I’ve had a curious experience recently.
About a month ago, I saw a notice on one of my favorite blogs that a group of five prominent travel bloggers were renting out a villa in Besalu, Spain, in preparation for TBEX 2012. Their aim was to invite ten less experienced bloggers to stay for a few days at the villa and use the time as a learning experience, both from them and from each other.
To say I was stoked is an understatement. The group of bloggers organizing the house were all those I’d either read before or been reading for a while, and this was a chance to both meet and learn from them. As such, I found myself cutting my time in Russia short in order to attend both the blog house and TBEX itself.
But, I have to be honest. When I started booking my tickets and changing my plans – even despite how exciting the idea of the blog house was – I started to feel incredibly apprehensive. I was worried that going to Spain would be a waste of money, that I wasn’t prepared for TBEX, and that I was missing out on time with my friends on the Trans-Siberian.
None of those was my biggest concern, however.
The biggest concern was that I felt intimated.
And once at the bloghouse, that didn’t go away.
First off, the villa itself was way out of my league.
We stayed at Casa Marcial from Charming Villas, an absolutely gorgeous residence of soft light and clean lines, with space for 26 people, conference rooms, a lawn and pool, views over the Pyrenees and remains of a 12th century church on the grounds. We had a private chef cooking for us the first night, four-course meals the next, and PR reps and DMOs routinely visiting for cocktail parties.
It was pimp. And a seriously far cry from the grungy hostel atmosphere I usually find myself in.
Secondly, it felt like everyone else had their shit together infinitely more than I did. It seemed that all the other bloggers in the group had neatly designed websites, large Facebook followings, an ability to use Twitter, and even business cards.
All this added up to make me feel like the littlest fish in the biggest pond.
That first day, I was worried. Was I really up to all this? Did I really belong with this group of people who were taking their work so seriously, so professionally, and so passionately? Wasn’t my blog just for fun – just for me?
But then, something shifted.
That first night, once the bags were away and the cava was out, the group of us got together in the dining room to start the house. One by one, the hosts took the floor and addressed the group for the first time. They didn’t tell us to prepare for TBEX, or to what to expect from the conference, but rather focused on the purpose of the blog house.
Our group had been invited there because of what each blogger had to offer – whether writing or editing or photography or videos – and because the organizers – who were now full-time writers or editors or photographers or videographers – believed we could make something of it. They believed in talent and focus and hard work, and believed that with them we could move blogging to another level. That we could use our blogs to start careers. That we could actually Take It Seriously.
Take it seriously? But isn’t blogging just a hobby?
The more each host talked and addressed the group, however, the more I began to realize that our ‘hobbies’ could be more than what I assumed. While some of us may start blogs just for friends and family, they are still creative outlets, whether in storytelling or picture taking or video editing. They don’t have to just be frivolous. They can actually be a way to share stories and adventures with a wider audience, to better a craft and – with enough hard work – to make a lifestyle of doing so.
In fact, here was a group who had built careers out of their blogs, because all of the time and energy spent on them make them not a pastime, but a passion.
So we were here to stop thinking of our blogs just as pastimes, or pure fun. To start recognizing them as creative outlets, talents, and skills. To learn how to take better pictures, write better stories, reach further networks. To start using them to build businesses and personal brands. To start Taking It Seriously.
Here was a group of professionals who had already done it, and now it was our turn.
That was when my intimidation started lessening, and I started to feel inspired.
And so, we raised our glasses in a toast.
What followed next was two and a half whirlwind days of learning, in which so much information was being thrown at us that I never wanted to leave the room (even to pee!) for fear of missing something important. We talked SEO, Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, audience building, story editing, Twitter talks, and press trips. We worked harder than some of us (err, that means me) have in a long time. We spent the days cooped up inside hovering over laptops, gathered around tables, and absorbed in mobile devices. Even at night, mired in seemingly endless bottles of wine and dance parties to bad pop, we schmoozed and talked and somehow still managed to work.
We barely had time to get outside and see the adorable Spanish medieval town, Besalu, because we were being so productive. Headachingly productive.
And when it finally came to an end, and we headed to Girona to prepare for TBEX, I realized that the intimidation I felt – and still, deeply, feel – was vital. When faced with an opportunity, intimidation may be terrifying, but it reminds you that whatever you’re aiming for has real importance.
When you feel like a fish out of water, you’re being told to jump into a bigger pond.
So, while I can only hope to actually put the immensity of what I learned into action, and to one day have even a modicum of the success in writing or photography that our bloghouse hosts have, I can’t promise that I will.
I can’t promise that I really will make something of writing or photography, that I will create a business from these creative pursuits, that I will build a personal brand. That depends on me, and how hard I work.
But, I can say that I’ve finally begun to Take It Seriously.
Photography and writing have always been my passions, and this site represents a culmination of the two. After seeing others who feel the same about their blogs at TBEX – and who have turned their passion into a lifestyle – I’ve made the choice to attend WTM in London in November to go even further down this rabbit hole of travel writing, freelancing, photographing and hustling.
My time at the blog house, in the end, was crazy inspiring not only because we were around people who are so enamored with what they do, but who also equally believed in what we do. We were around people who knew they had something to offer, turned their passions into a lifestyle, and felt we could do the same.
It was, to say the least, revealing and inspiring and completely game-changing.
I only hope that I can rise to the challenge of working equally as hard myself.
In the meantime, I can at least raise another glass in a toast.
(An unending torrent of gratitude and thanks to the hosts of the blog house – Cailin, Stephanie, Mike, Kate (who took the above photo) and Michael – for organizing such an unbelievable experience, and special thanks to the other participants – Erin, Brett, Flora, Victoria, Liz, Emma, Jennifer, Ed, and Cole – for making it one. When’s the reunion?! ;)