In my recent rant about having children, I mentioned that I have “found my voice” on the blog. By that, I mean that I’m no longer concerned about whether people agree with what I have to say or not. That’s right – I just don’t care.
One of my readers sent me a message on Twitter asking for tips on how to engage that voice. How do we bloggers break through our natural desire to exist without conflict and instead enter into a world where we might be criticized for our opinions?
Is it okay if somebody calls you an asshole?
Politicians do this shit all the time. So do highly-visible business people. Entertainers. Or, virtually anyone who pursues a lifestyle in a creative space. If you put your opinion out there, you might get criticized. And, that’s okay.
One of my favorite phrases in life:
Everybody has one.
I love it because it describes this phenomenon so well. We will never find ourselves in a position where everybody loves us. And quite frankly, that’s good. It makes us stronger people when we fend for ourselves and hold opinions that others may find to be unattractive. Basically, believe whatever you want to believe. This autonomy is the spice of life!
Find your blogging voice by ignoring criticism
I’ve been criticized for the words that I’ve written on this blog. I mean, look at this – I cuss, including the “f-bomb”. I write in a very informal, completely unprofessional manner. I’ve told people that their $80,000 car doesn’t impress me. I’ve trashed the idea of having children. After a feature in Business Insider, I was more or less called the scum of the earth. Living a life of destitution. Living off of the fat of the land on the backs of everybody else.
And you know what? I don’t give a shit. They, like everybody else, have an opinion. People will believe whatever they want to believe.
The fact is we cannot prevent people from getting offended. We can’t keep them from getting mad. That’s on them, not us. We, as bloggers, have a job to do. We put forth our perspective on life and the world in general and then let people draw their own conclusions.
The second that we trap ourselves into a world were we can’t offend, we’ve lost our voice. It’s gone.
And when we are more concerned about offending others than we are about putting forth content that represents us and our drive towards financial independence and early retirement, we’ve lost all control over our blog. It no longer reflects you and your journey.
I never set out to offend someone else. Ever. But if I do, oh well. It happens.
Think about criticism in a whole new way
Two things strike me about criticism and how most people view this issue. Try these on for size:
We notice criticism more than we notice praise
Of the 415 blog posts I’ve written on this blog, about 95% of the comments have been positive. Thousands of comments in hundreds of blog posts are positive and supportive, and that ignores the personal emails I’ve received from those who find our story inspiring. The Twitter messages. The private Facebook chats. The wide variety of communication between my blog viewers and me has been outrageously supportive.
But the comments that I remember the most are those that are negative. I’m a relentlessly positive person, but even I can’t help but remember the negative shit. My $80,000 car post, for example, has several gems in the comments. That Business Insider piece has a bunch, too. I’ve been told on YouTube that one of our videos made them literally throw up. That we are the absolute worst. That they laugh at our stupidity.
Take these negative comments into perspective. They are by far the exception rather than the rule. Even though we may naturally focus in on these types of comments, the large majority of the message resonates well, and that should be our focus.
Criticism means our message is getting out there
I love negative comments. No, I’m not some masochist who loves to be criticized. I don’t derive weird satisfaction out of people hating me. I am strange, but not that strange. I love negative comments because it means that my message is getting out there. I love when my message breaks through the personal finance community and flies free in the general population.
This is when things really begin to get fun.
And, a few additional bullet points about criticism
- People who have a lot of spare time are often those who feel like their opinion is FACT
- It is far easier to criticize than to come up with the “right answer” yourself
- If someone does something differently than you, it doesn’t make either of you wrong; different strokes for different folks
- When you love controversy, prepare yourself for comments; it’s natural
How I respond to critics
My response to critics depends a great deal on the nature of the criticism. I always ignore personal attacks entirely. They are nonsensical and certainly not worth my time responding to. Quite frankly, I laugh out loud at the large majority of these types of attacks. If you want to get through to me, do it respectfully. Otherwise, I’ll take it as a joke. I’ll usually have a little fun with the reply, too.
In response to a YouTube video that made a commenter laugh due to our “sheer stupidity”, my response was quite simple:
I’m thankful that I was able to make you laugh. It is the best medicine, after all!
Or another one: “blah.. had to stop watching. awful” to our Oregon trip video:
Cool! Appreciate your thoughtful comment. See ya next time! 😉
And perhaps my favorite, from my $80,000 car article: “you should shoot yourself steve or get a life. No one cares about you peasants.”
Amazing insight, Stanley. Very much appreciate you taking the time to comment, and I’ll give your suggestion some thought.
In contrast, insightful criticism I take to heart. I have learned a great deal about myself and life around me through criticism, in fact. I am the person that I am today due in no small part to the critiques leveled against me throughout my life. I have incredibly thick skin. But still, I listen to and respect constructive and insightful criticism.
Just a few examples:
- My writing has improved due to criticisms over stupid typographical errors and careless omissions
- My form at the gym is nearly spot-on now due to “feedback” on basic muscle physiology
- My photography has grown leaps and bounds after relentless feedback about how boring it all was
Find your blogging voice through self confidence. Put your opinion out there and don’t mince words. Be direct. Write forcefully. And if someone disagrees with what you write, let ’em. Who cares. Focus on doing what you do best and ignore judgmental bastards.
It’s the only way to blog!
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.