Blogging Superstar Series:Interviews with 3 Top Bloggers

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,, 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.

BarrieWhen 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.

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  1. Great interview Barrie! Can’t wait to read the next two.
    .-= Courtney Carver´s last blog ..How to Simplify your Closet =-.

  2. Farnoosh says:

    I love Leo. I don’t particularly love all successful people and certainly not only a very few rare celebrities but there is something about Leo. I have read his bio in his own words before and he is really down-to-earth – he is not one of those who tries to be, he really is a very sincere, kind, and genuine person. And I am thrilled for his magnificent success! I have heard so much about the A-list blogging bootcamp. Do you really recommend the boot camp?
    ps: Thanks for doing this interview, Barrie!!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Farnoosh,
      Leo is a really down-to-earth person. Very real and full of integrity. He truly lives what he writes about. If you want to become a better blogger, I recommend the Bootcamp with all my heart. You get so much for your money, as well as connections with a great community of bloggers. Leo and Mary are personally invested in the success of everyone who participates. I believe they are putting people’s names on a waiting list right now for an August Bootcamp. Thank you for your comments Farnoosh!

      • Farnoosh says:

        Thank you Barrie…..I will most likely invest in it next time around. Still finishing up Darren Rouse’s 31 Days to Bigger/Better/Blog. Thank you so much for advocating some great people. All the best!

  3. Leo is such an inspiring person. Love what he said about celebrity “has an aura of ego”.
    Ego does feed on celebrity and atteniton.

    What I find most interesting about Leo is that his success moves him towards more simplicity and minimalism. In our culture the opposite is true.

    Thanks for the interview Barrie. It’s great!
    .-= Manal´s last blog ..The Cosmic Creative Process: Transforming Chaos to Beauty =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I was thinking about that while I was putting together this post. It’s ironic that Leo’s journey toward simplicity actually complicated his life in some ways. But he has remained steadfast in spite of his celebrity. That’s hard for most people to do. You must admire is discipline.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for sharing, Great Post! Looking forward to more 🙂

  5. Nice post, with an excellent interview. You are definitely putting up quality content, Barrie, getting better with each post. Keep up the good work!
    .-= Joe DeGiorgio´s last blog ..3 Rock Solid Simplicity Tips From The Old School =-.

  6. Barrie Davenport says:

    Thank you so much Joe! I’m sure you know how much reinforcement from fellow bloggers gives such a boost. I really appreciate your kind words.

  7. Amazing advice, amazing interview. Words to live by. I love that he felt like he’d made it when he realized that blogging made him happy. That’s a great way to look at success.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..7-Week Life Cleanse: Moving Differently in Week 2 =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      So glad you liked it Katie. Leo really practices what he preaches, doesn’t he? I must have made it too, because blogging really makes me happy!

  8. How refreshing to know that a definition of ‘having made it’ is that it makes a person happy doing it. That is so wonderfully refreshing, just the thought of it.
    Great Interview! I’m excited to read the other 2 🙂
    .-= Aileen´s last blog ..6 Signs That It’s Time For A Money Makeover =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Aileen,
      Thanks for visitng! Yes, that’s a wonderful definition of success. (And being able to pay the rent!)

  9. Leo rocks! I’m sure I’ve helped him get a few subscribers. I’m always suggesting his blog to people.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thanks JB — I’m sure Leo appreciates all of the support. Thank you for visiting my blog! Please come back again.

  10. Inspiring interview, one of the best whe we read this not only influence but also make movement keep writing regards from Indonesia

  11. Hi Barrie,
    Thanks for sharing your interview with Leo. I really love getting true life’s stories because all people can really relate on it. I’ve been following Zen Habits, and I can really say that his wisdom is real and can touch anyone’s life.
    .-= Vic´s last blog ..101 Self Improvement Tips to Optimize Your Life =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Leo really walks his talk. He is a genuine person. I got to meet him in person at Blogworld a couple of weeks ago. He is a regular guy — who happens to have a really successful blog!