Dirty Little Secrets of a Lifestyle Blogger

 

There’s this pressure you experience as a lifestyle blogger. You feel like you always have to put on a good face, write about how great your life is, and share with readers all the amazing lessons you’ve learned. And then you feel like a charlatan when that inevitable ebb comes.

I’ve felt like a fraud several times this past week. After spending two months in the sexually repressed land of India, I decided to hit the dating scene hard here in Thailand. So I’ve been going out pretty much every day and making an effort to be social and chat up attractive women. I’ve had some fun with it, but I’ve also struggled with a ton of internal resistance and self-doubt.

Worst of all though is the feeling of hypocrisy. See, I’ve written plenty about flirting in the past, thinking I had it all figured out. But nope. Here in Thailand I find myself bumping up against the same old fears, having to relearn the same old lessons.

It’s a similar story with my writing. This article makes it 356 that I’ve published on the blog. Since I committed to posting twice a week two and half years ago, I’ve never missed a deadline. So you’d think I’d have this writing thing pretty well sussed by now, especially since I’ve doled out plenty of how-to-write advice in the past. But nope. I still struggle with it. I feel like I’m battling a severe case of mental constipation trying to write these very words.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you gone through similar yourself? You think you’ve got a certain part of your life handled, but then all of a sudden you find yourself ten steps back, wondering if that progress you made was just a mirage all along. You ask yourself… Who am I, really? Am I the guy sledding down the hill with a huge grin on my face, or am I the guy trudging back up again, dragging that heavy sled behind me?

At times like this, I cling to processes. I hang tight to them and try ride out the storm.

The process for improving my dating life is to go out regularly and interact with women. I know if I just keep making myself do that, even on those days when I really don’t feel like it, everything will come good.

Same with the writing: If I just keep making myself free write a thousand words a day and publish two posts a week, even if those posts kind of suck, it will all eventually come good again.

So the dirty little secret of this lifestyle blogger, and I suspect all the rest, is that I’m still struggling, even with those things I thought I had figured out a long time ago.

And that’s okay. Caterpillars, butterflies, all that good stuff.

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  1. Niall,
    I really do appreciate this update of yours. I think it’s true that many lifestyle bloggers cultivate an image of near-constant upward progress. Although inspiring, it’s also de-humanizing and might be alienating for some readers. Everyone struggles, and especially for people who aspire to a wide assortment of life-style objectives (spiritual, vocational, intellectual, romantic), it is difficult if not impossible to maintain an upward trajectory in every area.

    If the key to personal development in a particular area is mindfulness and intense focus, then clearly other areas are subject to fall by the wayside. I think your latest blog posts have indicated that you’ve made significant progress with respect to your vocational aspirations, and perhaps your problem-solving ability as well. It’s understandable that your flirting skills may have regressed, considering the environment you describe in India. Your “muscles” may have atrophied, but you’re lucky in that you’ve already developed a formula to guide your progress. Because you’ve followed this formula before, you’ll probably take to it again in less time than it took you to develop it initially.

    You’re just out of shape; you’re not a fraud :)

    • I like that last line a lot :-)

      Logically I know that I’m not a fraud, and that it’s just a matter of forming the right habits again to get out of a slump. Frustrating while you’re in it though!

      Thanks for the comment, Samantha.

  2. Niall: Tx for this post and the magical lantern video.

    I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability (which I see as a sign of strength).

    That unceasing, sharp-angled upward trajectory that so many people present online often feels hollow and alienating to me, as well (to echo Samantha).

    I have found a lot of guidance and inspiration in the seasons. Not only do different parts of our life go through seasons and cycles, but they can also go through mini-cycles within a particular season. Your dating life could be primarily in an exploratory “Spring” phase, and still go through a mini-“Winter” within that greater phase.

    Being willing to go full circle through the seasons (and not shortcut life by trying to skip the parts where there’s ebb, lack of clarity, a sense of void) gives true depth to us, and the different parts of our lives.

    I also love the idea that in “Winter,” for example, growth might be measured less by movement forward and more by depth inward.

  3. Hi Niall,

    Yes, I do know what you are talking about very well and what I learned when I was training aikido was to become excited when things fell apart.

    You really got your technique together and the move is perfect and you can train with anybody and it’s just a joy. And that goes on for a month, a year or two and then suddenly it just doesn’t work. You get stuck, frustrated and want to quit.

    But if you hang on, one day you get it together again. But on a higher level. It fell apart because some part of you were evolving and not others and then they couldn’t work together until all parts were alined again.

