Have you heard the Echosmith song “Cool Kids”? I love that song. I feel like it captures a lot of my feelings when it comes to, well, life. I think most of us have at one point or another felt like everyone else had it together, knew what they were doing, had everything they wanted and what we wanted.
Over the last couple of days, the Cool Kids conversation has resurfaced yet again. It happens. It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. But every time it happens I do feel a sense of obligation to write a little bit about it in hopes that maybe it will shed some light.
I’m not disagreeing and saying there aren’t Cool Kids in the DOC. There definitely are. But there are some nuances to how this all developed and I have a unique insight into the story.
When the first diabetes pharma company wanted to get together with us, immediately people started criticizing those of us who went. I really didn’t have a clear sense of how the invite list was selected, but I knew it had a lot to do with recommendations, readership, and familiarity with the diabetes space. It’s probably why it seems like most of us know each other, because when we’re asked who to recommend, we tend to recommend the people we know.
A few more companies held summits, and yes, most of the people who went to them were the same people. I don’t know if this was intentional, but I imagine it was. Especially when some of the summits held in subsequent years were designed to follow-up on previous summits, there was bound to be repeat attendees.
While all this was going on, I started working for a PR agency. I worked on the digital media team and I was responsible for creating a number of blogger media lists. The number one thing my clients wanted to know was how much traffic does this blogger get? Now I’m sure when it comes to diabetes there’s more to it. I think companies also want to invite bloggers who can speak to issues like advocacy and technology and intelligently contribute to the conversation. You had to be a thought leader. You had to be influential. You had to speak and write well.
There aren’t as many summits now. A few, but they just aren’t as often, but there are some new projects being developed and those have very well-known names attached to them. They are the Cool Kids.
There’s a reason for this.
The Cool Kids are professionals. Above anything else you have to realize that the people who become frequent speakers and who are paid to do anything in this field are professionals. They treat this as if it is their job because in most cases, it actually is. It’s not a hobby. It’s not something they do while watching The Daily Show (although I’m sure sometimes they do). It’s not something they squeeze in after dinner and before tucking their kids into bed or when they happen to have a really terrible D day (although they do it then, too). This is something they do all the freaking time.
And I know this because I used to be a professional, working as an assistant editor at DiabetesMine. When something is your job — especially something that has a rather entrepreneurial bent to it — you’re going to spend a lot of time finding ways to get paid. You’re going to do a lot of networking. There will be a lot of queries, pitches, follow-ups, phone calls, and lunches. There are going to be a lot of assignments and 1099s. And for a few — for a very select and gifted few — this is sustainable. This is what they do and they do it because they are good at doing it.
Now there are other bloggers or tweeters or whatever you want to call them, and you might be thinking, Well, what about that person. That person is probably footing their own bill. They are probably saving a ton of money, or maybe going into debt (I don’t know, we don’t get that personal at the bar). They might be on scholarship. There are a number of scholarships provided by the Diabetes Advocates and Children with Diabetes to attend their conferences. Some professional conferences will give free press badges to bloggers. There are a lot of “This is our vacation this year” that happens. There’s a lot of room sharing (we’re all family, remember?). There’s a lot of budgeting.
I don’t blame people for being jealous. I’m jealous, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve been invited to speak on a panel or attend a summit. But I also want people to understand that the people you are jealous of also work their asses off for this and it’s not an accident that things are the way they are. This happens in almost every blogging niche — from fashion to home design to food to other chronic diseases. There are people who dedicate themselves just a little bit more to doing what they are doing and they become more well-known, and companies take notice of that. It does not mean that people who aren’t more well-known are somehow worse or not appreciated.
So how do you become a Cool Kid? I don’t think there’s a hard and fast answer but I do have some suggestions based on nearly ten years (oh God…) of experience.
1) Be yourself. Your voice is wonderful all on its own and you don’t need to imitate anyone else for the sake of “fitting in.” We like the rabble-rousers, the table-shakers, the feet-stompers.
2) Engage. I can’t say enough on this point. Participate in DSMA on Wednesdays. Leave comments on as many blogs as you can. Share links to relevant posts on Facebook. Follow people on Twitter and respond to whoever says something that you think is interesting. Offer to guest post. Send queries to the editors of some of your favorite diabetes blogs. Contact the Communications teams of your favorite Pharma companies. No one knows you’re there until you say something. On the Internet, you are invisible until you share your voice.
3) Save your money. If going to conferences really is that important to you, then you need to save your money or apply for scholarships. It’s that simple. I wish it was easier. It isn’t. I don’t work for a diabetes company anymore, and I foot my own bill. I’m heading to Des Moines next Wednesday. Who’s paying? I am. I’m driving for four hours. Staying in a cheap hotel that I got for $50 on Priceline. You have to work for things you want. Of course, going to a conference won’t automatically make you a cool kid (none of this will, actually).
4) Give. The “famous” people with diabetes? They didn’t try to be famous. But they had something to give. They had an idea and they wanted to share it. It took guts. It took time. It took a lot of support. But there are some pretty fantabulously awesome things that have been created in our community. That’s what gets recognized. But it’s also hard. It’s hard to come up with a brilliant project and so this shouldn’t be your focus. Which brings me to my last point.
5) Relax. Whatever your vision is for what the Cool Kids have, it’s probably not as great as you think. Or maybe it is. But my point is that if you spend your time angry, or sad, or miserable about this Cool Kids stuff, you’re going to miss out on some really wonderful opportunities in the Diabetes Online Community. There is a lot going on at a national level, but there are also JDRF and ADA events, there are meet-ups and support groups. It sometimes takes time to connect with people in your community, but with five million type 1 PWDs and 30 million PWDs in general, trust me, someone is near you.
I’m also a bit of a diabetes matchmaker, so if you’re looking to get plugged in, send me an email. Chances are I know a guy. Or girl.
Being cool? It’s cool. But being connected is even better. And thankfully, you do not need to be cool to do that.