so many people from doing great things. I stopped living for what other people think, and started living solely to create an impact and a difference.

And blogging, and everything and everyone that came with it, are what forced that change.

So when I sat down to write a post about how blogging has changed my life, many things came to mind. I wanted to write something as flawless as Andrew Sullivan’s brilliant essay, “Why I Blog.” But I am not Andrew Sullivan, so I can’t. Instead I thought of all the things I had learned, the advice I had gained, the opportunities I’ve received, the people I had interviewed and the late night discussions I’ve had when I could have been studying. And those have all been amazing things. But to this day, nothing compares to the surprising rush of empowerment that comes in that moment when you hold your breath and hit the ‘Publish’ button. It’s your blog, and no one can fuck with you there.

It’s something those legions of lurkers will never understand.

—–

(Hat tip to BC – what a challenge. This is probably the hardest thing I have ever written!)

And an update: this post just won me a free ticket to SXSW Interactive in March!

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42 comments

  1. I’m an admitted lurker. I only recently started my blog here at WordPress, and haven’t really had the time to look at random blogs (seeing as how I know no one with a WP blog to begin with, I sort of HAVE to just randomly search).

    But even if I had found a blog that I was interested in, I probably wouldn’t have commented because I’m so painfully shy. I don’t want to come across as some psycho stalker, or someone who’s butting in where they have no business in doing so (though… why would someone post an entry on the internet and not want it to be seen?).

    I was looking through the “Blogging” tag entries and happened upon this post. And honestly, I have to say that it’s given me the courage to speak up… at least, this time. I can’t say that I won’t ever lurk again, but I will make the attempt to put myself out there a little more.


  2. @mamakitty729 — Aw! I’m so glad my post could encourage you to speak up more 🙂 You def. won’t recommend it. I’m glad you did! I’d also recommend joining a blog community of like-minded people — it’s a lot easier than finding random blogs. In fact, you should consider joining Brazen Careerist! Btw, what’s your blog URL? It isn’t linked in your username…


  3. This is a really great post — I really admire your passion and insight. It’s heartwarming. I wanted to share with you my feelings about being an “outlier” as a blogger and whether that’s true anymore.

    “Access Theory” is a defunct legal theory which states that “the freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one…[the] constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression has little meaning if a citizen does not have the economic means to exercise this right. Access to the marketplace of ideas is not equal for all, but is skewed in favor of those with the most economic resources” – Don Pember, Mass Media Law.

    This theory was rejected for other reasons, but the advent of social media has made it even less relevant today. There are over 110 million blogs in the world, up from 67 million last year. In fact, the number has doubled every year for the past five years. If it continues to grow at the same rate, there will be more blogs than there are people on this planet by 2014.

    You are not an outlier anymore. Just as newspapers became the voice of a disengaged and desperate public at the turn of the 20th century, blogs and social media are the voice of our generation. You are a pioneer who, along with every other person your age who writes a blog, is defining the way young people talk to each other in the new millenium. Anyone who is not participating is slow to realize that.

    The amazing thing about social media is that it creates communities of people that have shared interests. Shared values. Shared beliefs. It makes them louder, and encourages them to become more engaged. I guess an unfortunate thing about social media is that these communities may not be physically close to you. It’s a reality about organizing in the digital world that’s hard to swallow, but true nonetheless.


  4. And by recommend* I meant you def. won’t REGRET it. 🙂


  5. P.S. you’re on my blogroll now 🙂


  6. Nisha, I feel you on this one! Blogging has changed the way I approach many aspects of my life. Like you said, after I started blogging I too wanted to “do something worth doing” and started to do what I wanted to do instead of what other people told me I should do. That’s the only thing that will make us happy.

    Before blogging I felt like I lived mechanically. Blogging has definitely empowered me to try things that I didn’t think I could.

    I think it takes some people a long time to realize what we have in a couple of months because of the lessons from our blogs. I guess we are lucky 🙂


  7. Bravo and well said. Glad you ended up posting this!


  8. One of my favorite comments on my blog is from Dan Schawbel talking about how the great thing about blogging is that it’s your personal space, your space to do whatever you want. Empowerment, just like you’ve said here. Thanks for extending that theme. Love that and love that you blog! 🙂


  9. I loved your post on newspapers… and I’m definitely no lurker! I posted basically a blog post-worthy length comment on it. 😉 It’s pretty amazing getting to read how much blogging had meant to each of us, how it’s made not just an impact on us, but how we make an impact on each other. Pretty amazing, really.


  10. @Meg — thanks!

    @Jules — Thanks for the compliment, first of all. Secondly, I think you make a good point, and I read your response post to and I’m going to comment on it as well. But I want to point out that just looking at Technorati stats about how many blogs exist is not the best way of measuring whether blogging is mainstream or not. There are different types of blogs. There are blogs with purpose and passion and professionalism, then there are blogs that are not. The difference between those is pretty wide. Blogging with purpose — and not simply writing a blog but getting yourself out there– tends to give you the community, the relationships, etc. And it’s different than just any old personal blog which you share with your 3 closest friends. If you blog, but you treat your blog like its in a vacuum, and you don’t get active at all, it’s completely different and the effects are completely different. There’s a difference between considering yourself a blogger, and just having a blog. There are plenty of people who USE social media and blogs, but with two very different purposes.

