The Right Way to Pick Someone’s Brain

There are so many people I look up to. Incredible, amazing people who create and write and speak in ways that I admire immensely.

I used to ask people I admired for advice out of the blue. I used to expect a response. Here is exactly what was wrong with that.


“Hey! I would love to pick your brain sometime about that thing you’re really good at that I have no idea about, but would like to be good at as well.”


“Hey! I would like some of your time and information for free, even if it took you years and a ton of energy to learn that information.”

Time and energy are the most valuable currencies we have. Requesting that someone sit down with you and give you their time and knowledge is a big ask. They might even charge money normally for that type of thing.

If you are looking for guidance from someone you look up to, here’s how to ask.


How do you know about this person and their work? If you read their blog, tell them. If you’ve heard them speak, tell them. Tell them what you like so much about whatever it is they do– why does it speak to you? Why are you compelled to write them?


Someone’s experience and knowledge is precious, and there is a good chance this person has shared at least some of it somewhere– whether that’s online, in a book, video or some other medium. Do your research so that you’re not asking something they have already covered.


Concise, pointed questions are way easier to answer than open-ended ones. “How did you book your first paid collaboration?” is easier to answer than, “How did you become a blogger?”; “What was your biggest challenge with starting your business?” is much easier to approach than, “How did you start your business?”


Most people want to help each other out, and hopefully the person you reach out to will graciously answer your questions. But thank them. Be polite. Understand that they are taking the time to help you. And if you have anything to offer them (buying their book, sharing their articles with your friends, writing about them for your school newspaper), be generous with that too.


For the record, I absolutely love getting emails and messages, and I love answering your questions. If I can help give someone information they need in order to pursue their dreams, I do. But if you’re looking for the right way to reach out, this should help.

In pursuing anything, understand you will use resources where you have them and ask questions where people generously give you their time. But no one person will give you all the answers you need– only you can learn that yourself over a long period time, collecting experience that is full of trial and error.

There is immense power in mentorship and helping each other. So when you do start figuring it out– when people start asking to pick your brain– pay it forward in the way that someone else once helped you, and believe that there is always more to learn.



Feature photo by Ali. V. Follow her on Instagram at @alisonvagnini.


How to Start a Blog (or Do Anything)

I launched this blog on December 19th, 2014 from my parent’s couch. About twenty months later, it is a very solid part-time job.

It always baffled me how people made money as bloggers, so I’ll clear that up first. I make money by writing, taking photos, and posting on my social media channels for companies and brands, mostly in the outdoor and travel industry. I very occasionally do sponsored posts on this blog– but generally I prefer to preserve this space for my voice, unfiltered. Make no mistake that I am straight up busy– I work hard at this. I am never not doing something.

These are my guidelines for doing anything successfully in life:

  1. Do it well
  2. Do it consistently (for a long time)
  3. Do it with passion (or ditch it)

First of all, you should know that two years ago, this blog was just an idea I had. I was sitting where some of you might be– scouring the internet for “how to blog” articles. I thought there was a list of checkboxes I had to tick in order to get started. But what everyone wrote about– what all the bloggers I looked up to said– was that there was no real formula.

This is the closest I’ve come to having a formula.


…and when you don’t know what you are doing (i.e., me, most of the time), fake it.

You have to do it well. Do a ton of research. If you want to be a food blogger, read food blogs until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore. If you want to start doing makeup tutorials on YouTube, I hope you are watching them like it’s your job– because it might be someday if you do it well enough.

Learn your market. Survey the demand in that market. Ask yourself who your audience will be. Then, create stuff that really, really matters to you and cater it to that audience so they come back begging for more. Align your passion with whatever you see as the demand, without compromising. Do it like nobody else is doing it, and do it the best way you know how.

Hold yourself and your work to a high standard, but accept that your craft will be evolving forever. Do it well and always believe that you can do it better.


Two years ago, I was stalking travel and outdoor blogs daily to see what their new posts were, if they changed anything on the formatting of their website, how the bloggers described themselves. I paid attention to things that I wanted to click on, because I figured that other people wanted to click on that stuff too.

So I started writing. I started writing things for me and for people like me. I did it consistently– at first, I was blogging twice a week. I did that for months. I posted on Instagram daily and whenever I could, I spent hours liking and commenting on stranger’s pictures to get my name out there even though there was no promise it would ever work.

After a couple of months, I started getting questions from readers– readers that were, surprisingly to me, not just my direct relatives. I based most of my content on what my readers wanted to know about me, and if I helped one person because of it, that was enough for me (it still is). I started caring less about what people thought. I started being more real, more honest, because that’s what I wanted to see more of, and as it turned out, what other people wanted to see more of too.

I put out good work, consistently, for a long time. Because of that, people noticed. Because of that, I have a track record that I am proud of. Because of that, I can write this article and truly believe that it is good advice, because it has gotten me where I am today.


Whatever you are doing, you better be passionate about it. Especially when it comes to sharing your story and your thoughts on the internet. People see right through the fake stuff. If you are posting something because you feel you should, that is going to come across.

Has this blog ever felt like work to me? Duh. But most days, I sit at my computer and feel luckier than I know how to describe. Writing, creating and sharing with purpose has never felt like work. It has felt like purpose itself.

I once thought I wanted to get a PhD in marine science. I eventually realized that it wasn’t the 7 years of studying that I was interested in– it was those letters after my name. It was the validation, the people-knowing-I’m-smart, the credibility and notoriety. Surprise… I ditched the PhD idea, because I was in it for the wrong reasons. Apply this here: if you want to blog just to get Insta-famous, do something else, because it’s not going to make you happy.

You have to do the work because you love the work, otherwise, it’ll feel like a chore. It’ll feel like a stretch, like it’s fake. You will know what the right topic is because it will feel right– it will feel like purpose.



But to do any of that, you have to start. People (even your close friends) will smile at you and shake their heads. They will think your project is a cute hobby. They won’t take you seriously. This is what happens when you courageously start something that you believe in. The nature of starting anything is that you have to start small. And you definitely have to start caring less about what people think, and caring more about what you think.

The hard part isn’t the technical stuff; the hard part is the creative stuff and the vulnerable stuff. Know that there is space for you in whatever industry you choose. You have a unique voice, so never think that the world is too full for you. It’s not– carve out your own niche and then fill it.

People ask me how I know all of this. I know all of it because I learned it the hard way– by just diving into the deep end and learning how to swim.

I recently heard a great analogy that I find to be incredibly true. I apply this to blogging, but it really makes sense related to anything creative. It’s like you’re paddling out to a wave. It takes a long-ass time to get to the wave, and then you’re waiting for this wave. You paddle some more. It’s hard. You’re sore. You paddle more. You wonder why you’re even out there.

But then that first wave comes. And the waves don’t stop coming.

That’s how it happened for me.

I hope this was helpful, and that a couple of years from now, you are writing a how-to guide for whatever it is you decide to pursue with passion. The reality is, you become a blogger by blogging. You become what you want to be by being that thing– by doing it.



More questions on this topic? Send me an email at so I can answer them in a future blog post or video.