    So, in my experience, when things are falling apart, I love it, I let go of my eager to make it work, I keep doing it and eventually things line up again in a much better way.

    Good luck!
    Stina

    • Hey Stina,

      I was actually talking to a friend about this the other day and mentioned a similar perspective to what you just shared, about trying to see the struggle as an opportunity to grow and learn. I’m sure I’ll look back on these struggles in a few months and be grateful for them. The trick of course is trying to hold have gratitude right now!

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I think your own analogy is perfect. You can’t be the guy sledding down the hill with a grin on his face without sometimes being the guy trudging back up. One begets the other. Unfortunately, it’s not a lesson any of us who grew up in a culture of positivity want to hear or learn. As you know (I hope!), I struggle with this mightily, and I agree, sometimes the blog inspires me to live better, but there are times it makes me feel like a total hypocrite. It doesn’t help when I’m having a hard day and the hubby says (jokingly), “Hey, where’s the brightness?” LOL

    You’re doing amazing things that you’ll look back on with a fondness you can’t imagine now, Niall. Or maybe you can. Enjoy it. Even the parts that feel like trudging. Because actually, those are the ones you’ll cherish the most.

    Hugs!

  5. Hello Niall. You really seem happy since landing on the beach in Thailand… not that you seemed unhappy before.

    “Who am I, really?…” the downhill sledder or uphill trudger? I suggest we are neither… and both, haha. But not one or the other.

    I am struggling too, even after having so much figured out. There seems to be a difference between learning something and applying that knowledge to daily living. Consistent application is difficult. Especially with the inevitable ebbs and flows of life, we are destined to ebb and flow too. I also cling to processes/systems, some of which I’m working to improve upon.

    Pain shared is pain divided and joy shared is joy multiplied; you share both in your blogs and are thus much more inspirational than the in-denial-overly-optimistic blogger. And you have really cute cardboard hangers ;)

    • Hey Danny. Thanks for the comment. Those lanterns were launched Saturday from Mae Jo, which is about a 20-30 minute drive north of Chiang Mai.

      I think they’re launching a load of them in the city on Wednesday, down by the river.

  6. Gracias for this, Niall! It is just what I needed to read… so timely :)

    Sometimes (or often) I feel that I haven’t improved that much in my social skills because sometimes it requires a huge effort to strike a conversation or take part in one, it’s like sometimes a loose the momentum and I find myself few steps back. I used to feel frustrated about this continuous effort, now it just keep me on my toes, I know that I can’t be lazy in my fight against shyness because if I do, I’ll loose positions and it will require more effort.

    Aaaanyway, Niall, you know you are my inspiration and a kind of model that motivates me, if you could win shyness and flirt with thousand girls, I can win too and be comfortable in a big group of people and *even* participate! :)

  7. My question is then why do you always have to put on a good face and write about how great life is? What is wrong with saying ‘hey, look, today I feel like the guy trudging back up the hill’? That doesn’t make you a fraud, or your previous posts any more or less valid.

    Everyone doubts themselves, no matter how outwardly confident or successful.

    FWIW I only read three blogs regularly and this is one of them, and any blog where the dude is always on the ‘up and up’, are in my mind telling only half the story.

    • Logically I know it doesn’t make me a fraud, but I still feel can’t help feeling like one when I find myself struggling with obstacles I thought I’d overcome long ago.

      And agreed about the happy-sunshine blogs. I don’t stay subscribed to them for long myself either.

  8. There’s no guarantee you will learn a lesson only once.

    Recognize the struggle and take satisfaction in it.

    Thanks for the shot of the lanterns — what an overwhelming experience!

  9. Dead. On.
    :)

    I’ve been thinking about how you write, and I think now is the right context to say it.

    You tell us how you did something and you succeeded. Inspirational.

    You tell us how you tried something and you didn’t succeed BUT you’re still moving on. Inspirational? Many times, yes. But you get comfortable with failure-as-feedback. I fear you’ll end up removing the whole concept of “accountability”.

    When you try to hide something, it is not because you are embarrassed, but because maybe you WANT TO STAY embarrassed and WORK at it to remove it. Am I making sense here?

    For example, I’ve had a problem with showing up on time. I made it look cool almost. It sucked. But I pulled it off. Then people, friends and family knew I’d be the one who’d be late. They arranged accordingly. I wouldn’t lie, but I’ll pretend that it’s OK, let’s move on and do what we are here to do. It worked. But I didn’t improve. I thought I had it covered. I didn’t.

