Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How Being Mistaken for a Girl Made Me a Better Blogger

Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.
–Thomas Merton

The first job I ever had was as newspaper delivery boy. I was twelve years old and really into the grunge scene, which meant I spent most of my time sitting around the house listening to music. So my parents thought a job would do me some good.

The Ridiculous Case of Being Mistaken for a Girl and How That Made Me a Better Blogger

Photo Credit: nep via Compfight cc

Every day, a truck from the Beacon News would drop off a large stack of newspapers at my front door. After school, I would spend about thirty minutes rolling the papers and wrapping them with rubber bands in preparation for my route.

Then I would spend the next hour, walking around town, delivering papers to people’s doorsteps.

When I first started this job, I envisioned myself riding a bike with a bag over my shoulder, tossing the newspapers at people’s doors. But when I tried this, they always ended up in the bushes or I almost crashed my bike. So I stuck with walking.

After the first month of doing this, I had to go around town, collecting dues. This was when customers were supposed to pay for their subscription, but it was also an opportunity for them to tip me.

So I put on my best concert T-shirt and flannel and set out to make some money.

The biggest embarrassment of my pre-adolescence

One of the last houses I came to was the house of an older gentleman whom I had never met before. I knocked on the door and had to wait a minute before he answered. We talked for a few minutes and after paying me, he said something that I’m sure he thought was a compliment but was anything but.

Well, aren’t you an enterprising young little lady! I’ll bet you’re going to be an entrepreneur some day.

Well, he was right about one thing.

In case you were unaware, I am in fact male, not female. Yes, I know that in my bio pic I look no older than thirteen years old, but I assure you: In spite of my inability to grow a mustache, I am a man!

Sadly, the preteen me didn’t just look young. He had long hair, was chubby without much body definition, and worn baggy T-shirts and lots of flannel (it was the 90s, everybody did it). And this wasn’t the first time I was mistaken for being a girl.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

I’m not sure if it was because I was embarrassed or shy or just because the man had given me money, but for some reason I didn’t feel the need to correct him. And for the rest of the time I delivered papers to his house, he mistook my for being a girl. I never corrected him.

Has this ever happened to you? Someone mistakes your name or something at a party, calling you John instead of Josh, or Katherine instead of Kathleen, and because you didn’t catch it the first time, you just kind of go with it?

Well, that’s what I did.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to live with this false identity as a little girl for long, because I quit the paper route after a few months. It only took a little rain and snow for me to realize there had to be easier ways to make a buck.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing kept happening to me for the next ten years. Not being mistaken for a girl — okay, that probably happened a few more times, too — but assuming an identity someone else gave me instead of my true self. And it didn’t end until I made an important choice.

An ongoing case of mistaken identity

According to Trappist monk Thomas Merton, we each have two selves: the true self and the false self.

The true self is who you really are; the false self is the part you most often show people. It’s the safe self, the person you know others will approve of. The problem, though, is that if you live as your false self long enough, you start thinking it’s the real thing.

This was what I did for years as a writer. I tried copying what my idols did and what seemed to work for them. I tried to find an unexploited niche and only grew frustrated when every market I found was overcrowded.

I chased trends, followed formulas. None of it worked. Looking around at the bloggers I was trying to imitate, I wondered: what were they doing that I wasn’t?

Finally, it dawned on me. These people weren’t, in spite of what they sometimes claimed, only writing about one thing.

This is an important principle not just of writing, but of any kind of communication.

The world’s most powerful speakers, presenters, and artists aren’t stuck in a single genre or topic. They’re creating content based on a worldview.

What you say is only part of the equation. The other part is how you say it. It’s not enough to have a powerful message. You have to have a powerful way of communicating it. And how do you do that? With a worldview that resonates.

How this applies to your message

Take my friend Pat Flynn, for instance. What do you think of when you hear his name? If you’re familiar with his work, you might think of passive income, and you would be right. But only half right.

Pat is not the only guy who talks about passive income — far from it. And he wasn’t the first person to make a claim on that niche. So how did he become such a popular voice in the subject? How did he become an expert? He shared his worldview.

Pat believes if you have a platform, it’s your responsibility to help as many people as possible, regardless of if they return the favor. And if you know him at all, you know that he practices what he preaches. He just might be the nicest guy on the Internet.

That’s why you’ll catch him not just talking about business, but his family and life and all the things that matter to him. And his tribe loves him for it. That’s the power of a worldview: it’s attractive.

