Find your audience

If you listen to advice for speakers, bloggers and other writers, you’ll often hear this: Pick one or two specific people who represent your target audience, and imagine you’re speaking to them. I’ve found this somewhat useful advice. but still abstract and difficult to keep in mind.

This changed once I had an actual audience of specific people – those I coach on antiprocrastination and focus through a text-based platform. This way of coaching is too cheap to be a major source of income, but I enjoy helping people in this way, and it’s an excellent audience.

Sometimes I’m writing for a specific client, and sometimes I send a message out to all. Either way, I have a strong sense for what they need and how they need to hear things, and so the words flow. It’s an amazing difference, and so this is where I’ve concentrated my writing energy recently.

Obviously your mileage may vary, but this might suggest to writers and speakers struggling to find your voice that you’d benefit from finding actual specific people that you have a commitment to, whose needs or interests you know something about. Then speak to them.

A blogging exercise – creating a writing habit

So much I’m excited about, that I want to write about, and yet I rarely post. I’m changing that now. 

Last year I set up a separate blog for my new life-coaching business, to describe my relatively analytical approach, and to blog on specific topics. I then set up  yet another blog (Procrastination Ambulance) focused on procrastination – which is my main focus in life coaching.

But having multiple blogs to manage became a distraction and a mental barrier, with maintenance on each, and decisions to make (which blog should I post to on topic X?) So I’ve used my own coaching processes on myself and come to four main decisions:

  • I’m running with Chris Waterguy as my business name, for now. People who know me in person remember my name, and know what I do.
  • One blog. I don’t love web admin work, and I don’t need to do it. It may not be perfect to mix posts on environmental and social issues with coaching and self-improvement topics, but I’m aiming for done and fun.
  • I give myself permission to share less-than-perfect blog posts, here on this site. My seminars are also imperfect, but people get value from them. And it’s my way of walking the talk that I talk with my clients. I’m not just telling you to embrace imperfection, I’m doing it.

And now, pardon any typos or other imperfections while I press “publish” – and what a great feeling this is!

Easily set meeting times across time zones

One thing we did not evolve to do was convert time zones. It can be surprisingly easy to get wrong even for people with good arithmetic skills. I’ve gotten times mixed up repeatedly when setting up international online meetings, or else used a lot of mental energy getting it arranged, energy that I’d rather use for the content of the meetings.

So if you set up meetings across time zones, you may like World Time Buddy – my favourite tool for timezone conversions. Clear and simple interface, and really quick and intuitive to use. The select/slide tool makes it easy to adjust times, and easy to know you’ve got the actual correct times.

Once you’ve decided on a time, use a timezone-friendly tool such as Google Calendar to send the invites. Or else arrange the whole thing with a scheduler that syncs with your calendar (e.g. Calendly or SetMore – or Doodle for something super simple that doesn’t sync with your calendar), but start with World Time Buddy to work out the range of suitable times.

I have no connection to World Time Buddy (apart from finding it an awesome headache saver), nor to the schedulers.

Want freedom? Maybe quit fleeing

When we feel pressure, a common instinct is to flee. Sometimes fleeting is wise (e.g. from an abusive relationship) but oftentimes it is not.

There is no universal law here. Facing the pressure and taking it on (yet again taking on more responsibility, and complaining about it) may be terrible advice. On the other hand, you may know yourself as one who has avoided responsibility, who has failed to follow through, who has allowed opportunities to slip away. If so, then consciously and choosing to take responsibility is likely to give you power in your life.

Not taking responsibility randomly, for the first thing that pops into your worried brain, or that someone asks you to do. Not for something that you’ve had guilt feelings about since childhood. Rather, for something that will turn you into a better person, something that might involve uncomfortable changes, that you’ve been avoiding for months or years. No universal law and no simple rule for choosing when to face and went to flee, but these may be signs of a responsibility that will give you freedom.

Freedom is the ability to set your schedule, to decide on the work you do, to make decisions.
…When in doubt, when you’re stuck, when you’re seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility to make something happen may be your wisest option.

– Seth Godin’s blog

Why I don’t watch video link replies

In brief:  Videos are not often a good way to present evidence. If you’re trying to convince me of something, I prefer to see a clear, concise argument in text form. Thanks for understanding.

