“A year from now you will wish you had started today.”
A couple of Mondays ago was a special day.
It passed by without much gravity. No fanfare or trumpets announced its arrival; no epic celebration kissed it bon voyage.
I did, however, mention it in passing to my parents the night before.
“You know, it will be two years ago tomorrow that I launched GiveLiveExplore.com and headed off to Iceland.”
To which they half-proudly, half-squeamishly smiled and nodded.
Two years since you went about-face on your life…
Two years since I said ‘Yes’ to an adventure I felt festering inside of me.
Like many things, this site began humbly.
It began as an idea. Or rather, as several half-baked ideals.
It actually looked more like a messy amoebic stew of stuff marinating in the back of my mind — a dream of long-term unrestricted travel; aspirations of starting a lifestyle business (whatever that meant); wanting to build a life around things I cared about; a desire to explore more creative things like writing, photography, web design and anything else that piqued my interest; a need to find my more meaning and purpose in my life; an urge to challenge myself to craft a personal set of values through which I would aspire to and live by.
Then the passing of a friend dumped a handful of habanero into that stew and propelled me to actually do something with it.
In all major endeavors, we’re told, it’s important to start with our values. I don’t think I intentionally started with them, but something inside of me must have nudged me in that direction. Because that’s exactly how this site started.
A couple months before leaving for Iceland, I decided that Give, Live, and Explore were three words that, if I could define them succinctly, could become my personal values — a Life Philosophy, if you will — to act as my internal compass. Regardless of whatever road I’d find myself along. Deep down I seemed to have understood something I wouldn’t be able to fully articulate until almost two years later when I told a group of high school students:
…while times may change the way the world looks and operates, values remain steadfast and help you navigate your world, regardless of its shape, size, and velocity, its fierceness and its never-ending wonder. Your values become your compass.
At the same time, I saw the world changing.
As it does. I saw how the Internet was challenging the norms of work and life, time and location, employment and self-employment, art and business, human connection and global collaboration. I’d seen many people create blogs around travel, building a niche life, starting businesses, and the like. I saw people building portfolio-like careers instead of following straight-lined ladder paths. I saw how the Internet was cutting out the fat middle men in music, publishing, and other industries, allowing creators and consumers to interact directly with each other. I saw the Internet becoming a giant systematic, efficient middle man. A middle man that cared about truth and connection above anything else.
Sure, most of the hype was probably a Four Hour Workweek kind of fantasy. But somehow, someway, somewhere, I wanted in. Maybe I wouldn’t fit in, but I knew I had to try it out.
Up until that point I was a passive participant on the Internet. And if I wanted to be an active part of this global connected pseudo-nation that is the Internet, I needed to apply for my own citizenship. I needed to invest in my own online real estate. I needed to create my own website, design my own business card, craft my own story. I needed to try my hand at being part of the 1% creating the Internet.
If I wanted to be a part of this new world, I also needed to learn more about the way we connect through the Internet (see: social media). Yet I realized no one was going to choose me to experience this — I had to dive in. I couldn’t operate in the same way I had been operating my life up until that point — waiting to be chosen. I couldn’t wait to be staffed or put on a project that would let me learn. I needed to choose myself and begin by putting my own skin in the game. Warts and all.
And I knew I had better start now.
Otherwise another day would pass, then a month, then a couple years, and I’d still be sitting on the sidelines while this whole thing was growing before my eyes.
The problem was, what the hell would I say? This is probably what kept me from being in the 1% earlier — I had no story. Nothing interesting to say. Yet when I booked that ticket to Iceland, when I decided to do some soulful wandering, armed with my budding life philosophy of Give, Live & Explore, and some of life’s biggest, brightest, burniest questions lingering in my head — it hit me.
Finally, I felt like I had a story worthy enough to share.
With my newfound life philosophy in mind:
- I went to GoDaddy.com and bought the domain GiveLiveExplore.com.
- I paid for 12 months of web hosting on Fatcow.com.
- I downloaded WordPress to be used as the backbone platform for GiveLiveExplore.com.
- I purchased the Gigawatt Wordpress theme by Obox.
- I created a GiveLiveExplore.com email list via Mailchimp, starting with two subscribers: myself, and my roommate Mike. (Joined closely behind by my mom and my dad.)
Then I got to work. I started building my website. And I started writing.
I first wrote something for Holstee, an indie clothing & lifestyle company out of Brooklyn.
Something miraculous happened. That Holstee post gave me first real email subscriber! (Katrine from Brazil…did you know you were my first real subscriber?). Yes, this was a miracle, because it proved my story resonated with at least one person. And if one person cared, maybe others did as well?
