side effects of transparency

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When I started blogging, I took great pains to obscure many of the facts about my identity. For some reason many personal finance bloggers seem to prefer anonymity, and I saw no reason to buck the mold. A few choose to disclose a lot. The longer I have written, though, the more it’s become clear to me that there are very few successful anonymous bloggers and writers (although there are some). I’ve discussed this in a previous post.

But one of the side effects of my decreasing state of anonymity has been a chilling effect on my ability to write about my current (or even recent) client workplaces, robbing me of something that had been a rich source of material at times. I don’t think it’s a great loss – in some senses it’s a relief, since some of those articles tended to the negative – but I have struggled a bit to come up with writing.

There are other subjects I won’t go into as I’ve made the blog more personal and less anonymous: politics, family and religion. Politics is a tough area to avoid. I’ve seen other bloggers claim not to be interested or not to care, but if you’re blogging about personal finance, politics is interwoven into every single thing you write. If I’m talking about my desire for a public health care option, I don’t think anyone’s going to be confused about where my politics are on that issue. If I’m talking about my opposition to the stimulus or cash-for-clunkers, though, I muddy the issue. And you know what I take out of that? Better to stick to specifics instead of trumpeting support for Senator Payola or Governor Sexscandal. I have my strong opinions, but I can express them without touting a party line.

Religion, again, goes without saying. I know (and respect) several Christian personal finance bloggers. I would like to say I know several Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim personal finance bloggers, but I haven’t really come across anyone who evangelizes their views of personal finance using religion. I haven’t seen anything like “Non-Church-Going Personal Finance” or “The Atheist (or Agnostic) Dollar.” It might just be that those types of people don’t want to blurt that out, or they don’t associate their religion with their finances. But since I consider myself agnostic, at best, I don’t see much point in potentially alienating some and giving a false sense of kinship to others.

Family is also tricky. I include almost anyone related to me in this category: in-laws, distant aunts and uncles, Bubelah, the kids. I’m not dooce. I never wanted this blog to be “Steve’s family life blog.” You can throw friends in this category, too. I have strong feelings about family, children and friends and how they interact in one’s life. I have religious relatives. I have relatives who have drastically different political views. I have relatives who simply don’t want to be mentioned on a public forum like this blog.

By taking some of the big issues in my life off the table I hit a brick wall for a while. I’m trying to regain my feet, but I think I have a valuable lesson to learn out of all of this, and maybe it helps to share it. I’ll demonstrate via an anecdote from a conversation I’ve had three times recently, twice with coworkers and once with Bubelah. We were discussing children, and how they make life more fun but at the same time start causing tremendous stress in terms of care: the need to feed and clothe and educate and protect little humans. They take away so much free time that it’s easy to start thinking they interfere with your personal development. They don’t. I guarantee that everyone, no matter how busy with kids and work and life, has time to improve themselves. You can drop to the floor and do 5 pushups. You can read a self-help book while you’re in the bathroom. You can eat something healthy for lunch. Kids don’t make you stop doing all of that: you do.

How does that relate to life? It’s easy to write about your own experience. Hell, a lot of writers make that their entire career. It’s easy to look within, especially if you write on an anonymous blog. That’s not to say that anonymous writing is bad or dishonest. But as you identify yourself, you have to reexamine not only what you write about, but how you write. If you become a small business owner, you have to put yourself out there more than you do as employee #4369 at MegaCorp. That’s a kind of transparency. Every time you put YOU out there instead of an surrogate you’re forced to change.

stunning photo by AMagill

9 comments

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  • guinness416

    Not sure at what point one would run out of content but “The Atheist Dollar” actually sounds like a great blog idea ….

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  • I had never really given it much thought before reading this, but this is actually something i have struggled a lot with. esspecially with running a personal finance blog (as in my finances, and how i handle them) i have found it increasingly difficult to remain anonomous, especially since i want to create a sense of familiarity between me and my readers.
    I am still working on drawing a line about what topics i should avoid (religion) and what topics to include (like my hobbies). cause while i do not want to offend any readers i want them to know at least some part of who i am.

  • Steve, if I so desired, I could undoubtedly find out who you were and get fairly detailed information of you, your family, and your finances. The Internet is like that.

    However, I grew up in an era when voyeurism meant a very specific thing, and was both extremely inappropriate and in some ways illegal. And you know, it is much more interesting and satisfying finding out something about someone else if they volunteer it as a part of conversation, rather than by visiting a few websites. There is give and take that lets all parties build a relationship.

    So I applaud your setting limits. You may know that what I do for a living is rather public (just googled my real name and found 100K hits), which is one reason I am anonymous here. A while back that got me into some difficulty with an employer who believed I was also doing work for their competition. There is no good answer here, but we have to strive for is a balance we think we can live with.

  • Steve, if I so desired, I could undoubtedly find out who you were and get fairly detailed information of you, your family, and your finances. The Internet is like that.

    However, I grew up in an era when voyeurism meant a very specific thing, and was both extremely inappropriate and in some ways illegal. And you know, it is much more interesting and satisfying finding out something about someone else if they volunteer it as a part of conversation, rather than by visiting a few websites. There is give and take that lets all parties build a relationship.

    So I applaud your setting limits. You may know that what I do for a living is rather public (just googled my real name and found 100K hits), which is one reason I am anonymous here. A while back that got me into some difficulty with an employer who believed I was also doing work for their competition. There is no good answer here, but we have to strive for is a balance we think we can live with.

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  • I like your take on this tough decision. I battled a bit with this before starting my blog, but realized that the majority of highly successful pf bloggers revealed their identity and shared their story – which you mention in this post. Stories seem to be how people relate to others so without that there isn't as strong of a connection. By simply being yourself it seems you're able to create your own niche. In the end I decided to show my face and will share more of myself in the future.