I’ve been writing this post in my head, as I do for most of my long-form posts, for the better part of the year. Of course, now that I’m sitting down to actually write it, my mind is drawing a blank. In a way, I think it’s because I know there’s no way any post will be able to sum up what my life has been like over the past ten years. I’m a little disappointed in myself because as I read and re-read it, it just doesn’t even come close to accurately describing everything I feel.
On this day, ten years ago, I sat down during Christmas break of my freshman year at Georgetown University to write a blog post.
I could never have guessed I’d still be here ten years later. I was a teenager when I started and I sit here tying nearing 30. Social media wasn’t social media back in 2008 and I got very lucky with the timing of starting my blog. Whenever I talk to high schools or colleges, I try to explain just how much has changed in ten years. When I started my blog, I had a Blackberry and BBM was the way to communicate. No one was tweeting, or pinning, or gramming. Facebook was around, but you couldn’t “like” a page just yet. I still carried a small digital camera with me for photos. (Slightly unrelated, but if you really want to know how blogs were described back then, you have to read this article about Meghan McCain’s blog that she had while her dad was running for office.)
The truth is that I was just coming out of my lowest point when I started to blog. It’s hard to tell from the exclamation points and excited attitude of the writing, but I was struggling big time. That first semester at college was as rough as it could have gone. I was having a hard time adapting to college life and when I started to fall behind, I started to spiral because I had never really faced failure before. Of course, looking back now, I’m so glad I experienced it then because it made me realize that the world doesn’t stop spinning if you fail. My blog was started because I was desperate for a creative outlet– something to distract me from the things that were causing me stress. I felt out of control of so much of my life and this was one space where I could write what I wanted and do whatever I wanted without being graded by a teacher or critiqued by a coach.
I didn’t start it for anyone to read it– I just felt, deep down, that I had to do it. I craved that freedom from judgment and felt like I was in the driver’s seat for the first time– maybe ever– in my life up until that point.
It’s hard to think or even talk about, but this little blog of mine probably saved my life. When I say I was in a bad place, it really was quite dark. This blog gave me something to look forward to every day, regardless of what was going on in the rest of my life. Even if nothing ever came of my blog or if at some point down the road I move on, I will always, ALWAYS be forever grateful for this space because it was my lifeline out of that dark place.
Of course, we now know that social media was about to blow up. I joined sites as they popped up and started to incorporate more content on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, then Pinterest and Instagram. (Then much later Snapchat and now Instagram Stories.) I was lucky to have started a blog before all of that really took off because it let me get my foot in the door, I was able to find my voice, and figure out what I wanted to say…. and how. Even with every platform that’s popular right now, my blog will always remain my bread and butter: the sun, if you will, in a social media solar system. At the end of the day, it’s the ONE place where I have true ownership…. if Instagram shut down tomorrow, you’d still know where to find me.
So much of my life over the past decade has been documented here, for better or for worse. It’s a little bit of a gift (if I ever forget something, I can usually Google it and quickly find it haha) and a curse (because there have been some moments that I’m not the proudest of). But that’s also life and I’m happy to say that I think I’ve done a pretty good job of sharing the good and the bad, and everything in between. Life isn’t all about perfectly curated moments and that’s where I think platforms like Instagram fall short. There’s something about a blog where you can really document and share and connect beyond just a staged photo and a heart shaped like button.
Because of my blog, I’ve been able to meet so many of my best friends. I’m forever grateful for that as well. I can’t believe the amazing people who are in my life because of my blog. I can’t imagine how our lives could have crossed any other way. These friendships are something that I’ll truly treasure forever. I’ve also connected with so many readers and it’s an unbelievably humbling experience every time it happens. There’s a group of girls who I feel like I’ve watched grow up as they started reading my blog when they were in middle school and I’ve met almost every single one of them at this point– at least once! I also know that there’s a huge group of you who have grown up with me and we’ve shared all kinds of milestones together, like graduations, big moves, falling in love and going through breakups, and building careers.
Speaking of which, my blog also turned into my job. As crazy as it is to think about blogging for ten years, it’s even wilder that I’ve been doing it as my full-time job for over half of that. Five years of my dream job and I couldn’t be prouder of that. It’s a different experience when you’re doing it for fun versus when you’re doing it for a job, but I try my best to have the same mindset today as I did when I was just starting out.