When I’m in a discussion on the Internet and someone makes an unusual or unlikely-sounding claim, I will keep an open mind and ask for evidence. Sometimes the reply comes in the form of a video. My general rule now is that I do not watch these videos, with a few exceptions*. Here’s why.

  1. Video is an effective tool for conveying emotion; it’s less effective for conveying information. If you have a clear, concise argument, text is generally preferable. Emotions can be fantastic, but they’re not great evidence.
  2. Watching videos is much more time-consuming than reading a concise article. In an article I can skim, pace myself according to how easy or difficult the language and arguments are, and often I can quickly identify whether the writer is making sense or not. In a video, it might be several minutes in before I find out whether the argument is based on carefully weighed scientific research, or on an assertion that space lizards are conspiring with George Soros to give us all vaccines that make us believe in global warming.
  3. Text lends itself better to structure, which aids the presenting and weighing of evidence.
  4. Responding to text is much more straightforward – I can copy and quote as appropriate. It’s easier to get on the same page about what precisely was said, claimed, proven.
  5. Text lends itself much better to providing referencing, and it’s much easier to find the references as they will be linked from the text where a particular claim is made, or found by scrolling down.
  6. My experience with replies in video form has not been positive. Let’s assume that your video reply is different – more rigorous, logical, persuasive and honest. If we don’t know each other yet, I don’t yet have a way to tell you apart from other people on the Internet who sent me links to terrible videos. So start with a clear and concise argument in text form, and we can discuss the video later, perhaps.

*The exceptions:

  • When the video comes later in the conversation, when we have already come to some agreement and can see each other’s perspectives.
  • When the video come from someone I know, with whom I have often had discussions in the past.
  • When we are both members of a community that places a high value on reasoned, civil discussion.

So if you send me a video link and I respond with this post, know that I mean this with respect and good faith, and that it’s part of my attempt to properly understand your argument and weigh the evidence.

When the shepherd loses faith: The Clergy Project

A Christian acquaintance studied ancient languages and New Testament history. With limited options after graduation, he went to work for a mega-church with beliefs and materialistic values in opposition to his own.

His desire to escape was only partly offset by a sense that he was doing some good, bringing some sense to the naivete and madness he saw in the church where he worked. Escape never came, and nearly 20 years later he is still trapped, and his family with him.

My acquaintance’s role is not as a pastor (or minister, or priest), but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of pastors, ministers and priests who lose their faith but continue in their role. I’m familiar with this concept from my years as an evangelical Christian, many years ago the concern is sometimes expressed for the students in theological colleges, Bible colleges and seminaries taught “liberal” ideas, and “falling away from the Lord”. I hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of those individuals, and what a terrible, lonely experience that must be. As Daniel Dennett states:

“They’re like gays in the 50s without gaydar. They don’t dare raise the issue with other clergy they know whom they suspect are just as much non-believers as they are.” Source (6 min video).

It may be that they continue to hold the same values and see good in their work, but they are also likely to feel trapped, with a lack of experience and training that would make it difficult to find other employment, and a necessary secrecy that makes it very difficult to seek support.

In response, The Clergy Project has been established – a confidential online community for current and former religious leaders in vocational ministry who do not hold supernatural beliefs. I wish them well.

If you wish to find out more:

Finall, here is one former pastor describing his own journey:

Energy subsidies – online course

Energy subsidies are a complex and enormously important issue, having a major impact on climate change (and thus on the fate of our world, and how livable it remains), on health (via air pollution, especially in developing world cities), as well as distorting our economies. And the level of public debate around energy subsidies and taxes is very poor, with conflicting claims made by the fossil fuel industry, advocates of renewable energy, and advocates of nuclear.

Energy Subsidy Reform, a free, 2-week, online MOOC style course run by the IMF on edX, sounds like a much-needed corrective.

“Whether you are a civil servant working on economic issues for your country or simply interested in better understanding issues related to energy subsidies, this course will provide hands-on training on the design of successful reforms of energy subsidies.”

How do you decide to trust someone?

How do you know when to trust someone? How do you decide? Here are my thoughts – please comment if you know something I don’t.

