To My Fellow Self Improvement/Personal Development Bloggers

The 3rd full month since I started this blog just ended.  I am still very much a newbie.

In the last month, I’ve been going out and “meeting” a lot of fellow bloggers.  I never knew that there was such a tight-knit community.  I already feel like I “know” some of you, because I see same names on the comment section of many blogs.  I’ve exchanged e-mails with some of you and I’m enjoying the camaraderie.

The cool thing about internet is that there isn’t a competition in traditional sense.  Well, I’d be deceiving myself if I said there’s no competition.  But just like there are many Sushi restaurants in the world, the internet is a big enough ocean that many of us little fish can survive and grow to be big.

But on the flip side, I think a close-knit community like this has a danger of self-imploding.  Why?  Because we see and read each other’s blogs all the time, we lose touch with the rest of the world.  We start writing to this small and specific group of audience.  I don’t know about you, but I want to solve problems in this life — not write self-indulgent little manifestos that impress my friends.  It’s easy to develop buddy-buddy, let’s-build-a-community noble impulse and turn it into a closed little clique where we speak our own language and not be receptive to those who don’t know our “code.”

I’m sure you’ve met a cocky IT guy some time in your life.  He can talk the tech language and keep up with his IT buddies, talking about the latest set of acronyms (the alphabet soup) — yet when he works on your computer, you have no idea what he’s done to it, and he somehow makes you feel dumb for not understanding what’s going on.

No, I’m not saying us SI/PD bloggers are cocky.  But we can be indulgent.  Rehashing things already said, repackaging various key phrases (like “think positive”, “be present”, “practice self awaness”) into neat lists, patting each other on the back for stating the obvious and the safe.  We know full well that there’s more to life than throwing out a few clichés.  Putting together easy and lazy entries for the sake of keeping up the pace and attracting search engines will ultimately come back to hurt us.

We’re at the risk of creating a self-contained little niche that spew out self-serving content.  We need to use our collective strength to really put ourselves out there and solve real world problems, instead of putting up content just earn a few Diggs and comments that say “beautifully said!”

And I am saying all this to myself, first and foremost.  In my short time of being a part of the community, there were times I felt swept up in the current of trends and must-dos.  By putting up a rant like this, I now really can’t fall back down on lazy tactics, shortcuts and cheats for the game of earning traffic points.  I will be the first one to admit that I have written posts that I’m going to criticize now.  But as an aspiring SI/PD blogger, I’m going to challenge myself to aim higher.  And these are my aspirations, my challenge to all of us.

A few principles, infinite applications

“Do what you love.”  I’m sure you all read that.  Many times.  Out of our collective wisdom is emerging a consensus.  But stating the obvious isn’t enough.  We must always eye the gap between the principle and the reality, how our theories get applied to real, personal, life.  Which brings me to the next point.

Let’s get personal

You’ve heard that, before, too.  Darren of Problogger keeps saying that.  But there are many posts out there with just a list of cobbled-together niceties, completely devoid of personal stories to back it up.  And I am not talking about something simple like “I once had a boyfriend, and we broke up, and it was painful.”  We need real stories, we need real people revealing their personal cores.  As SI/PD blogger, we owe that to our readers.  Because we’re talking about something truly universal (and thus has great danger of being generic), which is life.  The only connection between the universal principles and our readers’ lives is you.  If the connection doesn’t really reveal itself fully, then the messages get lost in transmission.

You know, one thing that we all have built into us is our uniqueness.  There’s not two same people in the world, and there are billions of us.  Our collective wisdom points us in similar directions, true.  But how we get there, our individual experience and history, is one thing that is completely unduplicatable.  We have to be try hard to bland, to be generic, to be acceptable.  Why are we doing that, when the most powerful story we can tell is that of our own?

Let’s get passionate

Similarly, I feel that there is a curious restraint of emotion among SI/PD bloggers.  It’s as if we’re afraid to let it show — we must write in cool, logical manner in order to be convincing.  It’s completely backward.  What backs up our stories is our personal experience — painting vivid pictures, ecstasy of our peak experience and agonies of our defeats.  Tell your story.  Passionately.  Then draw out lessons.  It’ll convince everyone who reads.

Every good post I’ve written was born out of burning desires.  From the moment when the idea enters my mind, it just keeps banging on my door to be let out.  I get so jazzed and excited to write about it, because I think it really explains something, solve a problem.

