Keeping It Real
Hey guys, today’s post is a combination article + video update. They both have the same overall message, so take your pick. It’s mostly an inside message about how things work over here, but if you have your own following, you might learn something.
Here’s the video, live from the zona colonial in downtown Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic:
And Here’s the Written Message
Whenever a community experiences rapid growth, some people feel left out. New people come in and don’t know the history. Meanwhile, the people who have been around for a while worry that they have been forgotten in all the excitement.
A good leader needs to be able to reach out to new people, expand the pie, while also “keeping it real” as much as possible.
This is my attempt to do so, live on location from the Dominican Republic. Specifically, here are a few important points:
Scaling Kindness and Coolness
I believe that kindness and coolness are scalable. I might miss a few things, and growth can be challenging when I’m not continually online. But I’m trying hard to keep it real.
Last week I was in Haiti. I stayed in a missionary guesthouse with no running water, limited electricity, and shared rooms. Breakfast and mosquitoes were included at no extra charge. I’m not complaining – it was good for me. As I said, if you ever find yourself in need of a reality check, go and hang out with missionaries, nuns, and aid workers.
During one of the few times I was able to get online, I saw that someone was asking, “Is Chris Guillebeau turning into a broadcaster? He’s not interacting with his followers anymore.”
My thought was, dude, I’m doing my best. It’s kind of difficult to interact online when I can’t even take a shower. Wi-fi is ubiquious in some parts of the world, but not in Haiti or rural South America.
When things started getting crazy before the trip, I actually thought about staying home to deal with all the email. I probably could have processed things quicker, added more people on Twitter, sold more products, whatever.
But then I realized, hey, this is my regular life. In 279 Days I wrote about how you need to provide a good reason why other people should care about what you’re doing.
Part of the reason why people care about this is because I’m actually out there in the world doing crazy stuff. Also, I keep the schedule no matter what’s happening. Right now we are 59 weeks into the project, and I’ve never missed a scheduled update.
If it doesn’t slow down, I have to find a way to work with it. You’re reading in real-time – airport camping, big successes, mistakes, and all. I might not always be online, but I’ll do my best to keep it real.
Twitter and How I Use It
Other than the occasional update on LinkedIn, Twitter is the only social network I actively participate in. I try to add value, pass on other great stuff, engage in conversation. My goal is to promote great resources and other people’s stuff at no benefit to me at least twice as much as I promote my own stuff.
I enjoy learning from all kinds of people, but at this point I don’t automatically follow people back. If I have 200 people a day adding me in, it is very difficult to sort through all of them while I’m roaming from place to place. Instead, I follow people I want to follow without expecting they will follow me back.
Here in the D.R. I just went through and added 300 people to my network, and I’ll continue to do that from time to time. If I haven’t gotten to you yet, we can still interact, and I read every message that has my name in it.
Not there yet? Come on over and hang out. It’s fun.
I’m pretty open-minded, but a blog is not a democracy. The publisher of a blog has the responsibility to police all of the content. If you read some popular blogs, you probably know that it can be a jungle out there with people saying anything they want and verbally attacking other people. That’s not going to happen here.
My comment policy is pretty basic – don’t use the comments to blatantly promote yourself, and don’t be an asshole. Disagreeing is fine, but don’t just tell me why I’m wrong – tell me what you think the alternative is.
A couple of weeks ago I was rude to a Citibank representative on the phone, and I felt bad all afternoon. To avoid feeling bad (and making me feel bad), think twice before you post a personal attack on me, someone mentioned in the article, or another commentor. I’m probably not going to publish vindictive comments, and if you just want to feel better, go and hit a tree or something. Then ask yourself, “What’s the alternative? Am I really adding value?”
I know this does not apply to the 99% of the commentors who are cool people, and the 1% who enjoy living in their insanity probably won’t read this, but it’s good to have it out there.
ALSO – every day my volunteer editor and I delete at least a dozen comments that are self-promotions disguised as article feedback. They usually look like this:
Hey Chris! Great site. I really enjoy (blah, blah, blah). Listen, I wanted to ask if you’ve ever considered (product or service). My company makes this and we think it’s fantastic. You can read more about it at this link: http://
Oh, and I wrote a great blog post about it, which you can read here: http://
Hope to hear from you soon!
If you want to pitch me on something, that’s fine – but use the contact form. Otherwise, put your link in the field that says “web site” (not the comment box) and write something meaningful. Every day hundreds of people read through the comments and click links they are interested in, but the way to get noticed is by contributing to the conversation, not by blatantly promoting yourself.
My Secret Trust Fund
When rapid growth takes place – especially when it comes from mainstream media coverage – I’ve noticed that some new people make assumptions without really doing much research. After reading a profile in the New York Times, for example, one guy wrote in to ask, “How big is your trust fund?”
As everyone who actually reads the site knows, I have no trust fund or secret pension. Whenever someone accuses me of keeping money under the mattress, I always think about calling up my dad:
“Hey Dad… what’s this about a trust fund? How come you’ve never said anything?!”
I don’t think my dad has something he’s been keeping from me for 31 years. What you see is what you get.
For better or worse, what I do is 100% legit. I do fly First Class (sometimes) and I do sleep on the floor of the airport and in random guesthouses in poor countries. It’s all part of the adventure.
Sometimes I’ll fall behind with some things — like when I can’t take a real shower or am riding in buses for 13 hours through South America. But whether I’m online or not at any particular moment, you all are welcome to be a part of this in whichever way you want.
You’ve got email updates, RSS, Twitter, free manifestos, 108 countries, Store, etc. Take your pick.
10,000 People I Highly Respect (very important!)
Lastly, about my list of 26 People I Highly Respect – that was just the list of blog and social media mentors who have helped me get to where I am now. They are truly awesome and I wanted to publicly acknowledge them.
For everyone else, I highly respect your time and attention too. I’m grateful to have connected with many of you (probably about half of the entire group) over the past year.
You rock my world, you are an extremely motivational force that helps me keep going, and together we have a long way to go. Thanks so much for being a part of this.
Keeping it real from the D.R.,
P.S. Those of you with small armies of your own, remember that it’s important to continually touch base to let people know what’s happening. Find your own way, use your own voice, but the goal is to acknowledge your shortcomings, make people feel welcome and valued, and encourage the community to be a part of something greater than themselves.
As I see it, that’s keeping it real. Feel free to add your own perspective in the comments as well.
‘Keeping It Real’ Image by LonelyRadio
You wrote this a while back:
“You hear this kind of attitude a lot about musicians. Now that he can afford to have a house and buy health insurance for his family, Dave Matthews sucks. Coldplay was cool before they started selling out arenas, but now they are the band everyone loves to hate. ”
I think it is inevitable that there would be tons of people finding things to criticize. I hope you don’t pay much attention.
Are you writing a follow-up about the journey?
Sorry to hear about the flak you got, it does put some things in my life into a new perspective though. Whether in online social networks or personal interactions, it can get difficult to manage communication, give attention, and keep relationships at their finest. Go do what you want to, travel, experience, it’s all fine in my book as long as you make the time to come back and connect with everyone. Keeping it real rocks!
Never apologize for being generous and remarkable! (not that I think you are in this case…apologizing that is)
As one of those new followers, let me tell you that your stuff is top notch and your honesty and “keepin it real”ness is a breath of fresh air. I just discovered you a couple of weeks ago (via the Seth effect) and your stuff is right up my alley. You’re like my brother from another mother or something.
If you ever find yourself on a layover in Halifax, please don’t sleep on the airport floor (or the chairs…I’ve done it before and they’re not that comfortable). You’re welcome to crash with us here anytime. We’ll have 4 tykes by then, but also a comfortable futon and we’ll be sure to show you a great time!
I look forward to following you. Keep the good work coming.
And as John Carlton would say, stay frosty!
Chris- You know, I keep expecting to read one of your updates to find that, “ha! he’s NOT that authentic!” Then, you post something like this. Thanks for keeping it real. Your authenticity is refreshing and really what blogging (and generally being a decent world citizen) should be about. It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to publish like this; it’s sad when more and more blogs appear to be written by a machine.