(Perhaps I should file this under the bleeding obvious but sometimes the obvious bears repeating. This is also a way of asking for your deeper insights.)

  • Watch how they treat those with less power, e.g. wait staff or shop assistants.
  • Take note if they enjoy putting others down. Not just frustration, not just poor social skills, but actively building themselves up by pulling others down – this could be immaturity or something more dangerous, but it’s not healthy. And if they seem to enjoy being nasty, even in the most witty and charming way, take it as a warning sign. (Actually, especially if they’re witty and charming about it.)
  • You don’t really know someone until you say no to them. (An unsourced bit of wisdom.)
  • Give them time. Toxic personalities can seem wonderful for a while (charm is one characteristic of a psychopath) but they usually wear thin in time. Full-blown narcissists take around 2.5 hours to lose their charm, on average* – others may keep their appeal for longer. If you’re in a close relationship with the person (e.g. romantic or family relationship) it’s hard to be objective, and so you may still fall for the facade, even after you’ve seen the disturbing truth behind it, and even when you’ve been warned.
  • Gut feeling. I wouldn’t rely on this alone and it depends how much opportunity you’ve had to train your unconscious mind through observing and experiencing people being trustworthy and untrustworthy. Personally, my intuition occasionally gives me a warning (and I’ve suffered for ignoring it). I take this as a warning not to put myself in a vulnerable position, rather than as a final judgment.

Final comments:

  • Someone may be honest but not trustworthy – e.g. careless, unreliable or lacking in empathy. They may make a good friend, but know their limits and be willing to say no (nicely but directly).
  • Completely untrustworthy people are rare. While being cautious, give plenty of space to let good people into your life.

*The 2.5 hours comes from an article I remember reading about a psychological study. My imperfect memory + most studies never being replicated => take this with a grain of salt.

An “Awww” moment from Malaysia

“I don’t want the whole world to know.”

Hey, here’s an idea – let’s put it on YouTube!

But seriously, even though it’s Malaysian government feel-good propaganda, glossing over the country’s institutionalized racism, it’s a sweet video.

(It won’t be obvious to some, but he’s ethnic Chinese, and she’s Malay. There’s a lot of historical and ongoing prejudice, but hopefully it’s on the way out.)

The changing meanings of marriage

Traditional marriage is a diverse and wondrous thing – in terms of ceremonies, day-to-day arrangements, how decisions are made, even how many people are in the marriage. The “traditional marriage” as a norm is a relatively recent arrangement, and isn’t a clear norm in religious texts.

The idea that marriages must be registered with a government is also not universal or traditional – common law marriage being the obvious exception. An obvious answer to all the fuss is to say that the government has nothing to do with the word “marriage”. Leave these decisions to civil society. If a religious institution will only marry straight couples, then gay couples can go somewhere more inclusive and be married there. 

As for tradition and history, brutal traditions around the world have been banned, from slavery and genital mutilation to foot-binding. Blatant discrimination is less extreme but no more defensible. However, an open exploration of marriage and its changing meanings is good thinking fodder for current debates. Here’s a good exploration on Australian radio: Marriage, Australian style – Rear Vision – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Audio and transcript available. Program summary:

Debate over same-sex marriage is nothing new. Just who can marry and the circumstances under which they can later divorce has been contested territory for as long as the institution of matrimony has been with us. 

The same

“If people in straight relationships feel that my song mirrors theirs, enough to play it at their wedding, then aren’t our experiences the same? Isn’t my experience of love as good and as valid as theirs? And, if so, then why can’t I get married too?… I’ve had the honour of singing at four of my friends’ weddings. I was flattered to be asked each time and humbled to be part of the celebration. I wrote a song years ago called Now I Love Someone which is a great wedding song. I was touched. I’m not sure if any of them knew I’d written it about a woman.”

So says singer Holly Throsby.

I’m about as conventional as it gets, in my personal orientation – and that is entirely irrelevant to my judgement of people like Holly Throsby. I have no vested interest in who she loves, other than to wish them happiness. Discriminatory laws against loving the “wrong” kind of person are absurd and offensive – and so last century.

Why is this even an issue? What regressive forces maintain fear and discrimination in this day and age? What will take before we no longer need to even say “GLBTI,” and can just say “people”?