But I’ve also written some stuff because I felt that I should.  I didn’t have that burning desire but I didn’t want to go too long without posting, thinking that consistency is a magical, must-have ingredient in blogging success.  Maybe it is so in commercial sense, but with SI/PD blogs, what counts is consistently convincing posts.  I do realize that some of us are more emotional than others, but if we don’t sense the passion, the I-Cannot-Not-Share-This energy (thanks to Jonathan Mead for the phrase) behind posts, no display of fabulous logic and evidence will convey the message, since our theme is ultimately a subjective topic.

Let’s get vulnerable

And here’s the other side of being personal — we need to show not only our triumphs and wisdom, but our shortcomings and failures.  Again, it is our responsibility to do so.  If all we ever put out are just neatly put-together little maxims, we dehumanize the truth.  That kind of presentation feeds skepticism — because putting up too perfect of a front and speaking only from the voice of authority puts up a false sense of who we are.  Many of us are uncomfortable being dubbed as gurus, masters.  We’re regular people, with regular scars and warts, all just walking down the same road.  But what we have to offer to the world is our sharing of what we learn — and that learning is most intense when and where we fall, get hurt.  And that’s precisely what we need to show to the world.  Chris Guillebeau’s recent post on his moment of weakness is a great example of this.

Don’t say what’s already been said

This comes from the desire to earn points rather than to solve real problems.  To make our content bag bigger and establish our blogs.  Notice how all those motives are all self-serving.

So, there’s “doing what you love.”  Or “keeping a positive attitude.”  Or “creating inner peace.”  Or “crafting harmonious relationships.”  The themes are universal, and conclusions, the same.  In Dosh Dosh’s recent article “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words,” Maki pulls out nine pieces of essence from Paul McHenry Roberts’ thesis.  You know what the first two were?  “Avoid the obvious content” and “Take the less usual side.”

Whenever a commonality emerges, there also lies an opportunity to find pitfalls, over-generalizations and misapplications.  Don’t restate the obvious, especially without your personal story.  People ahead of us solved that problem already.  There are still plenty of problems for us to solve, if we really dig deep and analyze our unique perspectives.  Remember, nobody else has your point of view.  See something that’s hard to see from everywhere else.

But don’t just swap words and play with semantics

This is a case of trying too hard — again, if something’s been said before, just surrender.  Give up.  The only exception is when you have a personal story that is knocking down your door to be told. Because your story is a unique application of the fundamentals.  I’m not saying that none of us can talk about “doing what you love.”  You just have to come up with a new tale or a new extension of the core idea — not just rephrasing it (“do what you love” vs. “follow your passion”).

You know how patents work.  You can’t get patents for things that someone else already invented.  But you can get patents for improvements, modifications and variations of existing inventions.  Don’t rewrite the schematics a bit and call it a new break through.  Work on it, dig into it, keep at it until you feel that you added something of value.

Write challenging posts, not just agreeable ones.

If everything you wrote had no room for disagreement, no chance of ruffling feathers, then you risk not inspiring any change at all.  Growth is born out of challenges, remember?  We need to make people uncomfortable sometimes.  Sure, we want to be inspirational, too.  We love it when people tell us that we revealed the universe’s secret previously unknown to them.  But that’s just one side of the story.  The other side is that we all wrestle with laziness, complacency, and lack of ambition.  There is no ceiling to our growth.  We all can be more than what we are now.  Unfortunately I can’t remember whose blog it was, but recently someone talked about having to have his butt kicked.  We need our own butts kicked, and we need to be the ones that do it to others, too.  Playing it safe goes against what we are preaching.  It simply reveals that we are insecure and need to be accepted.  This compromises our validity.

Let’s not dilute the system

By rigging the systems designed to use collective wisdom to highlight quality content with our buddy-system, we are contributing to the demise of that system.  Digg, StumbleUpon and others are only valuable as long as they lead users to quality content.  If we abuse the system too much by automatically submitting our friends’ posts, we risk introducing sub-par content.  The more garbage we throw into the gold-digging machines, the less people will trust those devices.

I’m not saying we should never ask friends to Digg or Stumble our content, or submit our own content.  If you really put out your masterpiece, the one you know can help a lot of people, then it’s only natural that you want as many people to see it as possible.  But let’s not invoke that access for every post of ours and our friends.  Let’s preface submission requests by saying “if you like it.”  That way, you’re not forcing your peers into submission with peer pressure.

Trust your content, trust your readers.  When you write something that truly solves someone’s problems, they’ll respond — by commenting, subscribing, Digging and Stumbling.  I know I did all four every time when I encountered content that rocked my world.  Using buddy system to manipulate the tools indicates a lack of trust in your content or motive other than sincere desire to help.  Reserve your self-serving moves for truly special posts, with both yours or your friend’s.  Otherwise, surrender to the will of the collective.  If you really help someone, they will help you.

