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Truthy Tuesday :: On Online Communities, Burnout & Feeling like Not Enough

truthy tuesday with meighan o'toole

{By Guest Maven, Meighan O’Toole}

If you told me ten years ago that one day I would have friends all over the world — people that I could hit up when ever I felt like, friends I could ask favors of, individuals I would be inspired by — all because of a computer. I’d say: you’re nuts.

At the same time, if you told me then that many of those strangers would in fact become friends in real life, a solid community — people I get coffee with, meet up with, have dinner with, share my projects with, ask for their feedback, and rely on. I simply wouldn’t believe you.

(Think about it, ten years ago we weren’t even using our real names online!!)

Here’s another: if you told me that my life would be immersed in “tech” and that my entire career would shift because of words (sometimes just one hundred and forty characters worth) and images I put online, I literally would not be able to comprehend what you were talking about.

Like, no clue.

None.

Something to know about me — I’m a latecomer to the Interwebs. It wasn’t til I started to really mess around on Myspace in 2005 (being real truthy here!) did my passion for the World Wide Web take off, I was 33 — to give you some perspective.

I was mesmerized by the level of communication and the instant connectedness MySpace brought into my life. I wanted to know more. I wanted to dive into all of these new sites that were popping up. My love for online communities and the web was born. I just had no idea yet.

I’ve always been someone who likes to connect others to things I love.

I shine when I am making that connection with people about shared interests. These things called web logs seemed like a good way for me to share what I was into. So after farting around on Blogspot (or Blogger as it’s now called), I launched my big girl pants blog on Typepad, My Love for You in October of ‘06. It started as a personal blog, then ultimately turned into an art blog geared at women.

Creating this little site would single handedly change my life in so many ways, forever.

Through My Love for You – I met artists, makers, and creators all over the world. They opened their studios, homes, and workplaces to me. All because I asked. I sent a simple email and said, hey — I’d like to share your work on my blog. And they said yes! Suddenly I was connected to this community that spanned the globe. It was intoxicating!

By hand seeding this sort of community — I met people, I made friends, and in turn they shared my site with others. It was an amazing feeling to become part of this community online. It felt so good to be a part of something so exciting.

By 2010, my hard work started to pay off. I was getting thousands of hits a day. I was getting loads of emails a day from people all over the world. Free stuff. Art! Books! Lots of people said nice things to me. I never really dealt with one troll (which on the Internet is a goddang miracle!) It was beyond my wildest dreams of what I envisioned my blog to be. All existing on my 13” screen!

However, I was starting to burn out right when things started to get good.

When you run a blog that posts original content by yourself, it’s A LOT OF WORK. I was exhausted. And tired. My blog had literally taken over my life.

Everyone around me — all the bloggers I had come up with, we’re killing it. Or at least it seemed that way to me online. I wanted to keep up too! But I felt like I was falling behind. I couldn’t respond to all the emails, or keep up with generating enough content, as well as feel like I was actually enjoying and participating in my life.

I started to doubt myself, and my choices. I couldn’t keep up with the demand of my readership. I started to burn out. And was just so damn tired.

Plus my life didn’t feel so glamorous. It felt like a lot of work with very little return.

It started to feel really uncomfortable. I was tired of keeping up with the Jonses. Comparing. Contrasting. Feeling less than. Never feeling enough. It wasn’t fun anymore. I just wasn’t relating any more. (This is what’s called FOMO — fear of missing out — it is a motivational, creative killer!) So I took a step back. I created a private twitter account, I made my Facebook private.

My feelings continued, then got stronger. I started to get really disillusioned with what I saw around me, and how I was contributing to it. I no longer related to what others were sharing about within the larger community I had become immersed in.

It’s not a slight, I just started to get older (no, like literally older), clothing, art, and how your house looked, no longer really interested me. In fact it started to make me highly irritated. Plus, I was tired of people hitting me up for something (ie: a shout out on my My Love for You) while I was feeling like I was barely making a living. I didn’t feel like part of the community I loved anymore. I felt like I was drowning.

I was over it.

In the fall of 2010, I was approached by Yahoo’s social media team – and was offered a job. I took it. With it I took a break from living online. I just needed a break from blogging along with everything that came with it. I put my blog on hiatus, and took an even bigger step back.

I was so conflicted because I no longer felt like I belonged to the blogging community. Or to be totally real, I just felt like I had outgrown it. I felt shallow, depleted, and burned out. It sucked.

I turned to people in my community that I trusted. And I focused on my IRL relationships. I still toyed around online in my own way — but no where near how I contributed between 2007-2010.

I was uncomfortable for a while online. A long while. I start and stopped my blog a number of times because I was so conflicted. (Which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Ehhh, you live and learn.) I was moody. I couldn’t seem to stay away from wanting to create content on the web. But I also couldn’t find where I fit in. I felt left out. I felt like all the hard work I had done was no longer relevant.