A good communicator knows that what attracts people is not just niching down but targeting a specific worldview and making meaningful connections with what people believe.

So what do you write about?

Is it business? Or are you, in fact, helping people live freer lives? What do you really believe, and how can that permeate every word you share with your audience? Remember that what you say is only part of it. The other part is how.

Putting it all together

If this resonates, here’s what you need to do next to create powerful communication that changes the world:

  1. Identify your worldview and pick a fight. Think in terms of what bugs you, of what you just can’t stand. Then take a stand.
  2. Share your message with the world. I like the format of a manifesto, a short shareable document that moves people to action.
  3. See what resonates. When you put your words out there, do people respond? If they do, you’ve got something special, a tribe that you can grow and lead. If not, you need to try all over again.

You know, it wasn’t that old man’s fault for calling me a girl. He made a mistake, sure. But after that first time, whose responsibility was it to correct the mistake? Mine. And if people are misunderstanding your message or just not listening, that’s your fault.

So one last time I want to ask you: What is it that you write about? What is your blog about? Is it what you’ve been saying? Or have you been trying to play somebody else’s game instead of the one you were born to play?

Remember: what you say is just as important as how you say it.

In spite of what your mom told you, you’re not that special. There are seven billion people in this world. So if you are one in a million, that means there are seven thousand people out there just like you. How will you lead them?

I recommend starting with a worldview. Everyone has one. And it’s time to share yours.

Note: Recently, I delivered this as a talk at the World Domination Summit. To download the PDF notes from this talk, click this link. If that doesn’t work, right-click (control-click on a Mac) and select “save as.”

What is an example when what you said wasn’t as important as how you said it? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Awesome stuff, Jeff. Not the whole not being mistaken for a girl thing… I’ve been there before, too! But how important it is to share more about “you,” your views, fears, beliefs, failures, etc. to become a more effective writer, speaker, and leader.

    Thousands of people share marriage advice. But there’s only one guy who talks about it like I do. And my most popular writing has been when I tear back the shades and lead from an example of failure, exploring my beliefs about the world around me though my examples of weakness and vulnerability.

    In my profession (law) it’s tough to admit a weakness. But I’ve accomplished the most growth for myself, my family, and to lead others when I have. Great stuff Jeff!

    • I’m learning that weaknesses can actually be advantages in disguise. If you haven’t read it yet, check out David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

      • I haven’t, but it’s been on my Kindle queue for two months! Maybe it’s time to move it to next on the list…

  • Yikes. Ouchy. But good lesson, Sir. Thank you very much for being real. For being candid. For being honest. I appreciate how and what you write.

  • Great way to blend a story into a powerful point.

    • Thanks, Daniel. Gotta redeem my childhood drama somehow, right? 😉

  • Great post Jeff. I have excepted the false-self as well mistaking that for humility. Keep shining a light Jeff!

  • Hi Jeff,

    It was great meeting you at WDS2014. To jog your memory, I’m a girl and your word was “team.”

    This was a great post on a lot of levels. I have always been called by the wrong name and I often think someone is calling me when they say “Tree,” “Free,” “Three,” “Marie,”…the list goes on. People who can’t see me often think I’m male because my name isn’t a ringer for determining gender. I never correct them. If I did, I’d be spending all day writing letters or explaining! But it’s a name I’ve grown to love because it causes conversation.

    The line in your post that struck me hard was this: “There are seven billion people in this world. So if you are one in a million, that means there are seven thousand people out there just like you. How will you lead them?”

    Wow…that distills it down to reality. Lead or be led…I guess the truth is that we are all being led on some level but what are we doing to lead? It’s a call to rise to the top and be among the leaders. I love it!

    Thanks for always inspiring and sharing amazing content!

    • Memory jogged. Great to reconnect here, Ree! And thanks for the encouragement. May you rise to the top, where you belong.

  • Great points, Jeff. Brought back several memories of growing up and being mistaken as boy. That’s what happens when your mom puts you in your older brothers hand me down t-shirts and decides to give you a pixie haircut. Scarred for life…at least I lived to write about it! 😉

    • Oh, the horror. That’s what I’m trying to do here: redeem my childhood trauma. It’s working okay. 🙂

  • Tara Kimes

    Hilarious story…loved it. But I am having trouble with the idea of ‘worldview.’ It just seems so vague. I guess I don’t really understand. If anyone could clarify, I’d appreciate it.

    • Hi Tara. Sorry about the confusion. Here’s the formula for figuring out your worldview.

      Fill in the blank for this statement:

      “Every [BLANK] should [BLANK.”

      For example: “Everyone should recycle.”

      Or: “Every mother should homeschool their kids for a year.”

      A worldview is a specific statement about the unique way you view the world that invites other people to agree or disagree with you.

  • James Delles

    My parents called me Jamie as a young kid, so I got a ton of crazy stuff in the mail. Beauty pagents, magazine solicitations, etc. So, I can definitely relate! Letting our mask down in public can be a challenge, especially for those of us on the introverted end of the spectrum. But – you’re right about the rewards for living a more open and honest life. Good read!

  • bradblackman

    Good stuff! Great slides. Totally agree with you on worldview being the most important part of your voice. Picasso didn’t paint just one thing. He painted lots of things. People, birds, flowers, guitars, bulls. But it was all unmistakably Picasso. Even when he experimented with his style, it was always his voice, his worldview.

    • Interesting about Picasso: he started out a realist. We don’t fully understand the artist until we see the whole body of work they created. That’s hard to do without some kind of underlying worldview or theme guiding it all.

      • bradblackman

        When Picasso was like 7 he could paint like a mature Rembrandt. He spent the rest of his life trying to paint like a child since he never did. He basically painted backwards. “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

  • You’ve done it again, Jeff. Hit me right between the eyes when I needed it most. There’s something to this true self. My false self has reached its shelf life. It’s time for him to retire. No party, no gold watch, no riding off into the sunset. Goodbye and good riddance.

  • seth_barnes

    Good stuff, Jeff! The other thing is to do the deep identity work that allows us to live out of authenticity instead of having to hide behind the false self.

    • Amen, Seth. I first learned about the false self from you. Thanks for encouraging me to do the brave work of becoming me.

  • Absolutely brilliant post Jeff. Thank you so much for this reminder. It’s so easy to allow the extrinsic surface level stuff that we see others doing (how we interpret the actions of others) and to just try emulating it. But until you identify WHY your message is actually important to you then at least half of you is missing. I’m not sure if that makes any sense. But basically what I’m saying is…yes! I completely and wholeheartedly agree! 🙂

  • Carolynne Melnyk

    Hi Jeff, I really enjoyed this post. There are so many points I liked. I like the idea of a world view. Yes, we are multifaceted individuals and our writing should reflect this. The other was the idea of pick a fight and then make a stand…this was meant for me today, thanks. The last was, if your readership is not engaging it is up to you to change things. Wow!

  • Loved the funny story and how you tied it into your message. I’m a “humor writer” and that can be a little tricky. You’ve given me some things to think about. Would be nice to have a “focus”.

  • Ken Trupke

    Nice post, Jeff! Great insight that the best bloggers are sharing a worldview beyond their niche.

    P.S. On your first slide I was surprised to see “a silly talk”. Maybe you’re just going for self-effacing, but it’s still negative self-talk. Man, you bring a TON of value to your tribe, and I don’t want anyone – even you! – to minimize your impact. 🙂 Coincidentally, Derek Halpern recently talked about this: https://socialtriggers.com/never-say-this-again/

  • I have never thought about my sweet spot in terms of what bugs me. My, my, that’s quite powerful. 🙂 In response to your question, I really dislike when people are miserably unhappy and make sure they do everything they can to “spread the wealth” to others. 🙁

    There is so much joy to be discovered if folks know how or where to look. So, rather than just being annoyed, I do my best to put myself in their shoes and share insights for how they can find uncommon joy in the everyday.

  • Build Your Own Blog

    Hi Jeff,

    Your story pulled me in. How awkward that must have been for you at age 12. Maybe in this particular case you didn’t need to correct the old man. I do subscribe to authenticity, yet I kinda like how you just kept serving the guy despite his worldview. If you had corrected him, who knows, he might have felt so embarrassed about his mistake that he might have cancelled his subscription.

    In this particular context, not sure his worldview was a factor.

    Bloggers definitely need to be real despite the fact some people are going to get turned off. That’s okay.

    Yet, some products or services can be sold to a wide variety of world views.

    One last side note: I think the fact that there are 7 billion people yet each of us is unique makes us all pretty special.

    • You’re right. We are both unique and connected to each with our humanity. When I say “you’re not that special,” I don’t want to undermine the specialness each person has in that their personality and DNA is unique. That’s true. But I also think there is power in realizing that we are not alone in what we believe and think. There are others out there who are waiting to hear what we have to say.

  • I was at the academy and thought your talk was very challenging. You did a great job taking us on a story and using humor to make your point memorable. I got my worldview, now I’m off to pick a fight!

    • Paul, how is it that we did not hang out at WDS? I was looking forward to that! So sorry, and I hope we run into each other soon. 🙂

      • I know Jeff! I am sure we will cross paths soon. If you are ever in the Northwest let me know and If I’m near TN I’ll let you know.

  • Marcy Mason McKay

    You recently mentioned “world view” in one of your podcast and it’s been on my mind ever since. Thanks for breaking this day more. My wheels are definitely turning…

    • It’s something that I really believe in. Thanks, Marcy.

  • I think my sarcasm output is dysfunctional, because normally a post like this would be a perfect setup Jeff.

    It’s good to see that, over time, you shed the unimportant part (the wrong gender) and grabbed the important part by the throat. You own the entrepreneur part. That’s what was important.

  • Erica

    Great post! I had the opposite problem…when I was in first grade I had short hair, and everyone mistook me for a boy – even though i was wearing girls clothes and colors. I ended up begging my mother to let me grow my hair long so people wouldn’t mistake me for a boy anymore. LOL.

    • Heh. From the sound of it, we weren’t the only ones.

  • Jeff, are you in my brain? I can’t help but be reminded of Ecclesiastes (“this, too is meaningless.”) when I read this one:

    “In spite of what your mom told you, you’re not that special.”

    If we can take that sort of sentence the right direction, it’s not discouraging. In fact, it’s terribly freeing. The pressure of being “one of a kind” is off.

    It’s more about doing the best we can with what we have.

    Thanks for the razor-sharp insight… again 🙂

    • Thank you, Todd, for letting me hang out in your brain. It’s cozy here. 🙂

  • Katharine

    I have found it to be universally and constantly true that no matter what I say, people go on what they wish I’d said. I’ve explained and explained how I could not possibly have said what someone thought I said, and it was in print! I’ve corrected until I’m tired of it. In fact, my twitter handle is KathaTrau, just so no one has an excuse to misspell my name, although I correct and correct, until I just go on signing it the way it is supposed to be, in spite.
    I’ve also found that if someone wants to be adamant when he is wrong, there is nothing on earth that will help.
    However, those who already knowI am right and like what I say, are not the ones who need what I can share. They already are finding relief and peace, etc., but those who need it cannot hear the truth.

  • Sounds like you rocked it Jeff. Did you enjoy the conference?

    • Loved it, Kimanzi! Hope you can make it next time.

  • Great story with an awesome lesson. I always find myself confused between by true self and false self. To be honest, I’m a little scared to show my true self. But I do know that my favorite writers/bloggers are the ones who share themselves – their true selves.

  • Thanks for this reminder Jeff. I do my best writing from my heart and trying to engage with my readers. I am still in the process of developing my voice but I have made improvement.

  • Tom Bentley

    Well, Jeff, at least when you grew your hair long, your dad probably didn’t hang a dress in your closet, buy you some hair spray (the huge can of Aqua-Net—those were the days!), and call you Gladys like mine did. But he was actually funnier about it than it sounds.

    Great stuff on the worldview. If you’ve got one, put it out there, with pepper!

  • Great post, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your art.

  • Hi Jeff-
    I started out trying to emulate other bloggers but soon realized how unauthentic I was. So I decided to write and share content that I would want to read. No stunning media sensation, but it is growing. I am convinced the key is to share content that has meaning and value for others. Some of my messages and themes are not always deep but they are couched in an artistic or interesting way, and readers appreciate that. We have to be true to ourselves. People want authenticity and compelling writing, not empty email marketing and cheap imitations of others. Thanks for a great post.

    • Indeed, John. I did the same. Thanks for your thoughts — and for being yourself. 🙂

  • I have definitely struggled with the whole false vs true self thing…especially since my husband is a pastor. Unfortunately, in the past, I’ve had to wonder if my true self would get him fired. He is currently in a position where I feel much more comfortable being myself and our goal is to keep it that way.

  • srmarlin

    Hey Jeff, thanks for this post. It resonates! It also shows me exactly why some of my posts do well, and others just sit on the digital shelf. I’m definitely going to be looking at future posts through this new lens. Keep up the good work!

  • This brought to mind the struggle I had with being me when I first started blogging, and in the end, I ask myself two questions; “Would I really say this to people this way?” and next, “If this IS how I would say it, would I be ready for their response?”
    It’s enough to keep me on track, and keeps simple boundaries that don’t over complicate my writing process.
    Great post Jeff…

  • Hey Jeff, I love this. I think it is so powerful to connect to a deeper understanding about why we write. Not only does it help me find clarity with my writing, but also with who I am as a person. I first heard your thoughts on this on the webinar you did with Danny Iny (that was great stuff!). Ever since I have thought about my worldview regularly. It has helped me feel more confident in my work and stance in the world. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Jackie! I’m glad it’s been helpful.

  • dkwoolam

    Terrific Post! You really hit the nail on the head. Too often we continue to try and fit ourselves into someone else’s mold. Be who you are for the reasons you are! I’ve learned a lot from following you over the last few months. I’ve even created my own Manifesto thanks to you! Keep up the great work!

  • “The world’s most powerful speakers, presenters, and artists aren’t stuck in a single genre or topic. They’re creating content based on their worldview.” Excellent point! Something to chew on.

  • Love it, Jeff. Love the distinction between topic and worldview. Worldview is always a better “niche” than a topic.

    FYI…myy worldview is we can all Show Up and Shine every day in every way.

  • This post rings true for me in many ways. When I was a kid other kids would make jokes about me, but I never said or did anything to stop them. Worse, I laughed, too. Maybe I was scared or maybe I thought I just looked funny and deserved for people to make jokes about me – my thinking was skewed, but it’s true it’s hard to blame someone else when you’re allowing it to continue or worse, participating. Hmmmm this seems like something I need to write more about! Thanks, Jeff!

    Bryan

  • Vicky Cox

    Sorry I missed you at WDS and the Probloggers Academy, but glad to have a transcript of your talk. It was great! I’m still trying to be brave enough to share my world view and confident there there are others that share it and want to hear it.

  • Jeff,

    This is another wise and useful post.

    But the ‘there are 7.000 people out there just like you’ line needs to be addressed.

    I couldn’t disagree more with that line.

    I know what you’re trying to say: “There is a natural group of people out there who will line up with your ideas and need your leadership. You’re not the only one who thinks the way you do, so go find your tribe and lead.”

    I completely agree with that.

    However, there is something super-important here folks shouldn’t miss:

    You are totally unique. You’re fearfully and wonderfully made, and you have a perspective and an experience that NO ONE ELSE HAS EVER OR EVER WILL HAVE.

    And that, I think, is what people need to internalize if they want to make it as a writer, or in life at all.

    Why? Because if all you’re doing is sniffing around for a group of like-minded people out there to pitch your stuff at, you probably will. And you can lead them around, host conferences for them, sell them stuff, and make a living.

    But the magic is in taking your unique, one-of-a-kind story and perspective and helping people use it to find theirs.

    My story has a lot of hard parts, war/loss/trouble. It’s got victories, redemption/grace/salvation/love/healing. And it’s MY STORY. If I don’t share it, then people who bump into the same problems in their lives won’t see that someone made it through. They need to hear from me.

    There might be a statistical trick you can use to show that one-in-a-million means there’s 7,000 identical people, but if that were true we couldn’t use DNA to convict criminals.

    There’s nobody like you. And that, friends, is why you must write. And you must lead.

    We need to know what you know.

    So, take everything else Jeff said and do it. It’s right. And it’s wise. Just don’t confuse math tricks for reality.

    Jeff, I love what you do. And how you’re connecting people with their messages and missions. Love it.

    Good job.

    Lee

    • You’re right, Lee. I overstated my case here. Every person is unique. No two people are exactly alike. But at the same time, we are not so different. We have more in common than we sometimes realize. And that’s good news because it means you can share your unique story in a way that will resonate with other people.

  • Renee

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now and this is my favorite. Great wisdom and insight!

    • Hah! Thanks Renee! Glad you liked my embarrassing story 🙂

      • Renee

        I guess it’s the whole thing about connecting with your tribe by being vulnerable. It works, lol!!

  • Love this story. Not only hilarious, but so clarifying. Thanks for sharing!

  • Uddav Neupane

    Inspirational!