Confession: For the past six weeks, I have felt like a complete sell-out.
I entered the Project Food Blog competition because I could really use $10,000. Not that others couldn’t benefit from such a healthy sum of money, but in terms of actual need, I think I have everyone beat. I’m flat broke, unemployed, and might have to live with my mom for a while if things don’t start looking up soon. Ten grand would have certainly made things easier for me. But I also went in fully knowing that I probably wouldn’t win (even though I hoped I would). Not because I’m a pessimist, but because once I read the way the judging worked – 50% of the points coming from the judges, 50% coming from Foodbuzz Featured Publishers, with a lone Readers Choice Award given to one contestant per round based on the public vote, rather than taking into account the votes of the public as the other 50%, considering they are the true readers & traffic-builders for every blog – I knew this would be more about popularity than actual quality content or what the general blog-reading world really thought. Still, I needed the money, and against my better judgment, I entered at the last possible minute.
Now, I know some folks who read this will think that these statements are those of a sore loser who didn’t make it through to the next round. That’s cool and they’re entitled to their opinions. But I’d like to state for the record, loud and clear, that is not what this post is about. If anything, I couldn’t be happier about having my weekends and my sanity back, the worry of what the heck I’d come up with for each challenge, and wondering what areas of my fridge & cupboards might magically provide extra food for this thing blissfully gone. But I am sore about something: I am sore at myself for losing focus, for having my love of food blogging clouded by the distant possibility of $10,000.
At the International Food Blogger Conference this summer, we talked a lot about “selling out” and remembering why we all wrote our respective blogs. It was nice to be surrounded by people who felt as passionate about food and writing as I do, and it reminded me of why I started PGEW in the first place: I started it for me. Because I like writing, I like cooking, and I thought it would be interesting to put them together and see what would happen. Then I started getting a bigger audience and I started writing for them and me because what I was doing seemed to be helping people. I honestly never expected it to take off the way it did, and I am always elated whenever I receive a positive review, comment or email that thanks to me for this recipe or that, or for helping folks save money. That’s what I’ve thrived on these past two-and-a-half years, and what I consider to be the best part about my PGEW endeavors.
But once I entered Project Food Blog, my time and my sanity were pretty much sucked out of me, leaving me to post nothing but PFB related posts, tweets, and Facebook updates. Don’t get me wrong: it did force me to reach into the deepest recesses of my mind to come up with stuff I never dreamed I’d cook because certain prompts were given for each challenge. But in the process, I let my PGEW-ness go, and that sucks. I’m already creative enough as it is, and I wanted to post other things but I couldn’t! Partly because my brain was cluttered with ideas for the next round, but mainly because I just couldn’t afford to use the food I did have on hand on “extra” posts because I might need it for the next round of the competition.
Then it hit me: “extra” posts??? Since when are my standard recipes & tips “extra”? The competition should have been the “extra” in all of this, not the other way around! In the creating, the posting, the photo-editing, and the shameless vote-soliciting (though I do have to admit I was getting rather good at that toward the end, lol), I temporarily lost track of what this blog is about: it’s about me, my financial struggles, and how I go about making my meals the one bright spot in my otherwise stressful life. It’s about helping others find their inner chef and their inner smart, frugal shopper. It’s about showing the world that it is completely possible to enjoy food that both looks and tastes good, yet doesn’t cost an arm and a leg because it’s made with real, accessible ingredients that anyone can afford. It is not about winning a contest!
And so today, when I saw that I did not have a little trophy icon next to my entry for the sixth round of Project Food Blog – for which I almost killed myself as I went out in a huge storm with the raging flu – I actually breathed a huge sigh of relief. At first, my reaction to the news that I had not advanced to the next challenge seemed strange to me: shouldn’t I be upset, especially after all the hard work I put into this friggin’ thing? Shouldn’t I be pissed off that I am still sick because I was determined (or stupid) enough to finish my Round 6 post regardless of how sick I was & how horrible the weather? I could have copped out and taken my picnic to my backyard, but I didn’t. I competed properly and took my chances by traveling in the howling wind and heavy rain.
But then a big grin spread across my face when I realized that I was free! Much like the month of unprocessed foods I’ve been enjoying for October: Unprocessed, I’m free of things I don’t need. Free from all that pressure, so I can write what I want to write, within my own parameters & deadlines. I’m free to spend some time on another $25 Shopping Cart with some of the money generously donated by you fine readers, and come up with something simple, but comforting, from the purchases I’ll make. I’m free to enjoy my weekends without the stress of another entry, so I can clean my closets and play with my cats whom I’ve neglected so cruelly this whole time (which is probably why StuKitty got into the PFB cooler, to begin with. Doesn’t that picture scream “NOTICE ME!!!”?). Heck, I’m even free to get over this friggin’ flu! I’m just Poor Girl again, with no expectations other than providing quality written content, tips, and recipes for myself and for my readers.
I am Poor Girl: Unprocessed. Free of the idea of $10,000 and some minor fame.
Some might say that I’m just not good at competing, and in a way, they’re probably right. I take the competition very seriously; maybe too seriously. Once I’m in that mode, I’m stuck in it, the rules, deadlines, and entries my blinders, so that I can’t see anything but the contest and its final prize. But that kind of focus is also what makes a good competitor, and I’m happy I was able to make it as far as I did consider some of the food bloggers I was up against. And though I already know I’m good at what I do and so do you, fine readers, the fact that the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine was reading my blog for the past 6 weeks and thought I was good enough to keep advancing to this point is also pretty damned awesome.
Still, I feel better now, even if I won’t be $10,000 richer by December. I feel cleansed in a way, and doubt that I’ll ever do something like this again. I’m just not the NOTICE ME!!!!!! type, and that’s okay. I get more than enough validation from my readers. Money that will be quickly spent on mundane things like rent isn’t quite as gratifying as knowing I saved a mom from trying to figure out what to feed her kids, or that I helped someone lose 15 pounds just by changing the way she ate. The simple things are what mean the most, and I’m glad I have the time to focus on them again.
Besides, as much as I love competing against others, I’d much rather work on goals that involve me competing against myself. Like finishing up the first couple chapters of the real PGEW book that should be published sooner rather than later… 😉