There is a classic scene in “The Agony and the Ex-tacy,” the Sex and the City episode in which Carrie turns 35 years old, has a birthday dinner at Il Cantinori, and no one shows up. She’s sitting there, waiting, wondering where her friends are, when a birthday cake arrives for a woman at the next table. As she blows out the candles, her birthday twin yells—unironically—25! Fuck, I’m old!
To watch this scene and understand it is to look in the rearview mirror of one’s own youth. To shake your head, along with Carrie, at anyone who believes 25 to be old. (And to shake your head at Carrie herself, that she felt the same about 35.) I imagine this is how my mother and grandmother feel now, hearing me talk about my approaching 40th birthday.
But this is not an essay about age and wisdom; no, it is an essay about having a similar reaction when I hear women on Instagram talk about their nascent careers in content creation.
They’ll say, I’ve been doing this for two years now; here’s everything I’ve learned. Or, It’s my five year blog anniversary, I cannot believe it has been this long! I smile internally when I hear reflections like this, if not (admittedly) giving each woman an imaginary pat on the shoulder. Give it another 10, 15 years, I think, wondering what they’ll share when (if?) they arrive at that distant mile marker. How their relationship will have changed with the thing they have built—or, if they’re like so many before them, once built.
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As someone who launched a blog in 2008 (let me repeat: TWO THOUSAND EIGHT), made money from it for a time, built a thriving independent design studio from it for even longer, and leveraged everything I’d learned into a full-time job that I ultimately left, here is a thought I keep coming back to:
What am I supposed to do now?
Which is to say, for the women who led the charge into this Wild West of digital content creation, who helped build an industry that now moves billions of dollars around an economy, what do we do when the headwinds change? When our interests shift; when our values no longer align with the thing we created; when the tech advances faster than we can learn about it? When, ultimately, we’re faced with career change, but having been at the forefront of defining this new way to work for ourselves, do not have the traditional ladder rungs to step onto?
And it’s a conundrum for roles across Ye Olde Blogosphere.
Beyond the OG-bloggers-turned-social-media-influencers, there’s a sizeable ancillary cohort who gets less airtime, usually because they designed it so (heh): the industry’s freelance service providers. My career path and present-day situation is specific, yet at the same time, I can name at least a dozen designers, developers, SEO specialists, and influencers who have struggled or are currently struggling with how to direct their careers as their lives change, as the Internet changes, as they grow exhausted with years of keeping the lights on and feeding an insatiable, unpredictable machine.
Our careers were all born from the blog zeitgeist of the late aughts and early 2010s. Girlboss mentality reigned supreme; we sailed into a free-for-all of uncharted territory in which rules were scant and the potential for eyeballs (and money) seemingly endless. Now, with the guardrails erected and the algorithm’s grip iron-clad on the marionette strings, I wonder how we are squaring our work with the industry’s evolution. I suspect there is a rather large group of women from this early blog generation trying to figure out what’s next, if they haven’t already jumped ship and restarted their careers entirely. For those of us in the transition, there is a looming question of what we will make, build, and do for the next ten, twenty years.
(A case study: Consider the Altitude Summit, January 2012. Yours truly was there. Tracking what happened to the keynote speakers, the It Girls, and the scores of women I met all trying to build a booming blog business is like mapping outcomes for your high school graduating class. A few have leveraged being “extremely online” into bigger things that get written about in major newspapers and magazines. Others have disappeared off the Internet completely, their digital footprint all but erased. You are following (or once followed) women in both camps, and hundreds in between.)
On a personal level, there is this. I don’t particularly want to design complex, custom websites anymore, and even if I did, there is little need for it in my specific marketplace of expertise. I also believe my days are numbered. A few more years, maybe even months, and AI will code a website to spec, all from a few simple inputs. There is a fork in the road for me, regardless of my wishes and interests.
But perhaps what I’m really writing about is reinvention, of building something new when our younger selves have miscalculated, or simply evolved, or like all of us at some point in our lives, need to make changes in order for life to feel good again. When I was younger, the idea of figuring it out as I go, of constant reinvention and self-discovery, felt endlessly invigorating. Now, it makes me want to lie down on the couch in total silence for three hours straight. It’s an issue of priorities—at this age, many of us are parents who are watching our own grow older, maybe die. We are more comfortable with ourselves, which means our identities are shifting, too. We ache in new places. We can no longer drink two glasses of wine in a night. The prospect of actualizing my personal identity alongside a new career identity feels, well, like I need a third glass of wine that is simply impossible to imbibe. I’m not sure what my exhaustion at the idea of reinvention means for my future with it.
I wonder if this is why so many women who have blogged for a long time are suddenly moving to Substack. All of the writing and community and general familiarity of blogging, with 95% less promotional hamster wheeling than Instagram? Sure, sign me up! Who doesn’t want their content zipped straight into the customer’s Inbox, the platform itself built to amplify your words to new audiences who will read them, love them, nurture them? (For what it’s worth, I’ve thought about writing on Substack for these very reasons, and many more net positive ones. Step one: write here regularly.)
And on that note, as far as that whole reinvention journey goes—
I am writing, just in places you can’t yet see. Manuscripts short and long, in varying genres, that I dream about having published. Some days I loathe every last word I write; others, I can see the vision taking shape and I get excited, and hope whenever I send the words off in the future, someone else will see it too. There are essays I’m submitting at a snail’s pace, into Submittable’s unknown ether, hoping for the same. And I’m taking on design and digital marketing clients again, sticking to my druthers about that whole web design thing, looking for work that allows me to flex on the skills I’m most proud of, that took me a long time to hone.
Past that, I don’t have it figured out. I’m putting one foot in front of the other each day, trying. Some days are shaded in the darkest blues. Others are ebullient and golden. Now that I think about it, it’s not unlike when I first started blogging. So go the phases, I suppose, of all the things we build, wherever we are in life.
P.P.S. — The Portal? Oh yes, I’m definitely in it. Portal Start Date? 2018ish. What about you?