The 100th Post
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Many, many years ago, someone described a framework for categorizing knowledge about an individual. As with so many of these things there are two axis and four quadrants. The X axis is what the individual knows about themselves, with one column for things that are known and one column for things which are not known. The Y axis deals with what other people know about us and, similarly, there’s one row for the known and one for the unknown.
A little googling revealed that this framework is called the Johari Window. And each of the quadrants apparently has a label:
The Known Self: Things both the individual and others know about themselves. A preference for sarcasm for example...
The Hidden Self: Things the individual knows about themselves which other people don’t know. Deep dark secrets are obviously in this category.
The Blind Self: Things others know about the individual which the individual is unaware of. Spinach in the teeth is the classic example. But I assume that lots of self-sabotaging behavior also falls into this category.
The Unknown Self: Things that neither the individual or others are aware of. I once watched a whole movie which was essentially all about this. It was called Force Majeure and it involved the fallout after a father runs away from an avalanche, abandoning his wife and children. (They ended up being fine.) His cowardice had previously been part of the unknown self, and when it was revealed it surprised both the individual and his family.
As I mentioned I heard about this framework quite a while ago, but I hadn’t thought about it in many years. But as I was thinking about my topic, I was reminded of it. And what is that topic you might ask?
Well, this is the 100th post and it will be published within a few days of the two year anniversary of my first post. And thus it seems like this would be a good time to step back somewhat and take a look at where I’ve been and where I’m going. Do something of a meta-post, so to speak. My suspicion is that it will mostly end up being unreadable navel gazing (more so!) but I think I can manage, at a minimum, to move some things out of the “hidden self” category into the “known self” category. Even better would be if this post ended up moving something out of the “blind self” category. My ideal would be if someone came into the comments section and said, “Actually you’re fantastic at X! You should do more of that!” (On the other hand someone telling me I’m terrible at everything and should just give up, would also count, though it might be less useful.)
Okay now that we’re done with the psychobabble, I know that many of you are already well aware that a meta-post is a post about posting. But I actually want to go a little bit deeper. At the most basic level, the first question I have to grapple with is what does someone do who has some discretionary time on their hands? What’s the best use of that time? (For the curious the time directly involved in creating both the blog and podcast every week averages out to around 9 hours.)
Obviously I could use this time to read more, though I already read quite a bit. Another option would be to use it to play more video games. Unlike reading, this is something I actually don’t do that much of, though lately I have been thoroughly enjoying Slay the Spire. Still another option would be to watch more TV. Certainly I’m below average in my TV viewing. The list of really good TV that I haven’t watched is extensive. (I have not seen Breaking Bad, Veronica Mars, The Wire or The Sopranos.) To a greater or lesser degree, all three of these options provide very little value, particularly for people other than myself.
Reading, playing video games or watching TV aren’t my only options (though sometimes it appears that way when I look at how other people spend their discretionary time) there are, of course, more impactful options. Things like exercise, spending more time with my family, volunteering at a worthwhile charity, or doing genealogy (something which is obviously big for Mormons). If I was greedy (or maybe just prudent) I could use the time to work another job (it wouldn’t be hard to find something that paid better than blogging). Or, I could spend all of that time expanding my current business, or seeking investment opportunities.
I could go on and on but I assume that you get the idea. I have lots of options for how to spend the nine hours of discretionary time I currently spend on maintaining a weekly blog. Accordingly out of all the things I could be doing with this discretionary time, why did I decide that I should start a blog? (Eventually deciding to record that blog and release it every week as a podcast.) What was it that made me decide that this would be the best use of that time and if, in the course of this post I decide to re-examine that decision am I going to end up making the same decision again?
Before we get too far we need to establish some criteria for making a decision. Perhaps I really do want to make the best use of my time, but best according to what standard? Of course there’s the utilitarian standard, what could I do with my time that would bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number? If this is the standard I’m going for then I evidently possess that special sort of hubris which leads one to think that the greatest total benefit they could bring to the world is to let everyone know what they think, and by extension how utterly wrong they are if they don’t think the same way. We should not discount the possibility that I had exactly this much hubris, but for the moment let’s set that aside.
Instead of a utilitarian standard I could be going for a hedonistic standard. Perhaps I felt that writing a blog is what would bring me the most pleasure. There have been a couple of posts recently where I criticized people for prioritizing hedonism, so if the value system I ultimately used to decide to start a blog consisted of what made me feel good there would be a certain amount of irony there. But if it was just one factor among many, then perhaps I could be forgiven.
