If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed how it’s changed its focus from the personal to the productive. In the beginning, when I first started blogging out of a kind of quiet desperation to once and for all figure myself out, the entries were short clippings of my thoughts on whatever happened to catch my eye and interest. As time went on, and I discovered that long-lost friends were starting to stumble upon the webby shores of my site, I grew a little bolder and started writing in more depth about topics that were interesting to me. Blogging for that small audience was the outlet I needed.
At the beginning of 2005, I was starting to just come out of a two-year period of negativity, and was comfortable enough about writing online to make a few rambling journeys into personal introspection. These felt quite daring because they were so out of character with the other posts, which tended to be more detailed, hard-edged and technical. I remember posting about feeling negative, and a couple of my friends actually emailed me to make sure I wasn’t about to lose it. While I find those posts to be somewhat embarrassing in retrospect, they are also as honest as I could make them, so I leave them up as signposts of my online journey. And it was through this journey that I really started getting to the bottom of what was important to me so I could create solutions to my problems. This is what lead to the original Printable CEO article, with its bizarre merging of psychology via video game design philosophy. I think one reason people like it, other than its sheer geekiness, is that it was designed to help you care about yourself. Fundamentally, I think of it as a design that is all about caring, inspiring, and empowering individuals.
Lately I’ve been avoiding writing the long introspective posts, because I’ve been aware of the growing contingent of productivity enthusiasts who have come here through sites like LifeHacker and Web Worker Daily. These are very popular, tip-focused sites that link to the various forms I’ve created to address the different inefficiencies I’ve faced in my freelancing career. Every time one of these sites links to an article here, I see a bump in RSS subscriptions. A few days later, I see a corresponding dip as people realize that I tend to write about other stuff like sandwiches and they unsubscribe. This used to bum me out, but I would tell myself that my writing is not for everyone. It’s hard to describe exactly what keeps people here, actually, but I figure the people who stay are the ones I want to talk to in the first place. It’s been tougher recently to stick to that line because I’m starting to realize that there is a lot I could do to drive traffic and build a real “web property”. I’m starting my 4th year of blogging, and over those years I’ve learned quite a bit about how to write content and how to maintain a website. I’ve seen other websites that have started at around the same time I have flourish and explode into full-fledged enterprises, far beyond what I’ve done here. It was for this reason that I switched from WordPress to Expression Engine, because Expression Engine offers me the ability to start expanding my site facilities without a whole of painful integration work. It will allow me to start compartmentalizing my writing into focused, ad-friendly packets of content. It’s a good media strategy.
You might be surprised to know that I don’t spend every day reading RSS feeds to suck down the latest productivity and design news. I know that stuff is out there, but I get most of what I know through other people mentioning what’s hot in passing. The sites that I do visit are ones that share the stories of someone’s life. If there are any tips, they’re offered in context to what someone has done and how it affected them. This is what I am drawn to, and recognizing that changes the way I deploy my shiny technical skills. I design because I like stories. And the kind of stories I like best are ones where someone has a dream, meets an obstacle that seems unsurmountable, then finds that greatness in themselves somehow to get past it.
I recently reread Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life?, which is his book about ordinary people who have asked this question and what they did about it. I originally read the book sometime in 2003, before I knew what a blog was and before I knew what was important to me. All I knew was that I wasn’t particularly happy or inspired or motivated, though I wanted to feel that way. I wanted a calling, and the book reassured me that I wasn’t alone or crazy in desiring this. Then I forgot about the book and went on with my life. 2004 kind of sucked, but 2005 offered possibility. 2006 was pretty good, and 2007 was better still because I’ve met people who have made a difference in my life, and have given me fresh perspective. What I lacked, though, was a sense of being part of a greater movement. What Should I Do With My Life? (a book about individual calling), along with Why Do I Love These People (a related book about family bonds) has reconnected me with the notion that it’s really the people making their lives work that inspire me every day. And so, if what I can do with my life can help them make their stories better and make a good life…that’s precisely what I want to do. I just need to make it pay.
I’m not exactly sure why I wrote this, though I suspect it’s partly a reaction to my NOT having written a rambling personal post in quite some time, and it’s probably also part of my processing of my Po Bronson weekend. I think maybe this is an affirmation of faith, and maybe it’s also a beacon. As an experiment I’ve tried linking this post to the forum that I just installed this weekend for the C# Study Group. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s the small offerings to connect that lead to surprising opportunities. You just need to keep making the offer, and not have expectations on what comes back. It’s both scary and exciting. It doesn’t always work out or last, but heck let’s see if anything happens. You can register here.