Flying High, Burning Out, and Doubt - Life with HiddenPalmTree, 1 Year On.
It’s hard to believe - me included, but last week was officially my one year anniversary as a content contributor for HiddenPalmTree. One year since I jumped at the chance to write and photograph stories about car culture, car owners, and builds from all around.
One year ago, where I was about to graduate from university; still unsure on what my job prospects would be looking like after I would be picking up my degree in Mass Communications.
Considering last year consisted of a worldwide pandemic that pretty much ruined all of my plans for life after college, accepting this proposition from Asher himself was definitely one positive outcome of the year that was 2020. Perfectly timed too, having applied and paid for an OPT work permit under my student visa. But with the job market at the time still looking bleak, I made the tough decision to cut my losses and relocate back to my roots amongst the limited options I had.
I will be honest: I never thought I would stick through this long. I never thought I would be writing and continuing to deliver stories to those who happen to tune in to this website for a brand based in the islands, that was still relatively small but still growing its presence bit by bit.
And it might not seem like it, but while I am grateful for the opportunity that was handed to me, there is a reality to being a content creator. Whether it be full-time, part-time, paid or not; it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows as some like to make it out as. Yes, being able to write about one of your lifelong hobbies is awesome! After all, you are technically working for no one but yourself. You work at your own pace, you set your own hours based on how much effort and time you feel is worth putting in, and when it comes to subject matter: you usually don’t have to submit a pitch or get it pre-approved first by an editor, before you are given the greenlight to go for it. You go with what you feel is worth focusing on; what you would like to read about.
But most of the time: it is a process full of never-ending struggles and setbacks: both unexpected and self-inflicted. Moments of self-doubt and insecurity over whether you can deliver a feature that is just as interesting to read as the one before it, and if you can deliver the latest one hot off the press in time.
Fears that build up inside of you that make you excessively worry over how you will be able to know that the latest feature is up to your standards, that it satisfies yourself and those who are going to see it. Worrying over if you’ll continue to deliver an engaging, high quality product that gives regular readers something to look forward to. Or on the other hand, bore them eventually as the stories become too predictable and ‘cookie-cutter’ in their subject matter and lay out.
Or worse, you fear your story will completely bomb: since no one cares for it or it just isn’t intriguing enough to make people stop and have a look. As you look in shame at the lack of visibility and upward trends in visibility statistics your content is not achieving, you become discouraged to press on: asking yourself "Is this all really worth it?"
Your inner thoughts cloud your thinking process: constantly repeating your self-doubts from within; worried over whether this is the right story to write about for the next release date, is it perfectly timed, will it be as successful as previous hits?
Especially when you aren’t exactly the first one to break into this genre of content, more so online as it becomes easier for anyone to get out there and call themselves a blogger, YouTuber, photographer, or something in between. Newcomers or those just getting their name established will struggle to overcome this massive wave, as you try to find your 'zone' and craft an approach to content that stands out from the rest. Overthinking becomes a common recurrence, leaving you to wonder if you are just as capable as some of the more successful personalities who have been able to build a cult following that always tunes in for their latest content.
Ever heard of ‘imposter syndrome’? That has been a regular occurrence for myself: day after day, as I try my best to put in all the work and time to create just one feature. It is more prevalent when doing something surrounding automotive culture or media, especially in somewhere as only so spread out as Hong Kong. It's easy to fall into a trap of comparing yourself to other more successful people in this game. Ones working for major publications or have had work featured in citywide marketing campaigns, or smaller ones who maintain a relatively small social media presence, yet have opportunities to feature some of the world’s most sought after exotics. So easy in fact, you forget to focus on what you do best, what you want people to know of when it comes to car culture where you are (because you feel they are worth shining the spotlight on).
Ultimately: you lose motivation to pursue great ideas for content, even if they might be interesting to read for the average viewer.
Because you feel you aren’t good enough to talk about them on your platform and for your audience to learn about them through, even if neither have met let alone, know each other.
Believe me. Behind all of the great stories I have been able to report on and tell here, I can’t stress how many times I have found myself punching my keyboard; writer's block at its worst, frustrated as to how I can compile a bunch of words into something presentable. No matter how many coffees I have drunk to try and put my head together, I have had sleepless nights - stressed out over getting it put all together. In other words: a few paragraphs or sentences you might read, probably took me at least a night or two just to be satisfied with.
Don’t get me started if I have to also set aside time to edit photos I took to accompany my words. Which tends to be when Lightroom decides its the right time to forget which Catalog its meant to use; right when I'm in the zone in the early hours of Saturday morning, polishing the feature for its debut by 6 AM. Computers suck sometimes.
And that’s before I have to do any proofreading to ensure it all sounds legible, along with adding and formatting the images individually. Or you never know: the inner critic in me decides an hour before sunrise that I need to take out a paragraph, add some more sentences, or rewrite the entire darn thing. In the pursuit for perfection under my watch.
Worse, is when something you do because you find it enjoyable, or as a hobby, starts becoming a part/full time job. There are plenty of people who have made their lifelong passions into a full time career that happens to pay good, but for some, turning something that started as a hobby can easily slide into something that becomes a grind. Ultimately: something you despise doing, because the fun that once was there, is now no more. And having been at times where I dread having to write something, there has been more than one close brushes I've had that have tested me.
I have been there doing photography even before I started writing here. Its also partially the reason why unless its a gig that is paid for in advance; let alone compensated for in some manner, I don’t stress over turning a profit. I agree if you want good photos, you have to be willing to pay a price for it. Photography is not cheap and it can be gruelling. But if I obsess over ensuring each shoot would make a great return on investment, it would not be fun anymore, would it? There are plenty of other photographers, within automotive and in other directions I am acquainted with who have been able to make a business out of shooting and editing. For me though? At least for now, its merely a hobby I do for fun. At best, a necessary skill to keep delivering great content for you all to see here.
If I am honest, I have been at that stage doing something as seemingly simple as coming up with an idea for something to write about for this blog. I could have the best ideas in the world, stories that would be guaranteed hits and find HiddenPalmTree as one of the most shared articles on all the major social media networks. But they would never surface, all because I thought they would never succeed as they might have.
Despite all of these moments of self-doubt, mental roadblocks and everything in between: I do not regret snapping up this opportunity.
I’m happy I persevered after the rocky start and never gave up; even when I was close to not even five months in. I’m glad I stuck for this long and even during the worst of my internal roadblocks, I kept at it and continued to at least get the feature out there for the world to see.
I'm happy I have been able to pursue one of my lifelong ambitions, a wish I have held since I was very young. A ambition that at once, though very briefly, drove my career goals in middle school when asked what did I want to study for.
I'm happy that after a year where I nearly lost great friendships, lost out on something I really wanted to give my all for, and felt at the lowest of the lowest points, combined with what 2020 consisted of, there was something good that came from all the times I felt I had hit rock bottom; with no end in sight.
And in the end, this journey of ups and downs, late nights, and work afterhours has not been time wasted for me. Would I do things differently? Absolutely. There were some ways I tried to pursue content, I kind of regret doing. My mindset at the time, while highly ambitious at first, needed some talking-to so I remained realistic in achieving my goals and what I could at least start doing, rather than be angry at myself for not accomplishing. After all, we are 1. Still not out of a worldwide pandemic that is not slowing down anytime soon and 2. Events are starting up again, but you never know when sh*t hits the fan and gets called off until later.
Writing down things in a notebook or some post-its has proven very useful during the process of creating a new feature from scratch, most notably during the early stages when I have the material I need (photos/quotes/technical info etc.), but can’t really think of a way to put everything down in a way that will look good on a computer screen.
And I will say, from a content creator’s standpoint who is pretty much doing the bulk of the work solo (aside from sourcing photos for stuff outside of Hong Kong or creating the flier that will serve as the cover image for the new feature), reading some motivational advice to ground myself each day helps focus on what matters, and what is important now, than later. Good F*cking Design Advice has helped out a lot for someone like me who overthinks unnecessarily. I’d highly recommend it if you are too, possibly trying to craft your identity out there in a niche field, who might need that little bit of focus in their creative lives.
In spite of what feels like I have only been able to do only a fraction of what I would like to feature here, I remind myself of what I have already accomplished:
Through some of the stories I have been able to find and compile so far, a vehicle storage facility in Hong Kong was able to get people talking about its business not long after their feature went live.
Some acquaintances of mine got to have their own opinions on a certain Honda platform, so that more can learn about why said platform has become such a favorite.
You got to hear about car shows in Hong Kong, Honolulu, and a ‘Rad’ gathering that took place in the hills of Sonoma country, and you guys loved it.
And just recently, you got to learn about several great events that aim to combine both fans of cars and anime fan culture; some of which you might even have been planning to attend yourself when their next dates are announced.
Notably throughout all of this, I’ve noticed people that have been featured or share a new feature, from various states in America to Asia, even down in the Southern Hemisphere for some, have been connecting with one another. To think a reader in my current abode is now acquainted with a Mercedes enthusiast I happened to write about through one of many features serves as a reminder of why I love to do, what I do. It’s about bridging communities with one another, uniting like minded people, no matter where their primary interests lie or lifestyles may be, because we all are involved in automotive culture in some fashion.
Ultimately: if it's a way to ensure my content is able to achieve HiddenPalmTree’s endgoal, to “Support Da Locals". I am all for it.
If I suddenly decided to just quit and stop doing all of this, yet was able to get two people following or talking to one another on opposite ends of the world, honestly: I would be happy I was at least able to establish that connection. No matter how long it lasts.
In the end, for those who have supported me, whether it be from day one when I made my blogging debut, to when I slowly found my footing and began releasing on a consistent schedule, I just wanted to say:
Thank you very much for your support.
I won’t go into a lengthy acceptance speech saying I couldn’t do this all without you, but it cannot be denied: I could not have been able to do this without you all sharing, reposting, and supporting me at every feature I have been able to push out. All on this small, but steadily growing blog. It might not seem like it, but for us content creators still trying to establish name out there, every bit counts. You never know if a simple share or repost could lead us to something big, or if some major brands/names are keeping a close eye on our content; eager to collaborate or invite us to an exclusive. So, it would be very appreciated if you keep doing just that.
Take it from someone who, just a few years ago as a regular college student, was shown an opportunity to attend SEMA.
In other words: if you want to continue reading about great stories, keep supporting myself, Asher and everyone I cast the spotlight on every second week. We will return the favor, and set out to deliver handsomely each and every time.
I’m happy above all though, that I did this all for myself. For the random kid from Hong Kong who was obsessed with anything that involved cars growing up. Who dreamed at one point, of being a motoring journalist just like the personalities he saw on certain television programmes, and read in car magazines (that he didn’t even bother reading the written words, too captivated by the images that would inspire his own approach to automotive photography). To chase a dream he once had, many many years ago.
As a fellow content creator and owner of a certain apparel brand I follow lives by: “Everything Starts with a Dream!” Who knows, you might also be reading about them one of these weeks.
Maybe...sooner than you think.