Sam Holstein

Blogging Feels Like a Selfish Career Choice

Blogging Feels Like a Selfish Career Choice

ometimes I go through periods where my motivation level to write and post another article is low. One of the reasons my motivation level sinks so low sometimes is the feeling that blogging is a selfish career choice.

The blogging lifestyle makes me happy. I love sitting at my computer and typing and imagining there are people out there reading my words who love doing so, that what I have to say matters to anyone. But personal happiness alone is not sufficient. To live a truly satisfying life, you have to know you’re making the world a better place, too. And I’m really not sure I am.

There are plenty of readers who email me and tell me I’ve made their lives better. It’s not that I don’t believe them. In fact, the notion that I’ve made their lives better carries me through dark periods of life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve made the world a better place.

In economics, there’s a concept known as marginal utility — the amount of utility an additional unit of something adds. Going from zero to one cars has an enormous amount of marginal utility. One to two cars can have a lot of utility, depending on what you plan to use the second car for (toting around kids or street racing), but definitely less utility than the first car. The third car has nearly no utility at all.

The first blogger on an important topic has a great deal of marginal utility to her readers. Without her, her readers simply wouldn’t have access to the information in a convenient and easy format (instead of reading posts or taking courses, they would have to go through trial-and-error learning themselves). The second, third, and fourth bloggers have lesser but still important marginal utility, as they bring fresh perspectives and novel product ideas to the market.

But how much marginal utility does the millionth blogger have?

Now you see the problem.

Picking a career where your marginal utility to the world is near-zero strikes me as the epitome of a selfish choice. There are real problems in the world to be solved, like hunger and disease, and I’m trying to write blog articles to help already-privileged people? Please.

I like blogging. But one, my happiness is not more important than all the people who suffer and struggle in the world. And two, I’m quite sure I could find a career path that is enjoyable, lucrative, flexible, and makes the world a better place.

My Response to the Marginal Utility Problem

The metaphor of the millionth blogger oversimplifies the issue to the point of losing some of the meaning. You and I are not stuck as the millionth blogger. Yes, when we start out, we are the millionth blogger. Our articles help nearly no one and we have nearly no readers. But as we get better, we help more and more people. To those people, we become the first, second, third, or fourth bloggers. Without us, they would have to go to one of our “competitors” for the same information — which they would be able to get, but not of the kind of style and authority they prefer.¹

So yes, perhaps to the world at large, my work does not have marginal utility. But it has marginal utility to the people who tell me they read my writing avidly.

This is to say nothing of the fact that bloggers regularly change the world.

Nathan Barry, one of my career role models, has definitely changed the world. He built a great blog, sold some great books and courses (and made a handsome sum while living the life of his dreams), then went on to found ConvertKit and make preposterous amounts of money. At Craft+Commerce 2019, they announced quite a number of charitable initiatives in struggling parts of the world.

Bloggers can also play a key role in making people aware of global challenges and potential solutions. Bloggers help spread the word about how important it is to reduce our carbon footprint and publicize stories about the devastating effects of hate and violence. Even writing about productivity and minimalism helps people be more effective at work, many of whom are surely working in their own way to make the world a better place as well.

That’s good news for me, because many of these “more helpful” career paths are out of reach for me. No thanks to my BPD, many of them would be impossible for me to manage without burning out and ending up in a mental health crisis. I carry around a sense of societal shame for not “picking a better job,” but the fact is I am disabled and these jobs were never truly an option for me anyway.

In Conclusion

It’s easy for me to get down on myself because I’m not doing something as visibly helpful as distributing bug nets in malaria-stricken regions of the world. But I don’t need to be doing something everyone sees as “a good thing” to make the world a better place. As long as my readers are telling me I’m making their lives better in a way no other blogger has, I’m doing something right.

1: While it is the technical term for the producers of products that fulfill the same functions for the same consumers, I’m loathe to refer to other bloggers that way. Blogging is not a zero-sum game. A dollar my “competitor” makes selling a course is not a dollar I don’t get to make. Even if my “competitor” is selling a course that teaches the exact same thing as my course.

To me, products offered by competing bloggers are more like flavors of the same product. Some people prefer chocolate and some people prefer vanilla, but there will always be more people to buy our ice cream.