As I’ve seen other blogs grow, I’ve seen major changes in how they’re run and handled. Obviously, everyone needs to do what makes the most sense for them. But I’m really proud that every word you read here is written by me. Every DM is actually sent from me. I respond to all non-partnership emails myself. All tweets are my own. I’ve chosen to work with a manager to help alleviate stress on my inbox and a photographer who handles all the photo editing, so I can still make time for the reader-facing things. It’s extremely important to me and something that I want to continue to do as long as I’m blogging. Yes, it’s a business. But I’m still a person and I want that interaction to still feel as personal as possible.
Through this job, I’ve had firsthand experience with all kinds of facets of the industry. (It’s crazy that it’s even an “industry” now because it certainly wasn’t back in 2008!) I’ve been able to practice so many skills as a blogger and I have a greater understanding of where my strengths lie because I’ve been required to do so many different things over the years. Because I wear so many hats, I know there’s not really a limit to what I could do if I really had to. But, I’ve honed in on the things that truly excite me and I know that even without the blog, I could always apply those things in other ways.
I’m not sure when, but at some point, I always thought, when I get to ten years of blogging, I’d let myself walk away if I wanted to. This past year I wanted to quit at two different points as I tried to figure out if the negatives of this industry were even worth it anymore to me. If I hadn’t set that ten-year goal, I think I would have just walked away without so much as a Tweet. And now? I’m not sure what’s next. The bottom line is that I still love doing this. I think it’s only natural to have moments of feeling burnt out when you’ve been doing something for ten years straight. I don’t want to walk away and give all this up. I’m proud of this blog and everything that it means to me. I love you all. I feel honored that you choose to take five minutes out of your day to read what I write. There is SO much out there that you can read and watch and the fact that you choose my blog means the world to me.
Some fun milestones:
December 2008: Sat down and wrote my first blog post as “The College Prepster” for an offensively fluorescent pink and green website I called “College Prep.”
November 2010: While waiting to board a flight, I was “recognized” by a reader for the first time ever. It was such a bizarre feeling. The girl actually went to college just down the road at GW and we became friends after grabbing cupcakes at Baked and Wired in Georgetown (hi Gabbi!).
November 2011: Downloaded Instagram– fun fact, I didn’t have an iPhone so I could only Instagram from my iPad.
January 2012: My first experience with viral content: my Instagram Photo Strips Tutorial! I used to keep the Google Analytics Real-Time up on my computer all the time and one night, it went from 100 users…. to 200 users…. to 15,000 users at any given moment in like an hour. It was insane. (My Intense Study Tips and How to Roll Your Sleeves Like J. Crew posts have also been a steady source of traffic.)
May 2012: My first big collaboration was with Kate Spade for my college graduation dress. I can’t explain how HUGE of a deal this was for me and, looking back, it couldn’t have been more perfect or fitting. PS This is how Julia and I first “met” because I was the east coast blogger and she was the west coat blogger!
September 2013: I officially quit my job and gave myself three months to “test” what it would be like to blog full time… I never turned back!
November 2013: I was tapped for the Teen Vogue Insta-List. Teen Vogue had always been a favorite magazine of mine and it was such an honor to work with them.
September 2014: I signed with my first manager. We eventually stopped working together (although I’m still friends with her to this day!), but it was the best decision I ever made.
July 2016: After years of blogging on a free platform, I switched to WordPress for more creative control and, most importantly, complete ownership of my site. It was a big task to undertake, but so worth it in the end.
October 2017: Reluctantly rebranded to Carly the Prepster. I’m glad I did it in the end, but I still find myself saying The College Prepster 😉
December 2018: Celebrated the ten year anniversary!
[CLOSED, Congratulations Alexa K.] To really celebrate in style, I partnered with ten of my favorite brands for an EPIC giveaway. [CLOSED]
Neely & Chloe Zip Wallet
Kate Spade Large Margaux in Tuxedo Blue
Gal Meets Glam Dress (of your choice)
J. Crew Factory $150 Gift Card
Barbour Beadnell from Tuckernuck
Margaux Ballet Flats (of your choice)
Draper James $100 Gift Card
Lilly Pulitzer $300 Gift Card
J. Crew Gift Card