Authenticity is all about being human which means that things don’t always happen perfectly. The fact that you’ve nailed over a year of updates consistently is remarkable and something I certainly aspire to. I’ll bet it makes for some interesting challenges/adventures while you’re traveling. It would be interesting to hear some of your best travel stories with regards to successfully posting an update despite location-specific challenges.
When I started this comment, I didn’t intend for it to sound like such ass-kissing. However, I feel it’s accurate which… well… means you’re definately doing something right!
Keep up the great work!
I feel that this blog has also been a big motivational force, though I think I’ve been taking it for granted in the sense I still need an ass-kicking.
I find it amazing that you’re able to keep updates at all while you’re travelling so much. It’s quite admirable.
Chris, I guess there will always be people out there with unrealistically high expectations, specially about a project as successcul as yours… But be assured that you have plenty of real people among your followers who understand that you sometimes need to give priority to the very intense stuff you go through in the very real, offline world… take your time, we’ll surely be here when you’re back!
You’re doing an amazing job of updating us during your trip – you post videos, interact with people on twitter… It’s physically impossible to reply to hundreds (and more) of your readers while you’re travelling, especially if it’s not in urban areas. The world is not one big wi-fi cloud (thank God).
Travelling to more remote and rural places is a good life lesson – and a reality check. Everyone could use a jungle tour and a few nights in a hammock 🙂
Thanks for keeping it real!
I’m a new reader of this blog. I wanted to say thanks to the readers who were here before me and supported Chris to this point. AONC is an inspiring blog and I’m glad I found it!
Great post Chris. I particularly enjoyed your comments on a blog owner’s responsibility (mental telepathy at work?).
Literary Agent nathan Bransford has a simple policy for his blog: disagreement & discussion is welcomed but only the form of positive comments; anything nasty gets wiped out immediately. He’s strict too and what a positive blog it is!
Living in Africa I forget that many people don’t realise how basic some of the more rural areas of third world countries are. Even here in Jo’burg we’re often without water and/or electricty. It’s part of the fun of living on a vibrant dynamic continent! :):)
There will always be those looking for opportunities to drag others down. I congratulate you on not letting it get to you!
Secondly, I think it was great that you took the trip despite an increase in business/traffic etc. I would be much less likely to visit your site if you started canceling trips to sell more product. Your product is the cool stuff that you are doing.
Keep it up Chris!
To blantantly steal a line from Henry Jenkins that I have seen Mark Earls and Faris Yakob use,
“The key is to produce something that both pulls people together and gives them something to do.”
You’re doing that everyday by living a life worth following and learning from and by consistently giving back, giving people a reason to come together through what you do, and providing help and learning to help them find their own path. Rock on…
As always thanks for keeping it honest and direct Chris. I definitely appreciate the sentiment.
I’m glad you are dedicated to keeping it real, if you only lived for your followers, well then we might start losing the reasons we have to follow your adventures.
You guys are so great! Thanks so much!
It’s really refreshing to read something like this (can’t watch the video ’cause my office blocks all that, but I’ll guess it’s about the same stuff).
It seems like so many writers, and bloggers, end up getting full of themselves as soon as they get a little bit of a following. All of a sudden everything becomes about them, about how amazing they are and how they’re going to give us the information we need. They loose sight of their original goals of helping people (or at least entertaining people) while making a living and pervert them into the goal of chasing their own personal gain.
It’s nice to run into people who manage to stay true to who they are and what they set out to accomplish.
Thanks for continuing to appreciate your audience, Chris, and for giving us what we come here for.
Chris, I’m having a hard time believing that people are that insane! If they don’t like what you have to say, they can simply stop listening…I just don’t get why people enjoy putting their own expectations on someone else. Considering you are writing, traveling, and kicking ass all at the same time, I’ve never been anything but impressed with how generous you are with your time and action.
Publishing a list like you did is bound to hurt some feelings, but giving gratitude is important…I see nothing wrong with that. You also carry yourself so well…it is refreshing to see you get pissed off. Makes me feel more human.
I’ve told you before, but I see the path you are on and I can see it is leading to the life you’ve been after. You are living your dream and I think a lot of people get jealous. Never sacrifice who you are or what you are after because of the opinions of a few. Most of the people that complain are in the minority, they just bitch more.
