Personal development can envelop you if you let it. There’s an increasingly large amount of content online revolving around the niche, and if it doesn’t directly name itself as such, several blogs directly revolve around some area relating to it.
Despite the large volume of great content in the area, there is a decided lack of commentary on the niche itself. I thought it would be relevant and interesting to poll 10 bloggers that are very close or within the area to get their expert opinion on 5 questions revolving around personal development.
It turns out I was right. The 10 bloggers brought it full force and created a body of information that is worth eating lunch over, brooding over, smiling over, laughing over, and more specifically, reading.
Catherine Caine, Be Awesome Online
Caine does as her website states –she’s awesome on the internet. I can’t vouch for real life, but she’s doing it online, and she knows how to teach. She recently released a fear-management product, “Awesome Fear-Wrangling”, with lessons on beating back that “lizard brain” that keeps us from creating on or off the internet.
Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle
Wright is most known for his location independent lifestyle. He runs a branding studio, Colin Is My Name, from the island of New Zealand. Three philosophies that run through his works are minimalism, mobility, and sustainability. He also released a recent e-book on Networking Awesomely.
Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars
Bogue, like Wright, professes location-independence. His main focus, though, is on the application of minimalism in order to live and work from anywhere in the world. He has put out a few E-books and has another upcoming, but his most recent available for purchase is The Art of Being Minimalist.
Dev is a writer who is passionate about living life to the fullest. He helps others do as his title tag states – live simply, balance life, and explore existence, while traveling the world as a nomadic explorer advocating health, sustainability, minimalism, and exploration. He also owns his own web hosting company, ActualWebSpace.
David Crandall, Heroic Destiny
Crandall is a passionate husband and father who decided to break out of the “template lifestyle” and move towards a life more lived like a Hero. His blog details that transition and is an engaging account of how to move from 9-5 to whenever-to-whenever. Crandall also runs Hand Warmers and Foot Warmers sites on the side.
Ashley Sinclair, Self Activator
Sinclair has spent more than 8 years in the personal and professional development field, mentoring, engaging, training and leading over 800 clients. Some of her most impressive clients include NASA and Disney. Her blog revolves more specifically around the creative act, how to create it, use it, and get things done. For more details on her coaching talents in the fields of personal effectiveness, business strategy, and lifestyle design, check out her coaching page.
Jenny Blake, Life After College
Blake is a Career Development Program Manager at Google, and also coaches on the side. Life After College focuses on offering tips for life success after the hats have been thrown and the big bad world comes to greet us. She has an under-the-wraps book coming out, tentatively, in Spring 2011. Blake describes the book as “Twitter meets What Color is Your Parachute”. Sign up here for more info as news is released.
Sid Savara, Analysis Driven Personal Development
Savara writes about analysis driven personal development. His main emphasis is in the realms of maximizing productivity and life hacking. He has two free products on his blog, a motivational quotes book and a free personal development course.
Karen Ruby, A Meaningful Existence
Ruby’s blog revolves around the journey of putting meaning into existence, and more broadly, personal development. Along with personal development, Ruby’s emphasis revolves around productivity, money, health and fitness, career, and life. She has a great “Just for Today” Challenge Course.
Annabel Candy, Get in the Hot Spot
Candy created a blog called Get In the Hot Spot to inspire and inform people to live their dream. Because so many people dream of running their own business she writes mainly about social media, blogging and Internet marketing. Her tips on planning, goal setting, motivation, persistence and empowerment teach people how to succeed online and in life. For more of the best from Candy, check out her top articles.
There are many terms that fall somewhat loosely in the realm of “personal development”. Life hacking, lifestyle design, self-help, life coaching. In some ways, “minimalism” seems somewhat asynchronous with these terms as well. What do you think about the variable terms that are being used, and how would you define what you blog about?
Catherine Caine, Be Awesome Online: I think most of those terms come from the same place, which is the desire to lean over and grab the reins of our own lives. The forces holding the reins for most of us are corporate jobs, consumerism, mass media, conformity… the usual suspects. Funnily, I don’t think of myself as a personal development blogger, although I suppose I am one. I write about websites, and for me websites are a very personal endeavor. I suppose you could say I write about finding – and effectively communicating – your message.
Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle: Different terms, generally the same concept.
There are a few differences between them. As it’s generally defined, I think lifehacking is more about coming up with clever solutions to problems, lifestyle design is about creating processes so that you can live your life the way you want, self-help tends to be more about solving personal problems that you already know about, whereas life coaching tends to be about helping others with some facet of life or another.
Minimalism is definitely starting to take hold of the blogosphere in a big way, as more and more people pile on the ‘100 items or less’ train. All aboard! It’s great to see, though. Bloggers tend to sync-up with trends a year or two before the rest of the public, so I imagine in a year or so TV will be buzzing with all kinds of minimalism-themed shows.
I don’t really mind all the different terms; different people will respond better to some over others, and it’s really about the content at the end of the day, not the title we use to identify it. It’s great that we have so many different options, actually, because giving something a name – an icon, if you will – it makes it more tangible. Makes it a movement, instead of just an idea floating around the ether. Tim Ferris coined Lifestyle Design and now that’s one of the most sought-after keywords to have as a blogger in the personal development (ah! there’s another one!) field.
As for what I do, I honestly couldn’t tell you. As a marketer I’m kind of ashamed of the fact that I don’t have a very well-defined niche.
