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I can remember it like it was yesterday.
It was my second trip to Germany for another three months because my department sent me there to do research while I was doing my masters degree.
Awesome arrangement right? Yes it was, until things went south.
The grant they had been using to pay me was running out quickly and they couldn’t afford to do as much as they had done the first time.
What made everything worse was that the “friend” who agreed to let me stay with her for free (since I was out of money), decided to have a change in heart and that I couldn’t stay there anymore.
So there I was in a foreign country, struggling to speak the little German I could muster, stressed out by research that was growing to be a significant pain, and out of money.
Fortunately, my major professor was there with me for the first two weeks, so I could stay in his room with him for that period of time.
Unfortunately, I had to find a place to stay that would take me in for next to nothing, since the ONLY money I had was the minimal stipend the department could scrape together (2 or 300 dollars) and the payment for designing one or two websites over that summer.
The next three months would be a serious test of faith.
In the process of trying to find a place for next to nothing, I stumbled onto an unbelievable deal. For 67 Euros, which at the time was worth around 80 US dollars, I stayed in a fraternity house.
Wait, did I say house? I meant to say mansion. That place was so huge that it blew my mind.
There was a full bar in the basement where we could get as many drinks as possible and pay the bill at the end of the month, and a professional chef that would come by every Tuesday to make us a restaurant-quality meal that we didn’t have to pay for.
This was great for the second half of the month, when all my money was gone and I literally couldn’t afford to buy ANY food. Unfortunately, since I don’t drink beer or any other alcoholic beverages (usually), this limited me to soda for those 2 weeks each month. BUT, I knew I could count on getting one full meal every week.
What was even more awesome was seeing the other things that happened during the second half of the month.
As I mentioned, my money was usually done by then, so I really couldn’t buy any food. However, I saw God providing for me in amazing ways.
There was usually a random birthday celebration, or some kind of get together where there was food in the building where I worked. Or I’d be invited to some kind of event where there was food. Food always miraculously appeared and I didn't starve.
Now, I did lose a significant amount of weight because I wasn’t getting as much food as I would normally eat, but it was amazing to see the random ways God would choose to provide so that I didn’t starve.
It almost became a game in my mind – I was excited to see what cool door God would open each day so that I could eat.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I really experienced God in a tangible way and he won my heart again.
From that moment on, I knew that God would really provide for my needs, and even though it may not come in the way I would want or expect (like giving me enough money to purchase what I needed), He was still in control.
Because of this (and a bunch of other events since), I made the decision to live fully for Him. My life would no longer be about me, but about me doing what He wants me to do and being where He wants me to be.
My life would not be about becoming famous, being the center of attention, or getting a bunch of followers. It would be about Him being seen through me, me focusing my attention on Him and showing people that there’s a leader worth following who’s much better than I am – one who would take care of their needs like He took care of mine in Germany.
The Crazy Journey
Since then, my life has gone in a bunch of different directions, and as I look back, I see the same kind of providence.
From my wife and I getting teaching jobs at the same boarding academy straight out of college, to starting my online business.
In the midst of it all, I find myself somewhat afraid.
I’ve seen so many humble people rise to success, only to start believing the hype that they are the best thing since sliced bread.
I’ve seen the evolution of social media, and how it encourages us to not only focus on ourselves, but to portray ourselves as awesome, almost flawless individuals.
Online marketing “gurus” are becoming “superstars” with crowds gathering around them for autographs.
Social media marketers are encouraging us all to use the Internet to grow our fame and build a tribe of loyal fans.
Facebook is encouraging us to share as much info about ourselves to get as many likes as possible.
Youtube is encouraging us to “broadcast ourselves”, and we’re starting to look at Youtubers with tons of subscribers as idols.
We’re posting tons of pics on Instagram, giving our friends the illusion that life is much better than the emptiness we often feel inside.
Selfie was the word of the year in 2013.
