Don’t Hit It Big! Unless You’re Ready For It…

So, you want to hit it big with your blog? Go on, do it! Just don’t fantasize too much about how it’s going to be when you’ll do it. And you know why? Because it’s going to be completely different from what you think it would. Let me tell you a story about how success can become your worst nightmare.

The Story

Everything started a week ago. I published an article about how you can run the best version of yourself, based on a sketchy parallel between human beings and computers. The post was immediately featured on, to my surprise (and delight, to be honest).

The reaction from the commenters was so nice, that I decided to go on and write a sequel. More precisely, I started to detail on some of the main points in the initial article. One of my commenters actually asked me to write a sequel and I’m always happy when I receive suggestions from my readers.

Here we are, with the second article from that series, now about How To Defrag Your Mind In 5 Easy Steps. To my surprise, the article got featured again on Two articles in less than 10 days. Ouch!

Featured In LifeHacker

I assume that among my readers are people living outside the Solar system and I’ll just make a short description of what Lifehacker is, just for them (the rest of you already know everything about it, I’m sure). Lifehacker is one of the most visited places on the Internet today. According to quantcast, it glues together more than 250k unique visitors each day. If you get a link from a site like this, expect some serious traffic. And by serious, I mean very serious.

To make a long story short, after a few hours from the mention on lifehacker, my server was receiving a steady and healthy flow of 300 concurrent users. Or so I thought, it was healthy. It wasn’t, but at that time I had no idea. I host my blog on a dedicated server and I have total control over it (sometimes, this is bad and you’ll see why shortly).

The Glitch In The Matrix

While I was happily enjoying the traffic and watching for new comments, I briefly fired up Woopra to monitor things a little bit closer. In a few minutes I started to focus on other tasks. And after a while I saw the visitors number starting to decrease (by watching the badge on my Woopra icon on the dock).

Well, that’s it, I said to myself, what goes up must go down. It was a nice spike, now let’s get back to work. At its best, the spike was about 350 concurrent visitors. And rapidly going down. 200 in just 2 minutes. 100 in the next 2 minutes. Hmm, something looks fishy. It shouldn’t go down that fast.

I reloaded the most visited page on the blog and argghhhhh, the infamous message: “Errors establishing database connection” literally stabbed in my eyes. For a few seconds I didn’t know what to do. What database? Who? Where am I? Then I realized something is terribly wrong.

Fixing The Good Thing

I ssh-ed immediately and saw a horrendous 50% load on my server. 50%!!! I tried to do a restart to the database server, but it took like forever. Of course, my phone was closer than my good judgement so I immediately called my hosting company and asked for a reboot. “Can you please restart my server?”. “Ok, it’s your server, sir, button pushed”.

In minutes I was back again, with all the setup running smoothly. For like 15 minutes. Then again an increase in the processor load. Man, that was nasty. I googled immediately for a cache plugin, found wp-super-cache and installed it. Took me like 3 minutes.

I activated wp-super-cache only to remain completely baffled at its options page. Didn’t understand a thing. Never used it. Meanwhile, the traffic was steadily growing. After a few dozens of minutes which felt like days, I finally tweaked the plugin and my server, although puffing and steaming, was serving pages again.

I went to bed at around 1:30 and woke up normally at 6:00 AM. First thing: let’s check how’s the server doing. Apparently, the hardware part of the server was doing great, since the database mysql server was down again, so not too much stress on the CPU!!! In a few minutes I uninstalled the wp-super-cache plugin, restarted the server, replaced the configuration files for both mysql and http (simple fix to cope with bigger traffic that I should do in the first place) and the things finally came back to normal.

And by normal I mean around 60 concurrent visitors. Huh.

The Lessons

That was a big hit! Right? Being featured on Lifehacker, receiving as much as 2000 unique visitors per hour and all the hype on social media (I forgot to tell you that at some point I was also on the home page of delicious and receiving quite a lot of traffic from digg too). Yes, that was a big hit.

With the only simple mention that I almost completely screw it up!