Keep kicking ass Chris…safe journeys.
Hi Chris. That’s great that you were in Santo Domingo in the Colonial Zone. I’ve been there several times. Last time was in March 2009 for a month. You must have walked the El Conde 🙂
I like the Dominican Republic. I met very nice people there. Best to you and take care.
Thank you for another great post. I agree with PierreSmack. Thanks everyone who supported him until now so that the rest of us newbies (including me) could get to know him as well.
By the way, could someone kindly tell me how I can upload my picture?
Also, PiereSmack, I went to your not-so-public blog, read your first post I had to laugh as I’m exactly in the same place 🙂 Keep writing!
Chris, I wanted to respond to your point about self-promotion in comments. I can certainly understand why you want to keep self-promotion out of your comments. There are too many blogs filled with comments from yes-men who add little to the discussion other than links back to themselves.
However, understand that not all links are meant as “blatant self-promotion.” I’ve commented here a few times. Once I included a link back to an article on my site in my comment, which you deleted from the comment. The article was highly relevant to your post. I could have restated everything I’d said in that article, but I figured linking to it made more sense. I can’t claim to have intended no self-promotion at all, but that was certainly not my main intent.
I think the ideal policy here would be to remove self-promoting comments that are adding little value. Not all self-promoting comments are bad and, in fact, some may be quite valuable. I do, realize, however, that you’re swamped with feedback and that it’s difficult to judge each comment according to this more-subtle standard. I can understand why you’d remove all such links. Just realize that sometimes it _does_ make sense to link back in a comment to something you’ve written. Doing so isn’t always about blatant self-promotion.
This quote made me smile:
“I’m probably not going to publish vindictive comments, and if you just want to feel better, go and hit a tree or something. Then ask yourself, ‘What’s the alternative? Am I really adding value?'”
I blog both on a personal blog and on my company’s. I like to think I am a generally sweet gal and I never know what to do when people leave hateful comments on my blog! I usually just delete and try to forget asap.
I’ve been following you for about a month now and your content is great. I start 279 days and am really enjoying it. Keep up the good work Chris! I really look forward to it!
I’m glad you only thought about letting your e-mail tie you down for 15 min. Keep traveling and answer us us time permits.
You have to design your business to fit the lifestyle you want or it becomes a JOB!!
A good argument for not doing social networking like twitter is the time it takes to follow. Writing your blog twice a week is a large task of love already. I am still weighing the pros and cons.
Looking forward to hearing more about your trip. With my bad knees I will probably not be able to be so adventurous, but I plan to make lots of money to help younger people do the hard work of making the world happier and safer.
I hate that “trust fund baby” question. It’s used by non-travelers to prove to themselves that only the idle rich may play, and it’s used by envious travelers to prove to themselves that you’re not “really traveling”. My first response to the question of money/time is honest, helpful, and straightforward: “If you make something a priority in your life, make it more important than other things in, it will happen. Plus, get creative. It’s easier than you think.” If I sense dishonesty on their part, I leave them in their folly by confessing to my massively rich parents and my 17th century French court lifestyle.
On self promotion. I did not know you could click on the commenters name and be taken to their website. One of my senior moments (71). I was wondering how to contact some of them for more info. Who said, “you can’t teach and old dog new tricks.” the wYman
Dude! Somebody commented on Twitter that you weren’t interacting with your fanbase enough? You mean they’re more interested in following frequent twitter updates from someone else than, say, living their lives?
So, hey everybody, what do you think I should do first? Start learning American Sign Language, or apply for an online Library Science graduate program? I can’t decide!
Thanks for your post and thanks for your site. I’ve only been reading for a couple of weeks at the advice of a friend. But you have some great content. I love that you’re more about the writing and the message then about the money. I’ve been looking into this lifestyle for years and have never found anyone as authentic who is truly trying to do something unique/cool and doing his part to change the world. Most of what I find is all about getting people to spend money on something that tells them how to get others to spend money.
I’m learning a lot and looking forward to trying out some of your strategies. Thanks for giving me permission to fire Google adsense, and for giving a much different view on how to make this thing work.
The only way to be “real” is to have a real life outside of the internet. I’m a new reader, but I definitely don’t think you should put blogging (or anything else) ahead of living your life as you have envisioned it. Isn’t that the whole point?
(No reply necessary…I feel valued without it)
I think you do a fantastic job with AONC! Not everyone takes the time to respond to all their emails and welcome everyone when they subscribe. And that is in addition to inspiring content. Keep it up and ignore the vampires!
Being in Guyana is no excuse. I was expecting a response.. jk
If someone who actually reads your blog and expects you to be on twitter for a majority of the day then they must be crazy or just don’t understand how well they have it compared to the rest of the world. I’ve been to a few of these undeveloped countries and I think its wonderful that you do go out of your way to find somewhere to update your blog and whatever else somewhat consistently.
Its not like you can just go down to the local starbucks.. anyway, thats my two cents
Hey all, thanks again (so much).
Without seeing the specific comment, it’s hard to know more – but yes, in general if there are links in the comment we will just remove them to keep it simple. With 100+ comments a day and sometimes more coming through, that just seems like the easiest way to be fair, and of course you can still include your post or site in the “link” field.
Chris, I appreciate the honesty in letting your readers know what you are up to (and I can completely relate to being without hot showers and internet for days) and how you are trying to keep everyone involved – old and new readers alike.
When I was a new reader, I added a relevant link to a post on our website in a comment. You reformatted the comment in a better manner and sent me a personal email letting me know that I could use html in the comments section. You also advised me to get an avatar so that more people might click on the link in my profile. I really appreciated that personal touch – thank you.
Safe travels and enjoy your time offline!
Thanks Chris. I’m sure you enjoyed your stay in Santo Domingo. It’s a great city. I traveled to Haiti for 15 years and lived there for 4 years as an Internatinal Aid Worker. The Dominican republic is a paradise compared to Haiti. Even though the DR is a tourist attraction, it is one of the pporest countries in the americas. I’m working on a project to help haitian sugarcane workers in the bateys and the street kids in SD.
Take care, and God bless you.
wow – over the last week, i found and have been following your site. i’ve been truly amazed and inspired. thanks! my only question is (and i apologize if its been answered elsewhere) – have you planned which country to be in on your 35th birthday for the 197th country?
take it easy!
Hey Chris – i know what it’s like to travel in a developing country and try to get online consistently – just to upload a video like this one would take AGES – you’re kickin butt! Keep on keepin’ it real – i’d love to see you out here in LA if you have any time!
Hi Chris. I think that you interact with your followers enough, and I’m glad that you’re out there traveling and living your life and inspiring us. For anyone who is pissed off, no one is forcing them to read your blog.
continued blessings in your journeys. I’m one of the newbies to your blog and I must say I find it very refreshing that you found time to get back to me pretty quickly. Appreciate you keeping it real.
I know quite a few people who assume that folks who are doing more with their life than they are must have money/had all the breaks etc. Just DO it people! Stop sitting around commiserating yourself on your hard life. Argh, it makes me mad! The idea of a secret trust fund made me giggle 😀
Thanks SO much for posting text as well as video Chris. So many people are embaracing video as the new, interactive thing. That’s great, and it has a different value than text, but it’s inaccessible to everyone who can’t use the volume due to their computing environment. That’s me, but I’m also just one of the finickity people who find things easier to take in when I read them. *hugs*
Yeah! What they said!
… and as a long-time AONC reader, may I say ‘Welcome!’ to all the new people – the more the merrier. All that ‘I was here first’ stuff is so lame!
Thanks for this article. I’ve been wondering how you use tools like Twitter to stay connected to your growing community, since connecting is important to me, too.
I appreciate all you share.
I just wanted you to know that I can feel connected to you simply by watching your amazing videos of places I’ve never been before. I would enjoy your observations and conversations about real issues confronted by countries that are struggling. In fact, I realize your massive commitment to staying in touch with so many people, but I wanted to know more about where you were, and what you where finding out. I guess I wish social networking comments would not distract us from opportunities to inform and enrich other watchers who are just simply fascinated with what you find out on your journeys. I want to know more about the world out there. XoHal
Just wanted to say I really appreciate your blog and the amount of time you spend interacting with your readers. I wish I’d known about AONC sooner, it really is top notch, and the themes are right up my alley. I very much value travel and gratitude and other people. This is in stark contrast to the homebound, preoccupied xenophobe I was not all that long ago, and it was nothing but the positive ideas of other people that helped me grow out of that. Thanks!