All in all, what I’m seeing more today than ever before is that this online ecosystem we’ve created is one that encourages self aggrandizement (the action or process of promoting oneself as being powerful or important) at an astonishing level.
If I were to use only the pictures and videos I see of my “friends” on social media, I would come to the conclusion that most people are successful, eat the best food ever, and are having so much fun in life, experiencing mostly exciting times – but this is farther from the truth than it has probably ever been.
So What’s My Personal Struggle?
I’ve been growing my online business since January 18, 2008 and it has been an awesome journey.
As part of this journey, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot – my Biology blog sees as many as 60,000+ visitors/month and makes what I can truly consider to be passive income on a monthly basis.
I’ve been able to grow my biology email list to almost 20,000 subscribers and then pruned it down to 15,000.
Become A Blogger, by comparison, only gets between 8 and 15,000 people on a monthly basis, with an email list of around 13,000 but is my main source of income since leaving my job at the end of last month.
My business is at an interesting inflection point and to be honest, I’m a little afraid.
I’m not struggling with the possibility of financial success.
I’m not struggling with the thought of not being able to manage my business.
I’m not struggling with fear of failure.
What I’m struggling with is a bit deeper (in my opinion).
I don’t want to lose my commitment to something that is bigger than myself.
Lets be real. It’s easy for your ego to be inflated when your email inbox gets inundated with messages about how awesome you are.
When you launch a product that gets sold out in less than 90 minutes, that can easily go to your head if you let it.
When you start to reach a certain level of success, it’s easy to forget where you came from if you don’t keep reminding yourself.
I was humbled a few weeks ago after reading something I wrote when I first started, and while it seems simple (and maybe even irrelevant), it was quite profound to me.
First, some background. I get emails on a daily basis from companies and other bloggers that go something like this:
Hi, my name is XYZ and I’ve created this great website/product/service that I know your audience would love.
Please link to me because I’m awesome.
These emails annoy me so much. Why? Because they offer no value. It’s nothing but self promotion and people trying to get ahead by trying to convince me to send the traffic that I’ve worked extremely hard for to someone I don’t even know.
I’m ashamed to say that in some of these cases, I’ve responded in very negative ways.
Then, I was going through some of my past emails and saw something that shocked me – a template email I used to send out that said the exact same thing.
You see, back in the days, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t understand the value of relationships within this online environment. I didn’t understand the concept of providing value before asking for value.
And here I am judging them for doing the exact same thing I used to do.
So What Will I Do
Since I know that I’m human, and susceptible to the same temptations that we all fall for from time to time, I know that I have to be proactive to make sure that my success happens in the right way. This is why I’m committing myself to abiding by the following ten principles:
- Instead of focusing on my success, I will focus on providing value and helping others.
- I will not try to portray anything that isn’t an accurate reflection of who I am and what’s really going on in my life.
- I will share my failures to show that yes – I’m human too.
- I will constantly remind myself that I too was once a beginner and made beginner mistakes.
- I will not view successful bloggers as more important than beginning bloggers.
- I will connect with people as people, not just as potential customers.
- I will constantly strive for growth as a community instead of just gaining more fans.
- I will continue to do the best that I can with the gifts God has given me and not hold myself back because of fear.
- I will always try to give God credit for what He has done in my life.
- When I do make mistakes, I will remind myself that I'm human, but seek to learn from those mistakes.
That’s all. That’s the best I know how to do.
If you made it this far in this post, quite frankly, I’m impressed. I kinda just let it all out there. However, it’s what has been going through my mind.
I’ll end with this – last weekend, I went to church and heard a sermon by Rodlie Ortiz from the blog Moddern Ekklesia.
It was on the topic of social media and how we should navigate our lives as Christians in this social media dominated world.
At the end of the sermon he said that God gave us guidance on how to navigate this entire changing ecosystem, and I'll end on that. It can be found in John 3:30:
“He must increase, but I must decrease”.