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…

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.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.