Four years ago I started a blog. I was totally unprepared for what would happen next. It seemed like such an unassuming act but in retrospect, it has been like a volcano erupting, and forming totally new land all over my life. Some of it has been lush and green and such a blessing. Other areas are charred black and I shudder at what permanent damage I may have done.
Let’s start with the green land first. It’s a lot of things that fall under the world’s definition of “success”: a healthy salary, more than a million readers, recurring segments on national and local TV, traveling across the country for speaking engagements and events, appearing in print and video spots for companies, winning blogging awards and contests. Not everyone’s definition of success of course (definitely not my own), but from the outside looking in, it certainly looks, smells and acts like success and checks some important boxes like being able to pay my rent.
I feel successful, but in a different way. Success is finding my life’s passion. It has been a total transformation spiritually and creatively and has unlocked so much passion and joy. One of my favorite quotes by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art says “of any activity ask yourself - would I do this is if I were the last person on earth?” And I can respond with a resounding “YES!” that I would be doing the exact same thing, in my room (or looting department stores haha!), and creating outfits and mixing colors all day long. The joy is there no matter if anyone is watching or not, and that has been the “success” that has kept J’s Everyday Fashion going more than anything else.
While it certainly doesn’t need to be shared in order to be successful, part of the journey has, of course, included sharing that joy. It’s why so many people blog; the human experience and sharing our ideas and experiences is so powerful. I have also always wanted to spread a message of encouragement with this blog: that being on a budget, not being the most amazing style whiz ever and having things like wrinkles and stains (aka not being perfect!) do NOT exclude you from enjoying fashion. I hoped that message would encourage women, like little beams of light in a fashion world cluttered with perfect, expensive images heavily Photoshopped, because I never felt welcome in the fashion world myself.
Now for the dark parts. Trying and failing at something has never scared me because I think failure is such a healthy part of any creative process. But there are elements of success that are incredibly hard for me. I came into blogging naïve and what blogging has exposed me to was a shock to my system and I crumbled. I have lost hours, days and weeks to being entirely crippled with pain, curled up in the dark. I faced hospitalization twice. I struggled endlessly to focus on the positive. Specifically, it was these four hurts:
1. Privacy. Being “successful” often puts you in the limelight and by being in the limelight, you completely forfeit your right to privacy in our society. Nothing is off limits. You may choose to express yourself by appearing in movies, singing, or blogging about your fashion ideas, and that gives the public license to talk about your private life and make judgments about your appearance, love life, personality, body, clothing choices, etc. Everyone is entitled to their “opinion” because you put yourself in the crosshairs. (Which makes about as much sense as saying it’s my right to run someone over because they chose to cross the street; it completely overlooks personal responsibility on the part of the driver. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.)
I could’ve never imagined what this would feel like until it happened to me. I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that being in the limelight for a career would mean I would have to forfeit my privacy for my personal life. I wasn’t looking for limelight, and fame has never been or will be a goal of mine. I wanted the message of inclusive fashion to be spread, but I didn’t see how that meant spreading myself everywhere, too. In the beginning I probably erred on the side of sharing way too much personal stuff (I am by nature a really open person), but then I swung completely the other direction due to a bunch of unwanted attention about my personal life in 2011. I shut down and haven’t shared much since. I thought that if I didn’t share, then the privacy thing would get better. It hasn’t because…
2. Rumors. Even if you don’t share anything personal, people will fill in the blanks for you! I used to think rumors were something movie stars did to themselves – they were sending out press releases about their love lives to keep themselves in the news. (Yes, I really thought that was a thing.) I also thought everything I read was completely true. Of course Kelly Clarkson’s new husband cheated, right? Why else would they put that on a magazine cover? It still baffles me. I’ve seen absolutely disgusting personal rumors about me that don’t have even the slightest bit of truth to them, I’ve seen words in quotation marks that I definitely did not write and made up encounters of meeting me in real life. The entitlement people feel over privacy of anyone in the limelight will include “opinions” and speculations about a number of things you did not say or do or things that never happened. Which leads to my next point…
3. Misunderstanding. When I first learned about rumors, I thought for sure that if I just explained myself better, or let someone know they had the wrong impression, that would fix everything. But it’s not true. And that’s a good way to drive yourself nuts. It’s nothing you did. Not now, not ever. Some people are completely dedicated to misunderstanding. I was on a panel years ago and I gave myself a pep talk to not be a microphone hog. I can talk and talk if you let me and I wanted my fellow panel members to know I had the utmost respect for them by not taking up too much time. Through the grapevine, I heard that someone in attendance had written publicly that I was a total snob and refused to answer the questions on the panel because I just couldn’t possibly be bothered and thought I was too good for everyone. You can always find what you are looking for, and it's easy twist anything around to fit your beliefs. I had to learn that online it’s often seen as rude and defensive if you try to explain yourself, even when it’s coming from a good place. I still struggle with this though. I think part of me will always want to make it better and fix it.