In what might be viewed as something halfway between the first two standards. I could be doing it because I felt an internal compulsion to do it. Many writers talk about being driven to write without necessarily getting much enjoyment out of it. Thus I may feel compelled to write but without the hubris of thinking that the world would be hugely benefited by listening to what I have to say. And I may experience relief from giving into my compulsion to write, but this relief isn’t necessarily me hedonistically seeking out the greatest amount of pleasure. This standard being that I started a blog because, ultimately, it was easier than not starting a blog. And I should mention that the pressure to start something is of an entirely different flavor than the pressure to continue something.
Possibly rather than experiencing internal compulsion, the impetus was actually external. Maybe I was feeling pressure from something or someone. And my standard was, “I just need to get these people to stop bugging me!”
I don’t want to turn this into a list of 30 reasons why I write, there are enough of those out there, And as you may have guessed I write for all of the reasons I just listed, or at least I started writing for all of the reasons just listed, but as I alluded to, the reasons someone might have for starting something may be completely different than the reasons someone might have for continuing something. Also out of the four reasons I listed, I’m the only person who can judge the success of three of them (well maybe two and a half of them). And in the spirit of unproductive navel gazing this post was always going to descend to, it’s appropriate to briefly examine whether, in my own judgement, those reasons still apply. Whether I have met any of these standards.
As far as the first standard that’s the one thing I can’t judge, so we’ll return to it once the navel gazing is over.
The second standard for starting a blog was enjoyment. Do I still enjoy it? I’d have to say that I do. In fact, I think in the long run it might actually be the most enjoyable way I can spend my discretionary time. (There are things with more short term enjoyment, but they make me feel guilty over the long run.)
The third reason was that I felt compelled to do it. Here is where there’s the biggest difference between a reason for starting and a reason for continuing. I do not feel as compelled to continue as I felt to start. Doing 100 posts has definitely lessened the compulsion. That said it’s not entirely gone, and in fact I would say that it’s stronger than I would have thought at this point. In the past I’ve had a real problem getting bored with things, and while that has happened, it’s happened to a much lesser extent then I would have thought.
The fourth standard/reason was the external one. In my case it kind of felt like a commandment. There has been a fairly consistent theme in many of the recent statements by LDS leaders (specifically General Conference talks) that Mormons need to be more active in announcing and espousing their beliefs, particularly on social media. These statements always struck me with quite a bit of force. (Though I think I may have come up with one of the least straightforward ways of following that counsel.) This is the one where, technically, I can only judge the success of my half, do I feel like I followed the counsel of the brethren? To which I would answer mostly. The other half would be whether the brethren (or just other Mormons in general) feel that I’ve followed it. That I’m less sure about.
Well then, what about the first standard? As I already said, if my standard for writing a blog is that I have decided that it’s the way in which I can be the most help to the world, then there’s a significant amount of hubris involved in that. This is somewhat mitigated by my other reasons, but not something I can ignore, so do I feel that this is really the most impactful thing I can do with my time? Is this really my area of greatest contribution to humanity?
To which I guess I’d answer, “Maybe?”
I do feel that I have something novel to say: I do think there’s some weird intersection of religion, antifragility, rationalism and futurism where there’s an enormous amount of untapped wisdom. Which is not to say I’m any good at imparting it, or even that I’m necessarily correct about its existence. And those are the two issues in a nutshell, how do I know whether I have anything worthwhile to say? To say nothing of whether spending my time in this fashion represents my area of greatest leverage? And if it is how do I get better at it? What’s the best way to spread this wisdom? (If, as I said, that’s what it is.)
I decided right at the beginning to do a weekly blog, and I wouldn’t claim that I gave these two questions much thought when I did. Fortunately, it turns out that an ongoing weekly blog is not a horrible way to go about answering those questions. If I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. If, as the expression goes, I’m “full of it.” Then putting my crap out there is the best way to have someone come along and smell it and tell me it stinks (okay this is not my greatest metaphor, I admit). As to the other question, at a minimum, I assume the more I write the better I’ll get at it.
Of course what I’m describing is basically just practice, practice in public, but if there’s one thing that’s come out from all recently in self-help literature, it’s that there are different kinds of practice, and that to get better you really need deliberate practice, and if there’s any point to this post other than naval gazing, it would probably be something along the lines of deciding that I need to be more deliberate in what I do.
What then, does deliberate practice look like when you’re talking about blogging? When I Google the term I’m informed that:
Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.
Which I must say, seems to strike pretty close to home, and not in a good way. It is certainly possible that a weekly blog is more in the “mindless repetition” category than the “purposeful and systematic” category.
