On Building Confidence And Not Dying Of “Exposure”

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exposureIn the nine years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve watched as my peers toiled mightily. Poured their hearts out, flicking endlessly back and forth between WordPress, Typepad, email, Facebook, then Twitter, then Pinterest, then Google+, and everything in between, making sure they’re reaching out, answering back to their communities and supporting other people’s work. You’ve never seen a multi-tasker in your life like someone in social media.

It’s never ending. Your readers will contact you at 3am in the morning. While you’re on vacation. When you’re in the hospital. And that’s okay because you love them, you’ve created something with them that’s hard to explain but yet it’s there and it exists and you keep feeding it because you love it and them and, to your delight, it keeps growing. There’s always more to write, new ideas to chase after, and new people to help, and while we sometimes complain about it because it’s exhausting and draining, we also love it. I love it as much or more than I love cheese, and that’s saying something.

What blows my mind is what people have created from those initial sparks of passion. They started with one blog post. Maybe it was 200 words, maybe 1000. And they worked and worked and worked and worked and for some, through that hard work, and a good idea, and capturing the needs and wants of others, through their authenticity and consistency and perhaps a little bit of luck too they now have a platform. Some are writing books. Some are starting companies or nonprofit organizations, running events, vlogging, creating how-to guides, or writing at multiple sites because they have such interesting things to say. Others have become one of the go-to people for their topic because of their blog. Or the kind of person everybody calls about ______, because everyone knows how much she cares about and devotes herself to _________. Or simply someone people look up to because of what they have to say. There are different levels of influence and varying ways it manifests, but there are a lot of bloggers that do have true influence now.

They did it themselves. In their pajamas, maybe. While eating a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies or a party-sized bag of chips, or coming in and out of their home offices or dining table desks while chasing after dirty diapers and negotiating sibling truces. They did it, not strictly from 9 to 5, while rushing between their computers and smartphones and the dishes and the school pickup or the other job, the one that does pay.

Pretty soon the rest of the world started taking notice of the platforms they had created, and companies wanted in. Because who wouldn’t? When you have a group of people who are loyal, who have bought in, and who trust someone and watch what they say, that can be a powerful thing. When the business and mass media worlds said we could play in their sandboxes, we jumped right in. We said sure, brand A, brand B and brand C through Z, because who are we? We need the EXPOSURE! We haven’t done anything of value, or paid our dues. We’re not worthy. We’re (in many cases) “just moms.”

We  eagerly offered up our services, even if it was unpaid and meant getting less sleep than we already were. Sometimes that made sense. I’ve done and still do some things because I care about the issue or the organization enough that remuneration isn’t necessary. Other things I’ve done because I was dues-paying, and it was worth it to develop new relationships. I respected that I had a lot of work to do to establish myself and I was willing to do it. Yet most things I did and continued doing, I hate to say, because I didn’t believe in myself. I couldn’t begin to say, “Hey, what I’ve done is valuable. What I do is valuable.” Instead, I did everything that was asked of me freely with a grateful smile on my face and a side order of exposure. Yes please, sir, may I have another?

I had good people whispering in my ear, Katherine you need to value yourself, and I kept shoving them off, nodding politely, saying yeah I’ll get to that soon, but I never would because I couldn’t see what they saw. I wasn’t comfortable in my own worth.

I’m that comfortable now, y’all. I’m happy to say I’ve graduated from Exposure University, I got my diploma, and after nine years and a goodly portion of dues paying, I’m moving on. I am saying no. It’s hella awkward, but there’s something about hitting rock bottom, when you have no more time and energy left to expend except on what really matters to you, that allows you to get past that discomfort. I’ve come to realize I’ve been teaching people not to value my work and my time. I’ve been personally training them to use me at their will because I was too embarrassed to stand up and say “I have worth!”

You know how sometimes in the news they report that someone died of exposure, usually because they were stranded alone out in the elements? I was starting to feel like that’s what it would say on my tombstone — “SHE DIED OF EXPOSURE” — except I wasn’t stranded alone, I was just working for free. That’s when things started to change.

Now I’m aware I don’t have to please everybody. I’m building confidence that I have indeed created some things that have value and I’m very proud of them. I can say, “I appreciate you thinking of me, person who addresses me as ‘Dear blogger,’ but the beauty of the community I have and how much I love it means I’m not going to sell it to you for a gift card. I’m not going to spend the time to do the research, write something serious and valuable, and use my social capital to endorse what you’re doing if it doesn’t make sense. I’m not going to retweet something my readers and followers don’t care about 30 times for a few bucks. It’s not going to help me, and to be honest it’s not going to help you either. We can do better. Let’s do work that is strategically aligned with what I do and believe in and what you do and believe in. Let’s make a real impact together.”

From now on, I must take my self worth seriously. I hope the world takes you seriously too, because you’ve all been doing amazing things and people wouldn’t be reaching out to you if they didn’t already buy into the fact that you’ve done amazing things.

More importantly, let’s help each other build confidence and take ourselves seriously so that other people will be able to. Don’t let yourself die of exposure.

Photo credit: © Gina Sanders – Fotolia.com

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  1. I love that I am at a place where saying no (although still sometimes belatedly) feels good. It feels good to be aware enough of myself to know my limitations and, more importantly, what I WANT. Confidence is the best ego stroke I could have found and though it’s oftentimes still elusive, I find that it is trying its best to be a regular fixture. Man, do I want exposure. But, at what cost? At what cost?

    • It does feel good, doesn’t it? I always thought it would mean I was a jerk. I should be able to take on everything and doing it with a smile. I have no idea what led me to that belief system, but I’m happy to be shaking that off now.