My small army is already growing 🙂
Really enjoyed your post about kindness/coolness and comment guidelines. I usually put my crazy title, so was overjoyed to find you do not consider that blatant self-promotion. Am getting up to speed with twit land myself. Giving is the way to go!
Rebel at large
Thanks again for knocking it out of the ballpark and showing us (me) how it’s done. It being connection in a fast-paced world. People learn best from people they “get” and they get people who stand in integrity – you’re doing it and it’s impressive as heck to me. And, you know, with that trust fund of yours I would think you could have snuck in some showers for the aid workers while you were surrpetiously using that wi-fi you snuck into Haiti. (grin)
Keep up the great work Chris – I’m cheering for you to see the world before that magic birthday and that you have something equally robust and adventurous planned for the following 35 years — keep it going!
I feel that this blog has also been a big motivational force, I find it amazing that you’re able to keep updates at all while you’re travelling so much. It’s quite admirable.
Chris, I love reading your blog because you live an interesting and unconventional life – which would not be the case if your life was spent sitting glued to your computer all day so you could respond instantly to everyone. Keep living!
That you can live a life worth writing about, AND make the time to write so well about it, is impressive.
As for that trust fund question, I can relate to it. Some think I must be up to something illegal because I’ve survived a long while as a student with little income, while also a single home-owner with bills and a mortgage. What I’ve been up to is not illegal, just uncommon – many, many years of careful budgeting, frugality in most things, and savings. Most people don’t practise this, so I suppose it’s natural they wouldn’t understand.
Thanks for keeping it real. Your site is a constant source of useful and reliable information, so keep doing what your doing!
I’ve been using your insights to help build a small army of my own…and they work! Good luck in your travels.
No matter what you do someone will find something to complain about. Ah well.
I appreciate all you do, Chris. Thanks.
You inspire armies of people, incl. yours truly. Your “279 Days” has been a catalyst in my moving my ass and finally write my (own) book (scheduled for publication end of this month).
For all it’s worth, my favorite method for dealing with criticism is the Magic Question: “What will make you happy?” I’ve also learned to not take criticism personally, because it never is. Why, even the Creator Her- or Himself is constantly being criticized for failing to create the perfect world with perfect people and perfect bloggers. However, S/He’s kind of forgiven because obviously not gifted with the high intelligence those born to criticize Her/Him have been gifted with.
Relational jujitsu also works well (in any case, better than resistance). I had a couple of Ansel Adams prints on the wall at home. A famously critical person visited part of a family gathering. By one look she could tell the prints, wrongly framed, hung at wrong heights and distances. “Funny, that’s what everybody says” basically ended a conversation that never was.
In her recent “Job Opening” post, Heather Armstrong gave samples of moronic accusations leveled at her. They confirm what you probably know already, there’s no limit to the darkness in dark forces: “Since the ‘F’ word is your favorite, that is the grade I give your website.” “You are the reason why the government should be able to regulate who can have children. How tragic for your daughter.” “You’re nothing but a dirty piece of whiny drivel.” “Get a life idiot! You got fired for being a stupid whore!”
In speaking “for the rest of us,” we’re happy you have left the critically gifted behind, and have returned to what you love doing. We love it, too.
Aside from arse kissing and self-promotion, I think there is another ‘selfish’ reason for commenting – and it’s actually quite valid. When I leave a comment on an article it’s usually because I’ve found something of value in it that I’d like to follow up and leaving a comment allows me to clarify my own thoughts and perhaps consider how I will action what I have read. It’s kind of a way of cementing the key proposition of the article in your mind. In the case of this article, I will be making doubly sure to ‘keep it real’ in my commenting and, of course, own blog writing.
Your comments are welcome! Please be nice and use your real name.
If you have a website, include it in the website field (not in the text of the comment).
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