The way I see it, though, I started Exile Lifestyle for ME. I wanted an excuse to do crazy stuff, and I like learning about and talking about all kinds of different topics. I tend to talk a lot about entrepreneurship, business, minimalism, lifestyle design, sustainability and travel, but I’m definitely not going to limit myself by slapping a label on what I do. I’m pretty sure I’d get terribly bored as ‘The Guy Who Talks About ____________’ to the exclusion of anything else.
There are plenty of people out there who are great at being specialist. I’m perfectly happy being a multidisciplinarian.
Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars: I wouldn’t personally say that minimalism is the same as those other terms, though it definitely can fall under them. Personal development, life hacking, lifestyle design, these are all different branded terms invented by people to put a name an element of human existence that we all work on every day: improving the quality of our lives.
Minimalism is a very specific way to live a better life.
In September of last year I made a very conscious decision to see what life would be like at the basis of existence. I got rid of all of my stuff, and moved across the country. What I discovered shocked me: when you live a minimalist existence you can essentially opt out of the corporate cycle that many people are perpetually stuck in.
We spend time working, for very little money, and then we’re so unhappy that we spend all of that money on stuff that we think will make us happy. This is not the case, stuff doesn’t make you happy. When you stop buying stuff you can spend your time making work that matters, then you don’t have to work for a company that doesn’t care about your wellbeing anymore.
Raam Dev, Live Simply, Balance Life, & Explore Existence: Terms and definitions can only take us so far. While they serve a valid purpose — to convey concepts in an easy manner — what we actually put into practice is far more important. Lifestyle design, for example, means the same thing to me as “consciously living life” — we’re all supposed to be lifestyle designers and we’re all supposed to be our own life coaches. The simple fact that we need definitions for such things means that we’ve forgotten what it means to live.
I write on a variety of topics, but I describe the overall theme as “living simply while existing abundantly”. I believe that life should be simple, but that living simply doesn’t mean we need to neglect our potential for growth and learning. To be an example of this, I’m now traveling as a nomadic explorer, a term I coined for someone who chooses to live simply, open-minded, and maintain a passion for exploration (whether that means exploring computer networks or the Indian subcontinent, as I’m doing right now).
David Crandall, Heroic Destiny: I think the terms are good in that they communicate a set of ideas to people who know them. The problem comes when new people stumble upon them and have to interpret them as best as they can in context. Lifestyle design is a phrase that I like a lot. However, I did an entire post on the matter in an attempt to clarify for new readers what I was talking about and to have a point of reference in the future.
My blogging is a subset of the whole lifestyle design niche in that I’m married with small children. The overwhelming majority of what I’ve found focused on single men. While I was excited when I discovered this community, I often felt handicapped since very few people were in my shoes. My goal is to target those who are tired of the status quo life but have a family and need to be strategic in how they pursue these types of changes. I’d like to help others avoid the challenges that I am facing if at all possible.
Ashley Sinclair, Self Activator: On the various terms being used – I think it’s just a sign of many different communities all joining the same larger conversation: how do we go after what we want? What is within our own control, and how can we work on that so we like the results we create more and more?
Life-hacking: speaks to shortcuts – I don’t think there are life “shortcuts” we can take, though I do think it’s a lot simpler than we make it! I’m indifferent to this term – there’s obviously a community that likes it and gets what it means, but I don’t get excited when I hear it. I think it leans a bit towards buzzword bullshit.
Life coaching: I don’t use this term. I can’t help but poke fun at it – the life coaching market is over saturated, and there’s an overemphasis on the action taking as the end-all be-all. And there’s so many damn mountain climbing, star-reaching metaphors. I love me some action taking, but most of my work with people is about getting them lined up with the ideas behind action taking, so that taking action is successful for them.
And I’ve got to wonder – if I’m so sick of this term, what does Joe Shmo think about it?
My blog and my business are about maximizing what we already know and what we’ve already got, be it tangible or internal, to create what we want. I speak mostly to entrepreneurs and creatives, because they’re really at the forefront of creating great change for themselves and their communities. Also, I’m enough of a spaz that I had to pick a market who would find that quality endearing, and even helpful. Thank God they exist.
Jenny Blake, Life After College: I think the terms all point to being proactive about making our lives what we want them to be. It doesn’t really matter what you call it – the point is educating yourself about what strategies and mindsets are out there, and taking steps to live the best life that you are capable of (knowing, of course, that there will be ups and downs and that those are all part of the learning process). I think at the end of the day, a lot of people aim for the goal of happiness. In Maximum Achievement (one of my all-time favorite personal development books), Brian Tracy talks about peace of mind being the ultimate goal which really resonated with me. We can’t always be happy, but we can act in ways that are consistent with our beliefs and with a sense of integrity to our values.
My blog is about a really wide range of topics – life, work, money, happiness, organization, realationships, and anything else related to personal development. I describe it as a mix of personal stories and practical tips for your “big picture,” meaning that I’m probably NOT going to tell you how to write a resume or anything else that you can easily find on Google. But I do talk about things like passion, loneliness, and being yourself.
I try to mix personal experiences with resources and tips that I think will be helpful for people. I find that I love sharing books, links or resources that have helped me – and while people enjoy those, they also seem to really appreciate when I share personal struggles or moments of vulnerability. Those are the posts that always remind me how much we all have in common; there is something really comforting about relating to each other about the ups and downs of our lives. In general I try to share as much about myself as I’m comfortable with, because I’ve learned that with so much content out there on the Internet, people really appreciate knowing more about who is behind the blog.
Sid Savara, Analysis Driven Personal Development: There are many terms that fall somewhat loosely in the realm of “personal development”. Life hacking, lifestyle design, self-help, life coaching. In some ways, “minimalism” seems somewhat asynchronous with these terms as well. What do you think about the variable terms that are being used, and how would you define what you blog about?
I blog about analysis driven personal development. Briefly, let me define that. Personal development is anything that improves you as a person – improves your life, improves your goals and accomplishments, and improves your enjoyment day to day. Analysis driven personal development is all about applying analysis, research and reflection to personal development. I back up all of my articles with either scientific research, experiences of many people, and sometimes my personal experience. Too often I find that I read articles that don’t back up their facts or their thoughts, and for me, I prefer to have references.
Karen Ruby, A Meaningful Existence: I like the term personal development or self-improvement over the other terms you’ve given. While I truly believe we all are absolutely good enough exactly the way we are now and not everyone requires or wants to improve themselves. For those people who want to tweak and know about various strategies that they can use in their lives, articles about personal development provides those people with the information that they can use in their lives. I definitely think that there is a difference in the various terms (life hacks, lifestyle design, minimalism) which are vastly different from life coaching and and self-help terms. I prefer the term ‘personal development’ as it is very personal decision to decide to change your life and it’s also very personal which strategy you choose.
Annabel Candy, Get in the Hot Spot: I don’t feel comfortable with any of them! Personal development is best for me but I’m use ’empowering tips for life and work’ as a slogan on my blog because I want to teach people how to get the life they want. Being empowered really appeals to me:) I write about things that I’ve struggled with and solutions that have worked for me. I share experiments I’m doing, goals I’ve set and plans I’m making to show people how they can set goals and plan their life or blog for success. My main focus is helping people get the life they want. Since many people dream of being entrepreneurs I help with personal and business development, especially how to present yourself well online and win business over the Internet. I”ve been designing websites and web copywriting for 15 years but at the end of the day we’re all human. We want to be successful in business but being happy is the most important thing in life. If you’re not happy it’s hard to succeed in other areas of your life so personal happiness always needs to be a priority.
Personal development seems like a youth movement, especially on the internet. Most people in the space, especially online, are relatively young. This seems part of the natural growth cycle of development (we have special desire to grow as we’re young, at some point the need to develop slows). What do you think will occur with the “aging” of the personal development niche on the internet? Do you have long-term plans within personal development, or do you expect to branch out?
Catherine Caine, Be Awesome Online: Ha! It depends on how you define young… the impetus that got me to finally launch my website was my 30th birthday last year. I see a lot of people who re-discover growth later in their lives… mostly when they reach the success they’ve been diligently working toward all these years and realize it’s not that great. So there are always new writers coming in. That’s important, because each writer has their own path of growth. Eventually you get too experienced to write for new starters; you have to either get increasingly high-level, or branch out into something new. I have no idea at all what I’ll be doing in five years, but I bet good money the word “awesome” will feature in there somewhere.
Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle: You’re totally right, though fortunately the youth of today have massive influence over the older generation.
Because of this, more and more people of all ages are taking up the reigns on their lives and making changes they’re seeing Gen Y folks making.
I imagine, as always, eventually some new flavor of personal development, or a completely different movement, will come along and replace the way we do things now. This is only natural, and it’s exactly what we’re doing to the ‘company man’ concept of our parents’ generation.
These kinds of things move in cycles, and it would be arrogant beyond belief for us to think that THIS time it will be different, when everyone else in every other movement throughout history has thought exactly the same thing and been wrong.
I personally will continue to improve myself however I can as I age. I intend to live a VERY long time, and to have the best time possible while I’m here. I get my kicks learning and doing and taking risks, so it seems like a natural fit, unless my core values change along the way.
Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars: I have readers of all ages. I think that the appearance of a youth movement is because the Internet really took off a mere 10 years ago. Before that it was very hard for people to communicate, because they had to use paper to do it and that is exceedingly expensive.
My generation, Gen-Y, is the last generation that will remember the world pre-Internet. My younger sister, who’s graduating from high school next year, spent her entire young adult life playing around on Facebook.
This really changes the game in a way that older people don’t quite get yet. I was self-publishing when I was 12 years old on an Internet that was just taking it’s baby steps. The idea that you need be “discovered” by a publisher is irrelevant now. No one cares about publishers anymore, if they do they’re deluding themselves.
To answer your question: older people don’t know how to use the Internet in a powerful way, because they grew up with systems that were very different. This is why the leaders of the biggest revolutions are all in their 30s or younger.
Raam Dev, Live Simply, Balance Life, & Explore Existence: I attribute the growth of the personal development niche, and the relatively young age of those in the niche online, to the youth of the Internet itself. Personal development is something that everyone, young or old, strives for throughout their lives (or at least should strive for indefinitely!). The Internet has given us incredible access to information and knowledge, along with the ability to share such information amongst one another, and humans are only doing what’s natural: using that resource to improve themselves.
There are no senior citizens who grew up with the Internet. I’m only twenty-eight and the Internet wasn’t even around when I was born. As the population ages and more of society has the capability to use the vast resources of the Internet, I believe we will only see the niche grow. Young or old, everyone will be using the Internet for “personal development”. Long-term however, I see personal development as a niche blending into daily life — it will eventually become a commonsense part of a life-long education process.
