Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

The public you is not you

I hope you don’t have to learn this lesson the way I did.

One day, I wrote a blog post sharing what I learned switching between the PHP programming language and Rails framework.

At the time, my blog had no readers, so I didn’t think anyone would see it. I just wrote it for the record.

But when I woke up the next morning, it was all over the tech news sites, and it was like I had insulted everyone’s religion and child. There were over a thousand comments, mostly saying I’m a complete idiot and terrible programmer.

At first, like anyone who has had a nasty comment directed at them, I was upset and insulted. Then, luckily, something switched in my head, and I realized the most important point:

They’re not talking about me.

They’re talking about a cardboard cut-out that looks like me. A little online avatar with the same name as me, but is not me.

I couldn’t be offended when they said I’m a terrible programmer, because they had never seen my code. I couldn’t be offended when they said I’m an idiot, because they don’t know me. They read a few paragraphs of an article, and threw out some insults. It had nothing to do with me, personally.

Suddenly it was like watching a little video game character get attacked. It was funny to watch, part of the game, and not personal at all.

Then I realized it was the same with compliments. I couldn’t take kind words personally, either. Some people have liked things I wrote or made years ago, and say nice things about me. But those aren’t the real me, either.

So the final point is this:

Public comments are just feedback on something you created. They’re worth reading to see if your work has been misunderstood, to find ways it can be improved.

You can even take it as feedback on the public image you’ve created. All people know is what you’ve chosen to show them. So if it’s coming across wrong, try tweaking it.

And never forget that the public you is not you.