How Not To Show Up Like An A-List Blogger

I’ve had trouble with what this website has been about since the start. This trouble has come in two stripes; one stripe has been talking about what it’s about to others and part of it has been about what it is to me.

It was a lot easier back in the day when it was smaller and less well-known, though, and before it became a platform for other things. When it became about something, I had to make more and more choices about what content went into the “this fits here” bucket and what didn’t.

For instance, in tonight’s continuation of the creative insomnia that I’ve had all week post-flu, I was thinking about how female-dominated my life has always been and how much I appreciate what they’ve taught me and how they’ve helped me become who I am today. Those strong women have made me the strong male I am just as much as the strong men in my life did. I needed and appreciate both.

There’s more to what I wanted to write than that, but, at a certain point, I started to ask where I could post something like that. Which blogs would be particularly open to it? Not because I wanted to write a guest post, mind you, but because I wanted to put it somewhere where they had conversations about that.

Which led me to thinking about whether it was time for me to reconsider starting a personal blog where I could just talk about all the stuff that didn’t have to be about anything or on a schedule, much like you can have great conversations with friends – meaningful, life-changing conversations – without ever knowing or having to think about whether the conversation was about something. A blog wherein I could just share ideas that were on my mind without some weird positional or value proposition promise needing to take place. (THIS POST’S HEADLINE IS AWESOME AND COMPELLING, JUST LIKE THIS BLOG! or THIS CONTENT WILL HELP YOU BE AWESOME.)

Of course, I’m not the first blogger to get tired of the game and want a free space again, and I won’t be the last. And I haven’t started that personal blog yet for a lot of reasons, but one of the chief among them is that I’ve been unclear about how much of the urge to do so is due to creative cowardice and being afraid to show some vulnerability and modeling the message.

Perhaps that needs some explaining.

Most of the thoughts I’d want to write a post about on that personal blog would fall under the Flourishing side of Productive Flourishing. They’d be about the human journey; they’d be me not hiding Philosopher Charlie away in some corner until he can figure out how to tie what he’s thinking into “something people care about” or keeping Guardian Charlie’s military experience and perspective under wraps lest people think I’m chest-pounding or just telling old Army stories; they’d be me revealing more of the me people meet and find deeper, funnier, more interesting, and warmer than they expected; they’d include more of what I don’t know or have an answer for but that I’m just curious about; they might actually include what I do, struggle with, use for tools, get inspired and excited by, and so on.

Statistically speaking, those conversations wouldn’t be for a lot of people. It takes a different degree of creative courage to create because you’re inspired to when you know that what you create won’t be for a lot of people when you could just as easily focus on what more people would like. It’s easier when you don’t know what people want or when you flat out don’t care. I both know and care, and I don’t want to be yet another person metablogging (guilty here!) or continually talking about myself (also, guilty here!).

(Interesting question: who are these “people?” Crazy how we let “people” dictate how much we talk to our real people.)

If my posts looked more like what my actual conversations looked like, guess what they’d include? That stuff. Guess what people ask me about offline or email me a few weeks after meeting me about? That stuffThat, and when am I going to be done with the damn book already? (Asked lovingly, received as such. Thank you.)

But this blog has always been about doing the stuff that matters. Relating it to what started tonight’s journey – the reflection on my female-dominated life – how in the hell does writing about making better action lists matter more than addressing the conditions that lead to healthy, well-functioning, balanced people? Why doesn’t a piece that relates some challenges I’ve had with my own drive lately to documentaries I’ve watched about musicians’ careers rest comfortably alongside discussions of being a professional creative as much as a piece on creative mindset? Why isn’t letting you know that I’m just as challenged about making sure I exercise more valuable than conveniently not telling you that so you don’t question my credibility in being able to talk about the need for making room for it and doing it?

And what kind of message does it send to my clients who are struggling with being vulnerable and on stage when I decide to compartmentalize the full-Charlie experience yet encourage them to be real and human?

(Aside: In the last month, I’ve read Daring Greatly, The Icarus Deception, Fierce Conversations and Turning ProThe ideas from these great books have no doubt been kicking around. I recommend all of them, with Daring Greatly and Fierce Conversations being absolute must reads.)

To be clear, this is not about some misguided expectation that I (or we) should all be living our external and inner lives outloud, onstage, 24/7. We all get to decide what parts of our lives are reserved for ourselves and our loved ones and which parts we want to share with the broader world.

I’m just much more careful to be clear about why I’m doing things and at least try to own up to my fears and discomforts, even if I have no desire to change them. Starting a personal blog so I can avoid being vulnerable is ultimately self-defeating and out of integrity for me. It’s self-defeating because, in the best case, it would only exacerbate the differences between how I want to write and how I do write at the same time that people might actually like it and then what would I do? It’s out of integrity to continually cop out and avoid the richer, deeper, and just as important conversations that I could be having with you. Not to mention that I prefer to keep things simple, and another blog is yet another thing to keep up with.

And yet that still leaves me stuck with what to do with these stillborn conversations. What I’ve been doing for the last few years is nothing, besides occasionally drafting them and throwing them away later. If I published 1/3 of what I actually write or 1/50th of what I think, I’d find it hard to only post once a day. And there’d be at least a book or two under my belt.

Take, for instance, this very piece. My natural inclination is to hit save and walk away from it, telling myself that I’d edit it later but secretly knowing that it wouldn’t go anywhere (Draft #72). I’ve explored what I need to do and you don’t need to see how the sausage is made – my next right thing is to just start writing.

Or I’d take out a safe paragraph or two, leave out all of the meta stuff that (gasp!) reveals that I’m working through some of the very same things you are, and let you know that I’ll be experimenting with some different writing styles. Just so you know. (Is it okay? Please.)

Or, when I went into the editing stage of the process, I’d go through and make sure that I look a lot smarter and come off as a polished and more confident writer, thinker, and expert. And, while I’m at it, go through and find the key insights and perhaps think about how I can convert this into something that’s an actionable list or how-to-ish or SEO-friendly or a good piece to include as part of a content marketing trail. Ooh, wait, the headline should be “3 Questions To Ask When You Don’t Know What Your Blog Is About.” And those three questions: 1) What are you interested in? 2) Who are you really writing for? and 3) What are your goals and expectations?  Wait, there’s something there! Cut out all the rest and flesh those out. 30 minutes, 500 – 800 words, get the clicks, done!)

I’ve got to show up as an A-Lister, you know?

But today, I’d rather show you some of the less pristine parts under the tip of the creative iceberg you normally see because, today, I’m inspired and feel courageous enough to do so. Today, I’d rather get up and take care of my people. We both deserve it.

Like this and want more? Click here to get free access to 10 planners and worksheets, 4 ebooks, and a load of free webinars


  1. says

    This kind of writing is what pulls me in.

    I struggle with the same stuff over at my blog. I see fewer shares when I’m not headlining it up, which makes me think that I need to just keep to the “shareable” posts.

    Luckily, my heart keeps nudging me to write what I feel inspired to write, and somehow I tie that in with the theme of my blog, which is really about life (business + growth).

    It’s always been a balancing act, and I feel like it always will be. I’m going to default to listening to my heart and see where it takes me, because I can’t NOT do that.

  2. says

    Charlie, don’t they call that journalling? Seriously though I hear you! I have these really smart and interesting conversations – often with myself – and I too feel I want to share them, but again, where the heck do they fit? And not only that, who cares but me and a small group of like minded friends and family? Being on message and always marketing does wear me out some days. Where’s the freedom in that?

    What I do to relieve the pressure is take “creative days” to explore and exercise those other passions, ideas and thoughts. I’ll go on a photo walk and then post a few of my results on FB, G+ or YouTube. And they are not marketing or message oriented, just the internal side of me. And guess what, those creative posts often get the most comments!

    Thanks for sharing and opening up the topic. When I read your posts I hear you speaking the words. I guess that comes from listening to your recordings. :)

    • says

      When I read your posts I hear you speaking the words. I guess that comes from listening to your recordings.

      Thank you for saying this, Marlene. I’ve been doing more work to make sure my writing voice matches more of the style of my spoken voice, even though historically I’ve preferred my written voice over my spoken voice.

      Charlie, don’t they call that journalling?

      Yep, I journal fairly regularly. Sometimes daily. And many of the conversations I’m talking about comes from those journals.

      And I’ve done and seen the same things you have as far as just having off-topic shares.

      Thanks for letting me know you’re both reading and listening. That’s awesome. Have a great weekend.

      • says

        I love your audio recordings, Charlie. You have a kind-sounding and easy-to-listen-to voice. In fact I’m not really an audio person, but I absorb your words and sounds very well. :)

  3. Eric Grey says


    THANK YOU. What you are talking about perfectly resonates with a major theme in my life right now. So glad to hear it from you and big time encouragement to bust out some more. Hugs all around.


  4. says

    This is fantastic.

    I’m a small blogger with big dreams, but even for me it’s easy to try to turn everything into a TOPIC. With MEANING. Everything has to be analysed and pre-packed so that readers can just grab it, scan it, go. Oh just look at how clever and fantastic I am, readers! The pressure of trying to establish some level of expertise is a bit overwhelming sometimes.

    I’m finding Twitter the perfect place to vent out more off-topic passions. We’ll see how long that holds. :)

    Posts like this are what got people blogging. It was just plain old conversation, before we learned clever ways to ‘write for the web.’ Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to know my frustrations don’t mean I’m unsuitable for the blogging world!

  5. Walter Hawn says

    A-list bloggers, I skim, at most, because they have nothing new or real to say. And, I skim your posts of the same sort. I read this piece.

  6. says

    Charlie, I loved this post. I honestly don’t know what metablogging is (I’ll be looking it up momentarily), but I’m absolutely guilty of blogging about myself. And of caring about what people think of my blog (and therefore me). But I also know that as of today, there are only a handful of people reading my blog. Sharing my insecurities, my process, and “me” still feels like I’m doing so with my close, personal friends. Mostly because I am. 😉

    Good for you for sharing a glimpse of your true self with us. Thank you for trusting us with it.

  7. Susan Piver says

    I loved this post. It was inspiring and brave. I don’t need more “be awesome!!” or “7 ways to tie your shoes” type of posts. The whole world needs more humanity, less strategy. Thanks for going first. You’re awesome.

  8. says

    I love this post – it taps into what a lot of writers & creative types struggle with: How creative can I be before I become unprofessional? How personal can I make my writing before I come un-relatable?

    I’ve had conversations w/ friends about this, some who tell me emphatically, “Writing isn’t who you ARE, it’s what you DO!” and then others who insist, “You’re a writer, you always have been!”

    I’ve also struggled with compartmentalizing my blogs – at one point, I was juggling three, maybe four, I can’t even remember. It’s exhausting & spreading yourself thin counteracts what you really want: to reach people.

    If you do decide to write about things that are more personal from time to time, you’ll still be writing about things that people want to listen to & comment on. Chances are that if you’re experiencing something, other people are too.

    • says

      So, here’s the funny thing: our writing is unrelatable when we’re impersonal, yet when we’re personal, sometimes we’re unprofessional. What I’ve loved about the web is that we’re tearing down the link between “professionalism” and “personal.” (If ‘professional’ has to mean stuffy and corporate, count me out.)

      Thanks for sharing your experience with multiple blogs, too. I’ve seen that play out time and time again and it’s a place I don’t want to go.

  9. Sherrill Leverich-Fries says

    This whole post rocked. The biggest reason that I read your stuff is because of YOU showing up. The more you show up, the more awesome. There’s thousands of people out there writing about productivity and business, and most of them are more boring than watching paint dry. You? You play the guitar in posts and don’t edit out the imperfect parts. You reveal the struggle of what most business owners, I imagine, go through with how much to show up and be seen, and because you choose to show up I choose to stay subscribed.

    Wholeheartedly agree about Daring Greatly and Fierce Conversations being must reads. And I can’t find quite the right words, but I think it’s because they are must reads, that it’s Charlie-must-show-up-whole right along side them.

    • says

      Hi Sherrill! It’s been awhile since we’ve talked – we may need to change that soon.

      Thanks for the feedback on how I show up, too. It helps me remember that modeling humanity and creativity is more important than just writing about it.