As for my own plans, I see myself learning, growing, and sharing for the remainder of my life. I expect to be a blogger and writer until the day I die, primarily for the purpose of sharing and contributing to the growth of others.
David Crandall, Heroic Destiny: As I mentioned, I am targeting people who are not in the “mainstream” community of lifestyle design. My hope is that by targeting a crowd that is a little bit older (I’m 35), married, and/or has kids then I will position myself to be a good resource as this crowd starts “aging”. I want to be the go-to guy for that crowd!
It already seems that a large part of the lifestyle design crowd is migrating towards marketing and entrepreneurial techniques. I think that will also be a big market as this niche matures. Positioning yourself to be a resource there will almost certainly prove valuable as time goes on.
My topics come from a variety of sources. I read a lot! Any time I find something that I think I can comment on or expand, I make a note of it. I try and research what people respond to on popular sites. I even flat out ask people what they enjoy and want to see. When you write everyday, you are constantly looking for topics!
Ashley Sinclair, Self Activator: Personal development is a human movement! Online is just the arena the younger folks gather to talk about it. I think young people used to “develop” in a more haphazard way, and then turn to the personal development field only after experiencing a few years of dissatisfaction with the results they’d created.
That’s what is different about the current younger generations – they’re looking ahead, seeing what older generations have worked for over time, and saying, “I can have that personal satisfaction now, if I work on myself. And I can do one better – I can have that satisfaction as a location independent, multiple income-stream-generating professional. So I’m going to do whatever development work it takes to make that happen for myself.” They’re turning to the personal development field at younger and younger ages because they realize they have more control over their lives than any other generation previously understood in their teens, 20’s, and 30’s. They’re investing in themselves this way, putting their money where their mouth is. At least, those are the people I’m talking to. I have no idea about the rest of ’em.
For my own business, I’ve definitely adjusted to the times and will continue to. In the beginning most of my clients were over 50, and 8 year later the majority of them are over 30. That’s part of the reason I created on online platform for myself in the last year – it’s very important to my younger clients that they be able to connect with me online. Which I get – I’m unwilling to invest in a professional or personal development brand unless I can experience part of it online as well.
Jenny Blake, Life After College: I would have to disagree with you on this one. I don’t think personal development is a youth movement – I think it’s a movement that started thousands of years ago (Buddha and Lao-Tzu come to mind), that every generation has since recycled and added to in its own ways. There may be a perception online that it is a youth movement because that’s where the young people are. The older personal development leaders are probably still getting the whole blogging/tweeting thing figured out, which does leave a great opportunity for young people to step in and help bridge the gaps between generations.
My long-term plans within personal development are to continue learning, growing, failing, crying, celebrating, and doing everything else that represents a full life. I have a personal motto, “live big,” that I always hope to honor. I hope to contribute to the personal development space by showing that life is not about being perfect or mastering any of these concepts 100% – it’s about taking baby steps and just doing the best we can at any given moment.
Sid Savara, Analysis Driven Personal Development: I think that has more to do with the people who grew up with the internet, blogging, etc than it does with the age of people looking to improve themselves in. Many of my readers for example who email me are 50,60,70 and above. That said, the large number of of relatively young bloggers (30 and under) in the niche means that many of the topics that dominate personal development online are related to college, people’s first few relationships, etc. Some bloggers do touch on topics such as raising children and a family, and perhaps as the bloggers age we’ll see more discussion of that, retirement, and other topics. For myself, I write about what I know and what I experience – and I’m sure as I grow, both in terms of age as well as my own personal development, the tone and lessons I write about will also change =)
Karen Ruby, A Meaningful Existence: I strongly disagree with the notion that personal development is for the ‘youth’ or that the perception that it’s written or geared toward the young bloggers out there. First, there are so many life coaches and people who have trained for years who are flocking to the internet to use the technology to reach new clients and provide real-life, proven strategies to their readers. Second, the internet itself is relatively young and with the new social mediums that have been expanding, of course you will have the early adopters. Third, it’s a fallacy to believe that only young people who have a need to grow and ‘develop’. As humans, we are all growing and developing – it’s not something that stops at a certain age! Fourth, if you are only reading personal development articles or blogs by young people, then of course it’s a self-fulling cycle that you will believe that it’s only the ‘young’ that are providing great content. Believe me, there are tons of writers who have fantastic, real-world advice out there who have been around for years. Maybe they aren’t as hyping themselves as much as the younger crowd, but they are out there!
Annabel Candy, Get in the Hot Spot: Lots of the personal development writers are young with less life experience but they always have great tips. I think people like the personal stories and simple advice. My blog is a mix of personal and business development but if the demand is high for business and online marketing advice for small businesses I’d love to focus more on that. It’s my real field of expertise. I write a lot about motivation and persistence because you can’t achieve your goals without them. For me the boundaries between personal and business development are blurred.
Who are your favorite bloggers in and outside the space? Is this who you look to for writing inspiration, and if not, where do you find most of your topics come from?
Catherine Caine, Be Awesome Online: I read very few personal development blogs – most are about marketing, or technology, or business, or copywriting – but to be honest, all of them are about personal development, too. Because they’re all about excelling at what you do, and to excel you have to grow. Most of my topics come from my mistakes and learning process, or from interactions with my readers. It’s informed by the people I read, and sometimes they directly inspire a post.
Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle: I used to get a lot more inspiration from bloggers, but I’ve found that more and more I read other bloggers for enjoyment while looking out from the blogosphere for inspiration. This isn’t meant as a dig – on the contrary, it means that they’re doing such a good job at what they do, I don’t want to compete!
I love Seth Godin’s blog. Carlos (OwlSparks.com), Ash (TheMiddleFingerProject.org), Andi (Instigationology.com) and Maren (the9to5alternative.com) all do consistently good work. Everett’s been killing it lately over at Far Beyond the Stars. Jamie at A Life in Translation and Nicole at More is Better crack me up more than any other bloggers that I regularly read. The Thailand crew (as I now secretly call them in my head), consisting of Cody McKibben, Sean Ogle and David Walsh are also really great bloggers.
Most of my topics come from conversations and experiences I have in real life. For the longest time I would have all these ‘eureka!’ moments and there was no one around to tell them to. Now I just write about it. Cheaper than therapy!
Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars: I’m a big fan of Leo Babauta, he’s a rocktar. Colin Wright blows my mind with his location independent lifestyle. Julien Smith continually amazes me with the work he’s doing. Chris Guillebeau is making huge changes in people’s lives. Tammy Strobel is one of my biggest allies in creating this change in people’s lives.
Raam Dev, Live Simply, Balance Life, & Explore Existence: There are a bunch of bloggers who I admire when it comes to personal development, including Sid Savara, Leo Babauta, Henri Junttila, Charlie Gilkey, Jonathan Mead and several outside the personal development community like Chris Guillebeau, Colin Wright, Cody McCibben, and Derek Eaerl Baron.
As for writing inspiration, I find that most of my topics come from observations made in my daily life. I’m an observer, listener, and thinker by nature, so I get lots of ideas just walking around outside. (This is especially true now that I’m a nomad exploring foreign countries!) For example, a few weeks ago I was in a jungle cooling down by a river when I became inspired by a crab and wrote a post about how the right path in life isn’t always obvious or easy. Other times, I will read a blog post or a comment written by another blogger and it will trigger a train of thought that leads me to writing a post.
David Crandall, Heroic Destiny: Cody McKibben at ThrillingHeroics.com is probably one of my favorites. I am also partial to Dan Andrews at the TropicalMBA.com and Nathan Hangen at NathanHangen.com. I’ve really enjoyed these guys and they are fairly consistent which is important to me. There are a bunch more, but I pay strong attention to those guys. I’ve also had others in the past, but a lot of people seem to phase out over time.
Outside of the space, I have been a big fan of Gunnerkrigg.com. I know I’m stretching it a bit since it’s a web comic, but I’ve been following it for a long time and absolutely love it. I think a movie needs to come from it!
My topics come from a variety of sources. I read a lot! Any time I find something that I think I can comment on or expand, I make a note of it. I try and research what people respond to on popular sites. I even flat out ask people what they enjoy and want to see. When you write everyday, you are constantly looking for topics!
Most of my own topics come from the actual business of coaching clients – I’ll see a theme for a few weeks, or feel really moved by an experience with one client, and want to share the topic of material covered. Some of my posts are just about modeling what I think would be most helpful for my audience at the time… if I get a lot of “I’m stuck” comments on the latest posts, I’ll talk about simplifying and getting going in the next one.
Just saw the last part of your question: hell no – I can’t pull ideas from other bloggers, it just confuses me and I don’t think it gives my audience anything new. I have to use content that’s about the relationship I have with my audience and my clients.
Jenny Blake, Life After College: My favorite bloggers/thinkers in this space are Martha Beck, Chris Guillebeau, Brian Johnson, Gay and Katie Hendricks, Byron Katie, and Ruth Ann Harnisch (who is hands-down THE most amazing coach I have ever worked with).
I read 3-4 personal development books per month (follow me on Good Reads for reviews or check out some of the book notes on my blog), which is where I get most of my inspiration. You could say I am addicted to ordering used personal development books on Amazon (my brother nicknamed me Jenny Highlighter Hands because I usually tear through 4-5 books every family vacation).
Sid Savara, Analysis Driven Personal Development: Hands down the best person to learn from and emulate is Luciano Passello of Litemind.com. His articles are well written, backed up with research, to the point and genuinely helpful. He is probably the only must read blogger I subscribe to.
I have a lot of bloggers that I read for inspiration as well. Ali Hale, Jonathan Mead, Raam Dev, Eric Hamm, Leo Babauta all come to mind. Most of my topics however come from either things I want to write about, or what readers ask me to write about. Setting up Ask Sid (http://sidsavara.com/ask-sid) has been immensely helpful for me, because I know any article I write will, if nothing else, help at least the person who asked the question.
Karen Ruby, A Meaningful Existence: I’ve been interested in personal development for more than 20 years so I have a lot of experience and information to draw upon. I’m an avid reader and own a lot of personal development books. I do get inspired by particular bloggers (there are many who have very unique voices) but I also get inspired by so many other writers who are not in the personal development niche. The fact is that just by living life you are exposed to so many stimuli – it’s what you make of that information and the way you can relate it to your readers so that it help them that counts. Not to mention what happens in my own life and my years of experience. I think that I have a lot of universal experiences that many readers can relate to and I’m glad to be able to impact that knowledge so that they don’t have to go through the same struggles on their way to having a meaningful existence.
Is there a lack of criticism within personal development? Isn’t there something to constructively criticizing others (and oneself), including in blogging technique, to improve further? Should this be done behind closed doors, or is there benefit to offering it to the public (i.e. through blog posts over e-mail, or less-so, through comments)?