Let’s listen and solve real problems

Recently I received an e-mail from a reader, who wanted to ask me about a personal question from her life.  I did my best to answer it, and while I was unsure if I would be of help by providing e-mail consultation — e-mails being one of the most difficult, impersonal methods of communication — it sounded like the person got a value out of it.  It was a very gratifying experience for me, too, and that is part of the reason why I am writing this rant.

I haven’t seen many SI/PD bloggers make themselves available for personal consultation.  Why is that?  It’s oh-so-helpful to just sit in your safe little world and talk about topics of your interest.  Excepting those of us who are actual life-coaches, it’s so easy for SI/PD part-timers to just stay closed up in our own little world, spitting out niceties and earning a few Stumbles and think that we’re doing something useful.  How self-righteous of us.

Maybe it just reveals our insecurities.  Blog is a very casual and authority-free media.  There are a lot of untalented musicians putting out uninspired music because CDs and mp3s have become easy to make.  You don’t need to win the approval of gate keepers, the record labels of old.  Similarly, you don’t need to have PhD or other credentials to write a blog.  It’s a great system, because it frees content from formality and sometimes unjust judging criteria of the credential system.  It doesn’t matter what your background is — if you write content that a great mass accepts us valid, then you have proven your authority.

But because blogs are so easy, maybe some of us who really don’t believe in what we write can still write about SI/PD subjects.  Since we are not secure, we make ourselves unavailable to people outside the little community of SI/PD bloggers.  We can write in generalities, but we can’t help you with your specific problems.  We don’t have the credentials, the authorities to do that.

In the mean time, Steve Pavlina’s forum is filled with people with burning questions.  They read the blogs and the writing on the wall but it’s hard to see how the principles we preach apply to their personal, specific situations.  I encourage more of you to open yourself up for a personal consultation or question.  Sure, it’s time consuming.  It may not be an efficient way to build traffic.  And it’s a lot scarier, because you may not have an answer, or you may tell a wrong answer.  It’s a real test of your wisdom. I’m not saying you need to start giving out medical or legal advises.  Nor am I saying life coaching license is unnecessary.  All I’m saying is make yourself available to listen and help, in any capacity.

Web is ultimately an impersonal world — the more personal availability we offer, the more power we acquire to make a real difference.  We can gain more insights from listening/reading to real life stories, and that’ll inform us to address issues and specific situations that are really out there.  If your blog is already well-established, build a Ning or forum on your site.  That way you can really form a community and listen in and participate in the conversations of real people.  We can’t just stay here in the safe confines of fellow SI/PDers.  We have to listen to the larger world.

Reach out to outside communities

Outside of SI/PD and pro-blogger-wannabe circles, outside of Digg and StumbleUpon, where do you reach out?  Do you go around your physical world telling everyone in sight that you have a SI/PD blog?  It’s so impersonal and polite to just market ourselves through comments and social bookmarking.  It’s so risk-free.  But we actually intend to help the world with our content, right?  Putting self-serving purposes aside, are we telling the world that we have the answers to their questions?   If that sounds pompous and arrogant, then in what way do you think your content is actually helping someone?

It’s fine to form a community and work with each other, but real concerted effort must be put upon telling the world at large what we have to offer, instead of just saying acceptable things in our little clique.  We can do this only when we truly, wholeheartedly believe that what we’re saying has the potential to solve their problems.  There’s nothing un-humble about that.  It’s called faith, believing in ourselves.

This is where we truly need to work together, to take advantage of our collective clout to form a louder voice.  I don’t know exactly how, but that’s what we need to figure out together.  The more time we spend talking to people outside of the SI/PD circles, the more effective we become.  After all, those of us in the circle are the choir — we don’t need to preach to each other.  Let’s take our stories and broadcast it to the world.  Because we believe that it has the power to make the world better.

Let’s not kid ourselves of who we are

We are the most evolved of our race, the cutting edge of the humanity’s growth.  While the majority of the world are still trying to find tonight’s meal or prevent their inner organ to be forcibly removed, we have the blessing of self-analysis, gifts of writing articulately, and the luxury of pondering the essence of life.  I’m not saying this to encourage any kind of elitist thinking.  I’m saying to remind ourselves of our awesome responsibilities, to take care of the world.  We have greater responsibilities, precisely because we are blessed and gifted.  The greatest contribution we can make is to live what we preach. I can tell you that since I started this blog, the act of analyzing and articulating my personal truths have really helped me live better.  What I’m writing invigorates me and kicks my butt, and I look at my own manifestos and realize what a high standard I’m setting myself to live up to.  I’ll fail from time to time, of course, but I’ll use that failure to grow even more.  I’m running up the ladder of growth faster and faster, but yet there is no end in sight.  We are leaders of humanity.  Do you know what a heavy burden that role is?  We must remain vigilant in our quest to evolve, to aspire.

To live true to what we preach.

What do you think?

Do you see what I see — SI/PD bloggers writing primarily (and possibly exclusively) to each other?  Is it good or bad?  What other common pitfalls are out there for SI/PD bloggers?   In what ways can we leverage our community to make a better impact (not saying that we aren’t making an impact — but there’s always room for improvement)? How can we become more effective?

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16 Responses to To My Fellow Self Improvement/Personal Development Bloggers

  1. Tyson says:

    You may want to change your link to the “How to Say Nothing in 500 or Less” article, the original article is no longer at that location this post says it is. This is a common problem we find in SEO, and I recently wrote about it on our blog, which you may find interesting, and also includes an updated link to this great article.

    Portland Search Engine Marketing Blog

    Tyson´s last blog post..SMX Travel and Tourism Expo January 28, 2009

  2. This post has helped break my creativity with a project i’m working on, thanks.

  3. Robin says:

    Hi there Ari – I like what you say about writing challenging content that may ruffle feathers – I write about a very unusual philosophy, so that gives me hope!

    About the self-development / personal growth blogging community – many more people read the blogs than participate in comments – you can see that by comparing the number of subscribers to the number of comments. I don’t think we are just writing for our own closed circles. I think the whole thing is truly amazing – as you said, there is so much out there that there is enough for everyone, and we can choose our own path.

    Robin’s last blog post..Letting Creativity Just Slip In

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Robin,

      Hey, thanks for reading my extended rant. Indeed, your blog is unlike others — though I’m not sure if I’d put you under self improvement or personal development. It’s more about philosophy and spirituality, isn’t it?

      Well, I am aware that people who are not bloggers read our blogs. That’s precisely why I wrote that bit — to remind myself that I’m not writing just for my colleagues, but to the world at large. It’s easy to forget, because commentors are most often other bloggers. I don’t want to churn out contents just for the in-crowd. People who aren’t commenting are probably the ones who I need to reach out to, more.

      ari

  4. Pingback: Links Roundup - August 12th 2008

  5. This was a fun read.

    “Remember, nobody else has your point of view. See something that’s hard to see from everywhere else”

    To me, this is often the hallmark of a good blog entry. Well said.

    I’m not sure we are the leaders of humanity, but it’s a cool and lively sentiment!

    What I personally grow tired of is many SI bloggers always agreeing with the current group think of our society in terms of spirituality. There are a lot of new age concepts that many don’t want to question or even criticize. Some of it just isn’t healthy in my opinion. I will not jump on board with many of the concepts that are rehashed over and over again by SI bloggers. Because I don’t agree with it all.

    I’ll give you one example where I try to bring spiritual topics to the fore that often aren’t. I recently wrote a post about the importance of being happy for others even if what the other person was blessed with is what we ourselves yearn for! Part of spiritual growth, a big part, is being happy for others – not just thinking about ourselves.

    That post: http://punintended.com/blog/being-happy-for-others-something-to-truly-aspire-to/

    Indeed, in my blogging quest, I will continue to bring up the topics on spirituality that are sometimes overlooked.

    Very well done post. Thanks.

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..8-8-08

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Bamboo Forest!

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for reading my lengthy rant. Glad to hear you got something out of it.

      I just checked out your blog — you certainly have a very unique and individualized branding set up there. I admire it greatly — especially since I’m still struggling with mine.

      I hear you about trendiness of SI/PD bloggers. As a reader myself, I just long to be engaged, to be drawn into an entry. This can happen in two ways — one is to reveal me something I don’t already know, but this is hard, not because I know a lot already, but like Al’s love song example above, a lot has been already said. The second way is to read something personal. It makes what’s been said seem more real, more relevant, more powerful. Like you said, I think where we need to focus our effort is on our uniqueness, which is built into us, rather than commonality.

      ari

  6. Al at 7P says:

    Hi Ari – very thought-provoking post. Thanks!

    I think it’s awesome that you want to keep things fresh and new, rather than echo the same-old same-olds that tend to happen in the blogosphere.

    I like how you brought up the idea of patents. I remember learning that the first director of the US patent office said something to the effect that in a couple of years, there would be no more new ideas and that the patent office may not have any work any more. That quote was about a hundred years ago.

    Same can be said about love songs. Who can count how many love songs were created in history? That’s irrelevant, because we’ll always be creating new love songs that sounds fresh and new. As you wrote in your article, it’s about improving and expanding upon what’s already said, but sometimes it’s also about making it relevant to people who still don’t understand the message.

    I also do agree with your original premise – let’s not fall into the trap of preaching to the choir!

    Al at 7P’s last blog post..The Hero with a Thousand Jobs

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hi Al!

      Thanks for reading this lengthy rant! I think what we can add to what’s already been said is our personal stories, which is obviously our unique contribution. To expand on the love song example, I think there’s always a way to write a new and fresh love song when you bring in your personal stories. Even if your story is typical and sounds generic, the heartfelt emotion you bring in just because it’s your own story makes it all the more genuine and touching. I myself can’t bring myself to write love songs, but that doesn’t mean that I think love songs shouldn’t be written any more. Just no more generic love songs. 😉

      ari

  7. This is very well said Ari. I think sometimes when we stop caring too much, we become more authentic and things take care of them self.

    To be honest, it’s damn hard to say something new. Most of the wisdom and advice has already been said. The way we can bring freshness to it is by taking a different perspectives, an unexpected angle or a different shade of light.

    A lot of bloggers are doing this and there’s been a recent frenzy of people trying to say things in “new ways” with posts referencing celebrities. “The Johnny Carson Guide to Public Speaking” or “The Forrest Gump Guide to Wealth.” This is getting tired now too.

    Personally for me, I would rather not write, then just spew out some random drivel. The old mantra is still the same, but people seem to forget it so easily, “quality over quantity.”

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Hey Jonathan,

      Yes, I’m with you — and that’s why I stopped posting as much. But there’s always more room for personal stories. Even if you’re talking about some tired old principle, you can always add something by sharing how it applied in your real life (well, it doesn’t have to be yours — it can be someone you know).

      Thanks for reading the long post!

      ari

  8. I would say that I generalise to avoid excluding people at different understandings. The more I think about it though I would have to say that it potentially backfires if you generalise so much that a post loses value.

    I think I might get a bit more targeted (although most material is widely applicable anyway), but with a shifting target.

    Thanks

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Jarrod,

      Exactly — if you cast too wide a net, you risk catching nothing.

      There are two schools of approach, with communication. One is the spoon-feed approach, the common one. This says you explain everything and make sure there’s no room for exclusion or confusion. The other is a mystery-stic (for the lack of better word) way, which is to intrigue recipients with focused and well-placed intrigue, which draws audience into figuring out what you mean. The latter approach is harder and has more pitfalls, but when it works, it really engages those who “get it.”

      The latter is much harder to do, but I think it’s something to keep in mind. I do realize, for example, but my verbose and long-winded approach keeps some readers away — because I’m trying to explain everything. If I figure out how to say what I do without spending as many words, I think that has a different potential.

      Eh, I’m rambling now. Anyway, thanks for the comment!

      ari

  9. Beautiful post, oh wait I wasn’t supposed to say that was I 🙂

    I find the difficulty in writing blog posts is that I have to write to an imaginary person. So inevitably I have to try to generalise my content to make it widely applicable.

    This in turn takes away some of the person to person/community feel of a blog. But how do bring the community into our blogs?

    Jarrod – Warrior Development’s last blog post..Different Culture, But it is not that Different

    • Ari Koinuma says:

      Jarrod,

      Thanks for the comment, and welcome to OBV!

      You know, I think it’s a cool idea that you’re writing to an imaginary person. I do wonder — why do you need to generalize?

      In the music marketing circles, we talk about proudly excluding some people. It’s a common mistake for musicians to over-generalize themselves and not define who they are. Saying that they are a rock band isn’t enough. You can say, “we’re everything Led Zeppelin is not,” and you’ll at least get people curious — even if they don’t know what you mean. 😉

      I think it’s OK for you to speak to an imaginary person. The world is big enough where even if you target a small, specific niche, you can make your traction there and grow.

      For example, with this blog I’ve decided to focus on longer posts, (though I still sometimes put up short ones) and on big topics (life, relationship, career, psychology). I can write about how to become an early riser — but I won’t. 😉 Oh wait, I can’t. 😉 That’ll be inauthetic — against what I just wrote.

      I think the sense of community is cultivated by engaging in conversation and inviting readers to put in their 2 cents. Not as much from trying to generalize.

      Just my 2 cents. Best wishes!

      ari

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