Who are you, really?

In designing and writing these products, I had to consider that even though the problems I’m addressing are common – seeking yourself, seeking your opportunity, seeking a bigger mission, and opening oneself up to voluntary action – I’m not just designing a solution just because I went through them. I’m writing it for very specific types of people, some of them not like me, and some at specific change points in their lives. And so I need a customer avatar for these people.

Where do you land here?

I thought about what kind of person needs my perspective, and who instead needs more practical tools. I also thought about who might not be well-served by the literature and support that’s already out there. I also thought about how I wanted people to feel when they read my tools, and (I’m not quite ready to go here yet) how I compare to some of the most dominant self-development players out there.

While some motivational and management leaders make me feel empowered to make bold choices, they also made me feel pressured to “always be A-game! Ask yourself this! Fill this template out (usually every week). Think about the why.”

In real life, sometimes you do things because you want a small-but-special experience just because. Sometimes you need to declare an intermission before you tackle something big. It’s not a power-move to rush from one kind of peak to another. (Good advisors are very clear: it’s patient, deliberate work that eventually wins.)

I have zero interest in badgering readers into a “system.” I make tools that are creatively mine, and have others’ research and data about what works built in; readers really can lead themselves.

As for my readers, I came up with three customer avatars with a few underlying archetypes.

Explorers, creators, rulers, heroes, and outlaws: Men who work as creatives and non-professional technicians, trades, and journeymen, 25–44 (occasionally older), in a career stride, but with creative pastimes and endeavours on the side. They may be facing a challenge their peers or friends can’t relate to or they may simply be private and independent. They’re looking for tools and practical templates to organize their thoughts, figure out what’s important, consider the ramifications of focusing on a vision, and then go get things done — enjoyably. They don’t want wordy coaching but they don’t think “self-help” a ridiculous proposition. 

Let’s call this guy Steve. (The same name as my 8 pond goldfish and a guy I met at Burning Man, but whatever.)

Ditto, and Sage: Skeptical-spiritual women who are nonplussed with all the stuff that’s out there to supposedly orient them to living a multi-faceted life. Sure, they like yoga and might like reading their horoscope and such, but there’s something about following New Age practices that strikes them as unhelpful. They value reflection to make sound decisions, trust their gut, and have an appreciation for serendipity. They’re independent contractors or entrepreneurs and creatives who need bite-sized organizational goods that are useful, feel good to use, and do not proliferate all over the damn place.

Let’s call this woman Cassandra. Because sometimes I’ve been a Cassandra, and so has she.

These above types at any age (23, 31, 43, 51, 64, whenever) who are confronted with a significant life change, or who have discovered a hunger, ambition, or new aspirations that may affect their whole lifestyle. Caregiver archetypes also fall here when caregiving is less needed and they have a need to explore. They seek greater meaning and sense-making in their lives, and want to create a motivating and pragmatic vision to realign their vocational path, their personal adventure path, and their relationships. They’re not sure what they want yet, but they have a feeling of optimism coupled with dread. They need a guide to point them in the direction they want to go.

This person is anyone and everyone. Bob, Sue, Mo, Jim, Kim.*

* We all get to make big life choices at any time, whether we want to or not. The thing these people have in common is that they’re diligent enough to want, need, or choose a workbook or a course to confidently sort things through.

An empathy-building exercise

The kinds of thoughts and questions I imagined my readers would have are deeply, sometimes painfully, personal. I’ve had these thoughts myself. They have these kinds of fears:

  • I’m wasting my time
  • I’m not meeting my potential
  • I’m not getting as far as I want
  • I’m already limiting my scope or lowering my ambitions
  • I have a good ideas of what I want to do, but no clear way how to do it
  • Am I currently in a dead-end job or relationship?
  • Do people see me as ineffective, a non-starter?
  • Could that person-who-said-something-critical be right?
  • Why do I feel like everything is up to me all the time?
  • How can I get this done in time? Out of nothing? Without notice?
  • Am I respected?
  • I am so afraid that I won’t get the job or promotion I want, I don’t even want to go there. If it’s not my performance, it’s what someone else thinks.
  • I don’t want any “failure” to be publicly acknowledged and confirmed.
  • I’m not satisfied, and I’m worried I’m unable to attract, win, and keep the man/woman/position of my dreams. Every time I get close… sike!
  • I fear if I make any bold moves to change what I do for a living, or take on another transformation in my life, I’ll encounter too much resistance
  • I fear being shunted aside by other people, or worse, the people close to me, if I get more selfish, ambitious, or busy.
  • I fear not appreciating all the good things in my life.

My readers are both relationship-conscious and conscientious (they may be stronger in one than the other, but oftentimes, people are one or the other, not both).

What stresses them out is other people being, well, frankly, dipshits: Unaware of how their socialization and choices negatively impact the load others have to bear. They put effort into almost everything they do, although sometimes they struggle with distraction. While they know when they’re on their A-game, they feel lucky if it happens on a regular basis. Usually, they’re playing a B-game (show up, do the work, go home) or even pulling a C (show up and goof off). They don’t beat themselves up for the occasional C, but they know if life becomes a stream of steady mediocrity, they’re at risk of doing something unpredictably stupid. And too long a string of B’s makes them anxious it’s a C in disguise.

That’s why they procrastinate on a couple of old issues that they’ve been avoiding since forever/whenever. They know they’re the dipshit in that situation, and one day it’s going to blow up at them if they don’t tackle it, or they hope maybe it won’t. But they have regrets, even if they don’t admit them. They’re kinda glad they do: it shows they’re human, and maybe they’ve grown since then.

Does this person sound in any way like you?

Or does this person, laughably imperfect human avatar that he or she is, contrast with you, even though you’re here for more or less the same reasons?

The question isn’t rhetorical. I want to know if you’re real, and if I’m doing right by you.

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