Catherine Caine, Be Awesome Online: I don’t know… there are so few Correct Answers in my field; most of it comes down to “choose whatever works for you”. That’s almost impossible to criticise because it’s all opinion. I always admit to my mistakes and discuss what I learnt from them in public, because I write about and use personality marketing: my brand will die without trust. But I can also write an article where I link to someone else’s point, agree with it in principle, then devote 700 words to why it wouldn’t work for me. But that’s not criticism, that’s a difference of opinion.
Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle: I think that it’s not just within personal development, but within the blogosphere as a whole.
Because of the upstart, (generally) friendly nature of the playing field, there tends to be a whole lot of backslapping and hand-holding because, well, there are no REAL veterans in this space. It hasn’t been decades since anyone started their blogging careers, and everyone remembers being just as clueless and troubled as the greenest Typepad user is today.
This is great, because it opens up the door really wide for other people to join in on the fun, but it is tricky sometimes to get real, legitimate, useful feedback that might help everyone improve. No one wants to rain on anyone else’s parade, and really there doesn’t seem to be a good way to ask for or get really constructive criticism from your peers, or those with a lot more experience.
I’d say unless it’s your goal to help others not make the same mistakes, or if it’s your schtick to give criticism, it’s probably not the best idea to make your negative opinions known publicly until you make them privately first. A well-crafted email with a good balance of positives and negatives would probably be the best way to do it, and then if they want to make that info public, the ball is in their court. Doing otherwise is a great way to make enemies, and honestly it’s probably a bit risky even if you DO say nice things along with the criticism.
Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars: I’m not a big fan of negativity, I think it’s counterproductive and doesn’t help people. I’d never write anything that criticized particular people for the way that they’re doing things.
Instead I dedicate all of my energy to writing posts that help them learn to do things better — a much better use of time.
That being said, I’m a huge critic of the world we live in. People are being tricked into consuming more than they need by corporations that are destroying the planet. This is a crime, it’s essentially enslaving an entire class of people, and it needs to change.
Raam Dev, Live Simply, Balance Life, & Explore Existence: I think criticism plays a huge role in improving ourselves and therefore belongs within personal development. However, offering criticism without having a good relationship with someone can be difficult. It’s so easy for people to take things the wrong way or misinterpret constructive criticism as negative criticism. Having a mastermind group, blogging buddy, or circle of friends that can provide you with constructive criticism behind the scenes is key.
As for offering such criticism in the public, I think it can be useful, but that doing so would be a delicate task. Everybody has an ego, and ego’s rebel against being deflated; a little bit of humility goes a long way when it comes to receiving criticism. Because of this, I think it also depends on the person. Honestly, I would love to receive more criticism over my own work, privately or publicly!
David Crandall, Heroic Destiny: Certainly there is criticism from the outside, but I do not think there is much healthy criticism from within the community. I think a lot of people come to this mindset after being hurt or abused with the typical template of life. Having found something with so much hope, they become extremely defensive against any criticism, almost as if they themselves are being criticized. I would liken much of the lifestyle development mindset to that of a devout religion. For example, recently on the Untemplater.com website, one of the authors poked fun at how to act when returning from travel. The entire post was over the top sarcasm not to be taken seriously. The comments revealed how angry people got at that. I’d say we are still a ways off before much criticism can be taken well and it will require a gentle touch at first either way.
Ashley Sinclair, Self Activator: That’s a tricky one. To be honest that question made me laugh out loud, because I come from an arena in personal development that is completely founded on feedback, which is what I think you’re talking about. “Criticism” could imply a range of motives or uses, so I say “feedback” when I’m talking about constructive criticism, or sharing the impact of someone’s actions. I think feedback is best received when it’s asked for – even if you’ve got great, helpful info for a blogger, if they haven’t agreed to receive it, it can be kind of a wasted effort. That being said, if a personal development blogger isn’t asking for feedback, it’s their own damn fault for missing an opportunity. I recently asked my main list what they wanted, and what’s working or not working on the blog for them, and got AMAZING responses.
Whether or not a personal development blogger is getting direct feedback, there’s plenty of indirect feedback for them to gather at any moment, should they choose to. Deafening silence on your latest post? Probably not what your audience needed to hear right then. Getting a lot of complainer-types commenting? You’re doing something that’s a match for them, and if you don’t figure out what it is, you’ll just have an audience of more and more complainers.
Jenny Blake, Life After College: I don’t personally see a lack of criticism. Perhaps a lack of negativity, which I really appreciate. I’m thankful I don’t have “trolls” or really negative commenters on my blog. That said, I absolutely think there is benefit to constructively criticizing others. If anything, I think people who are into personal development make MORE of a habit of looking at themselves and how they need to improve (and helping others do the same).
Sid Savara, Analysis Driven Personal Development: I think there are two sides to this. On the one hand, there may be more room for constructive criticism and discussion. On the other hand, I don’t see it as my place to criticize other people’s actions – I write about what I know, and if I’m wrong, I appreciate when people contact me and let me know. I think it is up to the individual though to read an article, read the strategies and then be honest and ask themselves – is this an area I need to improve? Is this article relevant to my life? If we read articles that speak to us, it’s up to us, you and me, to take the knowledge we now have and make the change.