It’s not like I haven’t thought about doing something different. Many of the blogs I admire the most, post when they feel like it, and only post when they have something really worthwhile to say. It’s not hard to imagine that there have been a few times (many times?) when I would have posted something better if I had posted it when it was ready rather than posting it because it was Saturday.
That said, I’m honestly worried that if I allowed myself the freedom to post when I feel like it, that I won’t feel like it very often. Also I have this Idea that perhaps someday, some publication which works on the principle of having a given writer post on a given day every week, will express interest in my stuff, and the thing that will interest them the most is that I have a steady track record of posting every week. (Perhaps rather than imagining this as some far off possibility I should start approaching these people now, particularly now that I have 100 articles under my belt.)
Also there’s this whole school of thought which says it’s better to produce day in and day out (or at least week in and week out in my case.) Then to wait for inspiration to strike. So perhaps I’m not being as mindless as it seems…
Of course whether I could be more deliberate in my writing “practice” that’s almost certainly not the place where there’s the largest room for improvement, particularly if we’re talking about “getting it out there”. The area with the most room for improvement is certainly marketing, for lack of a better term, and I’m actually pretty awful at it. Accordingly if there’s any place where I’m open to suggestions this is it.
Part of the problem surely lies in the enormous number of options for drawing attention to something, and I’m sure there’s a whole blog post to be written about how attention is now the major currency in the world (at least the first world.) I’m not sure if there’s much point in reviewing those options, but maybe doing so will spark something (either for me or for my readers.)
One thing I’ve meant to do for quite a while is create a Facebook page for the blog and cross post everything there, with perhaps some pithy observations thrown in. The primary problem there is that I kind of hate Facebook. And I’m trapped in something of a purgatory where it’s necessary for some things and yet at least once a week I think I should delete my account and never return. A possible middle option would be to go on Facebook and then spend the bulk of my time talking about how awful it is. But I can’t decide if this is edgy or a transparent and overused ploy by people who think they’re edgy .
I could say something similar about Twitter. Though I guess if I had to rank them I would rank Twitter as slightly less awful than Facebook. Or perhaps awful isn’t the right word, maybe Twitter is slightly more useful. More the sort of thing I should be doing as someone with a blog. But of course regardless of how I decide to use them both seem to require quite a bit more time and attention than I really want to spend on them. Or rather they seem exactly like the kind of constant interruption that anyone with anything to say about productivity warns you about.
The concept of time has brought us full circle. If I have nine hours a week to spend writing, why can’t I spend seven hours writing and two hours on social media, or whatever the ideal balance would be? Well first based on what I’ve seen of some people’s social media habits, it might take all nine hours and then some, but also certain things are easy to do and certain things are hard. There’s a post on SlateStarCodex that talks about how heroin addicts can find $200+ a week to support their addiction, but can’t find $100 to pay for treatment if they’re off heroin. He compares that to finding time to write, if you want something bad enough you find the time (or the money). And while I don’t think I have nearly the “addictive drive” that Scott Alexander does, I assume that something similar is going on here. Finding nine hours to write is comparatively easy, finding any time to promote that writing on social media is impossible. Which is not to say that I’m going to ignore the problem, just it’s obviously not something that comes naturally.
Okay, maybe I can’t summon the motivation to play the social media game, but I do have nine hours a week of writing, maybe I could use that more effectively, or differently? Maybe I could write shorter posts more often, with really long posts once a month? Or maybe I could shift some of my writing from blog posts to books? Or maybe my thematic focus could be tighter?
Changing things up is interesting to think about, but honestly, I’m probably not going to do any of those things, at least not soon. In fact my guess is that you won’t notice much difference between the posts which preceded this one and the posts following it. That said, to return to the topic of deliberate practice, I should be more deliberate, I should experiment more. Be more adventurous. Try some new things, even if they’ll probably fail. And hopefully you will see some of that going forward. To begin with while not a huge thing (baby steps!) I think it is time to move this blog to wordpress and a custom domain. I’m hoping to do that within the next 30 days. It’s not much, but perhaps it will shake some things up.
Finally to return to Johari’s Window. If you have anything to contribute to this discussion, any suggestions, criticisms, ideas, things I appear to be overlooking, etc. Please don’t hesitate to drop me an email or leave a comment.
For those of you reading this whether it’s your first post (which would be weird) or if you’ve actually, and inexplicably read all 100, thanks. I still have much more to stay, and the world continues to provide things to comment on even if I didn’t so hopefully we’ll both still be around for post 200 and maybe post 500 and maybe even post 1000.
One wonders if I’m going to run out of clever ways of asking for donations before I get to post 200, to say nothing of post 1000. (One could argue that I already have.) One way to ensure finding out the answer to that question is, you guessed it, to donate!