This is part one in a three-part series of interviews with top-notch bloggers Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau and Mary Jaksch. My first interview is with Leo of Zen Habits, Mnmlist.com, and Write to Done.
When I first stumbled upon Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits, and saw that he had over 150,000 subscribers (he has many more now), I thought he must be a celebrity or some well-known somebody who has done something really big.
I kept seeing his blog mentioned everywhere — in other blogs, in reviews of blogs, even in Time magazine. He has been mentioned in just about every “best of” list of bloggers out there. I signed up for his A-List Blogging Bootcamp, hoping that some of the crumbs of whatever he was eating would fall my way.
On the first day of the Bootcamp, Leo appeared on a webinar to welcome everyone. He didn’t hop out of a limo or sit on a stage. He was sitting in his kitchen in Guam in the early morning hours, sipping his coffee, while his wife quietly moved around in the background getting their six kids ready for school.
Leo is just a regular guy. He has a great family, friends, and up until a few years ago, he had a decent job working for someone else.
Somewhere along the way, he decided he wanted to lose some weight, quit smoking, live more simply, pay off debt, eat healthier and enrich his inner life. During the process of his personal transformation, he created a blog to share his experiences with the rest of us.
Little did he know at the time that he would be considered a celebrity in the blogging world. He never dreamed that others would come to view him as an authority, not only on simple productivity, but also on building a successful career as a blogger.
During my experiences with Leo in the Bootcamp, I wondered how his growing status as a well-known blogger has impacted him and his day-to-day life. He was kind enough to respond to some of my questions about this.
Barrie: When did you realize that you had really made it as a blogger?
Leo: Hmmm … that really depends on how you define “made it as a blogger,” doesn’t it? There are lots of amazing milestones I’ve passed along the way — getting 100K subscribers, for example, or being named one of the Top 25 blogs of 2009 by Time magazine, or becoming a full-time blogger and quitting my day job.
But I felt like I’d made it as a blogger well before any of those happened. The moment when I felt this: when I realized that blogging made me happy. I loved sharing what I’d learned with the world, expressing myself through blogging and connecting with incredible people all over the world. I still do.
Barrie: How do you feel about your celebrity status in the blogging world?
Leo: It’s funny, because “celebrity” is such a loaded word — it sounds like you’re successful, but it also has an aura of ego about it. It’s also weird to call myself a celebrity when I don’t have a sliver of the fame of Brad Pitt or Malcom Gladwell.
But to the extent that I’m recognized by my readers and fellow bloggers, I’m extremely flattered. It still shocks the hell out of me when people want to interview me or think of me as a celebrity of sorts, but if that comes with the joy of blogging and reaching others, it’s not a problem at all.
Barrie: How does your blogging career differ from your previous careers in terms of your life satisfaction?
Leo: There’s no comparison. It’s like I’ve been reborn. In my previous lives, I worked for others, did what they wanted, worked because I needed the money, and looked forward to my days off. Now I still love my days off, but I also look forward to “working.” I do what I want, on my own terms, and if I want to change something I’m unhappy about, I do it, and answer to no one but my beloved readers. Every day, I do what I love — is there anything better?
Barrie: How has your success as a blogger impacted other aspects of your life?
Leo: It’s given me more time for other aspects of my life. Now I have the flexibility to do what’s important to me — not just blogging, but spending time with my family, running and reading and spending time in silence. And as I write about all of that on Zen Habits, it’s also part of my job!
Barrie: What has brought you the most fulfillment in your work as a blogger?
Leo: Helping my readers. I don’t fool myself into thinking that everyone who reads Zen Habits experiences a life-changing transformation, or even puts any of my advice into action, but a few do. I’ve gotten enough emails thanking me not only for inspiration, but for actually changing their lives. That just blows me away. I never expected it and am completely overwhelmed by it. It’s amazing.
Barrie: Now that you have such a broad impact on other bloggers through your reputation and your Bootcamps and Bloggers Club, what do you feel is your responsibility to them?
Leo: I really feel that each blogger is responsible for their own success or satisfaction, but it’s my hope to continue to help bloggers with as much useful information as possible, and to set a good example in my own blogging.
Barrie: Are there any downsides to being so well-known?
Leo: I don’t think anything is inherently good or bad — it’s just different than before. I’m still getting used to people talking about me — often I don’t read a post that someone has written about me and will find it months later by accident, and it’s … strange. It is difficult to get so many requests for guest posts or personal help or publicity, only because I can’t possibly say yes to everything and in general have to say no most of the time. I also miss the closer interaction I had with my readers when I was a smaller blog — it was a tight-knit community and I was much more responsive. It can’t possibly scale when you grow to 100K readers, so I had to change the way I do things. I’m not complaining, however — it’s just different.
Barrie: How do you keep balance in your life when blogging, and all of your efforts around blogging, are so time consuming?
Leo: I actually minimize most of the things about blogging that don’t revolve around creating new content, so it’s not that time consuming. I write as much as I like, when I like, and don’t do that much else besides go on Twitter now and then. I don’t do much email, don’t have to moderate comments or forums, don’t track blog stats or earnings, don’t deal with ads. That’s not bragging — it’s just showing that I’ve set things up so that my work is centered on what I love most — creating.
Barrie: If you could give one piece of advice to other aspiring bloggers, what would it be?
Leo: Write what you’re passionate about, and let that passion shine through.
Barrie: Do you see yourself doing this forever?
Leo: I don’t think about what the future might hold — there’s no way to know whether people will still want to read me in two years, or if I’ll still have a passion for all this in five years, let alone 10 or 20. I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be doing what I’m doing now, just 5 years ago, so I’ve given up trying to imagine what I’ll be doing in the future. I just enjoy what I’m doing now, and see what emerges.
Please visit again in the next few days to read my interview with Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity.