When I started this site 16 months ago, my goal was to help people with their personal development. And based on the thousands of pieces feedback I’ve received since then, that expectation is certainly being realized. However, what I wasn’t fully prepared for was the massive amount of personal growth I would experience as a result of this decision. I expected there would be a symbiotic relationship that would provide additional fuel for my own growth, but the effect was far greater than I imagined. Consequently, I now believe that blogging may be one of the best tools for personal growth. Here are some of the reasons:
Courage – Sharing yourself publicly builds courage in a variety of ways. Over the past year I’ve posted personal stories on this blog that I’ve never shared publicly before, such as this one. Yes, there’s some cathartic effect, but more importantly I’ve seen such stories deeply connect with people who find themselves in similar situations. And noticing this positive effect builds the courage to do it again.
Giving Hope - As mentioned above, blogging can give others hope. Many times when people read one of my articles, they see a part of themselves reflected back to them, a part they may not have connected with for a long time. By finding someone else who experienced similar challenges, they realize they’re not alone. And this gives them the hope and strength to grow even through the most difficult times.
Motivation – Helping others can be a stronger motivation than helping just yourself. It certainly has been for me. While I’ve been consciously working on my own personal development for about 15 years now, I work noticeably harder when others are involved. And the main reason isn’t the accountability factor as you might suspect – I still work harder even on goals that I don’t post publicly (so there’s no immediate public accountability). The real reason is that I know that if I succeed at something, I can share that experience with others via this blog, so I’m seldom working on a goal just for myself anymore. Even my private challenges today have the potential to someday be shared. Whenever I work on a goal now, I’m thinking in the back of my mind about how I might share my experience with others at some point down the road. This is extremely motivating. Consider how much harder you might work on your goals if you knew that thousands of other people could benefit from your experience. Since starting this blog, my motivation has skyrocketed. I’ve never felt more motivated in my life.
Self-Assessment - Because of the ongoing feedback mechanism, blogging can help you develop a more honest self-assessment. Every day I read a mixture of praise, criticism, personal stories, and questions. Sometimes it comes via private email, other times people post their reactions on their own blogs, and occasionally I receive cards and letters via postal mail. This feedback greatly enhances my own self-assessment and allows me to see gaps that I may have otherwise missed. This has helped me shed parts of my personality that were a little too artificial or socially conditioned and replace them with more openness and authenticity. The most important measure for me is effectiveness — am I actually helping people grow or not? I’ve learned a great deal about how I need to continue growing in order to become better at helping others.
Self-Esteem - Using a blog to help others builds self-esteem. I think self-esteem is more a matter of degree than of essence — even when it seems high, it can always be improved. Imagine what it would feel like to receive dozens of emails every day from people telling you how you’ve helped them experience a personal breakthrough and thanking you for it. That’s become my daily reality. Even with the criticism to balance it out, it’s hard to feel down or depressed in such a situation. Reader feedback constitutes a daily dose of encouragement.
Connection – Despite the technology involved and the fact that you’re probably writing in solitude, blogging is predominantly a social experience. So much of myself is on this web site that if someone were to read it all, they would get to know me pretty well. And this makes it easier for such people to connect with me and to share parts of themselves that they wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable sharing. Personal communication immediately jumps to a deeper level, and much of the communication I receive is very deep.
Transforming Existing Relationships – While it may seem obvious that blogging is great for building online friendships and networking, what surprised me was that it also strengthened and transformed my offline relationships. When I started my computer games business, my family and friends rarely tried any of the games I designed and programmed. But family and friends do read my blog now and then. The people who know us well are often the toughest to please. When I’m blogging it’s not just for an online audience (as was the case with my games business). It’s also for the people I already know. It has even transformed my marriage for the better, since my wife reads my blog, and now I read hers too.
Self-Expression – Because of this blog, I enjoy the ability to instantly self-publish my content. Once I click the “Publish” button to post this blog entry, people will be reading it within a matter of minutes. I enjoy writing very much, and I love having the ability to share my thoughts and ideas so easily. Expressing myself in writing helps me clarify my own thinking, and clarity fuels growth.
