How To Be Less Egotistical By Talking About Yourself

In a rush to add value, be useful, and appear to have authority on a topic, many brands try to leave their story out of their content.

While trying to not talk about themselves, they need to fill the space with something. Sometimes, it’s telling other people what to do. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t respond well to being told what to do. I can think of times throughout life when I valued independent thought more than being right, being the best, being successful, or being happy. (Now that I'm older, I can at least withstand the urge to do the exact opposite of what I’m told.)

What Drives The Internet? Questions

Many people go online to google “how-to” do something. 

Most of the time, these are simple questions.

  • How do you make slime?
  • How do you make sure the turkey is done at the same time as the rest of the food?
  • How do you train a cat?

As a result of questions like these, writing “how-to” articles has become a good technique for ranking higher in Google.

The problem is, sometimes content creators cross the line from trying to be useful with concrete tasks - like how to make bacon in the oven - to forcefully communicating abstract tasks - like how to live and how to write - since people are also googling how to do these things.

  • How do you become less egotistical?

(Hence my ridiculous title.)

Sudden Realization: I Want To Hear True Stories

From researching Joseph Campbell to making life changes based on a TED Talk, I thrive on the power of stories (financial, business, or otherwise).

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

It takes a certain amount of healthy ego to write at all, let alone write about yourself and your life tactfully. Where some people see arrogance, other people see confidence (and vice versa). It’s all incredibly subjective.  No matter who a true story comes from, it is usually more powerful than an explanation. Stories have a life of their own and speak to something deep in our brains.

As for me, I lack a certain amount of central coherence. I like to focus on irrelevant details and try to turn them into something interesting just for the sake of novelty and zoomed-in poetry. As a result, I've realized I’m pretty terrible at telling stories. As a bonus, it takes me a long time to realize you can’t read my mind. 

Pretend a car t-boned another car at a stoplight, and I happened to witness it.

I'd start by telling you statistics about roundabouts.

If you were lucky, you'd get some onomatopoeias.

I'd be happy to tell you everyone was OK.

Done.

Obviously, if I’m going to survive as a writer, I need to become a better storyteller.

If You Needed Permission...

A lot of the time I write in a voice that seems to rise up from within and simply communicate a message I need to hear.  Whether or not I want to use the word “you” is where it gets tricky.

If you are a writer and you’ve been waiting for it, I want to give "you" permission to talk about yourself. 

I really want to hear your stories. I want to hear people’s stories from all over the world. I want to hear your stories about others.

I even want to hear stories about dead people - maybe even especially stories about dead people!

Most people (including me) have benign intentions when using the word you. We want to be useful. We want you to feel as if you are getting something out of our writing. We want to let you in on the action.

And we don't want to seem egotistical.

But trying to dodge your ego entirely can be equally if not more frustrating for both you and an audience. 

Like many writers, I wrote this article to help myself, to flesh something out, and acknowledge an area where I need to improve. Whether talking about myself or not, I need to harness the power of stories. I’ll probably never be able to completely leave myself out, and that's OK.

My Timeline Of Retirement Confusion

Let's relate this back to money for a bit.

Finding personal money stories online has helped me become more comfortable and knowledgeable about retirement planning. It took personal stories to reach me and spark me to action.

Below are literal examples of my online encounters with the far off idea of saving for retirement (along with my internal reactions as a young person). 

Paint your best picture of me sitting around on the internet.

  • Person’s post: "The average person only has $10,000 saved for retirement. Save for retirement people! This fact ruined my day."

Me at 24: Do they thrive on telling other people what to do? I will assume they are miserable. Scroll.

  • Person’s post: "Save for retirement and you will be happy like me!"

Me at 25:  You lost me at be like you. Scroll.

  • Person’s post: "To offer advice would imply a simple solution exists to your problem and to systemic social issues that will most likely never be solved in your lifetime.  Therefore, I will talk about myself."

Me at 26: I actually respond well to hearing other people’s stories.

  • Person’s post: "Here’s how I opened a Roth IRA and navigated Vanguard." (Check out this similar post if you need to.)

Me at 27: THANK YOU. I wish I had found you at 24.

A Time For Stories, A Time For Action

While I'm here preaching about the power of stories, let me be clear - In certain scenarios, I appreciate no story whatsoever.

If I’m looking for a pizza recipe, I don’t need to hear about someone’s divorce, their newfound gluten allergy, their trip to Europe, and their attempt to remodel a house in Tuscany.

I just want a recipe.

But foodies around the world probably appreciate a story… so I guess my main message is...do what you want.

Is navigating the healthy ego it takes to talk about yourself harder than writing material where you instruct others? I’d love to know your thoughts.

If you've enjoyed this discussion, Tiny Ambitions has a great podcast episode with Cait Flanders touching briefly on this topic.

DISCLAIMER: AS ALWAYS, IF YOU NEED PSYCHOLOGICAL OR FINANCIAL ADVICE PLEASE SEEK A PROFESSIONAL FOR YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.