      I must confess that I’m not sure what you mean in your last sentence, but I know your heart is there and can feel it. It’s like a warm hug that you’re getting but you don’t know why. :)

  10. says

    Orthogonal to your actual content, but you’ll probably see why I think it’s in the same vein: (It’s the response about “Can’t we just give them a number” in the comments that kicked the link up for me.)

    I’m running four blogs, and I’m still not “clear” and I still have hundreds of words and ideas that don’t get published in part because there is not a clear money link. Journaling is life-saving, but it’s not at all the same thing as writing for strangers’ eyes; having to polish and clarify and organize.

    Had to create three different Pinterest accounts because I wanted to save images that didn’t fit the public face of me as an artist. (Easier to run more than one Pinterest account than more than one useful blog, to be sure.) Allowed two of them to overlap a tiny bit and keep the third one in stealth mode completely.

    my suggestion is to create a different blog that’s big enough, put content there, and see what happens after you have more content than you can see at this moment. It will probably organize itself into something completely different. Just like Pinterest did for me…

    Good luck.

  11. says

    Hurrah! Charlie, I absolutely love this post and the idea of bringing your whole self to your blog. Personally, I want to see as much as you are willing to share. It helps me to see other people’s processes, pivots, changes and challenges. My business is very much a part of who I am; it is not just what I do. I made that choice a while ago and I really resonate with others who bring the personal aspects of their lives to their business. Those personal aspects allow me to see you and know you on a deeper level. At the more surface level I can read your blog, learn a ton and see you as a smart, capable adviser. But its only from that deeper level that I can really identify with you and see you as a role model.

    • says

      Thanks, Erica!

      “At the more surface level I can read your blog, learn a ton and see you as a smart, capable adviser. But its only from that deeper level that I can really identify with you and see you as a role model.”

      This is a great reminder. I appreciate you teaching me about it again. :)

  12. Joanna Branson says

    This post rocks! Thank you for the courage to let us see your process and how it “works,” I always learn a lot from your posts and this one, though different from many of them, is no exception. It has inspired me to make today’s scheduled post on my own blog more vulnerable and transparent to help my readers (primarily student writers) feel safe in their writing process as well.

  13. says

    I actually like Philosopher Charlie and Guardian Charlie. And those 3 things to do, action lists and whatnot kind a put me off. In fact one of the reasons I recommend you to others is because Philosopher Charlie and Guardian Charlie have significant influence on the stuff that gets presented in that more standard “productivity blog” mode.

    The fact is, I hate rules. And if people present things as rules without explaining anything about how they got there or why this works for them, then I don’t have the crucial information to decide whether those rules could work for me or how I could tweak them to make them work for me.

    Which is to say, that I’d love to read more of the stuff that doesn’t get boiled down into simple action pieces. You have smart readers. We can sometimes boil those things down for ourselves.

    • says

      “Which is to say, that I’d love to read more of the stuff that doesn’t get boiled down into simple action pieces. You have smart readers. We can sometimes boil those things down for ourselves.”

      So, so true. It’s one of the reasons I love writing here and why I don’t guest post as much as I might. I know you’ll give me the time and space and work through it – you can’t count on that elsewhere.

  14. says

    Thank you! I’m struggling with writing in a way that is ‘me’ and also trying to implement all the advice I get – which is often contradictory. My site (mid-life wellness coaching) and what I do every day (not just mid-life coaching, but still relevant to to me in mid-life) seem to be getting further apart, and I’ve been concerned about that. Maybe one way forward is to have my blog hold all the things I do and think and read about, and do – rather than be too self-consciously serving ‘business’ goals. Food for thought…

    • says

      Here’s the truth that’s easier to see when it’s focused on other people: people hire you because they like you. It’s hard to like someone you don’t know.

      Alas that simple‰ easy.

  15. says

    Hi there Charlie – it’s been a while since we last connected and here you are going through what I’m going through 😉 I just sent out my first newsletter after an 8 month break of crazy busyness with our agency when I happened to open yours! I thank you for being so open and for wanting to share all the parts of you that make you whole, and more interesting. My blog has been having an identity crisis as well, and it made me think “maybe I should start a new site?” LOL. See you on the journey.

  16. Lynn says

    In the post above you noted that you were “afraid to show some vulnerability “. I think you just do that in this post. Good job, good post. By looking at the comments, many people agree.

