You Aren’t Qualified

You'd think it was common sense, but there is a sign there. Clearly, there was an issue. Enough so that they went through the trouble of making the damn sign.

So stop writing like you are.

We’ve all seen the posts. A list for this, a top-ten for that, a how-to about everything and anything. You’ll usually get some comments saying how great the advice is, or how it’s timely to that person’s situation at that given moment, or maybe it reminds them of something that happened in their life a while back.

And it’s all bullshit. So stop it.

With what I've saved on furniture and office rent, I can pass the savings on to you! Have a seat, I'm completely qualified to tell you something you already know the answer to. I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t write about personal experience. Most bloggers do. Hell, it’s the most honest thing you can write about (assuming you’re telling the truth, but that’s another post for another day). But please, after you have shared, stop typing and hit publish. Leave out that last paragraph where you’re telling me how that translates into something I am supposed to do with my life. Because you know what? It doesn’t.

Here’s the thing: my life is not your life. There’s a distinct possibility that, while there may be similarities, we have way more differences about us. And that is a GOOD thing. It’s what makes the world worth living. After all, if we were all alike, we’d probably have killed off the human race out of sheer boredom.

But here is where it gets interesting. There are now bloggers out there making a name for themselves handing out advice that they have no fucking business giving. At all. Been freelancing for a month? Don’t tell me how to run a successful business. Been married for a year? The advice better stop at 365 days worth of experience. Think having a dog gives you the wisdom to tell me about my son? Go die in a fire instead.

People have the need to feel important. I get that. But stick to what you know. There’s a reason I don’t answer questions about things I don’t know. I know a little about a lot, a lot about a few things, and everything about nothing whatsoever. And that doesn’t make me less of a person. It makes me a bit more normal.

{ 34 comments }

Jenn February 23, 2010 at 1:30 am

Words cannot express how much I love you for writing this. I had essentially the same conversation twice this weekend, and I couldn’t agree more. A platform for your voice doesn’t equal legitimacy and followers and cmments don’t equal respect. The end.

Norcross February 23, 2010 at 1:36 am

Exactly. And that’s the biggest thing I see happening. The fact that I may have something to say doesn’t mean you actually SHOULD say something.

Vixations February 23, 2010 at 1:41 am

Thank you. THANK YOU. This is absolutely true. And I cannot stand all the pretentious bullshit out there. Hope someone listens. I’m definitely listening.

Ryan February 23, 2010 at 1:43 am

Reason #1 why my own site just turns into some stories about my life, because I’m not a fucking prodigy who everyone should listen to.

When I’m 20years in the biz and can talk shit, then I’ll write about it. But now, its more fun to talk about learning and the ride then trying to say ‘blog on a schedule’ when I can’t even do it myself.

I had to say fuck on here, it just felt like it was necessary.

Norcross February 23, 2010 at 1:46 am

I encourage swearing. And while some of my personal stories still have a statute of limitations issue around them, I try to do the same thing. Or, in this case, call out those who don’t.

cameron plommer February 23, 2010 at 1:44 am

I love your style man. To the point and keeping it real. I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time: the real benefit of personal advice from blogs. And is the basis for a post of my own on being a consumption whore and one I wrote a while ago about “how to” think for yourself.

Your message is important. More bloggers should read your stuff and take notice.

Norcross February 23, 2010 at 1:47 am

Funny enough, I’ve been avoiding writing like this for a long time. No idea why. But I think I’ll run with it.

Elisa February 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

The unfortunate thing is that some people recognize that we aren’t qualified to talk about something, yet others drink the Kool-Aid and flock like drones to the “brilliance.”

What’s funny is that people feel like they HAVE to speak like authorities on a subject for people to want to hear them. But you know what? I want to hear what you are experiencing RIGHT NOW in whatever journey or niche you are writing about. If you are starting a business don’t tell me how to start my business…tell me how you started yours. And don’t paint it like one day you woke up and farted unicorns and gumdrops and are now a multi-millionaire who can’t pay their bills.

Don’t give me advice on how to live my fucking* life and I won’t give advice on how to live yours. Deal?

Talk about realities, talk about the truth. Talk about things you know and understand because guess what…people will appreciate it, they will understand (heck, even commisserate) with it and finally they will feel like you are genuine human being rather than some pompous windbag who thinks they are better than everyone else but has no substance to back it up.