 

9 Replies to “How To Be Less Egotistical By Talking About Yourself”

  1. it’s always been more than a pet peeve of mine when i read something in an authoritative tone that borders on pontificating about how to live/write/invest/work, etc. i know you know that i value independent thought and writing above all. to write any other way i find an insult to the intelligent reader and can’t abide the rest.

    about a year ago i wrote a whole rant about a prominent blogger trying to make rules about how to write about personal finance. who is this person? i didn’t vote for them as president of all blogs! to tell a story about “here’s how i did something and this is what worked and what didn’t work FOR ME” is the only way to do it in our world. this was an excellent post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog again Freddy.

      You put it well – “here’s how I did something” has basic appeal. Authoritative language plays an interesting role in our culture. Some people respond well to this tone because the authoritative person seems confident. I’m usually suspicious of an overly confident-sounding person when it comes to money. I just wonder, “What are they trying to make up for?” Do you know when I like authoritative tones? Comedy. Mocking. That’s about it.

  2. This really resonated with me. I’ve been writing a post in my head for the last few months that would be titled something like this: “Why I Quit Reading FIRE Blogs.” The truth of it is, I haven’t quit. But the only stuff I’m reading now are people’s stories. I’m way past the stage in my life where I need “7 tips for saving money on colonoscopies.” What I come to the PF space for these days is stories. I want to read about an early retiree’s struggles with finding meaning, I want to know what Freddy ate in St. Pete last week, I want to read about your music projects. I want to relate to peoples’ messages, even if they don’t have a true message. And, likewise, I want to share bits of my life. That’s the only reason I’m still hanging around. Thanks for writing this!

    1. I’m glad it resonated with you, Adam. Like you, I have a simple desire to see what people are up to. I only read articles I’m personally curious about at this point. (They are definitely not the articles that rise to the top due to SEO.) I’m glad you are finding some fulfillment while taking an interest in other people’s lives and stories. As for me, I’ve always liked anthropology. Other than traveling to other countries, bouncing around on blogs is a great way to get my feelers out into the world and simply tackle the human experience with an open mind. When people are being real and not putting on a show, I learn some really valuable perspectives and feel myself growing as a person. Here’s to spying on Freddy! Cheers!

  3. Fantastic post as always. Your prompt has me seriously reflecting on my approach to writing. I don’t think I have a big enough ego to think that people want to read what I write. I started writing my blog for my future self to look back and understand what was going through my head during my journey to FI. Despite receiving a compliment here or there I still don’t believe them for some reason 🙂 and I’m still just writing for me with no expectation that others will care.

    As for instructing others, I’ve always tried to be very transparent that I don’t know what I’m doing 🙂 . I don’t have the answers and I don’t think I’m qualified to instruct anyone on anything basically. I just try to offer up parts of my life in case they can help others avoid my mistakes.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog Purple! I really admire your approach to writing about your journey. I think you have one of the best mixes of professionalism, useful advice, storytelling, and “originality sans judgment” out there. Plus, you’re funny and that has a huge appeal for me:)

      I also enjoy that you stick to your niche but deviate from it occasionally to give some insight into your take on life (such as the post about dying your hair and your movie reviews on Insta:) If you write a “How to” article here and there, you’ve certainly earned it and can inspire others.

      As for me, I’ve realized I really enjoy writing about…. writing! I’m in no position to tell anyone how to write, but it seems to be the category I’m filling up the most on my blog (Life as a Writer/Creator). Only by starting to write, can we find out what direction we’re headed in or why we gravitate towards what we do. Then, hopefully with new insight, we can bring more of what we enjoy into our lives.

      1. Thank you so much – that’s so nice to hear! Also it’s really interesting you think I have a niche 🙂 – I think I’m all over the place personally and think of my blog as lifestyle instead of having a specific niche like finance. Glad I’m faking it well though 😉 .

        That’s amazing you like writing about writing! You do so very well without ever coming off as telling others what to do. Life as a creator is a topic I love to read about that I don’t see addressed well in words very often. Keep up the awesome work.

  4. Great article Michelle. As we know, there is true power in stories. As Adam above mentioned, I only read blogs that are “story-centric.” I created my own blog specifically as a project to tell the story of someone who has achieved FIRE and is attempting to find the answer to “what we could achieve beyond ourselves and what we could become.” I see each post as a sentence in what will hopefully be an interesting story, even if it’s a cautionary tale. I’ve not considered the ego aspect in particular since I see this as a creative endeavor much like my making music which is done to express myself or “find my soul” as Vonnegut would say, but putting anything one creates and is personal out into the world requires a modicum of ego (and bravery) I imagine, so that’s likely a bit harder than writing a post on how to save a couple pennies on a roll of toilet paper.

  5. Nice insights Mr. Fate! I think ego is a misunderstood word a lot of the time. I’m actually very cautious about using it, except I can’t find a better word:)

    I think I have a bigger ego now in certain ways than I did in my early 20s. I think this is a good thing because I’m able to put myself out there. If you eliminate ego but become a voiceless doormat (or write cryptically as I did), it’s hard to be contributing anything of any use to the world either. And like you said… sometimes we just do it to express ourselves. It’s not up to us to decide if it’s useful for the world or not. That’s for the world to decide.

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