    I’m also going to respond to your post…soon!!

    @Rebecca — you’re right, that feeling is definitely great about a blog, and I know Dan gets it too 🙂 Thanks so much!

    @carla — I knew you would totally understand! 🙂 And I agree I did feel like I lived mechanically before. We are definitely lucky!

    @Holly — thanks dude! I loved reading your blog from way back when you started, and unfortunately I was a big lurker back then! And you’re right about how we have impacted each other — I was telling Paugh in an email today how cool it is that we’re all writing these posts and all linking to each other in them. It’s a huge demonstrator of how much we have impacted each other!


  11. Nice personal perspective on the evolution from lurking to sharing.


  12. I had a twitter friend (who doesn’t blog, just tweets) bust my balls once because I told one of my fave bloggers (Naomi at Ittsy Biz) that I wasn’t cool enough to post a comment on her blog….then she talked me into commenting,and pointed out to me, that while I may not think I’m cool enough, someone else might.

    Granted, I still don’t think I’m in the same league as Naomi, but I wonder how many people lurk on our blogs because they don’t think they are cool enough, smart enough, insightful enough to have anything important to say…. that kind of makes me sad.

    Furthermore, so many of the bloggers I read faithfully I found through their comments on the blogs of others. Think about all the people you and I “know” from blogging and commenting?!?!?!

    I know my life would be rather empty without you guys!


  13. Aww man, for shame. I am a lurker and a blogger! Isn’t that an oxymoron? Anyhoo your post pulled me out of lurkdom. It was that fabulous, thanks for sharing! And I promise I will venture out of my dark corner more often


  14. @ Monica

    The concept of being too nervous to comment on someone’s blog is completely new to me. I don’t have too many lurkers, since my blog is new, but I would venture to say that most people who read my stuff but don’t comment (somewhere in the area of 97%) simply don’t have anything to say… Which leads me to believe (probably rightly so) that I could be doing something better. I’ve made a lot of changes based on which pages get the most hits and I love experimenting because it helps me learn more and more about social media. So I’m reading Chris Brogan’s 40 Ways to Deliver Killer Blog Content. 🙂


  15. @Ari — Thanks! I’m a fan of your work at The Nation.

    @Monica — Yeah, I wonder how many people do lurk because they feel they don’t have something insightful to add to the conversation — it’s really a shame. And it’s not just the blogging and commenting that makes a difference, as I’m sure you well know — it’s the emails and phone calls and all the other stuff that happens as a result that makes a big difference. But none of that can happen if people don’t take the first step!

    @Kiersten — Glad you commented, and thanks for the compliment!


  16. Not commenting isn’t the same as lurking.

    I read and skim a lot. But how we engage with the blogosphere isn’t so binary as commenter and lurker.

    My tendency not to comment so much is because of a few things: bloggers who don’t allow comments (Andrew Sullivan), blogs that moderate and don’t approve timely or at all (a constitution blog that will remain nameless), and also simple ownership (that relates to my last point). Comments go into someone else’s stream, not my own. If I write a great comment and it’s not approved, or the website goes down, that’s one I’ve lost control over.

    When I blog back, I can engage. I tend not to blog back if someone doesn’t permit trackbacks (Andrew Sullivan, several others). If someone does, I want to blog back more (Penelope Trunk).

    Sometimes I write emails or send Tweets (KipEsquire).

    And sometimes I comment. Like now.


  17. @BriefEpisode — I think you are right. The point is to engage and participate, and that can take many forms, of which commenting is just one. Blogging back, emailing, and Tweeting are all great forms of engaging and participating in the conversation. I definitely didn’t mean to say that commenting was the ONLY way to participate – but I think, from personal experience, there are plenty of people out there reading blogs, who don’t engage in any way at all — whether commenting, blogging, tweeting, emailing, or whatever.


  18. Count me as the lurker, even though I have a blog.


  19. This is a nice way to encourage people to comment. Though, I would say that I usually don’t comment when I don’t have anything meaningful to add to the conversation. Saying “I agree with you fully” is as pointless as not saying anything at all.

    It’s similar to reading a story in a local newspaper with an email as part of the byline. Most people won’t really write to the writer unless they were somehow impacted or if they disagree or they passionately care about what was said.

    In anycase, good luck with your political career. Btw, why does one major in political sci?

    ~ Mel


  20. I lurked. Found Nisha. Now my life has completely changed 😉


  21. […] Nisha’s transition from lurker to blogger and how it changed her life. [Politicoholic] […]


  22. This was a great post. I just recently found your blog and have enjoyed reading your excellent writing.
    About the lurking phenomenon, I wonder if many lurkers just don’t have time to comment. With the amount of headlines in our RSS feed, it may get overwhelming and lead usually engaged people to take the skim and run route. I’m guilty of having done this a few times in the past, though now that I have a blog and cherish people’s comments, I can better understand the importance of giving valuable feedback.