4. Hate/Gossip Culture. The hate forum created about me with thousands of comments, complete strangers who have lobbied companies to fire me, sent hundreds of private messages to my readers with attacks on my character, and tracked down people in my personal life and harassed them on Facebook. It’s a new level of hate I didn’t know existed. I don’t dare spend a single minute engaging in those things or reading anything written about myself or others online, and I don’t need to! It comes straight to me! In the grocery store checkout line (where I shed a tear for Kelly Clarkson), when people email me, DM me or comment with personal attacks, or a concerned friend or reader shares the horror they found in a Google search. I recently commented on a friend’s Facebook post not realizing the setting was on public and was eagerly greeted by a stranger urging me to kill myself. I have no idea if that was related to my blog (I was logged in as my personal profile) and it honestly doesn’t matter. There is so much hatred online, I try to spend as little time as possible reading anything online these days, especially the comments section.
These four things have made it incredibly hard for me to show up on the blog everyday, despite how much I love it and love you guys. Some of the same things are happening to my fiancé with his work with Rethink Homelessness and it breaks my heart. It’s not so much “this is happening to me” but rather an awakening of what’s happening on the internet with the rise of people power tripping on veils of anonymity (like Zelda’s Twitter attackers). And it’s the fear of what lies in my future if I keep going and dare to succeed at some of the bigger things I set out to do. There's a voice constantly saying “don’t you dare be successful, or you will be beaten to a pulp.” (Are the people doing these things scared of the same voice, too?) It’s a daily Catch-22 that I can’t go forward because the world is just too ugly, but I can’t stop either because it’s just too beautiful not to share.
Thankfully this story has a happy ending. I offer some words of encouragement and three ideas for coping:
1. Fixing focus. I have come to realize all this hate and sorting through it (being curled in a ball) is masking what is really happening: me thinking about myself non-stop. It’s easy to believe “no, I’m just dealing with someone else’s attitude, this hate is so wrong in the world” or “why is this person making me more important than I should be?” But really, you are doing the same thing – you are thinking about YOU. (Even when you are thinking about Kelly Clarkson – those magazine titles about affairs and betrayal are all playing into our worse fears about our own lives.) That realization was like a cold bucket of water to my head and nothing motivated me more to move past all of it. I am dedicated to serving others with my life as much as possible and ain’t nobody got time for all that thinking about myself. While the drama does a good job disguising itself as something you need to worry about, you’re really just worrying about YOU.
Taking that a step further: my focus was on serving my readers, not God. Let me explain. In the beginning my only motivation or “reward” for blogging was helping people – there was no money, no accolades, no creative benefits yet. At great personal expense, I dedicated everything I had to helping people. I spent endless hours interacting with readers, and when I lost my job I did free personal shopping. I was in deep. I have always wanted my life to be about serving others, and I thought I had found a way to do that. I had it twisted though. Two springs ago (still before I was making money) I asked for donations for my mission trip. People were beyond upset that I expected anything from them – which, I suppose, I did. It was a much-needed lesson in not expecting anything in return. When you do receive something back it’s a beautiful thing (many amazing people donated and many of you send notes of encouragement on a regular basis), but you can’t expect anything, not even common decency, which may sound negative but is actually a wonderful surprise when you don’t expect it but then it happens (and it does, a lot). There is a big difference between serving people and being ruled by them. And my focus was so far gone, I was only looking at everyone around me, and my eyes were completely taken off of God, and letting Him direct my steps. This part of the journey is my biggest focus now – total surrender and eyes on Him. (I found this book to be a good resource.)
