I’m working from home this afternoon, in part because I plan on making a beautiful corn chowder recipe for the family’s dinner tonight. I needed to take a break from what I was doing to review the new About.com contract that will govern the licensing of my copyrights to The New York Times subsidiary for the Investing for Beginners site. As I looked through the pages, highlighter in hand, I decided to brew some sweet tea to enjoy in my few hours of solitude before the rush this evening.
Reading the text on the white paper in front of me, I realized this is my eleventh year with the network. About.com is unique because it isn’t a job; it’s not what I do for a living, more like an interesting hobby that lets me help people. It is a platform on which nearly 1,000 experts share their insights on a specific topic and share in a portion of the advertising earnings.
I signed my first contract in February of 2001, when the excesses of the dot-com boom were still evident and the company had not yet gone through the enormous changes that followed in the subsequent decade. I remember the call from my first editor, which I took in my bedroom as an 18 year old high school student living at home with my parents. It was a far different world back then and the business wasn’t nearly as large as it is today; the site itself wasn’t anything of which to speak, generating a mere fraction of the page views and visits it does today. They looked for good writers, first and foremost, and I beat out much older people for the investing topic, despite having none of the wealth and success I enjoy today. I was given, essentially, free rein within my topic to write about anything that interested me.
I remember visiting the flagship office on Broadway with foosball tables and soaring ceilings before the company moved to more modest digs. Nearly everyone at headquarters has come and gone – at least two or three waves of personnel – and I continue to write, having turned my tiny little site into a large, profitable endeavor that has benefited both parties.
Back then, some of my best content was written from a college dorm room in New Jersey on a Dell Notebook computer on a dial-up Internet connection, wearing Banana Republic sweaters and talking about my ideas with Aaron. Today, most are penned long-hand with a $1,200 gold-accented fountain pen in leather bound notebooks that are then transposed into html and uploaded to the site; written late at night, sitting by the fireplace and wrapped in a cashmere blanket as the family watches a movie or plays video games.
Nearly everything has changed in those 11 years, as I grew from an 18 year old kid to a nearly-30-year-old man. I launched my first businesses and became financially successful, proving that the concepts I was writing about could work in the real world, just as they had for countless men and women before me. It’s just a funny thing … and I’m so grateful. And at peace about the experience. As I type this, I look down and the shirt I’m wearing is custom made from fine, textured Italian fabrics and cost near as much as the rent payment my parents made on the tiny 900 square foot house in which they raised the four kids, started their business, and rebuilt their life after losing everything. My days are spent doing what I love, with people I love. I’m free to pursue my passions, to learn, and to experience. Always in the background, as one great constant on my journey, were my regular articles on the network. The site grew with me. Many of the readers grew with me.
Looking to the future, in another 11 years, I’ll be 40. I can’t imagine the changes the world will see in that time. What I can do is strive to be a little wiser, a little kinder, and a little richer every night than I was when I woke up in the morning. Compounding has a powerful effect that way. What I do know is that I hope I continue to write, and help people, on About.com, even though it is only a small part of what I do. It has been such a rewarding experience.