    Then I told myself, “I will not be late”. And I worked at it by SAYING it like that. At the start it sucked even more. I was ALWAYS APOLOGISING for being late. I started being worried because I was getting late. I didn’t want to apologize for being late. I’d rather wait then have others wait for me. Etc etc. This is MILES away from how I was only a few years ago. I have now improved a lot. Still some way to go I’d say. But all because I stopped being ‘transparent’ about it, I stopped being all open and “let’s move on” about it. I started giving a shit, by “pretending” to give a shit. How? By saying, “I am not the guy who’s late,” to others as well. Was I lying at the time? Was I being a hypocrite, knowing that I hadn’t changed the habit yet, just the attitude? I think not.

    Just food for thought. Hmmm…

    Either way man, stay blessed :)

    • Good food for thought. I think it’s a bit of a tightrope. Yeah, you want to be pushing yourself hard and failing every now and then so you know you’re really stretching yourself. But then there are times when you really need to give yourself a break. Never an easy call for me.

  10. Hi Niall,

    Love the hangers! I read your stuff all of the time and find it very insightful and entertaining. I’m doing the work thing every day in one place so it’s nice to see how successful employment and travel can be combined.

    Continued safe travels,
    Liz from PA, USA

  11. Hi Niall, I’m struggling with this in a different context. Getting over a break-up. It’s been a few months and I fall off a cliff edge on a regular basis. I’ve stopped talking to my friends about it for fear of looking like a yoyo and annoying them.

  12. I feel like this applies to all things in life, not only on the subject of lifestyle blogging.

    Everyone has their ups and downs. After a moment when you work hard for your passion or to improve a certain skill and make a great leap in your development are always followed by a “clear your mind” period when it all just chills down and is assimilated into your new and improved personality.

    This process is all part of evolution.

    Those posts you made, they contain the solution to a problem you had and resolved BACK THEN. And the solutions were awesome because they worked for you and you knew it.

    You’re definitely not a fraud, and those posts sure as hell still help people right now.

    It often times happens that I learn awesome and new (!?) stuff from re-reading my old posts! I’m always amazed at the valuable lessons I’ve sometime learned but easily forgot about afterwards.

  13. Niall,

    What is life without learning?

    Your Analogy about the sled is perfect, and couldn’t be better put. but the question is not, which person are you, it is this: as the man climbing, are you excited about sliding down again, knowing that there will always be an inevitable climb to the top, or are you just going to keep walking, never enjoying that next ride?

    There is no endless ramp of joy, and no matter how perfect you think everything can stay, there are always new climbs to make, new things to learn and re-learn.

    If we knew everything we needed to know in life, at the very start, with unlimited courage to do anything, why bother doing anything?

    With everything known, there wouldn’t be excitement, fear, or anything to exhilarate and make life worth living.

    So enjoy your slides, and your climbs, they’ll make the slides way more enjoyable.

    just my 2 cents worth

  14. Hi Niall,

    I also experienced trouble with dating in Thailand.
    The main reason of mine was bad level of English of local girls. The girls whose level of english was best were those who sold their sexual services.
    (I don’t count foreigners because dating with a foreign girl just isn’t a thai dating)

    I didn’t try to date in India so I can’t compare.

  15. The writing never gets any easier, Niall. I’ve worked for more than a decade at a newspaper and it’s excruciating to sit down at the keyboard, even after all these years. Some times are better than others and sometimes the words flow more evenly.

    Mostly, it’s like pulling teeth. Especially the editing and revision. And taking suggestions from other people.

    The thing is, writing isn’t a skill like driving a car where you master a few basics and can pretty much get from A to B accident free. It’s a craft, like painting or sculpture — it’s a constant process of gaining ground. You struggle with writing every day because there’s no definable end. It’s how you handle that struggle and your diligence in it that makes you a good or bad writer.

    Here’s a quote from Geoffrey Chaucer, perhaps one of the greatest writers ever, that neatly sums it up: ““The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne …”

  16. Thank you for once again being candid with your readers, Niall. I don’t see such vulnerability from most other writers.

    As I perused The 4-Hour Body at Barnes & Noble the other day, it struck me that Tim may have learned hundreds of skills and hacks, but how many of them has he meaningfully retained?

    I believe a way of retaining our gains is to practice them like those flash card learning programs like Anki. Periodically, purposefully test yourself so as to maintain your abilities and knowledge.

    Lastly, note that clicking the link at the bottom of your emails (share and view comments) doesn’t link to comments; it links to the post only. One must scroll down the page and click again on the comments link.

  17. Hi Niall, kudos on an honest post.
    Wasnt quite sure reading it if your problem was (a) more a feeling of a lack of something to write about, or (b) difficulty in settling down to write.
    If it was (a), i would say to you that you have plenty of material to write about!
    You said that you were going back to the flirting, but it was less successful than Amsterdam. I got the hint that perhaps because it was less successful than before, it was less worthy of writing about, in your mind.
    But to be bluntly honest, i think most readers of blogs would be more entertained by reading about a glorious failure in such an endeavour than in reading about success (you admit, you cannot stick happy-sunshine blogs for long yourself).
    Also, if it was unsuccessful in terms of flirting, it would perhaps make an interesting post to “compare and contrast” Amsterdam and Chiang Mai – what factors lead to the difference…just bad luck, or structural things like different types of bars or a different proportion of good English speakers, etc.
    Also, speaking as somebody who has travelled in Thailand in the past, I think it would be interesting to try the same gambit out on a few foreign backpackers, and then also native Thai women, and see how the reactions/outcomes differed.
    I suspect the reactions would be quite different, but you never know…

    In more general terms, I get a bit of an impression from your blog (and I haven’t been reading your blog for too long) that you seem to want to imagine that all or most of your blog pieces (other than the basic updates), ought to have a “worthy purpose”, ie that people will learn something from it or made to think (I might be over-analysing this issue). But if there is a bit of that in your mindset, that puts yourself under more pressure every week to produce “good” article.
    Perhaps you could try a few weeks with producing one of your biweekly blog posts that is really just meant to be amusing or entertaining, and then in the other, discuss your thoughts on the “state of the world ” or “what makes a successful person” or whatever.

    • Hey Logan. Thanks for that.

      The dating struggles don’t have much to do with the environment or the women here. It’s mostly an internal battle, just getting myself back into the right vibe, out of my head, etc.

      I do hope to share some lesson or make people think with each blog post, but I don’t put too much pressure on myself to do that. I’m committed to posting twice a week, even if I feel I don’t always have something especially good to write about. I figure if I just keep pushing publish consistently my writing naturally improves in the long run.

  18. “Have you gone through similar yourself? You think you’ve got a certain part of your life handled, but then all of a sudden you find yourself ten steps back”

    Exactly! A dozen times at least. I consider these experiences a quite necessary part of the process by now. Really sucks when you’re just in it, though.

    I don’t (perhaps never will) really get this flirting thing, i.e., why it seems to be that important, but hey…there’ll be better times ahead.

    Thx for sharing.

    • Good question. Why is the flirting thing so important to me?

      It’s because that’s where I experience a lot of fear and resistance. And so that’s where I see a lot of opportunities for growth.

      Plus, sex is fun :-)

  19. Indeed. Life is a process as well as a journey – and so is writing.

    When you dig into the great writers of all time, you find in one set of words or another, all over, that great writers love having written…

    And about the struggles involved in the process of actually doing so.

    So? Look deeper for the joy and contentment in serving because it may well be in the having written. And in your case, having flirted.

    Not the results of, per se, but the having done so.

    In any case? We are all the same chap going down the hill and trudging up it. There’s joy and contentment in both…

    Simply more well hidden?

    Or delayed?

    I’ve found that it’s possible to find the joy and contentment in each step in each direction… no matter what’s happening.

    That does not make it automatic.

    Nor does it mean that grieving is left out of any given step.

    I’ve also found that there’s a bit of culture shock any time you go from city to country-side or one country to another.

    Suspect your writing and your flirting are impacted by both;)

    Ahhhhh… and I suspect both will take a giant leap forward that leaves this tiny part of the curve without any lagging.

    Especially since you’re willing to share the bumps!

    blessings,
    Cynthia

  20. Hey Niall, having problems flirting with/dating Thai girls? It shouldn’t last long. I’ve seen some fight each other for boyfriends, although those actually looked for husbands and a ticket out. So if you date you’ll need to be clear from the beginning ;)

    • Yeah. I think Thailand would be an easy place to have “success” with women if I was willing to splash the cash and make promises I have no intention of keeping. But that doesn’t qualify as success in my book.

      It’s not really about the girls at all. It’s about overcoming my own fears and insecurities. I’ve had great nights out in the past where I went home alone but I was happy because I pushed my comfort zone throughout the night.

  21. Hey Niall – I totally get where you are coming from. I doubt myself all the time – especially when it comes to my blogging and writing. It is reassuring to know I a not the only one!

  22. Thank you for your honesty. That’s a reason I keep coming back and reading more. You are talented and inspiring to read. It’s nice to know that you’re not perfect yet either ;)