I sent an email to about 150 friends, family, and colleagues and invited them to sign up for my email list. Maybe 100 or so did.
Then I started traveling. First, to Iceland. I started writing stories and uploading pictures. It was mostly crap, but I started sharing it anyway. I felt like a fraud and a fool — who would care what I had to say? But for some reason I kept doing it. I had to muscle through the crap because the end goal, the purpose behind it all, was important to me.
I thought I wanted to be a travel blogger.
Around the same time I bought the GiveLiveExplore domain, I had an entrepreneurial seizure:
“I want to be a travel blogger! I’ll write about all the exotic places I travel to, take epic pictures, create awesome video, and make boatload of money off traffic and products and sponsorships which’ll keep the whole machine hummin’ along!”
Something like that.
But after a month of writing, posting, fidgeting with WordPress, trying to “market” my writing, I quickly realized this: I did not want to be a travel blogger. It wasn’t that the grunt work became too much — I am still operating this site, after all. Rather, I became tired of the hundreds of JauntingJillians and TravelinToms online. I may have been nomadic, but I wasn’t Nomadic Matt. I didn’t really want to be. I longed for something grander, something richer, I told myself. Much respect to them, but I didn’t want to be another travel blogger trying to make a living off trying to teach other people how to be travel bloggers.
I continued writing and sharing my travel stories, but quickly and perhaps subtly my blog posts evolved. Looking back now, it was obvious. But in the thick of it, I didn’t notice it.
As one longstanding reader noticed, as time went on the number of pictures in my posts decreased, while the number of words and introspectiveness of my writing increased.
I was developing an odd love affair with the act and the art of writing. Travel and writing about travel had become the vehicle for a sea change that was irking inside me. There was a bigger, stronger, more soulful me growing larger and was suffocating inside the tiny body I had kept him inside. He was trying desperately to escape. The physical wandering helped. Reflecting upon the physical wandering by writing about it really did the deed though.
I learned I wanted travel to be a way to communicate something much greater than just travel. I didn’t really want to write about the Top 10 Things To Do in Prague or the 17 Best Kept Secrets of South Africa. I did write The Best European Cities No One Talks About, but it was more my typical musings than an SEO baited piece. I wanted to explore a more soulful side of life, and travel was one of the vehicles through which I’d been privileged to enough to experience that.
At the same time, I began to believe that maybe I was on some sort of unplanned pilgrimage to…somewhere. That somewhere probably wasn’t a place I could get to by plane, train, bus, automobile, bike, foot, or daydream. But maybe I could get closer by tap-tapping my fingertips onto this machine.
The hardest part, however, was sticking with it.
Hell, it still is.
How do I keep going? Why do I keep going? What gives me the balls (or the illusion) to think that anyone, anywhere cares what goes onto this humble little homepage?
I’m not sure I actually thought anyone would really care about Give, Live, and Explore and what those words meant to me. I wasn’t sure anyone would care about what I was doing, where I was going, or what I had to say. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I cared about what I had to say. Even still, I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to say what I had to say. I didn’t know if I had words, the skills, the vocabulary, the storytelling chops for the job.
But I quickly realized one thing: when you have a story to share, the rest melds into place. It may not look pretty, but the technical aspects become secondary to the story.
Something subconsciously within told me that if I shared my journey, some people would come along for the ride. Not because they particularly admired me or my story, but because what I was saying was something they also had wanted to say, somewhere deep inside, if only they could find the words.
I eventually realized that trying to calculate your legacy is a futile effort. But if someone, somewhere cared what I had to say — or in fact, could be helped by what I had to say — who am I to hold back?
And I had a few big wins pretty early.
In November 2013, there were over 152 million blogs on the internet. Which are numbers to deter most sane people from thinking they can make their blog stick out. It’s a noisy world, and it’s getting noisier.
Yet within six months of starting GiveLiveExplore.com I managed to pop my head above the crowd a bit. A rising band from Iceland Of Monsters and Men saw my blog. A post I wrote about a story in Tartu, Estonia went viral in Estonia’s second city. An article that mentioned Akureryi, Iceland went viral in 15,000-strong Akureryi. Of course, in the grand scheme of life these are not big wins. But they were pretty big for humble little me. And while not earth shattering occurrences, they were uncommon phenomenons. And they kept me going.
But with most things, it’s easy to fall into negative thought patterns. Internal resistance would build.
No one cares what you have to say.
Why are you still doing this?
You’re an idiot for spending 8 hours trying to write and edit a stupid blog post that no one is going to read anyway.