*Do you like how I said “fuck” in here…now I’ve said it twice…you bring out the best in me Norcross. :)

David February 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thank you for saying this! I feel like I’m the only one preaching hatred for this type of behavior. I could go on and on and rant on this very topic for days, but I won’t since this is your blog. I’ll do it on my own instead. ;)

Seriously, you took the words right out of my mouth. And the only thing worse than the “advice” being dispensed by these unqualified fools, is the droves of mindless idiots that follow their every word and move like they are the second coming of Christ.

Tyler Hurst February 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I’m not sure that I’m qualified to leave this comment.

Norcross February 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Well, I’d say you are. Clearly you were able to fill out the comment form properly, so you have actual *experience* doing it.

Tyler Hurst March 4, 2010 at 10:46 pm

I hope this second comment doesn’t fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump.

Grace Boyle February 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Love it. I love how you’re direct. “Top Ten” lists (or those similar in scope) are easy to write, but easier, often means less of an impact. And literally, it’s actually easy for me to read and concise.

With that being said, the only post I’ve written that was a “Top” list was about what I HAVE LEARNED (notice, me, not what you should be doing) by working at a startup.

Anyway, kudos. You’re smart and I like it.

Nic Lake February 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I think I’ve been at fault of exactly this a time or two before… but I agree. Thank you for this.

Susan February 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I received an email yesterday from someone who reads my blog saying how inspired she was by my posts. I say this because it floored me: I’m not an expert; I have absolutely nothing figured out. And I don’t tell people what to do because usually, I don’t even know myself. My blog is the place where I share a part of myself, where I try to figure it out for myself, and if I can help people out along the way, then I am so grateful for that.

I’ve stopped reading those how-to blogs, those here’s-what-I-did and here’s-what-you should-do, too. I’ve stopped reading those blogs those who claim they’re experts though they’re years younger than me because, guaranteed, they’re not experts — they just have opinions and a way with words. I want to read about people’s lives, stories, and experiences because that’s what I want to know — how are you coping with a chronic illness, how have you dealt with heartache? How can I relate to you on a more intimate level, as a human being?

“My life is not your life.”

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I want to know about your life, I want to read your stories and connect on that level, but don’t presume to give me advice when you don’t know anything about mine.

I understand that we’re all learning, and blogging provides us a platform to share our experiences and opinions. And I understand, too, that everyone wants to make a name for themselves.

But right now, for some, it seems like it’s just one great big game of pretend.

Jamie February 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I don’t have anything to add, because I certainly agree with you 100% on this.

I’ve been guilty of shelling out advice in the past without having anything to back it up, but have since stopped doing that because I realized I sounded like a jackass.

I may still sound like a jackass, but at least I’m not telling other people how to live their life.

Norcross February 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I think we’ve all been guilty of that from time to time, especially early on. In my experience, when you’ve got a little wisdom under your belt, you automatically assume that it translates out farther that it actually does. But once my life experience grew, I realized how little I actually knew.

Sara Davidson February 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Thanks so much for this post, Andrew. As a new blogger, it’s great to hear this feedback and I really appreciate your brutal honesty on the subject.

I might be wrong, but I think part of the problem is that with all the buzz going on about “personal branding” and the encouragement for every single person on earth to start a blog, people feel the need to write about topics (they don’t know anything about) that might help position themselves as thought leaders in a particular industry – especially those right out of college who are looking for a job. Maybe there needs to be more education (like this post) about the importance of sharing your experiences and being transparent about what you actually know. Of course there are assholes out there that knowingly give advice they’re not qualified to provide, but I think there are some who legitimately might not know any better and aren’t aware of the repercussions. What do you think?

Norcross February 24, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I agree that there is a big push for people to blog. Not counting the LiveJournals and whatnot, I’ve been blogging since the mid 90′s, and I know I’ve gone and done the same at some point. But with the emphasis on ‘personal branding’ (which is a term I completely loathe), some folks now feel the need to take it a step further, to ‘legitimize’ their blog by writing beyond their scope of experience. It’s a big echo chamber, though, because most folks outside the ‘sphere’ won’t look to a 25 year old as a though leader REGARDLESS of what they write.

Passionista February 24, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Maybe I’m guilty of this and maybe I’m not. I write about my life and sometimes I even throw in a thing or two that I’ve learned from an experience. I don’t think that’s wrong, but hey that’s why everyone has a choice on what they read and what they write.

Norcross February 24, 2010 at 6:56 pm

There’s a big difference between writing about personal experience (which I think is a good thing) and attempting to translate that into a call to action or something in that vein. Laying out what you’ve gone through and what you’ve taken away from it is a completely honest form of writing.

Contradict Much? February 24, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I hope this is tongue-in-cheek.