Accountability - Last month this site received 803,364 visitors and 1,871,215 page views. Most best-selling books don’t even reach that many people. Imagine you could address an audience of this size whenever you wanted. What would you say to them? When I write I feel the responsibility that comes from the ability to influence such a large group of people. Will my words genuinely help you, or will I lead you astray? Will I help relieve some of your suffering, or will I be the cause of it? Will I provide real value or just waste your time? It’s been said that power corrupts, but for me the effect is just the opposite. The greater my power to influence people, the more accountable I am to use that power to serve the highest good of all. This is a natural consequence of my spiritual beliefs. Because I believe we’re all inherently connected at the highest level of consciousness, it would take an incredible act of stupidity for me to intentionally mislead others for personal gain at their expense. If I harm others, I only harm myself. Falling into incongruency here would be like my left arm declaring war on my right arm — the whole body suffers as a result. I don’t think I’m alone in this philosophy either. Overall I’ve been very impressed with the way many bloggers hold themselves accountable to their readers. Sometimes there’s a tendency to err on the side of taking on too much accountability to the point of being afraid of how people will react, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. While there are some pretty low-awareness people who abuse blogging technology for personal gain (comment spam, splogs), those aren’t the people who are expressing themselves openly and creating original content, and they’re easy enough to spot.
Contribution - Helping people feels wonderful, and reading first-hand accounts of people’s results makes me want to do even more. To me it’s the effect my writing has on others that represents my genuine successes. I don’t publicly share the private feedback I receive (at least not without permission), but it means a lot to me to know that I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives and not merely writing for myself.
Synergy – Over time a symbiotic relationship between blogger and blog readers develops. Since this blog is about personal development, there’s a synergistic relationship between my growth and yours. If I post about a problem publicly, I get lots of feedback and resources from others to help me solve it. This in turn helps me generalize the solution and pass it on to others via my blog. So whenever I grow, it serves to help others grow. And whenever my readers grow, it serves to help me grow.
Income - Income generation is an obvious material benefit from blogs that find ways to monetize their traffic. I posted my 2005 results last month. Most of this blog’s income currently comes from advertising and donations, and in the future I’ll surely experiment with other ways to generate income. My main motivation isn’t to squeeze as much money out of you as possible but to acquire more resources that will allow me to further enrich this site. I’m saving money every month to use for future expansion of my work. The fact that this site does generate income for me (more than enough to pay my bills) means that I can afford to spend lots of time writing in a way that’s sustainable. That income gives me the time and freedom to work on my own personal growth as well. I have no job and don’t want or need one. Headhunters sometimes contact me, and I always tell them that this head isn’t for sale at any price. I want to spend the bulk of my time directly helping people, not making widgets or fussing about how to sell them.
Marketing – With built-in features like pings, trackbacks, and RSS feeds, blogs are much more than static web pages. Whenever I make a new blog post, the technology actively notifies people and web sites that the site has been updated. I’ve done virtually no direct marketing for this site — the technology plus word of mouth handle the marketing work for me. There are a lot of consultants who’d love to enjoy my traffic levels, and that isn’t out of the question if they follow a similar strategy.
According to Technorati, three years ago there were less than half-a-million blogs. Today there are over 27 million, and this figure continues to double every 5.5 months. That’s some serious growth, and partly I’ve enjoyed riding this wave for the past 16 months. Is this an opportunity that’s going to pass you by while you sit on the sidelines and watch, or would you like to become an active participant?
If you don’t yet have your own blog, I highly recommend starting one as a means of taking your personal growth to the next level. The software is all free, so it won’t even cost you anything. I use WordPress for this blog, and I highly recommend it. A new version was recently released that makes it even easier to use. Some web hosts such as Yahoo even automate the installation for you. But if you don’t have your own web hosting account (or don’t want to pay for one), consider signing up with one of the free hosted services like WordPress.com, Blogger, Typepad, or LiveJournal. Those are less flexible to customize (especially if you want to generate income), but they’re much easier to setup, and you don’t need a web hosting account to use them.