And just when I was getting off on my own stupidity for continuing to write on this site…I’d get a long-winded heart-felt email from a reader telling me how much I had inspired them. How something I wrote made them reevaluate the way they were looking at their world. How I had encouraged them to make a change for the better. Occasionally I’d get an “I love reading your stuff. Keep it up.”
And each time, it’d give me just enough of a slap on the ass to keep this thing going a little longer.
But how easily the mind forgets. Sometimes I’d write a post, and… silence. No praise. No criticism. No reaction at all. I’d slump in my chair, my heart would sink in my chest. What’s the point?
Always, again, down in the trenches, I’d forget the high points. I’d forget those kind, encouraging words.
Which is exactly when things would get the weirdest.
October 6, 2012 will go down as one of the proudest moments of my life. As I was settling into a private bed in a private bedroom I found in Zadar, Croatia via AirBnb.com (a rare luxury during those months traveling), global bestselling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho shared something I wrote. At the time, Coelho was one of the top-50 most followed people on Twitter in the world.
Granted, the post he shared was one I wrote about his book Aleph. But still. If the man thought the writing and the story behind the writing was good enough for his millions of readers — maybe I should pay attention to that.
This was the kind of hat tip I was secretly (and desperately) craving. His simple tweet seemed to whisper “Keep going, man. Don’t give up yet.”
Who am I to argue with Paulo? So I kept going.
A bunch happened after that. I came back from my trip around Europe. I went back to work at IBM for about 2 weeks…then put in my 2 weeks notice. I used my new found time Stateside to figure out how to publish a book. In April 2013, I published Tales of Iceland, written by my pal Stephen Markley to become a #1 category bestseller on Amazon.com. GiveLiveExplore evolved “overnight” to become an independent startup publishing house.
But I craved writing — and kept getting rewarded for it.
The past six months brought me several more big wins:
- In November 2013, entrepreneur, author, and personal hero Tim Ferriss tweeted out an old article that I decided to revise and re-post. This tweet eventually led to me writing for The Huffington Post.
Things I learned wandering around Europe for 7 months: http://t.co/JAbuZRZcwn
— Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) November 16, 2013
- Gary Vaynerchuk gave me a nod in December 2013, commending me for “figuring it out.”
- In February 2014, I was invited to deliver a TEDx talk, after the event organizers found my blog.
- Then randomly a few weeks ago, after creating a call to action on Huffington Post to help Serbia (or at least acknowledge the devastating flooding there), I became a minor overnight celebrity in Serbia.
- And just this week…someone, a reader of this blog, recognized me on the street in London! Which is pure madness.
Of course, I’m highlighting only the best moments.
These are the things I’m most proud of — the euphoric moments I remember most vividly. Most of the airspace in between these things, however, is dull, boring, depressing even. And someday I’d like to write about the more recent dark times in depth too, because they are part of the grander journey.
But for now, I focus on these milestone moments because they help explain why the hell I even bother to continue with this thing. I share them to show what persistence looks like — the 95% slogging through unsexily (screw you red squiggly lines, I don’t care if that’s not a word), blindly, stupidly, irrationally working toward something deeply important to some part of you, and the 5% of actually feeling like all of that time spent slogging wasn’t for naught.
I share these moments to show that when the universe and the people in it gave me nods and nudges, I tried to be conscious enough to notice them as nods and nudges, and hung desperately onto them. I’m sure I missed a few along the way. But damnit, I got these ones, clear as day.
For the most part, things have stayed pretty humble here.
This site toes the line of hobby and business. I write here not because I get paid to do it, but because I feel some sort of responsibility to myself (and to you) to do so. I’ve grown to love it. I’ve grown to crave it. It’s still not a travel blog and I still don’t want to be a travel blogger. But I will still keep writing about my journey — the physical, the professional, and the existential.
For a simple reason.
I don’t want to cheat the world.
It’s not that I need all of that validation I share above — it’s just that I see that validation as proof enough that enough of the things I write have enough meaning to enough people. As Stephen Pressfield put best in The War of Art:
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you got.”
I’ve come this far and I intend to keep giving you what I got. I still feel like I have tons of fire inside me, and the stories I want to tell grow exponentially each day I’m alive.
I started GiveLiveExplore.com to explore this nagging feeling that there was more of life to be experienced than what met my eye. And I’ll continue GiveLiveExplore.com as long as I feel there’s an ounce of value in sharing this journey.
Whether you joined me two weeks, or two years ago. Thank you. You’ve kept me going, probably more than you know.
Here’s to the next 2 years…and beyond!
Oh — and today’s my birthday.
And I’m 30(!).