5 Essential Life Lessons from 4 Surprising Years of Blogging

January 6th. Four years ago today, I published my first blog post. I’d written only one and wasn’t sure I had anything else to say. Now I’ve written 242. The truth is, though, somewhere along the way, I stopped writing the blog and the blog started writing me. This is what it’s told me…

vulnerability

Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

1. The fear never goes away. These days, I schedule my posts at least a week ahead of time, to be published at 3am every Wednesday morning while I’m asleep. And every Wednesday—every Wednesday—I awake with my heart beating a little faster than usual and my mind spinning a little faster than usual on one question:

“What have I done?”

Vulnerability is a beautiful thing. And it sucks. It gets a little easier over time, but not much. Because vulnerability is always a door thrown wide open for pain. So, why keep doing it? Because it is also the doorway to grace and worthiness and connection and belonging and passion and purpose. And joy of every surprising kind.

If someone tells you they aren’t afraid, it means they aren’t being vulnerable.

But if we don’t risk a heart that skips, we can’t ever reap a heart that soars.

2. Be open to criticism. And closed to it. This morning, I got an email saying my most recent post should be required reading for all people. The next email said it was “navel-gazing drivel.” They read the same post and had totally different reactions. Four years of blogging has taught me:

Criticism says as much about the giver as the receiver.

Does that mean we should reject criticism altogether? Absolutely not. Indeed, knowing this frees us up to hold it and examine it and decide which parts of it we keep and which parts we give back.

Navel-gazing drivel, for instance.

I held it for awhile. And this is what I decided: the drivel part was more about their wounds than my words, so they can keep that part of their pain. But the navel-gazing part? Yeah, I guess I have to own that, and be careful of it. Yet, I’m a writer, and that’s what we do—our task is to look into ourselves until we find everyone else there, too.

In fact, that’s what we’re all here to do.

3. Everything breaks. Over and over again. Part of blogging is maintaining a website, social media outlets, an email list, and a weekly email blast. With a computer. All of those pieces of technology are supposed to fit together into a seamless whole.

They rarely do.

Something is always breaking. The website stops working or the post image starts freezing up email inboxes or a third-party software suddenly deletes hundreds of subscribers from your email list. Nothing stays stable for very long.

It’s how life works, too.

Be careful of falling in love with perfection. Because it won’t last long. Don’t base your worth, identity, or sense of well-being on everything working smoothly. Instead, put your time and energy into learning this about yourself: when things fall apart, you’ll figure out how to put them back together again. Mostly.

Life isn’t about establishing perfect stability around you; it’s about discovering a little resilience inside of you.

4. We all want just one thing. Before I started blogging, I thought it was our deepest desire to feel special or extraordinary. But for four years, I’ve received the opposite feedback from readers. The most common words of gratitude have been these:

Thank you for making me feel normal.

We’ve all got our stuff. We’re all keeping our secrets. We’re all making it up as we go. Some of us have put together a better advertising campaign than others but, when you get past all the propaganda, you realize pain is everywhere and in everyone. Brokenness is normal. Loneliness is normal. Shame is normal. Anger is normal. Fear is normal. But joy can be normal, too.

Each of us is our own uniquely cracked, peeling, and lovely version of normal.

5. Stop trying to figure out where all of this is headed. Conventional wisdom says we should set goals and work methodically toward our destination. Especially as the new year arrives, we’re supposed to make resolutions, develop a life plan, map it all out. And this approach has merit. But I’ve come to believe something else is just as true:

Planning is a great way to sabotage the most important adventures.

In AA, for instance, they say that planning to stay sober for a decade is the best way to guarantee you’ll get drunk. It’s too much expectation all at once. Too much pressure. Instead, stay sober today, and when you wake up tomorrow, stay sober today again.

This is how the best stuff in life works, too.

If, in January 2012, I’d tried to plan four years of blogging, an eBook, and a book contract, I never would have pushed the publish button on that first post. I’d have been crushed beneath the weight of all I needed to do to get where I was going.

Each step has a way of preparing us for the next step. The journey reveals the destination. Don’t pretend you know where you’re going to end up. Instead, listen for the direction in which you’re being nudged. Today. Take that step.

Then, tomorrow, take that step again.