And you know why? Because I wasn’t really prepared for that. I was dreaming about it but just assumed things will be fine, if not “the same”, when I’ll receive that huge exposure. Nope, it doesn’t work like this. Things weren’t even remotely the same as they were before. It was a completely different situation.

Every time we envision success we see it by our current lenses. We create it based on our current evolution level. Which is inherently wrong. The most intrinsic quality of success is “difference”. It’s something completely different from our normal state. We almost always forget that. I certainly did.

Here are the 3 lessons I learned by spending 10 hours tweaking a server instead of enjoying every second of my huge blog exposure:

1 Be Prepared

Totally. Always. Completely. Act like you are already there. If you’re expecting a traffic of 300 concurrent users, be sure you can cope with. If you’re expecting one million dollar in the bank, be sure you can cope with it. If you expect to have a family and a reliable partner, be sure you can cope with it.

Otherwise you will experience the most oxymoronic state of mind: being successful because you did it and miserable because you don’t have what it takes to enjoy it. It’s like eating ice-cream without knowing the difference between cold and hot.

If you work constantly, if you trust yourself and provide enough value, at some point you will hit big. The biggest lesson of this incident was that I shouldn’t focus on that part. That part is natural. Being successful if you do your job is the expected behavior of this huge application called The Universe.

You should focus instead of being prepared for what it’s going to hit you.

2 Don’t Fix It, It’s Working!

Don’t try to mess up your success. Don’t try to patch up yourself to cope with the new status or pretend everything is normal. Because it really isn’t. It’s something else, completely. It’s a new state of yourself and trying to remain the same will totally screw up things.

Trying to fix the server meltdown by installing a plugin I never heard of, not to mention never tested it, proved to do much more harm than good. Why fixing something that works? Ok, part of it was broken down, but all I needed was to put the system in its initial state.

If you’re “too” successful don’t try to impersonate somebody else. If you missed lesson number one, which is “I was not prepared for that”, just acknowledge and move on. You will only make things worse if you’re trying to fix things on the go.

3. You Asked For It

During the peak of that traffic flood, I surprised myself thinking something almost unthinkable. Unconsciously, I was hoping the traffic will scale down, at least for a while. Guys, can you give me a break just for 5 minutes, please, I want to make things work again.

Stupidest thing I could ever want. I spent months of work to reach this traffic and when it finally came, all I want is a break. Come on, I asked for it! How could I reverse it while it’s happening? What stupid mixed behavior is that?

If you’re in the whirl of your own success, always remember you asked for it. As difficult to endure as it seem, that huge success, that exposure, that wealth, happiness, or lifestyle, each of every one of those things are what you wanted in the first place.

You asked for it. For everything you receive in your life.

28 thoughts on “Don’t Hit It Big! Unless You’re Ready For It…”

  1. Very illuminating post. I would hope that if I ever have the success of one post like you do that my hosting package will cover it. Truthfully, I really don’t know, as I’ve never had anything close to that type of traffic. Personally I’m ready for it, but is the technology of a site like 1&1 up to it? No way to know until it happens, I guess.

    Good news for you, though; way to go.
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..Content Is An Electronic Emperor =-.

  2. I heard a similar story from an internet marketer who launched a new product. Product sold better than expected so his shopping cart shut down. Not technically, but the company made a decision that this person does not usually have so many sales so they blocked his sales process to make sure it was legit.
    Add that on your list of things to remember, if you are expecting sudden sales, make sure your shopping cart (and bank and whatever) are ready for the traffic and are willing to let you make your millions.
    .-= McLaughlin´s last blog ..Guest Posting =-.

  3. This is great!

    I remember the day when i was going to give my ice breaker speech at a Toastmaster club meeting…someone walked up to me and asked “Are you ready?” I courageously said yes!

    Then she said “my experience has taught me that you only know you are ready for the speech WHEN YOU ACTUALLY STAND AT THE PODIUM”

    Isn’t this true about all life?

    Great post!!
    .-= Christopher Kabamba´s last blog ..Why the Science of Success Theory is Flawed =-.

  4. Wow, that’s how I picture quantum leap.

    I wouldn’t worry about the outage; you certainly squeezed a lot from this spike – lots of new readers and an important lesson.

