03 February 2009

Tinfoiled

One of the people I most admire in the credit union movement, Gene Blishen, wrote a post yesterday that, like most posts on Tinfoiling, leaves me enveloped in introspection and philosophical turmoil. He was responding to a Tweet I posted indicating that I was considering pulling the plug on my blog. I've never been so touched by a blog post - not just because of the sentiment, but because of the source.

So, instead of writing a three page essay comment on his blog, I figured I'd write a response right here to communicate what's going through my mind.

A few things are happening in my life that make me question how my time is spent. First, I have a two year old son who does nothing but entertain, enlighten, and amaze me every moment he's awake. Unfortunately, time is a zero sum game. Every second I spend blogging is a second I do not get to spend with my son.

Second, I am a month away from turning 30. When I was 17, I set some very lofty professional goals for myself to be met at certain ages. By 30, I was supposed to accomplish A, B, C, and D. To date, I have partially accomplished A and B. While I don't view these necessarily as failures (rather, crazy notions 13 years in the making), it does make me question if I have misspent time.

Third, while 2008 was one of the most fulfilling, productive, and rewarding years of my career, it also resulted in the lowest pay raise I have received since graduating from college in 2001. Clearly, there are external factors involved with this decision, but it certainly makes one question a few things...especially when coupled with current credit union news.

Let me explain.

Most of my career goals, like is the case with most ambitious kids, centered around income and power. When I got involved in credit unions, that changed. Sure, income and whether or not I am in a position to be heard are still important...but the movement made me rethink what was truly important in a career. With credit unions, I had an opportunity to truly make a difference in people's lives. I was part of something special - a cooperative of cooperatives that did things differently than their bank brethren. We did things the right way. We made decisions based on what was right for our members, not what was right for our own pockets. For that reason, I have always been OK with earning less than maybe my market value outside credit unions might be. In exchange for fame and fortune, I argued, at least I could look myself in the mirror each morning knowing that I was making a positive impact on hard-working men and women that make up our membership. Tasked with telling the world how credit unions are an infinitely better option for consumers than banks, this was a story I have been more than happy (proud, even) to tell.

Fast forward to recent credit union news.

After spending the last five years preaching the credit union difference, I now find out that CUNA, NAFCU, and NCUA want parity. After months upon months of telling us that credit unions have been well-insulated from the credit crisis' fallout, our trade associations are effectively saying the sky is falling. After standing by idly for years as some credit unions (still a small minority) made the exact same lending mistakes as the big banks, the NCUA finally wants to take action - and they do it with precious little communication to their member credit unions.

So, my struggles are these: Do I continue to spend an amazing amount of time posting, commenting, researching, guest posting, etc. about a movement whose founding principles I truly believe in at the risk that the movement's actions make me look like a hypocrite? Am I being economical with my time? Is the opportunity cost of blogging justified? Do I still believe in credit unions...or just the dwindling number that are sticking to their for service, not-for-profit, conservative roots?

The conversation on credit union blogs has become decreasingly passionate/active over the past 4-5 months. Probably due to economic variables. Maybe due to some of the same concerns I have above. Not sure. But no one can argue that this has not been the case. Most of the best posts I've seen in the CU blogosphere over the past several months have received an embarrassingly low number of comments. That's not why we do this...or at least that's not why I do this. I want a conversation. I want a debate. I want to learn and to discuss and to grow. I want to see passion for the movement again.

I love my little piece of the internet whether I'm getting thousands of visits per month, or the paltry 539 I received last month. I just need to figure out if I'm getting out of it as much as I'm putting into it. In that sense, I totally understand Ron Shevlin's decision to pull the plug on his amazingly well-executed blog. He (just like me) sets an incredibly high bar for himself. It was obvious how much energy, passion, and time he put into his blog. And it was obvious that he made a huge impact in doing so.

But this is draining. While I can't speak for Ron, I feel confident that mental exhaustion was a big part of his decision. It's tough to come up with compelling things to write on a regular basis. And it's even tougher when you do so in spare time that simply doesn't exist. And it's absolutely devastating when your supposed "conversation", unsubsidized and developed with time you don't have, becomes essentially a one-way street.

I have a loyal group of readers and commenters that I love dearly - both professionally and personally. I just need to refocus on things that, right now anyway, are more rewarding: time with family, my employer, and my career goals, for example.

I have always thought that blogging about a cooperative of cooperatives should be more...cooperative. Thanks to Gene's post, and some really kind Tweets from Jimmy Marks, Denise Wymore, Ginny Brady, and Christopher Stevenson, I am rethinking axing this blog. Instead, maybe there's a way to get some of the best CU bloggers together to create a multi-voice, credit union editorial blog. Sure, my Google Reader account aggregates content in a way that this blog already, sort of, exists...but why are we duplicating so much energy? Last month, I approached Mark McSpadden about a potential CU Warrior/CU Skeptic video podcast series to debate credit union issues. Why wouldn't additional collaborations work?

Just a thought.

Thank you for all of your support, and for reading this way too long rambling about things that are much more revealing than I intended. I just thought it was important to hear my side of the story.

19 comments:

wazaroff said...

Hey Matt. Thanks for this insight into what you're thinking and how you're feeling. I sometimes feel the same way. Why do I put the effort into my blog when my readership is so low?

A couple of things I think about:

It's not about the analytics. I don't get that many pageviews, but of course my analytics don't tell the whole story because lots of people don't visit my site anymore, they read my posts in their RSS readers and never click through. So don't put too much stock in that number alone.

Do it for you. When I don't feel like writing, I don't. If I never felt like writing a blog post again, I probably would stop entirely. As Gene said, post as frequently or infrequently as you want or need to. If your son is in an amazing phase, take a break. And if you don't feel like picking it up again, don't let us tell you otherwise. Your best posts are those that you are obviously inspired to write.

You influence the influencers. You may not have a large following, but you have a direct connection to people in this industry who matter and they need to hear your thoughts. Especially now.

There's my ramble. I hope it made sense (I'm recovering from gum graft surgery and may be a little incoherent). Looking forward to your response...

everythingcu said...

Great post Matt, and great response, William. What I have to add is this (and I'll add to Gene's post too): When the readership is relatively low (not like social media and other "rock stars" who routinely get 100s of comments) (because, face it, we're nerds writing about totally nerdy subjects-and that's okay), short brief comments are CRITICAL to encourage continuation of writing. Yes, we are all extremely busy. But if we want to encourage, good thoughtful writing, we need to take 10 seconds if there are no or few comments and say "hey, that was a cool insight, thanks for sharing it" or "I never thought of it that way before". It doesn't have to be a long comment to be appreciated.

I know that many times I have something to comment, but no time to do it. Rather than say nothing and then forget to come back, better to make that quick comment and come back later if time permits for a lengthy response.

Using a blog platform like Wordpress where you don't have to log in EVERY time to make a comment (unlike this Blogger blog unfortunately) makes leaving these quick short comments MUCH easier. Perhaps this is the best argument for Wordpress to date, it makes comments from your non-Blogger-using readers much easier.
-Morriss Partee

Tim McApine said...

Great post Matt.

I submit that all of the time and energy that you have put into your blog has already paid off and will pave the way for the next ten years of your career.

You have too much to say. I comment on your posts from time to time, but I read and am very impressed with every word.

Ron gets paid for his writing, so I can agree with his point of not wanting to give it away.

Plus, he's pushing 50! You're pushing 30 - big whoop!

You write because you are passionate. If you stop writing, the fire will burn out.

Stick to your passion. The legislators may sway with the wind, but you have high principles. You are the Warrior! Warriors don't quit.

Anthony Demangone said...

Matt,

I wouldn't stress on it too much. Do whatever you feel is right. And whatever that is...will be the right choice.

And as for statistics, always remember Mark Twain. There are lies, damn lies, and there there are statistics. You never know who's reading your stuff via RSS, forwards, etc.

The bottom line is this: if you ain't getting paid for it, try to have fun with it.

Anonymous said...

For god's sake, do us all a favor and kill this blog.

What is it with you Gen Yers that makes you think you know so much and have such deep insights into everything?

So you have 100 Facebook friends....oooh, that must make you qualified to comment on the impact of social media on the marketing efforts of $10 billion companies, eh?

So please kill this blog, and when I want your enlightened view on something I'll call you... oops, I mean, I'll tweet you and ask for your opinion, ok?

p.s. If you DO kill the blog, can I have your helmet?

Gene Blishen said...

Matt,
Thanks for writing up where you were coming from. What I really appreciate is when I hear what you, William and others are saying about the absolute value of spending time with your children. Years ago when I was at that station in life no one ever mentioned that. You were expected to foresake your family for the benefit of your career. Some of us fell into that trap and made a mistake. Only one person told me to keep my family first, only one. It wasn't until it was almost too late I woke up and was able to put my family back to where it should be.
Here, in something as simple as a blog, it comes to light and there is some common sentiment.
Someone please tell me that value (family emphasis) in 20 years time. It will prove invaluable and priceless.

Charlie Trotter said...

Matt, I respect the heck out of your decision. I totally understand the need and desire to spend more time with family.

When one of two things have to give, and one of those things is your family, the other thing, no matter what it is, gets the short straw.

...........

Gene, you've given me that advice a couple times, and with urgency in your voice, which means a lot to me. Please keep giving that advice to every young parent you meet.

Jeffry Pilcher said...

Live life. Kill your Xbox (if you have one, and if you do, you know what I'm talking about).

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@wazaroff Thank you for your advice - definitely a perspective that I haven't totally considered. Funny that to me, the analytics have been king. That said, the metrics I have always cared the most about are ones surrounding conversation. Have I generated comments? Have I encouraged someone to write or create or better serve members? Those are things that I have keyed in on.

When that happens, I most certainly do it for me. I get more enjoyment out of meeting, brainstorming, and interacting with people like you than I could have ever imagined when starting this thing.

Maybe I'm wrong here, but I have noticed a precipitous decline in CU-related blog discussions. Not posts, but discussions. Great posts - especially those on my favorite blogs, have been met with crickets. That's a discouraging trend for writers and readers...as I think it dramatically lessens the experience we've enjoyed for the past few years.

You're too kind to say I influence the influencers. I'll be honest, it's been neat to show up at various conferences across the country and have people ask..."are you the Credit Union Warrior?" This phenomenon is hilarious to me when I think back to the reason I selected the pen name Credit Union Warrior. I didn't want anyone to know who I was...I wanted the freedom to write whatever I wanted to without fear of reprisal. This has evolved into something dramatically different than my intentions...almost entirely in a good way.

Anyway - thanks for your comment and kind words. You're one of the CU blogosphere's brightest stars, both professionally and personally.

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@Morriss In October 2007, Robbie Wright and I tried to move my Blogger blog over to Wordpress. As a side note, this was the beginning of my plans for WAYSF. Unfortunately, when I first launched this blog, most of the content was video based (stupid Football Pick'em videos I made). For whatever reason, the import/export never worked with that content. Maybe it's worth another try, not sure. At this point, though, I'd need to find a way to redirect readers to the new URL...and not tick off all the people who have so kindly added my site to their blog rolls.

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@Tim You're right...Shevlin IS old! :)

I'm not sure I could possibly make it any clearer how much of a Tim McAlpine/Currency Marketing fanboy I have become. You and your firm get it...no question about it.

The purpose of my post is not for me to distance myself from social media completely. Rather, it's to find a way for all of us to better manage our resources to create something even more engaging and transformative. I can't spend more time on this thing...so I need to find a way to either make a living with it, or do it more efficiently.

The Warrior's not a quitter...he's just not satisfied with the way things are.

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@Gene, Anthony, Charlie, and Jeffry: Is there a way to combine some resources to preserve our unique voices, while eliminating duplication of efforts? Is there a way in which we can have our cake and eat it too? I chatted with Trabian's Matt Dean a little bit today on this subject. Surely there's a way...

Isn't there?

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@anonymous Thank you for your comment. Love you too.

Ron Shevlin said...

I'm somewhere in between Anonymous and Azaroff.

Maybe instead of killing the blog, take a hiatus. Remember, it's your OWN compulsion that makes you think about it all the time (or a lot of the time).

Tim did leave out one important aspect of why I quit blogging, though: I said everything I had to say... and said everything I know. That was it. Done.

Matt_Vance said...

Hey Matt,

I really respect your honesty. Your feelings of why to stop the blog are the same I have not started to blog. Time is just a crazy thing, but I guess Jeffry is right, we all can probably cut something out of our lives (except family).

Your blog is worth the time. I know I'm not a huge comment guy but I always do read and find insight out of you. Totally understand if you take a hiatus or turn out the lights all together. You've got to do what's best for you and your family.

terrell said...

re: Is there a way to combine some resources to preserve our unique voices, while eliminating duplication of efforts?

I thought that's what OSCU was for. I think we've all guest posted on that blog at one point in time. What happened there?

I don't know what to say about comments. My post never get any. I've come to accept that. And I stopped commenting on other blogs after being picked on. My skin isn't that thick.

All that said, I know you'll find a way to keep your voice out there. :)

Eric Dillon said...

Matt; I enjoyed your post and your perspective on life in the CU system, a young family and the best way to contribute to the "conversation".

I have read your blog for some time. I enjoyed your insights but most of all I enjoyed your passion for "everything CU" (sorry Morriss).

The credit union system needs to re-define itself. It needs voices like yours to stimulate the conversation and ask the questions that no one wants to answer about how we can be most relevant to members.

To me, it doesn't matter if you blog about it or not but we all need to pose the difficult questions. Only you can be the judge on what forum that takes but I will always be interested in your perspective.

Mark McSpadden & CU Skeptic said...

Matt,

I'm still living in young-married-no-kids-land so I can't even begin to speak to the demands you must have on your time.

What I can speak to (in my Gen Y ignorance, of course) is the importance of 1) having avenues to express yourself and 2) participating in conversations and activities that you are passionate about.

For at least some amount of time, I suspect this blog (and others out there) have fulfilled both 1 and 2 for you. If that's no longer the case, I think it's a great idea to explore other options that do fulfill these and that may be less time consuming for you.

I think you are a unique voice in this space and the ingenuity you have shown within your CU has been influential on many CUs and Skeptics alike.

You'll find a way to continue your contributions with or without a blog. Let me know if I can help in any way.

wazaroff said...

Hey... was this just a ploy to get some comments going? Well played, sir!