Do you ever write about yourself?
And when you read your draft, do you wonder …
What will people think of me?
Am I making a fool of myself?
Is this too embarrassing?
Is this too needy?
Am I undermining my professional image?
I ask myself all those questions, too.
I find it easier to write about blogging techniques than share personal stories. Sharing personal stories guzzles up twice as much energy, perhaps even more. It doesn’t come natural to me and makes me worry more.
But I’ve learned, we can’t hide ourselves as bloggers.
When we share only “technical” tips, we become commodities. We become easily interchangeable with other bloggers sharing similar tips, and our voices get drowned out in a sea of me-too content.
To truly engage readers, we have to show them who we are. How else can we differentiate ourselves from the hundreds of providers competing for the same clients? How else can we get our readers to appreciate us as a person so they can’t wait to hire us?
I’m planning to start my year off by unsubscribing to many blogs and newsletters, but I will never leave YOU. Because you are REAL.
How a best-selling neurologist writes about himself
Oliver Sacks is a neurologist, best known for his case studies about patients like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and “Awakenings.”
In his memoir “On the Move,” he writes about his professional life but shares more personal stories, too—about his motorcycle vacations, drug-taking in his younger years, and finding the love of his life in his seventies.
This intertwining of the professional and personal shows us how we can write about ourselves while maintaining a professional image.
Want to know the three key lessons?
1. Share the small moments
Sacks’ enthusiasm for his work shines through in the small moments:
I fell in love with his face, his body, his mind, his poetry, everything about him. He would often bring me just-written poems, and I would give him some of my physiology essays in return.
Sacks is a shy person, but sometimes his enthusiasm overtakes, like here:
I almost never speak to people in the street. But some years ago, there was a lunar eclipse, and I went outside to view it with my little 20x telescope. Everyone else on the busy sidewalk seemed oblivious to the extraordinary celestial happening above them, so I stopped people, saying, “Look! Look what’s happening to the moon!” and pressing my telescope into their hands. People were taken aback at being approached in this way, but, intrigued by my manifestly innocent enthusiasm, they raised the telescope to their eyes, “wowed,” and handed it back. “Hey, man, thanks for letting me look at that,” or “Gee, thanks for showing me.”
When you write about yourself in a blog post or on your About page, think about the small moments showing who you are. At which moments do you feel most alive? When do you feel happiest? What work excites you?
When you write about what excites you, your readers sense your enthusiasm—it’s contagious.
2. Be honest, but set your own boundaries
Sacks writes with integrity, sharing both successes and failures.
He shares several blunders from his early career in academic research. For instance, he loses all his notes of 9 months of experiments as he fails to fasten his notebook with the elastic bands on his bike rack. His bosses recommend a clinical career:
A meeting was convened: no one denied my talents, but no one could gainsay my defects. In a kindly but firm way, my bosses said to me, “Sacks, you are a menace in the lab. Why don’t you go and see patients—you’ll do less harm.” Such was the ignoble beginning of a clinical career.
Sacks is also honest about his own insecurities:
I was excited—and amazed—to find myself a doctor, to have made it finally (I never thought I would, and sometimes even now, in my dreams, I am still stuck in an eternal studenthood). I was excited, but I was terrified too. I felt sure I would do everything wrong, make a fool of myself, be seen as an incurable, even dangerous bungler.
Sacks is open about many aspects of his life— his shyness, his insecurities, his guilty feelings, but that doesn’t mean he shares everything. He doesn’t, for instance, explain why he remains celibate for 35 years and that’s fine with me—I don’t need to know everything:
After that sweet birthday fling, I was to have no sex for the next 35 years.
A business blog is not a tell-all personal memoir but it’s not a dry textbook either. You can break taboos if you like but you certainly don’t have to. It’s okay to only tiptoe outside your comfort zone.
Set your own boundaries for what you want and don’t want to share. And find your own balance between professional tips and personal anecdotes.
3. Observe your own life
When you write about yourself, you need to step back sometimes: What did you learn from this experience? Why did you behave in a certain way? Which feelings were guiding you?
For instance, Sacks comments on his weight lifting:
I sometimes wonder why I pushed myself so relentlessly in weight lifting. My motive, I think, was not an uncommon one; I was not the ninety-eight-pound weakling of bodybuilding advertisements, but I was timid, diffident, insecure, submissive. I became strong—very strong—with all my weight lifting but found that this did nothing for my character, which remained exactly the same.
And he writes about the challenges of starting a relationship after a lifetime of solitude:
Deep, almost geological changes had to occur; in my case, the habits of a lifetime’s solitude, and a sort of implicit selfishness and self-absorption, had to change. New needs, new fears, enter one’s life—the need for another, the fear of abandonment. There have to be deep, mutual adaptations. For Billy and me, these were made easier by shared interests and activities; we are both writers, and this, indeed, is how we met.
The lessons in our lives are often universal; it’s how we bond with each other as human beings.
The process of writing about yourself
Sacks is open about his struggles to write. For instance, a book about an accident in which he tears a quadriceps tendon and muscle takes 9 years to write and is edited heavily by the publisher, Colin Haycraft:
I struggled with the Leg book for several more years and finally sent the completed manuscript off to Colin in January of 1983, nearly nine years after beginning it. Each section of the book, neatly typed, was on paper of a different color, though the whole manuscript was now over 300,000 words. Colin was infuriated by the sheer size of the manuscript, and its editing took virtually the whole of 1983. The final version was reduced to less than a fifth of the original size, a mere 58,000 words.
While he finds joy in writing, he also admits it’s tough:
I seem to be in one of those dry, dead depressed phases where one can only do nothing or blunder round in circles. The damn thing is that it needs only three days good work to finish the book, but I don’t know whether I am capable of this at the moment.
Everyone’s writing process is different
And you may even find that different pieces of content require different writing strategies.
I write a post with writing advice differently from a more personal post. The majority of my posts are mostly “technical:”
- I have a clear idea what question a post should answer (or what problem it should solve)
- Outlining and structuring the content is relatively easy, so my first draft is decent
- Editing focuses on adding examples (if required) and adjusting my tone so it’s engaging and not just authoritative
- My post idea is usually vague which makes outlining difficult, so I write a “discovery” draft to find out what I really want to say
- I revise to shape the narrative; often I delete the first few paragraphs (which were like a “warming-up”)
- To adjust the tone, I pay attention to engaging readers as well as eliminating any sense of self-pity
- If necessary, I add quotes or comments to add context to my personal experience
Everyone’s writing process is different. Experiment to find out what works for you.
Authenticity is not the same as your personal brand
A personal brand is what makes you recognizable, and it’s based on consistency.
For instance, the quality of my writing tips, my writing voice, my color scheme, and my cartoon character Henrietta—these all help you recognize my content as mine.
A personal brand is a carefully polished image. Authenticity is where the polish wears off to show the real “you” underneath.
This doesn’t undermine your brand, but turns you into a human being. Someone who’s approachable and real. Someone who your favorite kind of clients would love to hire.
Authenticity brings readers closer to you.