    Thanks for opening up an important discussion.


  23. […] by Carla Blumenthal, Just Keep Blogging by Milena Thomas, How I Found Our Voices by Holly Hoffman, Forget Careers. Blogging Changes Lives. by Nisha Chittal, and This Changes Everything by Tiffany […]


  24. I am totally a creepy lurker who is slowly coming out of her shell. Great post!


  25. […] 1. Politicoholic Nisha Chittal is becoming rapidly well-known in the Gen Y blogging world. As an extremely talented writer, she easily won the Brazen Careerist blogging contest with this post. […]


  26. This is a lovely post. I now love your blog, and you’ve inspired me to try to make something out of mine without fear of judgment. 🙂


  27. […] 1. Politicoholic Nisha Chittal is becoming rapidly well-known in the Gen Y blogging world. As an extremely talented writer, she easily won the Brazen Careerist blogging contest with this post. […]


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  29. […] Brazen’s “How Blogging Changes Lives,” contest with this brilliant piece: “Forget Careers. Blogging Changes Lives.” Really, read it. It’s […]


  30. […] Forget Careers. Blogging Changes Lives – Nisha Chittal Nisha won the Brazen, “Why I blog,” contest with this eloquently written piece explaining her transition from a lurker to a blogger. I loved this, “The difference between me pre-blog and me post-blog is simple: I went from an invisible, hiding lurker to a real person, and an outlier. Seems simple, but that transformation is empowering in a way you’d never expect.” Take a few minutes and read this 1.) because it is a great story and 2.) because it is beautifully written. […]


  31. Well, for once I decide not to lurk 🙂 Hats off to you, Lady, for being able to stop my lurking instincts! I have a blog too, but not yet confident enough to leave the URL here… lest some of your readers tend to get curious enough to click on it.

    A great post, yours.


  32. […] recently read a blog post on brazen careerist about how most people are “lurkers” when it comes to blogging and social media in general. As creepy as the terminology is, I […]


  33. […] blog since the beginning –which, okay, is not really that long ago — will know I wrote this crazy post on how blogging impacted my life in December for the Brazen blog contest, and by some miracle I […]


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  35. […] It’s simple – comment on other people’s profiles, twitters, and blogs, and they will automatically know they have a fan out there who cares about what they are trying to do with social media. Don’t be just another lurker. […]


  36. Nisha,

    This is wonderful post, and congratulation on winning the Brazen contest and getting the opportunity to go to SXSW. A lot of what you said here resonated with me because, as a college student, I know that it’s not looked upon very favorably to have a blog and it’s hard to constantly put yourself out there. Your thoughts have definitely motivated me to interact even more than I do because it is truly valuable. Keep up the great work!


  37. […] Forget about careers, blogging changes lives […]


  38. Hi Nisha!
    Wow, I loved your post – I found your blog through feministing.com., and am so glad that I did. What you wrote, is what I have been going through for the past 2 years. I have been invisible- living up to the expectation of my parents/friends, afraid to voice my opinion, fearing criticism, and I didn’t know how to get past it. Earlier this month I started a blog. No One reads it, because I haven’t shared it with anyone yet. I’m still trying to just write as honestly as I can…making sure that everything I say and do is honest to myself…and not everyone else. And ever since then, I see myself growing as an individual. One who will voice her opinions in conversation, and I’m feeling so empowered and enlightened. There’s still so much more room for me to grow–because this has been a rather slow process…but I can feel it happening!

    Thank you Thank you for writing this blog. It was inspiring!

    Melissa


  39. […] my ideas into the internet, but it wasn’t really. I had been reading blogs for a while but was never an active participant, until the really nice guys at Brazen Careerist somehow found me and convinced me to join their […]


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  42. “Daring to commit your opinions and your intellectual thoughts down in words, permanently etched into pixels in cyberspace, is unnerving. It takes balls that most people don’t have, and that is why the vast majority of users of the Web are what we so affectionately refer to as lurkers. They’re afraid to voice their opinion and let anyone who Googles them find them; afraid that someone will disagree and criticize them.”

    Wow. Lurkers? I didn’t even know they had a name for those people. And here I was about to do it again. I do it all the time. But in reponse to the above, I don’t think that’s the case for everyone, and definitely not the case for me.

    I never heard about personal branding or any of that until I recently started reading the whole lot of gen y blogs. I never cared about anyone googling my name- never thought anyone would, good luck finding me. But I am starting to learn that, yes, employers are googling our names.

    When it comes to reading a blog and not commenting, well there are numerous reasons why I lurk.
    Sometimes, like on older posts like this, I think, “what’s the point?” The discussion is over and your opinion might not even be heard. Heck, some bloggers don’t even respond to your comments. I don’t know how many blogs I’ve stopped reading because I’d come through for discussion only to be ignored (I leave extremely revelant, insightful and positive comments, mind you.)
    And sometimes as a commentor I have nothing to add to the discussion. It may be a great article, or something I already know and everyone else is saying, “great article.” Do I really need to add one more?
    But for me, courage was never an issue. I like to get my voice heard, but maybe i’m the minority?



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