Until, somewhere down the road—perhaps even four years down the road—you turn around, look back at the path you’ve worn, and see the good news:

It’s all a gift.

The joy. The fear. The criticism. The brokenness. The normality.

It’s all grace.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: The Simplest Way to Transform Ourselves This Year

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Sans Fojas Montecillo

    Living life one day at a time sounds like the best plan! Thank you for this Dr. Kelly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Sans!

  • So Is

    Wonderful Post!! I loved this one very much. Thank you! 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad you liked it; thank you!

  • My Beautifully Broken Life

    Thank you so much! I just read a few of your posts on marriage this weekend. They made me cry. I write a blog (mybeautifullybrokenlife.com) and have felt all the things you have felt. Every vulnerable post drifts silently off into cyberland and at once I feel nervous, exhilarated, and even selfish for sharing my thoughts. I feel like it helps for people to know I have these feelings and doubts and then again, I think I beat myself up sometimes telling my head that I am simply moaning and laying my personal feelings out there and no one cares. It is a strange mixture of emotions. But I love that you tell me to quit trying to figure out where it is all going. I am just going to concentrate on sharing what the Holy Spirit lays on my heart. Period. Being faithful whether that means stop writing or write more. Whew….great Wednesday relief! Thank you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m so glad this was permission for you to be who you are, publicly, on your blog! I visited your site. Keep doing what your doing. It’s good, it’s redemptive, and it matters.

  • Love n Tolerance

    Thanks Doc! This is a GREAT post to start the new year. I have been living “one day at a time” for more than 6mo now. I’ve already violated the “don’t do anything major for a year” rule; twice! However, I honestly believe that GOD has me exactly where I need to be and he has the perfect plan for me; all I need to do is cooperate with His will and everything in my life will work itself out for the best. I am so grateful I came across your site several months ago and look forward to the wisdom you post every week! God’s speed for a tremendously successful new year!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for your encouragement! I really like that “don’t do anything major for a year” rule. My guess is, if we listened to that little voice within, we’d discover major things happening to us, without us having to try at all. 🙂

  • Kathi

    …”The journey reveals the destination”…and perhaps destinations, for some of us. There is such freedom there, in not having to set that unrealistic goal that I always set myself up for (bad grammar, but good intent). And to be in the moment, not stuck in the frustrations along the way. Navel-drivel? Nope.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Kathi. 🙂 Indeed, permission to stop planning and start living!

  • linda

    Please, don’t ever quit writing! Your blog is consistently a place of encouragement and inspiration for me. I am so grateful I stumbled upon your site.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Linda, you have my word. I didn’t write over the holidays and it felt like holding my breath for way too long. I’ll keep writing. : ) And I’m grateful you stumbled on us, too!

  • Beth

    Thank you for the blog. I have found that what people write will mean different things to different people at different times in their life and what is going on currently for them. Some of your blogs hit a home run with me and some of them do not impact me as much, but I think that is because I am not at that place yet or I have passed that place, figured it out and moved on i.e. the parenting blog, my children have grown and have children of their own. I sent the link of the blog to them. I think that people are entitled to their opinion as long as it is delivered appropriately. I enjoy listening to other people’s opinions because on many occasions, it has changed my opinion or helped me in some way.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re right on, Beth, I break a cardinal rule of blogging by writing about diverse topics. Thanks for hanging with us, even on the weeks when the topic doesn’t resonate!

  • Linda Granholm Myers

    FABULOUS post, Kelly!

    You know the Alexander Pope quote, “What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed?”

    You nailed it.

    I live in Seattle in the summer and Tucson in the winter. This year I wanted to be of service in my winter community. When I worked I was in IT. After I retired I became a certified mediator. I called an agency in Tucson and offered to be a volunteer mediator for them this winter. They were excited but never called back, so I remained open. Then I got asked to head up ticket sales for our 55+ snowbird park. It’s all about talking to people, organizing volunteers, setting up schedules and box office software. Mostly what I did in IT.

    I thought I was supposed to mediate, but apparently not. What I’ve got before me now is something I hadn’t planned. That’s usually how it works out.

    • drkellyflanagan

      That. Is. Awesome. And exactly what you might expect from following the nudges and being surprised by where you end up. Keep us posted on what happens!

