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22 Years of Journals & Blogs

I’ve decided to write more this year. It wasn’t a decision exactly, more of an urge to write. Unlike my previous blog, this writing goal isn’t for business reasons or to grow an audience. This site doesn’t even have Google Analytics on it.

The reason? I missed processing my thoughts through writing. I’ve been writing online on and off for 22 years (!). The majority of that has been journaling in public in one form or another.

Recently, as Twitter has evolved from a brushfire to a volcano, I’ve started reading more blogs by people just living their lives. One of those I’ve been following for a decade is Cait Flanders who recently posted about the journals [she’s] kept over the years.

This article reminded me of how much my own journaling practice has changed over the years. What I’ve written about has changed, what I’ve gotten our has changed and most importantly my motivation to write at all has changed.

Aside from brainstorming (which I consider a form of journaling), I’ve only written digitally. Putting pen to paper has never been my style. The first journal I ever received was from a guidance counselor in 3rd grade around the time of my parent’s divorce. It seemed overly ornate and my 7-year-old self was too scared of messing it up to use it.

When I did start writing it was digitally and in public.

Personal Journaling

2001-2009, 19-27 years old, blogs: LiveJournal, Dymension.org

I only started journaling in college. I want to say the catalyst was wanting to learn more about myself, but that wasn’t even a concept in my mind. I’d begun taking my first digital photos and wanted somewhere to share them. Rather than sharing all of my thoughts, I could get by just sharing a few photos.

I began writing on my first website, dymension.org. I thought it sounded cool and my dad let me register it before I had my first credit card. By this time I’d already started a successful fan website for the game Dance Dance Revolution (called DDRei, or Dance Dance Revolution East Invasion).

Most days I spent building database-backed websites for fun. This led to building a blog before WordPress was released in order to have a place to share photos and expressed my feelings.

When I eventually decided to start writing it was because a girl I had a crush on posted on LiveJournal. I found the cheapest PHP/MySQL host I could and used PHPMyAdmin to write my first journal entries directly in the database. It was a fun learning experience, even if these posts were not great.

Like many of my friends, I moved over to posting on LiveJournal. Almost everyone I knew had an LJ around this time (2001 ~ 2006). It was (is) a social network for journaling – how great is that? You could post publicly, privately, friends-only, or even specify posts that only certain friend groups could see.

My journal entries during this time focused on what I did that day, what I was about to do, or what I wanted to do. It was rarely introspective or about what I was learning or who I was becoming.

Occasionally there would be a goal I was working towards, but rarely was it important enough to warrant more than a mention.

After my mom passed away in 2005 I started writing more about the difficulties I was going through. Both writing and having a group of close friends to support me were how I made it through that time.

When my (now) wife and I started dating back in 2006, we made it “LiveJournal official” after a week.

Some of my LiveJournal posts were private only for me. Those were the exception rather than the rule.

It took years of self-reflection and reading amazing books like Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents to realize why I was so guarded with my own emotions. I felt I couldn’t share them in my household growing up, which continued even after I left.

I still remember one emotional phone call when my mom called me in tears about something I wrote in my public journal about how emotionally draining it was to be home at times. One of HER coworkers (another woman in her 50s) had read it and then used that as ammunition to hurt HER. I would never have wanted that conversation to start in that way but I’m glad we had a chance to talk through it.

We built a stronger relationship because I was more comfortable processing and sharing my emotions in text form.

Technical Journaling

2007-2014, 26-32 years old, blogs: AdamFortuna.com, EvalEverything.com, Code School

Up until about 2007, any journal entries I’d written were either entirely for me, or for me and people I knew in person. I wasn’t writing for an anonymous audience of readers that might stumble on my blog (if you did at the time, I’m sorry for putting you through that).

By this time most of my LJ friends began their after-college lives. Many stopped posting and the site became more of a ghost town. By 2008 it was down to a handful of friends.

Most had migrated to Facebook. They could share updates about their lives there with friends while also connecting with Family.

Some migrated to Twitter – specifically developers and early adopters from the tech industry.

I started writing here on this blog (adamfortuna.com) around that time using WordPress. The description changed a little each year based on what I was learning at the time.

2006: Rants on software development, Coldfusion, Javascript and UI Design.

2009: Rants on software development, Ruby on Rails, Javascript and UI Design.

I had no idea about SEO or any concept of how to grow a blog. I read a bunch of other blogs and commented on them, but most of my posts were rubbish. They weren’t solving a problem for myself or for anyone else.

And yet somehow I joined a nifty group of bloggers calling themselves 9 Rules. I applied for membership and was accepted in December 2006.

More important than growing my following, I hoped 9 Rules would provide a sense of community in the way LiveJournal had before that.

Sadly it never felt like a “community”. 9 Rules was a Twitter Blue Checkmark for blogs. It was external validation that your site was good enough to syndicate to their audience.

In 2008 I switched from a corporate job to a startup: IZEA. IZEA was infamous for PayPerPost, a website for bloggers to get paid a commission to write about topics. It was the first “sponsored content” platform on the web. I was working there days and blogging at night. I was seeing bloggers making decent money from blogging, but hadn’t found a way to do it myself.

The problem was that I didn’t want to promote services I didn’t use. That continued to be a problem with every blog I’ve ever had. Turns out that in order to make good money blogging you need to either amass a massive audience (ads, sponsored posts) or learn how to convert viewers to buyers (affiliate income).

I failed at both. Eventually, I realized this wasn’t fun. Writing technical blog posts that no one read for no money? Who would have thought?! I switched the blog to a landing page after a handful of years and took a long break from blogging.

While this period of my journaling life seems like a total failure, it has a happy ending. My blogging and programming skills made me an excellent candidate for the job at IZEA and later at Code School creating technical content for millions of people.

Without writing bad-quality content earlier, I don’t know if I would have had the confidence or understanding to create better content later.

Project Journaling

2007-now, 25+ years old

Journaling reflects what was most important in your life. For a time that was building websites. Yes, I was one of those people who had a whiteboard at home. It was an excellent way to diagram databases at a time when I was still learning what third normal form was.

Over the years I’ve had 3 of these physical journals.

My oldest entry is from January 2007.
SitesUsing failed, but BuiltWith is huge
Brainstorming Minafi
The first draft of An Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence
Code Scool makes a few appearances – showing how bad my work-life balance was.

These are a time capsule of what I was working on. While I don’t look back on these, I have saved them.

It was fun having a single journal with served as a sketchbook for UI/UX ideas, brainstorming database structures and flushing out ideas. I was constantly reading books about user interface design like The Design of Sites, Designing the Moment, Designing the Obvious and so many others that blended code and design.

Looking back now, these journals were a form of practice that I enjoyed. They were a playground to explore an idea without committing to working on it. Writing in these journals has never felt like work. It’s all play.

Travel Journaling

2014-2016, 32-34 years old, AdamFortuna.com.

The first time I flew outside the country I was 30 years old. Marilyn’s had a work event in Amsterdam and we extended the trip with a stop in London and Paris along the way.

Like any tourist, I took my camera along – an iPhone 5. When I reviewed the photos after our trip I wasn’t impressed. I vowed to learn more about photography before our next adventure.

The next year we traveled to Japan and took about 2,000 more photos. this was my absolute favorite of the entire trip.

Cherry blossoms and swan boats
Cherry blossoms and swan boats.

Inspired by Paul Stamatiou’s Japan photo gallery, I wanted to do something similar. I considered posting on Instagram, Flickr, or another photo community, but there’s always a concern the side will disappear – or start charging. Hosting it myself was the way to go.

This was more scrapbooking than journaling. It was a way to record the experience of the trip with the ability to rewind and replay it at any time. I’m extremely thankful for writing about our Japan trip immediately after while it was still fresh in my mind.

Side note: I’m still migrating these old photo posts created with custom markdown to WordPress so they’ll show up here. I want to redo the style of this section of the blog, but it’ll take some work.

What stands out to me from the period of journaling was how it brought multiple mediums together. The photos were the stars of these posts, and the design was built around them. It was more than just taking a blog post layout and adding photos.

I never had any dreams of being a travel influencer or a travel blogger. I spent time on these because it was something I wanted. It was a hobby, but one that allowed me to learn some new skills.

Looking at the photos over and over helped me grow as a photographer. Understanding Exposure is without a doubt my favorite book that helped me learn – along with Understanding Composition.

Without the journal there to keep my interest in this hobby, it might have fizzled out before it began.

Financial Journaling

2016-2021, 34-39 years old, Minafi.com

Minafi is the most successful journal. It started as a space to write about three topics I kept coming back to: minimalism, stoicism and financial independence.

Choosing a name helped cement the idea. In programming, you can “minify” assets (HTML, JavaScript and CSS). It has ties to minimalism, and the “FI” at the end is short for “financial independence”. It’s rare for a project to come into my mind so fully formed, but here it was.

I’d written a few posts on this blog about each of these topics before. These topics were the same ones as the subreddits I watched, books I read and blogs I followed. When I started writing about them I couldn’t stop.

I wrote the first 6 blog posts in one day – then scheduled them out at 3 posts a week. That’s how excited I was. Writing on Medium helped me focus on writing rather than optimizing a blog. After a few months, I had momentum and migrated to WordPress.

Then something happened I didn’t expect: I found the financial blogging community. Yes, there is an entire community for financial bloggers – and it’s amazing.

This was the community I was searching for since I left LiveJournal. It was here – but specifically for money.

I developed a name for myself in the community after writing An Interactive Guide to FIRE which went viral and made a bunch of new friends. Many of them I met in person at FinCon 2017, 2018 and 2019. It was an exciting time.

For years I loved writing about my own journey to financial independence. I was saving, investing, optimizing taxes and sharing along the way. But there was a problem. There are only so many ways I could say “invest in index funds”, “look over your spending and eliminate what doesn’t make you happy”, and “design a life you want to live”.