  17. says

    I’ve been struggling with this metablogging issue, too.

    Funnily enough, I’ve been using my weekly newsletter as a place to write a lot of the “exploration”-style articles that have occured to me, and have realised that is actually the purpose of the newsletter: to be an unguarded exploration of life inside a Cash And Joy biz.

    But my website has felt weirdly constraining for awhile. I too have a bunch of drafts that are too… incomplete? Missing a neatly wrapped up moral? Not directly related to the work I do? And while I’m okay writing them for the newsletter – maybe because of the invitational, private feel – it’s felt too… incongruous to put them on the website.

    Except maybe “inconguous” isn’t the word. Maybe “exposed” is the word.

    Aw fuck it, I need to start publishing that stuff right damn now. Screw keyword optimisation, screw neat categories, and absolutely screw editorial calendars. It’s time to put on my pith helmet and get exploring!

    Thank you, Charlie, for once more articulating something that’s been sitting under my skin for ages.

    • says

      Hey CC!

      I like your discussion of ‘incongruous’. For me, it feels like I’m sometimes writing for friends and peer-explorers, and other times, it’s for “the Web.” When I write to my friends and peer-explorers, everything clicks.

      Writing for “the Web,” not so much.

      So how about we just write to each other, okay?

  18. says

    Charlie, this is a beautifully written and well timed article. I have to say that I know a lot of folks who, once they get to a certain point with their online businesses just stop reading the A-listers because the content becomes too repetitive or too formulaic. I definitely just skim those kinds of posts, when I read at all now, but this absolutely stopped me in my tracks. I really believe the beautiful thing about the internet is it gives us all a kind of freedom to be ourselves, and I think this kind of honesty and vulnerability can only help attract more of the right kind of people into your world – the people who really want to be making changes in their lives and are looking for a real person who has something genuinely useful to share.

    • says

      I’m the same way about reading other blogs, Sarah. I miss a lot and I’m much better off for having missed it.

      The struggle I still have is around utility, though, and I have to trust and practice that the way I share the journey is useful. Or trust that sharing it keeps me from bottlenecking other content or gives the other content the context we need to make sense of what’s going on.

      It’s a practice, though.

      I believe this is your first time commenting here, too. Welcome!

  19. says

    Thanks, Charlie, for writing this post. Recently, someone found an article that I had written in 2003 (before I started my first blog) to tell me how much she enjoyed it. While I distinctly remember the article, “Lessons Learned from a Kids’ Talent Show”, I had to re-read it to refresh my memory. What I noticed is how different my “voice” sounded from my recent writing. There was an emotional depth that, quite honestly, that has been MIA. Small changes over time, can yield big differences, both bad and good! Appreciate how you’ve articulated the need to step back and re-anchor to what’s true inside.

    PS. The most well-received posts in the last ten years of my writing have been about the human experience–from talking about shopping for toilets to reflections on being laid off to my journey back from burn out.

    • says

      “Small changes over time, can yield big differences, both bad and good! Appreciate how you’ve articulated the need to step back and re-anchor to what’s true inside.”

      Hi Carol! It’s been awhile.

      That’s the thing! The changes creep up on you, until you don’t recognize that all the small tweaks haven’t been ‘kaizen’ – they’ve been gradual slides into somewhere you don’t want to be. (Oh boy, I will be writing more about this.)

      My most well-received posts are always either the human ones or the controversial ones. I don’t dig controversy for the traffic, so I guess I’ll just practice being more human. :)

  20. says

    Charlie, thanks for that thoughtful post, thanks for opening up and being vulnerable. It is, after all, what Brene Brown talks a lot about.

    As for – “I was thinking about how female-dominated my life has always been and how much I appreciate what they’ve taught me and how they’ve helped me become who I am today. Those strong women have made me the strong male I am just as much as the strong men in my life did. I needed and appreciate both. There’s more to what I wanted to write than that, but, at a certain point, I started to ask where I could post something like that. Which blogs would be particularly open to it?” – I’d love to have thoughts like that on ‘male eXperience’. I know you don’t want to guest pose, as such, but I would love you to air what you think on this.

    Just a thought…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *