When life don’t give you squat, squat gives you life.

Greeting, everyone.  Yes, I know the title of today’s post sounds like a “cringey” catchphrase from a t-shirt (hmm, note to self…) but it came to me a few hours ago when I was training at the brand spanking-new premises of the powerlifting club. I don’t think I’ve made it a secret in my past few posts that I’ve been going through a rough patch lately.  It was only really dawned on me the last few weeks that much of my malaise stems from a full-blown case of professional burn-out.  Like many of my generation, my attitude at work was just to get it done, no excuses and the phrase “I can’t” does not exist.  As manager, of course, I have managed staff through burn- out soI know that acceptable levels are different for everyone and accumulated stress over time is insidious.  However, to echo that old cliché “I just didn’t think it’d happen to me”.

Well, I didn’t think it’d happen to me because pride goeth before a fall.  I thought I was too aware, too smart, too “woke” (very ironic given the context) to suffer a burn-out.  Burn-out was caused, in my case, by accepting to do what evolved into 2 full-times jobs.  It is, of course, impossible for 1 person to perform 2 full times jobs at a high level for the long-term so an eventual crash was inevitable.  While I did escalate the situation repeatedly over the last few years and demanded resources – said resources were always right over the horizon. A number of factors, unrelated to work I was doing, made the work I was doing even harder as I was called in to “fight fires” repeatedly for situations not of my making.  I gradually began to fall behind on my deliverables…and was forced to perform “triage”, prioritizing those which I would deliver on time and those for which I’d “take a hit”.

These missed deadlines and other looming missed deadlines played constantly in loop somewhere in my subconscious.   Slowly, insidiously, it affected my professional confidence and engendered a feeling of anxiety and a barely perceptible sense of impending doom.  I began to have problems sleeping as I’d awake at night and not be able to go back to sleep as my now conscious brain endlessly re-hashed work stress.  My accumulated sleep loss began to visibly affect my ability to concentrate which put my work productivity into a death spiral.  I worked longer and longer hours to complete formerly easy tasks.

At the same time, I became increasingly worried about lack of quality time I was spending with my kids.  Even when I was spending time with them, I was haggard and preoccupied.  My guilt over this wasn’t aiding my mental state.  Finally, my powerlifting training took an obvious dive.  I was still training when I could find time (at this point purely a desperate measure to preserve sanity and physical health) but my heart wasn’t in it.  Then in late May of this year I could barely get out of bed and force myself to go to work.  Had I not had 2 kids in private school who will soon go to university, I think I might have thrown in the towel.  In 35 years of working, I never felt anything like I was feeling.  I read a clinical description of burn-out and realized that exhibited every single symptom in flashing red lights.  I wracked my brain to find a magic silver bullet that would fix everything.

I decided, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that alcohol was the cause of all this mess.  I was certainly drinking more than was healthy, but at the same time at this point of my life I wasn’t a case study in Barfly-esque excess, either.  So I stopped drinking booze altogether save a very occasional glass of wine.  And the situation improved somewhat, but not as dramatically as I’d hoped.  I was able to sleep a little better and therefore improved my concentration briefly.  It allowed me to continue limping along professionally for another few months until, about 2 weeks ago, the dominoes began to fall.

This is a painful situation, for sure, but it is nowhere near as bad as the loss of loved one or something of that nature.  Still, I was surprised the emotional toll it took on me.  The sliver-lining in the experience is that my mental fog receded somewhat so I was able to analyze how, little by little, I put myself in this situation.  Also, it has become clear what I need to do to improve my mental health as well as my professional situation.  Let me be clear, this is an ongoing situation, but I no longer have blinders on.

To whit, I’ve been making a marked effort to live in the moment, spend really quality time with my loved ones and friends.  I have found refuge and a gained little bit more “gout de la vie” in reading and writing – my age-old friends that have helped my out of so many tight corners.  Finally, today I forced myself to go to the powerlifting club to make up for a training I missed yesterday.  I was supposed to work bench-press, overhead press and accessory exercises.  I’m still down and struggling and felt the need for a boost.  I love bench press, love it, and I’m pretty good at it, but it’s not it’s not the King of exercise.  So I did squats, not heavy, mind you, but at about 70 percent for triples.  I concentrated on relearning the technique.  I was all alone, so I began to crank my music on the sound system.  This song came on my play list:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eBfX_a9_o4

For a brief, shining moment, all was right with the world.  I wasn’t moving hero weight but I was squatting and making strides to get back to where I was before.  I will prevail.  I wish I knew why, but only squats can do this.

 

 

Why some blog posts work and others don’t: an analysis

 

As a blogger, have you ever taken to the time to examine your readership statistics to discern what seems to garner the most attention…and what doesn’t?  I’ve been blogging for a year now and have published dozens of posts.  During that time, I’ve had some spectacular failures as well as a few relative successes.  Using the data available I will attempt to identify what worked, what didn’t  and pass an honest judgement as to why.  In the second part of this assessment I’ll identify what, as a reader, draws my interest to a blog post.

First, let’s set the parameters.  I feel that a “view” is the most important data point.  You can “like” a post and even “follow” the blog but only the “view” reliably indicates that you drew the reader’s interest.  “Follow” statistics are somewhat useful, especially if you see a spike after a blog that garnered a decent number of views.  This indicates that some people a) read your post and b) decided to follow your blog as a result.  Of course, you can follow a blog or like a post without reading it and this seems to happen to some extent.  “Likes” are therefore nice to have, but not a reliable indicator as to the “market value” of the post.

A quick analysis of my posts:  As a blogger my stated interests, as laid out in my “about” page are varied but include strength training, literature, travel and sundry other topics.  Below, in descending order, are blog topics that generated the most interest:

  • Writing/blogging  – This had a comfortable, but not overwhelming lead, over other topics.  Not surprising, really, as we’re all blogging because we love to write so it’s a shared interest in the broadest sense.
  • Literature – Books are my lifeline, as they probably are for you so it’s not surprising that in the blogosphere there is a widespread appreciation for reading/literature.
  • Travel/Living in other countries – Well, again, not surprising, it’s part of the title of this blog.  Other cultures, and by extension travelling are also a universal interest.
  • Strength training:  A slight majority of my posts are about strength training, powerlifting or gym going in general.  You’ll notice it’s 4th on the list. Primarily, strength training, and especially powerlifting, is a niche activity.   If you factor in how many readers in the blogosphere would be interested in those activities, it’s probably not surprising those posts are not my most read.  That being said, they are some of the most loyal readers.
  • Cooking/Cuisine/Recipes: I’ve done a just a few of these posts.  They were unique, I feel, and garnered some interest but were no doubt handicapped by poor “marketing’.
  • Life Lessons/Motivation:  Dead last.  A few views but really no interest.  I think there were a number of reasons why this happened (bad titles, dense prose, etc) but basically I wouldn’t read this sort of post from somebody I didn’t know either.  It’s that simple.

pexels-photo-725255.jpeg

What helped success – and what caused failure:

  • Clear, concise titles:  The biggest take-away from this analysis is that cryptic titles for your post just don’t work.  It can be brilliantly written and categorized/tagged correctly, but it’ll never work  you can’t tell in 2 seconds what the post is about.  I wouldn’t read such post, so why I expected my readers to is an embarrassing mystery.
  • Good layout/well written:  How many times have you, against your better judgment, clicked on a poorly titled blog post (hoping against hope that the title was not indicative of the writing quality) and immediately regretted your decision?  Exactly.  You don’t like reading somebody’s BS “This is what I did today, guys!” post so don’t inflict that on your readers.  Stream of consciousness, laundry list types of posts are boring and you’ll lose credibility.
  • Add value:  We all have a unique voice and viewpoint that, if correctly targeted, can generate interest.  The first step is to find your voice and identify the areas where you truly add value.  Blogging is part of this first step for many of us.  The “market” will decide where it thinks you add the most value and, in some cases,  it might not be what you suspect.

What works for me as a reader:  At it’s best, reading blogs exposes me to a myriad different viewpoints.  It’s a direct line to access some quality writing from bloggers around the world.  There is quite a bit of cra*, though.  If you filter out all the commercial blogs, there remains quite a bit a poorly written, poorly conceived dreck. Hey, I’ve written some of those and chances are you might have as well.  The posts that resonate the most with me are those who have clear title, have a strong sense of what it is they want to communicate and are well written.  What this means is different for every writer and subject.  For example, I follow one young writer who writes seemingly stream of consciousness “slice of life” stories that, on the surface, shouldn’t be worth the time.  Still, she has a strong, unique voice and an innate sense for storytelling that make all of her posts quite worth reading.  And, yes, in her own inimitable way, the title of her posts always gives you an indication of what you are in for.

As a blogger, what were your most widely read posts?  Were they the posts you expected or did you have surprises?  Please comment below.

What a year of blogging has taught me.