I started to feel burnt out. Trying to frame every blog post in the context of money made writing less fun. When I thought about topics to write about that didn’t relate back to money it wouldn’t work.

More and more the topics I wanted to write about were technical, or personal growth related. I’d enjoyed writing about money for years – but only because it’s what I was learning about myself.

When I realized this it all clicked. I need to pause financial blogging. Even though my numbers (page views and revenue) were slowly increasing, maintaining that growth would mean consistent blogging forever.

Once you get on the content treadmill it’s incredibly difficult to get off. This was the problem I ran into at Code School – we always needed more content. Content content content. This is the fate of any influencer. The job isn’t “social media” or marketing. The real job is content. I needed a break and put Minafi into maintenance mode.

Minafi is still up with everything I’ve written, but I’m no longer writing new articles over there. In the future, if I become more interested in finances again maybe I’ll return. For now, I’m happy with the friends I made, the content I produced and what it taught me about blogging as a business.

Personal Growth Journaling

2016-now, 40+ years old

That brings us to the present with what I call personal growth journaling. Sometime around 2016 at Code School, our founder Gregg started bringing in a bunch of inspirational activities and articles about growth mindset, defensiveness, and limiting beliefs (not it wasn’t a cult, well, maybe it was, IDK).

These weren’t terms that were part of my vocabulary. The idea of a “growth mindset” vs a “fixed mindset” is whether you believe you have the ability to improve with effort (growth) or not (fixed). The concept immediately resonated with me.

The other concept that I learned about was limiting beliefs. These are beliefs you hold – either consciously or unconsciously – that hold you back in some way. Limiting beliefs can frame a problem with a fixed mindset.

Even if I had a growth mindset for most things in life, limiting beliefs could still hold me back in very specific parts of my life.

One example of a limiting belief of mine was the idea that I was shy and introverted. Throughout high school, I was always the quiet kid. Even after 15 years of journaling in public, I still thought I didn’t have a lot to say. The concept of myself as an “introvert” was a limiting belief.

When I realized this was something I could actually change it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I didn’t suddenly become extroverted or enjoy being around people all the time, but I made a choice to stop thinking about this as a black-and-white fact about myself.

I see this as the moment I started to embrace personal improvement. I started writing about mindfulness and stoicism. This began a fast-growth period of understanding myself more, what I wanted in life and (eventually) learning how to express and ask for it.

It inspired me to create my own personal mission, to stop comparing myself to others, and to treat joy as a skill.

I realized that this type of story – a growth story – was a topic that I loved to both read about and write about. Reading about other people’s self-improvement journeys is without a doubt one of my favorite genres right now.

A few book recommendations:

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders – Memoir of Cait’s year simplifying her life.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – Details a year of experiments

I’ve even done a few of my own experiments in personal growth.

In 2020 I chose a new theme every month to inspire action. I’m trying it again in 2023 starting with January: Depth, February: Garden and March: Routine.

A few years ago I created a list of 101 Things I Want to Know, Have, Do or Be – My Bucket, Goals and Vision List. Looking at it now there are so many completed items on it that I need to start over and create some new goals (what a good problem to have).

In 2020 I created a Local Bucket List to help stay sane during a time when we couldn’t travel.

Throughout this time I’ve done private weekly journaling on and off. This exercise has always helped me balance ambition and happiness. I have a tendency to get a little obsessed with whatever it is that I’m working on.

What I like about this personal growth journaling is how open-ended it is. Whether I’m writing about money, technical topics or goals, it’s easy to relate it back to the reason: why is this important?

If there was a theme for this blog right now, this is it. It’s about my own journey to grow and sharing that along the way. This topic is exciting to me. It shapeshifts around whatever I’m most passionate about.

How Has Journaling Impacted Your Life?

My motivation for journaling has changed.

It started as a way to connect with friends. It moved into a way to share my journey as a programmer. Then as a place to share my experience learning to be a photographer. Then as a place to share my journey to financial independence. And now as a way to keep pushing myself to live an intentional life.

My benefit from journaling has changed.

Staying in touch with friends is no longer a benefit. People have their own lives and I don’t imagine many of my real-life friends have read any blog I’ve written since LiveJournal (or Facebook/Twitter). The benefit since then has focused on accountability. Writing about whatever I was learning is a form of note-taking. We remember topics much more deeply when we write about them. Lately, my benefit from journaling is an insight into what makes me happy, healthy and excited.

My goal for journaling has changed.

With LJ my goal was to stay up-to-date with friends. These online relationships were healthier than being Facebook friends, but less healthy than actual talk face to face friends. Now I prefer to have a smaller group of in-person friends, and not worry about constantly staying up to date with a large group of acquaintances.

I hadn’t thought about what my “goal” is for this blog until I began writing this post. Here’s what I came up with:

Develop a space to share what I’m most excited about that inspires action, relishes creativity and encourages personal growth through curiousity.

The goal of this blog

If anything is consistent, this theme will change over time. I have no idea what I’ll journal about five years from now, but I have little doubt I’ll continue writing.

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I'm , a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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