Your post is TELLING people that they shouldn’t TELL people what to do.

It is written from a standpoint of how to be a better blogger, yet you aren’t a successful blogger (unless you consider <200 uniques/month successful). You are clearly contradicting your own advice.

Most importantly, I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of, your most successful posts. That means the advice you give (which you don't follow) isn't even GOOD advice!

People clearly enjoy being told what to do.

Norcross February 24, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Nope, this isn’t tongue-in-cheek at all. Nor is it contradictory. What you’ve managed to do is infer something from what I wrote, rather than read the exact words that I used. Nowhere did I say this was to make anyone a better blogger. Nor did I say anywhere on something TO do, rather, something NOT to do. Subtle difference, I understand.

Now to your point about me being a ‘successful blogger’, I’m not sure what you mean. I’m not looking for success, community building, or any of that other shit when blogging. I’ve been blogging for about 10 years now, and it’s always been about 1 thing: my opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.

Contradict Much? February 24, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Fair enough. You say nothing about trying to be a better blogger.

I landed on this page because somebody told me I need to read this blog post to be a better, more successful blogger. This framed the entire article incorrectly for me, and thus I didn’t read it objectively.

Sorry for putting words in your mouth.

However, I still feel the advice you give in this post is in the same vein as a entrepreneur giving advice on running a business, or a newlywed giving advice on marriage.

You can’t know the reasons your visitors blog, or how taking this advice will affect them reaching their goals. Therefore, in my mind, you are advising people in an area you aren’t qualified to.

I see nothing wrong with this personally, but still feel you contradict yourself, and the article is a bit recursive.

Norcross February 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm

No offense taken whatsoever. And I enjoy a good debate.

I agree that it’s a gray area when it comes to relating experience / opinion and giving advice. I can assure you that my intent was not to give advice, at least not in that fashion. The motivation behind this post was what I’ve seen recently (and what Sara eluded to): people trying to assert themselves as experts or ‘thought leaders’ in a particular subject, and my opinion (and distaste) for the practice.

It’s impossible for me to know how a visitor might view anything I write, even if I spell it out with a million disclaimers, etc. But in no way do I attempt to frame my rants and opinions in such a way that gives it (or me) the illusion of anything but that. Others may see it as being worthy of ‘advice’ and share it accordingly. Which is fine, because they made that decision on their own. I didn’t tell them.

Diane Prince Johnston February 24, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Hey, wait a minute…thanks for the advice??? and another thing, must one tell the truth in a blog?

Norcross February 25, 2010 at 12:09 am

Funny how that happens, isn’t it :) As for telling the truth? I don’t care as long as you’re not selling lies as truth.

Ellen February 25, 2010 at 1:51 am

Thank you.

Any Tom, Dick or Harry can go on Mashable and put together some half thought-out list of “invaluable advice” on “leveraging social media” to “elevate your personal brand.” It’s like some buzz-word generator vomited all over their blog.

I’m learning. If I happen to stumble across something that I think is interesting along the way, I share it. I don’t claim to have to shortcut to self-actualization that will increase your freelancing revenue by 200% in 30 days.

I think too many beginning bloggers fall into the trap of lists because, like Grace pointed out, they’re easy to create and sites like copyblogger often promote them as an easy-to-read post format.

JR Moreau February 27, 2010 at 11:52 am

This is one of the more epic bitch slaps I’ve read all week. Kudos to you. I advise you you write like this more often. :-D

Tim March 1, 2010 at 1:30 am

best. post. ever

Walter March 4, 2010 at 8:04 am

When I started my blog about eight months ago, I have the feeling that I’m not qualified. Your words stab my heart in a positive way. But you know what they say, you’ll never know unless you’ve tried. :-)

Ruth March 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Fuck yes.

I’m moving out of one blogosphere and into writing my own blog about whatever actually interests me. Sure, you can be a “successful” and even a helpful blogger writing advice, but I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t be personal anymore. It was time to get the hell out. My husband says he can always tell when I’m writing for the new blog vs. the old one because I’m smiling. :)

Norcross March 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Absolutely. That’s the whole point. At SXSW, one of the things I heard most often from people (other than comments about my tattoos) is that ‘wow, you’re the same person in real life as you are on-line’.

Isn’t that the whole point? This blog is just an extension of whatever I feel like writing about. Surly? Sure. Crass? At times. For the audience? Fuck’em. If they enjoy it, all the better.

Ruth March 22, 2010 at 10:02 pm

If they (we) like enough to read, then they’re probably not going to be offended if you keep being you.