I felt like I no longer belonged to a community.

Then, one day I got over it. Obviously it wasn’t that simple — but over time I realized it is what it is, and moved on. I immersed myself in tech, moved onto other jobs at Wikia (Wikipedia’s for profit sister), then Wired, and then I started my own business. I opened up a whole new world to myself that I couldn’t get enough of (and still can’t today). I moved away from My Love for You, the ideas I had attached to it, and the majority of the community around it.

I realized above all — that I was totally OK. I had grown up. I had changed. With that change, came new friends, new ideas. New community.

Here’s the thing, community is there when you need it. When you want it. How you want it. But you have to bring something to it, for it to continue to work for you, and quite frankly, need you. I just had nothing left to give, at least not in the capacity that I had previously. I was all done.

Today my online community is so diverse, and vast. Plus, I am so much happier with my life ‘online’ and the way in which I feel about my place within it. I am forever grateful for the many experiences I’ve been fortunate to have because of that little blog I created back in 2006.

Of course there are still days when I need a break from THE INTERNET, and feel consumed by how much is happening. (We all do, right?) The difference now is that because I have had the experience of being completely overwhelmed and burned out — I now understand that I can take a minute and things will still be there.

I can watch for the cues: Oh, I’m not feeling like I’m enough? Or I don’t have enough things? I’m not doing enough? Time to get offline. Go outside. Hang out with friends. Make things. Cook. Read a book. Regenerate. Time to stop and smell those proverbial roses.

When I feel like myself again? I come back. And I add to the party. Because as my mom always told me, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here’s to being a valuable part of your community today! Have you had an experience like mine? What do you do to take care of yourself when being online saps your energy?

meighan o'tooleMeighan O’Toole is a people-connector, an information conduit, and a community creator. Her specialties are helping small brands and creative individuals define their voice online, in their own terms. She works as a digital strategist to help make the Internet work for you and your business, by connecting you to resources to make things easier.

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12 Responses to Truthy Tuesday :: On Online Communities, Burnout & Feeling like Not Enough

  1. dk says:

    Meigs… this hits the nail on the head. Great post. You put so many feelings I have about the internet into words.

  2. Kirsten Shaw says:

    thanks for the truthy tuesday Meighan! It’s a relief to hear your conclusions about keeping up with the Joneses. Sometimes that pressure is enough to keep us from publishing at all. Your voice – online and off – is a huge inspiration to be open and real online and see what community grows.

  3. Coral says:

    Love this post – I love the writing. So down to earth and honest. And so nice to hear the internet isn’t dominated by people much younger than me – Can you tell I’m having a mid life crisis ;)

    Comparing, trying to compete, trying to keep up, trying to catch up – it all makes you feel blech and it does take the fun out of it.

    I watch DVD’s or do art or read magazines to give me some perspective. It’s not a competition. I’m running my own race. I can look to others for inspiration and encouragement. But when it starts to make me feel like my big wild crazy dream is impossible, that I can’t be as good as, I need to give myself a time out.

    I think many of us at the start of our adventure need to hear about finding balance, about not keeping up and that it’s okay to change direction.

  4. meighan says:

    DK & Kirsten,

    Thank you so much! It was kind of amazing how easy it was to write…I have never really spoken online about how burned out I got. But it was clear when I sat down to write it was time. I think what I love most about this piece is so many people have reached out to me about it — I love how meta the Internet can be! Creating community around feeling over the Internet, I love it!

    best,
    Meighan

  5. meighan says:

    Coral,

    Ahh. All good stuff! And yes, I turned 40 last summer — I am far from a youngin’!

    One of my favorite things ever said to me was by friend the artist Dan Gluibizzi: “There is no finish line.” I remind myself of this often.

    best, Meighan

  6. @indy_johar says:

    RT @KateKendall: Amazing interview with @meigs on online communities, burnout and feeling like not enough // The Maven Circle -> http://t.co/DWenIKynQa

  7. RT @KateKendall: Amazing interview with @meigs on online communities, burnout and feeling like not enough // The Maven Circle -> http://t.co/DWenIKynQa

  8. RT @KateKendall: Amazing interview with @meigs on online communities, burnout and feeling like not enough // The Maven Circle -> http://t.co/DWenIKynQa

  9. @MishyLane says:

    RT @KateKendall: Amazing interview with @meigs on online communities, burnout and feeling like not enough // The Maven Circle -> http://t.co/DWenIKynQa

  10. @favstar_pop says:

    RT @KateKendall: Amazing interview with @meigs on online communities, burnout and feeling like not enough // The Maven Circle -> http://t.co/DWenIKynQa

  11. This is a really good piece by @meigs about her burnout while contributing an online community: http://t.co/4PWTDM4hFD

  12. @vdimauro says:

    RT @ClarisseThorn: This is a really good piece by @meigs about her burnout while contributing an online community: http://t.co/4PWTDM4hFD

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