LESSONS FROM SXSW: DO THE THING YOU ARE GOOD AT.

/// One of my life idols, Wayne Coyne, doing the thing he is good at.  IMAGE COURTESY: Beth Forester.

This is going to be Part 1 of a three-part post I do this week on SXSW.  That’s right: A series!  We’re gonna serialize all over the place, y’all.

Lessons from SXSW

In all seriousness (series-ness … heh), I came up with the idea to write these “Lessons from SXSW” while driving around in my car yesterday, because the conference felt particularly refreshing for me this year.  While I certainly don’t speak for all bloggers everywhere, it feels like blogging itself is at the age where its children have grown up.  We’ve matured, we have better perspective, and those of us who do this seem to be expanding our dreams beyond: “I want a big HUGE blog.”

Rather, we realize that bigness is only one goal (and if it’s yours, more power to you), but the longer you blog, you discover skills you didn’t know you had.  And those can shed light on other personal goals that had been lying there all along, in stealth mode.

This brings me to Friday, when I presented on a panel called “The Future of Lifestyle Media.”  There have been several terrific recaps written about it already (here are my favorites: Fuji Files, CultureMap, Austin360), and one thing that seemed to impact all of us, including me, the moderator, was something Grace Bonney (Design*Sponge) said:

“Know what you are good at, and put those skills to use.”

Amen.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this hobby/sometimes job we call blogging, it’s that I’m really, really not good at everything.  To illustrate, let me take you to the Wayback Machine, where we can appreciate together one of Austin Eavesdropper’s old posts: The Flaming Lips, October 2010. I’ll give you a moment, to head over there right now, wait for it to load, and have a good laugh.

Welcome back.

That’s some pretty killer photography, huh?  This one is 40% back-of-someone’s-head. I knew I wasn’t that great at photography when I started Austin Eavesdropper, but I was motivated to learn.  I also found out that I’m not skilled at Google+ (proof), and guess what?  Still not motivated!  Oh well.

Through Austin Eavesdropper though, I discovered (accidentally) that I really loved making these freaking videos.  AETV.  I dig the collaboration, the fact that it’s a team effort, and talking to funny / interesting people.  All these years doing Austin Eavesdropper, I had it in my head that I was a WRITER!  I write and that is how I express myself!  But I had an emotional melt-down of sorts last summer that opened my mind, and that led to those videos, and now that suddenly feels extremely right too, in addition to the writing.

Wha? Melt-down?

Yes.  In the middle of a restaurant, much to the chagrin of my poor husband and our poorer waiter. I just sat there and sobbed in response to a very simple question, when Ross asked innocently and innocuously how my day was.

“Why do I even do what I do?” I moaned. “I’m in front of the computer all day for work, and then my hobby involves MORE computer time?  What’s up with THAT?” (Gulps wine) “I don’t like staring at the computer that long!” (More wine) “And I just-” (more wine) “just-” (more wine) don’t know if any of it’s worth it!” (Dramatic emptying of entire wine glass).

 This led to Ross asking me what I wanted to do with my life professionally.  And I told him that if I could do anything, anything at all, it would be to have a little show about Austinites.  About their stories, their art, the quirky things they do.  I felt so silly admitting it, since I didn’t exactly have, uh, broadcast experience.  But it was a dream that had started to materialize in my imagination, and I kept getting little glimpses of what that would look like … sitting around a table with a team, tossing around guest ideas; what our show would sound like, what music we would use.  I just didn’t know how to start it.
“So call Los,” Ross suggested.  ”Los” is our friend Carlos, who is a film dude.  He can do anything – shoot, edit, effects, direct.  I dialed him the next day, pitched my idea, and he said yes.  Now we do AETV together with our friends.

This all came rushing back to me during the panel on Friday, when someone asked about how you build and make relationships in your community.  Grace builds community in a different way: She hosts Biz Ladies luncheons, she started doing these potlucks with other women entrepreneurs in Brooklyn.  Camille on our panel builds community by featuring other bloggers on her site, involving them in her HGTV.com shoots, and working with incredible artists on events here in town.  Andrew on our panel literally directs a company that’s all about making creative commerce relationships in your community.

And me?  I like connecting to my community by interviewing the people from it.  And also by watching them, describing them, and fleshing out their little stories here on Austin Eavesdropper.

“Make the thing you’re best at the focus of your blog,” said Grace on Friday.  Wise words.  Don’t we all secretly assume sometimes that we’re supposed to be doing everything perfectly on our blogs?  Guess what, you don’t have to.  In fact, you shouldn’t.  Find the skill you are wonderful at, put it front and center, and let the rest of the stuff create opportunities for you to collaborate.

  • ChelleLynn

    It was great hearing you talk about this at TxSC (and amazing to get to hug on you a bit as well!) I think so much of the adult angst going around out there has less to do with soul-sucking jobs and more to do with the fact that many people (myself included) have no idea what they want to eventually accomplish. It’s really inspiring that you were able to define and put into action your goals. :)

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

       And what a pleasure to meet you, Chelle!  I think it’s tougher than people realize to figure out what they want to do.  There’s a really great Ted out there on “interests” versus “passion” (if I find it I’ll post it here in comments), and the takeaway is: You should have 20 interests in life, but probably just 1 or 2 passions.  It took many years out of college for me to even get close to figuring out the passion part.  I discovered it by accident while I was in grad school, and started working at a city magazine on the side to distract me from the fact that I loathed grad school so much … then figured out that city journalism was AWESOME (to me).  So often, those passions find you by accident.  By networking and by being as sweet / open  / genuine as you are, I think your passions won’t take long to find you.

      • ChelleLynn

        Encouragement is hard to find and precious when it comes. Thank you so much! 

  • Rachael

    Hey Tolly – I’ve been blogging for about 5 months now and sometimes I feel that I just can’t find anything that I love to write about.  I attended your panel session on Friday and listening to you and Camille (two blogs that I love!) as well as Grace and Andrew really renewed that fire for writing that I feel I’ve been lacking as of late.  Thanks for sharing all your advice and stories – your blog (and you) has been such an inspiration to another Austinite looking to make it in this chaotic world we call ‘the blogosphere’.  I look forward to seeing what is to come!

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

      Hi Rachael!  I’ve gotta say – it’s readers like you that truly make it all worth it!  And you know, sometimes I think finding your muse (writing-wise) is just a matter of being around people who have found theirs, and slowly learning what inspires you.  Fashion posts, for example, are just a disaster for me — but I know other bloggers who do them so well.  Five months is just the beginning!  So DON’T give up.  Five months in, I’m pretty sure I was blogging about my cat … a far cry from my current business card (“the creative culture of Austin and beyond”).  ;)

  • sondra primeaux

    Hi there! I saw you moderate as well, at the TxSC. I thought you did a fantastic job. Sorry I didn’t get to say ‘hi’, but I had to run to the loo during the break. Anywho (let’s rhyme), at the risk of sounding stalkery, I live and work in the Crestview neighborhood, so maybe the opportunity will arise again!
    Sondra
    http://alwaysneverageappropriate.blogspot.com

  • http://sparrowandspark.blogspot.com/ Hannah @ Sparrow + Spark!

    This is such a great post! Totally what I needed to hear this week…and totally what I should be focusing on blog wise!

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.highland Eric Highland

    What a fantabalously personal post Tolly.  I love that you took a shot and called “Los”.  A dream can never be caught unless it is chased.  Wish I had seen your panel, looking forward to that coffee after the madness dies down.