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
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.
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.