For blogging specifically though, I think there is a lot of room for improvement. I think all bloggers, personal development or otherwise, need to take a hard look at what they do and try to improve. My goal is to continually improve my craft – writing better, formatting better, and promoting my content better.
Karen Ruby, A Meaningful Existence: Instead of ‘criticism’, I prefer the term ‘feedback’. Criticism has a negative connotation and yet it’s just information. It depends on your perception and what meaning you attach to the words. I would be very surprised if any personal development writer is against feedback – I welcome any feedback for my writing and personal development strategies! There is so much to know in the niche and it’s only that person who thinks that they are perfect or thinks that they know everything who is against criticism. I don’t know anyone like that, do you?
Annabel Candy, Get in the Hot Spot: We bloggers are sensitive people. I try not to criticise but make helpful suggestions to people such as I’d like to hear more about…” Or I’ll mention that I can’t find their tweet button. I wouldn’t put too many suggestions in the comments – if people want more advise they’ll ask for it:) I often reach out to other bloggers who I trust for advice when I’m not sure of the best approach and that feedback has helped me.
As it pertains to the process itself, was there ever a moment of “I’ve got this figured out”? I know there’s always going to be that “I’m always learning” cliché, but to ever have moved to the point where you wanted to start/develop a personal development blog, there must have been a period of near self-actualization that came from within, or at least a belief that you could present it in a way that inspired others. Can you describe this moment/feeling, and the duration of time/process that came to it? E.G, in every person’s life, they actively start looking towards self-help/personal development books, or something comparable. Let’s say this is the beginning.
Catherine Caine, Be Awesome Online: There have been hundreds of those moments! The first was when I realised that I could explain how domain names work to anyone, no matter how “I can’t do this technical stuff.” they were. And I knew that was a rare talent that people needed… there are a lot of people who were more technical than I am, but I’m better at talking about it. That gave me the courage to start the website. The most recent was in the interviews I’ve been doing for the website-fear-management resource I’m about to release. I’m talking to some of my heroes as they’re describing the techniques they use to manage their fear… and I realised that almost all of them I have already described in the resource. And I thought, “Damn. I’m pretty good at this! I know what I’m talking about!”
Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle: Oh man, I remember the exact moment when I realized I might have something I could offer others that most people simply didn’t get.
I was in one of my sociology classes in college, and my professor had a penchant for teaching us and running experiments on us at the same time (as most sociology professors tend to do).
One day he declared that he was going to give us each a card, and each card had one of three shapes on it, and each shape would be one of three colors. Once we had our cards, he told us that we had something like two minutes to get into groups with other people who have the same shape and color; to essentially organize ourselves based on this new property we all had.
If we could do this successfully, we’d all get 10 extra credit points. If not, no one would receive any points.
Then he said ‘Go!’ and everyone got us and started milling around, asking the people nearest to them what they had, chit-chatting about the ridiculousness of the task, etc. There were little factions and clusters forming at all corners of the room and the 70-or-so students in the class had only managed to confuse things further.
After about 20 seconds had passed – 20 seconds that I sat staring around, boggled that no one had realized that there was a really simple way to make this work, and more than a little frustrated that I would have to be the person to do it – I stood up on a chair and shouted ‘Circles go over to that corner of the room, triangles over to that side of the room, squares over to that side. Now, blues on the left side, yellows in the middle..’ and on and on.
Less than a minute later, everyone was organized, points were awarded and I got a confused look from the professor who explained that nothing like that had happened in all the times he’d run the experiment (and he’d been doing it for a while).
From that day forward I stopped pushing down the instincts that had always bubbled up in such situations and suppressed so as not to stand out. Several years (and many more evolutions) later, I started up Exile Lifestyle, making more official the role of adviser I had already been serving for many of my friends.
Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars: I don’t pretend that I’ll ever figure “it” (life) out. I’m constantly learning, striving, and working towards being a better person.
That being said, the work that I’m doing has roots in the way I’ve been living my life since the beginning. I only recently came to the conclusion that I needed to share the work, because I started to realize just how much these ideas I have will help people live more fulfilling lives.
As for the one moment, I’d have to say it was when I jumped on a plane to Portland last year. I had all of my stuff in a pack, and it really was a liberation moment. Everything that came after was shaped by actually making the decision to consciously live with less.
Change doesn’t happen if you don’t make radical decisions that run counter to everything that our current society stands for.
Raam Dev, Live Simply, Balance Life, & Explore Existence: This is a tough one, however there are two points in my life that stand out. When I was nine, my grandfather died and I remember asking my dad, “What’s the point of life?”. Although he gave me an answer, it didn’t seem to satisfy my curiosity. From that point onward, I accepted my mortal state and resolved to never stop learning and to live life to the fullest.
The second point came a few years after I started blogging. I received a random email from someone who was searching Google and stumbled upon a post I wrote several years earlier. It was something about life, an observation I had made and the lesson that I had learned. The person thanked me for writing the post and explained that they were going through a tough situation in life. They said that my post was extremely inspirational and that it changed their entire outlook on life.
It was at that moment that I realized how powerful simple observations can be when shared with people who need them. Nothing can be “too obvious”, because what’s obvious to us is insightful to someone else. Since that first email, I’ve received many more emails thanking me for things that I have written. It’s those emails that remind me why I write.
David Crandall, Heroic Destiny: For me it was “I think I’ve got enough of this figured out that I want to tell people about it”. It came when I found myself leading conversations towards this topic regardless of whether they naturally made sense or not. I can turn a topic on shoes and runway models into a discussion on lifestyle design!