  5. Seriously congratulations are in order. Well done to anyone that gets on life hacker. You are doing really well.
    .-= Richard |´s last blog ..Lessons From a Month of Meditation =-.

  6. You should do a technical post on exactly how to setup for that big moment. I haven’t had nearly as big of an experience (congrats too!) but my site did overload once after being featured somewhere, and I had to do the same scramble to get it working again with WP Super Cache. It’s funny how something you think will be awesome can by quite scary from a different perspective. Thanks for sharing your experience!
    .-= Kikolani´s last blog ..Becoming More Accessible on Social Networks =-.

    • Dragos, I’m with Kristi on this. I would love to be prepared and could really use some help with that. I am also thrilled for your amazing progress, but not surprised. Congratulations on a job well done.
      .-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Is More Success Always a Good Idea? =-.

  7. So true about being ready for success. It may sound silly but it’s true. I once gave a speech about how we fear success more than failure and that is really what causes hesitation on our path to the dream. Success can be terrifying if you are not prepared for it. Thank you and congrats on being featured. And I am totally with you on wp-cache-plugin complexity :)!!!

  8. Dragos, this was a brilliant article! Thanks for sharing your unexpected experience. It reminds me of the saying, by Elbert Hubbard: “Pray that success will not come any faster than you are able to endure it.”


  9. Hey Dragos!
    Really cool post and congrats on the success of being featured on 🙂 I’m gonna work towards that 🙂

    .-= Diggy –´s last blog ..Bill Gates to Jay Z – Wisdom And Quotes from 22 Incredibly Successful People =-.

  10. On the bright side, I cam over from Lifehacker the other day, (the second time you were featured), and when I was here the server was running fine, and I added your feed to my feedreader.

    Keep up the good work, (and now that you’ve been through the crush once, you’ll know what to do next time).
    .-= John B´s last blog ..The Flat World =-.

  11. Wow, i think that things like this happen when the quality is in that high level, the first time that I read your article (and I come from lifehacker) I say, men what a great post and I ask you for the translations, because i think that is really important that the people that only understand Spanish (Español) also read and amazing post…

    Thanks dragos for this great blog.


  12. I once had the goal of finding a perfect nymphomaniac.
    I was very happy…a few years later I discovered she was a perfect nymphomaniac. I was very unhappy.

  13. Hi Dragos,

    Congrats on the well-deserved features on lifehacker.

    Preparing for all the possible worst-case scenarios is a delicate issue. You need to have Murphy’s law (What can go wrong, will go wrong) in the back of your mind, but you need to be able to channel it into a positive, pro-active mentality – without turning paranoid. 😉

    “You asked for it. For everything you receive in your life.” = powerful statement.
    .-= Marko´s last blog ..Space Night — A Tribute Music Video =-.

  14. You have explained *exactly* why I am not yet interested in “hitting it big.”

    I wouldn’t know what to do with all that traffic.

    Until I have something to really offer, and something to keep people coming back, I’m happy growing 10% per month. With no spikes.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Your First AWeber Autoresponder Followup Series =-.

    • It’s not that I didn’t have anything to offer, on the contrary. Both content-wise and marketing-wise I was prepared, hence the increase in subscribers with almost 20% in one day and a lot of orders for my ebooks. What I wasn’t able to cope with was the physical part of being flooded, the server crash.

  15. Wow, awesome story. Now I’m somewhat afraid and curious… how exactly do you set yourself up for high-traffic? My back-up plan was wp-super cache but you seem to have other alternatives.

    Time to Google it!
    .-= Henri´s last blog ..What is Success? =-.

    • Every vanilla LAMP environment (Linux + Apache + MySQL + PHP) comes with a vanilla configuration setup. The configuration files for HTTP and MySQL specifically are very vague and you can get a lot of juice just by squeezing them a bit. For MySQL there are several config files for high traffic available on the internet and for http you try to increase the number of active workers based on your hardware setup (RAM, specifically). Usually, you can get up to 100% improvement on your server performance just by tweaking those 2 files. Of course, Wp-Super-Cache CAN help, if properly used (which wasn’t my case, I was totally unprepared).


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