  2. You may know, I recently moved my blog to a paid model. I did it for a million reasons, but mostly because if felt RIGHT to me. And so many people insisted that it would never work and that nobody valued what I do. But guess what? I HAS WORKED. It’s so much more successful than I ever dreamed it could be. I did DIE of “exposure” and I reincarnated myself as someone who feels worth the price of admission. I don’t always feel good about myself or what I have to offer, but I’m practicing self-worth every day now.

  3. I’m new here but this was fantastic and perfectly stated. Sound the Self-Worth Alarm and start the revolution. =)

  4. Yes! Yes! Been preaching this a long, long time. For people that don’t want to pay/pay enough for my talents/time, I like to say that it’s not that I’m too expensive for people/companies, it’s that their budget is too small.

    Thrilled to read this post!

  5. I want to add to this: stop staring at your stats. Stop obsessing over your numbers: fans, pageviews, shares, followers. If your content is good, those things will start taking care of themselves but remember – numbers aren’t why any of us started this.

  6. I’m only a year in and had the hardest time saying no to anything up until the Dad 2.0 Summit in Houston last January. There I learned that I am not a nobody and that people will still come and interact with me if I just write how I want to write. The funny thing is that since I’ve been saying no, I’ve been getting more messages than ever. It’s a strange world this blogging thing. You totally nailed this, awesome post!

  7. I’m at the point where I know I’ve proven my worth, trust and honesty, but I also know I can’t continue to say yes to ever single thing. I’m also not willing to give it all up, so I’m in the middle of making changes – and preparing for a fourth child helps to form this mindset.
    Thank you for writing this.

  8. Hear, hear. It’s funnny—dad bloggers are approaching the level of visibility moms were at years ago, and brands are starting to reach out in the same way. As envious as a lot of dads are of the ladies’ level of influence and “power,” we should really count ourselves lucky to have you as mentors. I do.

    • I think we can all help each other in this parenting blogging community, and I’d like to think in the end that by working hard and demanding more for ourselves, a rising tide may raise all boats.

  9. LOVE.

  10. Hear, hear! I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself and others that I was “just a mom.” I still catch myself doing it. When we learn to value ourselves, others will see our value too.

    • I also sometimes wonder if it’s this way for all of us who work from home. I’m just a mom, or I’m just a dad, and I’m just working from my laptop. If I’m in my pajamas and not a suit, it’s not as valuable … Well, forget that!

  11. I think the greatest gift is knowing that you can do something because you love it and then find a way to increase the return it brings you. The return depends on your ability to preserve the passion—which doesn’t come at .05 cents a word or at the expense of honesty.

  12. I needed to read this. I really did. I have several things I do, unpaid, because I feel like I have to prove myself. It is time I start believing in me and shed the unneeded stress of those “exposure” gigs. Thanks Kat! I appreciate you so much.

  13. Amen, sister. A-freakin’-men. Though I haven’t been blogging for as long as you have, I’m over all of us cheapening ourselves by writing or publicizing things we don’t care about for a measly fifty bucks or worse, free. We’re better than that, and the sooner we bind together as a community who won’t accept less than we are worth, the better off we will all be. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Every blogger needs to read this (and not just for the exposure) because it is SO easy to get wrapped up in pageviews and statistics that you forget why you started writing in the first place. Brands have quickly picked up on the fact that many bloggers are willing to do a ton of work for free, or like you said, for exposure.

  15. I, too, have fallen prey to exposure a few times. It has been a little easier for me to resist than for some because I was writing professionally before I was blogging and I have a freelance educational writing and consulting business. So, I can more clearly evaluate whether or not an “opportunity” is worth my time since I have a basis for comparison and a clear opportunity cost. Yet, I do still fall into this trap sometimes. It can be difficult to see when an opportunity is building your platform and when it is just working for free… and the answer may be different for each person so we are often flying blind here. Great post!

  16. Have I said how grateful I am that you’ve started this site? Your writing and words helped move me out of the worst place I’ve ever been in in my life, and I am so excited to see what inspiration you can create with these new expanded horizons. I’ve thrilled you are valuing yourself because I value the hell out of you. (Now I guess I’ll start working on me…)

  17. ¡Great post! A lot of us think like you but at the same time it´s kind of incredible that brands can not understand that we are really worth it. Blogger power, mouth to mouth, community ¡all of this is a great job! but people think it´s only a hobby.

    Kisses from Spain


  18. *slow movie clap that eventually builds to thunderous applause*

  19. BRAVA!

  20. Love this! Passing you the SPF 50. We can’t let anyone get hurt by all this exposure to the elements. It’s dangerous business.

  21. Loved this, Katherine. You keep on being fierce XOXO

  22. So it took me this long, and with this post, to come out of the wood work and leave a comment.

    I’ve been in this space, publishing online, for close to a decade now, and I’ve only just very recently been able to begin to value what I do, and not only tell myself, but BELIEVE it, when I say no to standing out in the cold, exposing myself. Yep, I want the exposure, and I’ve been grateful for it when Woman’s Day and HBO came knocking, but there is value and worth to what I do, and now that I finally believe it, it’s time I started doing more than just talking about it, and started acting on that belief. As a personal rule, I’ve always kind of avoided “brands” and being labeled a “brand blogger”, but on a deeper level, I just didn’t want to get taken advantage of because I’ve never ever, until recently, been strong enough to see the value of what I do, and my ability to say “no” was pretty much non-existent. It’s a really ugly combination for someone who wants the exposure but didn’t have the confidence to stand up for herself, or her talent.

    Thanks for this, Lisa. Thank you for the reminder!


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