Social media has literally changed my life to the point where it's unrecognizable at times from the life I led before I started blogging. I still remember that first night, lying on the sofa while my husband set up my blog for me (I was technophobic and didn't think I could figure out Blogger). I had no clue where I would end up just a few years later. Forget career changes and published books; I had no inkling the amazing people I would meet along the way. People I would have never met if not for connecting in cyberspace simply because our physical worlds were too far apart.
Leaving my teaching job, trying to make a go of it as a full-time writer -- those things were huge risks. There were times in the beginning where I thought to myself, "was this a good idea at all?" Now, six years down the road, I know all that would be missing if I hadn't taken that leap. It all started with that leap; with taking a chance.
The BlogHer Entrepreneurs 2013 conference begins at the end of this week in Silicon Valley. For two days, people will gather to discuss that idea of making dreams a reality. The event is billed as the "third annual event designed for women who want to start something."
Women who want to start something -- isn't that all of us?
I spoke to the three founders of BlogHer -- Lisa Stone, Jory Des Jardins, and Elisa Camahort-Page -- about how social media has changed their lives. Listen to what they had to say about taking that risk and founding BlogHer, and then stick around to tell us how the Internet changed your life.
Image: Darcy Padilla
When you three were young adults, how did you imagine your life at the age you are now? In that time period prior to the advent of social media, what did you picture yourself doing and where did you picture yourself living?
Elisa: I certainly never pictured doing what I'm doing now, because first I wanted to be a performer and pictured myself in New York City. Then once I traded in that career for a more stable one, I imagined climbing the corporate ladder... following in my mom's footsteps up those rungs. I did not think of myself as entrepreneurial. I did not have a yen to be in business for myself. This is really my fourth career, and it feels like the one I fell into most serendipitously.
Lisa: Once upon a time, I wanted to be a journalist in Africa. Then I had a baby. Single parenthood sent me to the Web, where I wanted to learn stories and tell them. I never imagined that I'd be able to help create a multimillion dollar company about stories with storytellers. THAT is the power of technology, education and the First Amendment.
Jory: I always thought that I would somehow be working in traditional media -- as an editor or writer in New York City. The ultimate success at the time was to publish a book and make enough money to rent my own apartment on the Upper West Side. I started my career in the very early Web 1.0 days working at print institutions -- Penguin Books, The New York Times, and Time Inc. -- and was introduced to this site called Yahoo! by a self-described geek who prided himself as living on the periphery of things. He absolutely hated anything mainstream. When I left magazines and was offered the chance to work at a digital media company, I hesitated, thinking that I might be throwing away a perfectly good print career. I had no picture in my mind of how I'd like my life to look. I was a blank slate.
What was that aha moment when you realized that what you started wasn't just going to be a job; it was going to be something that would change your world?
Jory: The day after the first BlogHer Conference, I recall feeling giddy and lightheaded. I was reading the many recaps of our event, and hearing from so many women I'd met who were prodding me, Lisa, and Elisa to continue. The question was, continue doing what? For the past several months before the conference I had been working madly on getting sponsorship and raising awareness of the event, but I still saw it as a "side project," tangential to my writing and consulting gigs. That day, I felt as though BlogHer was a key component of my professional identity, and that we'd just set the stage for something bigger. I realized that I had just made a commitment to do something far larger than myself or anything that I would be able to fully visualize. It was terrifying and compelling.
Elisa: I would have to say that very first BlogHer Conference was an aha moment. Lisa, Jory and I had our heads down working on it for the 120 days between announcing it and the day arriving, so I'm not sure we appreciated what was coming together until we got up there to welcome everyone and saw that beautiful sight of 300 (mostly) women, who blogged about everything under the sun, all in one place and wanting to to change the world (and their own worlds). I think we realized we had a tiger by the tail with all the energy in the room that very first day.
Lisa: Elisa's right -- the very first conference just clicked. The number of people who wanted to help was staggering. A friend of mine has often said, if you have an idea and nobody is interested in helping, maybe it's not a great idea. If you have an idea and EVERYBODY wants to help, then maybe you're on to something. We were immediately on to something. And since I knew based on my Web experience that some of the women in the room were leading communities that were already bigger than Oprah + Katie + Martha, I knew we could help these new talents get the sponsors they deserved.
Have you ever experienced a time when you just couldn't believe the moment you were in; an amazing opportunity that came up due to your work in social media?
Lisa: I think it was the time I heard Elise Bauer, the blogging genius who created SimplyRecipes.com, tell my children "Welcome! This is the house that BlogHer helped build!" My boys were slackjawed. To be able to help publish the women -- and men! -- whose writing and community leadership skills and social influence is VASTLY superior to so many others is a dream come true. Sometimes I feel like Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, discovering new talent. Ooh! An Eddy Murphy! A Gilda Radner! A Belushi!!! It's incredible how much talent is out there just waiting to be found and read and appreciated.
Jory: I've had countless experiences like this, where I've been able to meet someone I've long admired because of BlogHer. But one in particular stands out because I had an encounter with a former life. In 2011, we hosted the BlogHer Writers Conference with Penguin as a primary sponsor. My first job out of college was with Penguin, and among the editors who joined us on panels were people I worked with nearly 20 years ago. For years, there was a wall between writers and publishers, and to see us all in a place where there was so much desire to network and share knowledge was a bit surreal.
Elisa: I think one of the most surreal moments was last summer at BlogHer '12 when President Obama opened our event with live remarks via video from Florida. Again, we're typically heads down until the last moment, and Lisa and I hadn't been in the Ballroom when they were testing out the live satellite feed (with an Obama stand-in, to be sure). So after we introduced the President (with our backs to the video screens) and then turned around to sit down and looked up and there he was bigger than life up on the screen, saying our names and saying "Michelle say Hi"... wow. That was a big moment. A surreal moment. Six months later, I met the First Lady briefly at an event, and when I introduced myself I could tell she authentically knew exactly who I (or at least BlogHer) was. Which, of course, was super-cool. I really just need to meet Bo Obama now, and really my life will be complete!
So, tell us, how has social media changed your life?
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