2. You are what you hate. Another huge realization – I was doing what I despise. (Which interestingly is often the case when we judge someone else.) I have been barely recognizable to myself at times over the past two years. I have never been more moody, frustrated and just plain angry. I lashed out several times in what felt like out of body experiences, I stopped attending any public events because I found myself feeling so guarded and paranoid. Because you know what being bitten by a hurting person makes you want to do? Bite someone else! All the hurt I was experiencing made me want to act the same to others. It’s a vicious cycle. But beyond stopping that cycle I needed to apply my own experience to what that person biting me must feel, too. I had to stop looking at people as “the enemy” because they’re not. More than anyone I understand exactly what they are going through, because I have been there! I have experienced that level of hurt and now I know why they lash out so I can show them a new level of grace. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it sure does make forgiving them a whole lot easier.
Same goes for getting frustrated that this is what people spend their time on. I want to say, “Really? Why does how I spend my clothing budget or the shape of my skirt make someone this angry? Let’s get worked up about something important like world hunger, cancer, or sex trafficking.” It takes everything not to get upset sometimes, but when I do… I’m doing the same exact thing. Getting upset about something superfluous, and by doing so, I’m condoning it too.
3. Choose your own perception. Last but not least, perception is your own reality. Unfortunately, there are some days where there are far greater negative comments than positive.* But overall there have been so much more positive than negative over the lifetime of this blog! And ultimately, I get to choose to view things however I want. I can choose to think about all the amazing people out there who are totally supportive, or I can choose to think about the people who attack. How many there are of each ultimately doesn’t matter. (See paragraph 3.)
Case in point: I was watching an awards show many years ago. I was a huge 30 Rock and Tina Fey fan and they won every award that night. Tina Fey’s acceptance speech was 100% directed at her “haters.” First of all, I didn’t realize she had them (“who would hate 30 Rock?!” I thought), and second of all – I felt totally shafted that she didn’t direct her comments at the people who love and support the show. I am so guilty of being Tina Fey from time to time and I sincerely apologize. It’s SO easy to give those throwing temper tantrums more of your time, but it’s also wrong. The nice people who are quietly supportive deserve that time and effort and my time more than anyone! I’m so sorry for that.
*Important to note: my definition of negative comments does not include outfit critiques. I welcome style opinions of all kinds and just because your opinion of fashion might be different than mine I would never label that as “negative.” You will often hear me say “outfit commentary doesn’t bother me” and “negativity really bothers me” in the same breath. That’s because they couldn’t be more different. I fully expect in this job to receive all kinds of outfit criticism.
To summarize: I am not a victim and this post is not an attempt to collect empathy. I put myself on the internet, and I am incredibly blessed to have gone through this. I view “negative” things as a chance to grow and even in my darkest hour I could see that. Growth doesn’t happen without hard times. I struggle, but I also get stronger each time I push through. There are things I understand about the world now that will help me be a better human and empathize with my fellow brothers and sisters in tough times and for that I'm grateful.
Let’s also be clear: I’m not special. The degree to which I’ve struggled is not a testament to me being “a really big deal,” but rather how much even a tiny bit of limelight has been difficult for me to handle. So why do I keep blogging then, through all these challeges? Going back to my favorite quote “of any activity ask yourself – would I do this is if I were the last person on earth?” my answer is this: because the reverse is true, too. if I would do something as the last person earth, then I will certainly keep doing it, even though I am not alone. You can’t let the existence of others stop you from anything.
Please press on. No matter what it is that you do. I hope today’s post will inspire you to keep going against whatever you may be facing. And sorry again for being cranky at times. My daily prayer is to keep getting better at putting these principles to practice. And for those dark, charred pieces of ground to heal.
If you liked today’s post please share it – especially with any bloggers you feel may be struggling with the same issues. If you know of other blog posts that would be helpful resources, please feel free to share links in the comment section.