  • 5DRW5

    I could write weekly expressing thanks. I don’t, as much from laziness as from a desire not to bore you or to think I was a habitually insincere reader. Or something. Anyway, You. Are. The. Best. If I lived closer, I’d happily pay for an hour a week to help me believe I’m normal enough. So, thanks again.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m smiling. Thank you for such kind words. Laziness is normal, too. : )

  • freelytree

    Star-gazing brilliance. That’s what this is. Thank you yet again!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Tree!

  • Doreen M Vitullo-Matheny

    “Something is always breaking” mostly people trying to find “perfection” the image we create in our minds of how it “should be” and almost never is. I believe the key is finding the beauty in the brokenness of our lives. Finding others who are willing to admit they are broken too and knowing that we can survive anything if we can just agree to be broken together and find strength in one another. Admit our need of help and healing and interaction to get to the place of acceptance of ourselves and others.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Right on, Doreen.

  • Ginny

    So true-each point-for what I am facing in my life right now. Thank you.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad they all spoke to you, Ginny!

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  • Ramona

    I just wrote my FIRST blog today! Thank you for this. I needed to read this.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Congratulations, Ramona! You’re in the game. Which means you’ll get scared, banged up, and bruised. But keep listening to the nudges anyway!

  • Grace

    “Navel-gazing drivel.”
    Doesn’t hearing that kindof make you giggle? I know it was meant to be serious, but it’s like being in high-church and the funny thing tickling your mind comes out in muffled laughter. When stern faces scold you silently, the humor sticks anyway and inside you enjoy your quiet secret. Your quiet secret is that people care enough to read AND then find their voice even to disagree because your words speak and we wish to answer. This community built through your toil is thankful, even those who sound a bit villainous in their responses! (I wonder how long it took to come up with that excellent little trio of words, a long time perhaps? A compliment in and of itself 🙂

  • Lee Hodges

    Hi Dr Flanagan,
    Thank you for this wonderful post 🙂
    Your fifth point really resonated with me the most. 11 years ago I embarked on a journey of study leading to a Counselling degree and since graduation it has been a tough road in building a client base. Last year was a steady decline and I have been trying to figure out which direction to head to this year and I have no clear path other than to get up and put one foot in front of the other and this morning I finally surrendered all my planning and attempts to make things happen, and wait to see what God has in store. I always get caught between making things happen and waiting for God to, he always does such a better job.

  • Dominique Richmond Watts

    I very much appreciated this blog post. I have been trying to start up my own website for teaching yoga for over year now, and the things you mentioned have exactly pinpointed the fears that are holding me back from doing it. Knowing that these fears and setbacks are a normal part of the process help me realize it can be done, step by step, as you say. Thank you for putting yourself out there, having the courage to be vulnerable to the scrutiny and appreciation from others.

  • Kevin

    Thank you Kelly, another wonderful post with very appropriate life lessons. One thing I was a little hit by was your last point. I think it is too easy to get wrapped up in a busy life and react instead of respond to, and develop a general plan for life (read as generalized goals guided by principles). Life happens, and resilience is needed to thrive. I guess my concern is that some may take the last point to an extreme degree and let go of too much. I am sharing this, and love your message. Thank you again.

  • KHMccoy

    I’m really glad that you decided to start with that first blog lot 4 years ago. Your writings always hit home to me and I always take something away from them. Thank you. And here’s to another post next week (and the week after that and…).

  • Tracy

    Your words are beautiful to me, as always. Thanks for taking the risk to write for us four years ago, and every week since! It’s truly a blessing!

  • Smiler

    As my precious vacation days dwindle down, the pressure of all I did not get done gets greater. Some days it is a battle to calm my mind and just find peace. Thank you for the “normal” and the “one-day-at-a-time” reminders.

  • Vanessa Portaro

    I’m keeping you….

  • Katie

    Thank you. As a perfectionist, getting ready to teach a college course (the first time I’ve ever taught anything in my life) I needed to see this right now, especially number 3. It is copied and will be pasted into the front of my notebook.

  • Mike Gates

    “Don’t pretend you know where you’re going to end up.” – That’s a pretty good resolution for 2016. Thanks

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