For me, the process was fairly quick. I’d say within about 3 months of first being introduced to the idea I began telling others about what I’d stumbled across. As time went on, I began brainstorming about what needed to change in my life. By the time I hit the year marker, I was already putting things in motion to get my blog up and going.
I realized that I’d be telling someone about lifestyle design and I could talk endlessly about it, sometimes late in to the night. The biggest encouragement came when I realized that every time I’d bring it up, I’d have a captivated audience wanting to know more. Being able to impact someone else’s life to such a degree is amazingly rewarding and humbling at the same time. That impact is my driving force in telling others about what I’ve found.
Ashley Sinclair, Self Activator: Ha, no. Absolutely not. I have moments of extreme clarity with regularity, but I work hard to have a life- and work-style that supports that happening, and there’s never been a single moment of “Aha!”
I’ve just learned to notice what I can’t help doing, no matter the context, because it’s what I love and who I am. I used to coach, mentor, and goose people to live their dreams whether they asked me to or not, and whether I knew what I was doing or not. I started gathering tools so I could be more useful to people, and ended up getting 3 certifications and spending 8 years in the field, to date.
As for the process of building my blog, it went more like this: a niggling feeling of “I should be writing this stuff down” and “more people should be able to benefit from this” for a few months, then a seemingly endless series of really bad posts written by yours truly, which went into the proverbial shredder. Fast forward a few months to my dear friend Naomi at Ittybiz deciding to weasel her way into a product I was launching to my in-person people – I ended up literally falling into an online launch that brought a huge, instant audience to me.
Full disclosure: over the long term, I want my blog to be a platform for a world-wide movement of people to love and respect themselves enough to go after what they want, and make as big a contribution to their world as they can muster. But that’s what works for me – I’m not happy unless I’m building a nation of connected, powerful people, a team of gifted revolutionaries that’s unrelenting in their quest for self-realization. But they have to have a sense of humor, otherwise they can’t play. It can’t be that serious.
Jenny Blake, Life After College: I received five coaching sessions through Google in 2007 and although this might sound cheesy, those sessions completely changed my life. Through coaching, I got really clear on what is most important to me – and realized that I wanted to make an impact by helping people live happy, well-rounded lives (through simple, practical tools & tips). It inspired me to start blogging, attend coach training, and move into a new role at Google (as a Career Development Program Manager and internal coach). Given the tremendous impact coaching had on my life, I feel absolutely privileged for the opportunity to help others in a similar way.
Those coaching session really facilitated the moment where I stepped past the inner critic voices that were saying things like, “What could you possibly have to say? Are you smart enough to blog? Insightful enough? Controversial enough?” I got so tired of holding myself back or waiting for the perfect conditions that I decided even if I didn’t have everything figured out, I would start somewhere. Although there wasn’t a moment where I said, “Yes! I’ve solved life – I can blog now!” there was a moment where I said, “Yes. I do believe that I can add value around my passion for personal development by summarizing what I’m learning and sharing my ups and downs.” I’ve always been into reading personal development books, so when I discovered coaching and blogging, I felt like that was the major “aha!” moment — finally seeing the connection between how my love for reading, learning and developing could be channeled to help and inspire others as well.
Sid Savara, Analysis Driven Personal Development: I don’t think I’ve got it all figured out, but my aim is to advance the conversation with every blog post. Every article I write, I try to push the envelope a little bit, add something to the discussion that wasn’t there before, and leave the reader better off than when they started. If I can do that, I’m happy with the article. I do think I am far better as a blogger than I was when I started – I can write quality articles more quickly, and generally better, but I think that just comes with practice – and a concerted effort to improve the quality of my writing and my work. One of my favorite quotes is (loosely paraphrased) “Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.” Every blog post I write is an opportunity to practice and improve, although generally I just try to have fun and put out something that I enjoy talking about =)
Karen Ruby, A Meaningful Existence: Oh, I think there definitely is a point where you don’t struggle anymore with certain areas of your life. You’ve figured out what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in your own life. For myself, I do think that I have figured out some things about life based on my experiences and am grateful that I have a medium to share this knowledge. Does that come with age? I’m not sure. I do think the older I get, the more I realize some truths about life. Of course, there is a ton of other stuff that I haven’t figured out so I’m learning all the time about what doesn’t work in my own life. I’m far from perfect and make a lot of mistakes.
I believe in the community of wisdom that’s found on the internet and there’s a huge pool of life experiences that we can draw upon. You can read something today that motivates you to make a necessary change in your life and then you’re done with that issue. One person can arrive at what you call ‘self-actualization’ very quickly while another person can take decades (or never arrive). Time is meaningless for personal development as it’s all personal and everyone goes along their journey at their own pace. That’s probably why personal development (and it’s various incarnations) has been around since the cave-men.
Annabel Candy, Get in the Hot Spot: I think my realization came from two things. First, I’ve read a shed load of personal development books and experienced a lot – starting a business, becoming a mum, depression and moving overseas to follow my dream. Second, people often ask me how I do things and I love to share the things that have helped me. It took me a long time to make my own personal happiness a priority and refocus on achieving my goals after I had kids. I’d like to help other people do that faster. Only we can change ourselves but it helps to know that someone has been in the same place as you and feel supported on your journey.
If you liked the insights written here I suggest you check out the websites of each of the above participants. I am very grateful for their participation and insight in this post.