This post is not about how to blog.  At this point in the game, I don’t think I’m qualified to opine on the art of blogging.  If a blogging “how to” is what interests you, this is the most cogent blog post, from the uber-talented and prolific Cristian Mihai,  I’ve read on the subject thus far:  https://cristianmihai.net/2018/03/18/the-7-golden-rules-of-blogging/

I realized last week that I’ve been blogging for almost a year now so I’ve decided examine what  motivated me when I began, what still motivates me a year later and what I’ve learned from the experience.

What motivated me when I began:  My primary motivation was, I suspect, similar to many other bloggers.  I wanted to get back into the practice of writing and blogging seemed the best way to do it.  Writing is a discipline akin to sports.  It becomes easier with practice and said practice allows you to refine your technique.  After decades in the financial services industry my writing skills had atrophied quite a bit.  I also figured, correctly as it turned out, that publishing my writing to a “public forum” would provide a little extra motivation to refine my writing as well as make it more accessible.  Also, I believed I had a unique point of view (don’t we all) and some of my ideas were worth expressing.

What I’ve learned about blogging:  Most bloggers, myself included, are writing what amounts to published diaries.  We are doing it for ourselves primarily but the possibility of public criticism adds an extra frisson.  Yes, anybody on the internet can read your blog post, but that doesn’t necessarily mean somebody will.  What follows are a few tips and observations I’ve garnered about the wild, wacky world of blogging.

  • Just write it:  You will, rightly so, be hyper critical of your first blog post.  Will it be Pulitzer prize-winning content?  Probably not, but hit the Publish button anyway.  Much like going for that first horrible, painful run after a lay off of 2 years, you need to take those first steps and create some momentum.
  • Think of the reader:  Nobody wants to sit down and read a 20,000 word single-spaced, poorly laid out screed.  A modicum of editing, some decent graphics and a more accessible layout go a long a way.  Unless its absolutely brilliant, I won’t read any blog post over a thousand words.
  • Read other blogs:  We all post blogs because we think we have something to share.  If you’re like me, it might not occur to you at first to read other people’s posts.  Oh, but you should.  For one, it’s fascinating to check out so many unique viewpoints.  You’ll get an idea for what works, and does not work, in a blog post.  It’s also a Karmic thing, if you want to get, you’ve got to give.  If I read post I like, I always leave a like and, if I really like it, I follow the blogger.  Chances are, it might pique that blogger’s interest in your stuff. Finally, the more good bloggers you follow, the better the quality of your feed.
  • Views\likes\follows\comments:  My first observation is that it’s possible to get more likes than views for a post.  It’s also happens that people follow you without having read any of your posts.  Either people are being nice or they are drumming up interest in their own blog.  Personally, I think the proof in the pudding are the views.  Comments are the best as they show that somebody not only read it but took the time to provide some feedback.  Until now, comments on my posts have all been positive but I’d also welcome some constructive criticism.  I try to leave comments on blog posts whenever I think I have something to add.
  • What makes a blog post popular:  Some of my most “heart-felt” posts, those in which I felt I had valuable insights to share,  have been less than successful.  One, hilariously, was an almost total failure. I’ve also had some topical posts that have done much better than I expected.  I think a lot of this has to do with the nature of the content,  of course, but  the fine art of applying the correct categories and tags to your post is a major factor.  I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand it yet, but I need to step up my game.  Another great tip that I don’t do, but I think could actually work very well, is to post links to your blog in your social media.  I’d probably increase readership dramatically, but part of the reason my blog is semi-anonymous is that it allows me a degree of editorial freedom.
  •   It’s very hard to proofread a post in draft format:  I strive mightily to proofread my posts before I publish them but often fail miserably.  The proofread function will correct obvious spelling errors and suggest better word choice but there are some errors it can’t detect.  My mind “fills in the blanks” when reading my drafts and therefore doesn’t see the glaring omission of key words or basic errors in verb tenses.  For some reason these errors become glaringly obvious once I see the post in published format.  Luckily, I can quickly edit the post and hit the update button to correct these faux pas.

What still motivates me to blog:  I can’t say objectively if the quality of my writing has improved, but the act of formulating a post and writing it has become easier.  I find that the more I write, the more ideas occur to me for blog posts.  Sometimes an idea will occur to me during the day, so I’ll make a note on my phone and revisit it when I get home.  The sharper my focus is becoming, the more I am motivated now to increase my audience.  I want to make sure that the type of writing I do is targeted to those readers that may potentially be interested.