Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Opportunity Versus Influence

by John T. Spencer

I'm co-writing a novel right now with my wife.  It's an exciting, confusing, invigorating, messy process.  It's something we talked about a few years back, but I never pursued it, because I didn't see any opportunity in it.  After all, I had to say something re-tweetable on Twitter chats in order to maintain my Klout score.  I felt the need to prove myself on a few group blogs and chase every opportunity for teacher professional development.  I had the chance to boost my ego, but to co-write a book felt humbling.  I wouldn't have control.

I wanted to matter.

I wanted influence.

I wanted my voice to count.

But instead of refining my voice, I grabbed the megaphone and shouted into it with a look-at-me mentality.   I chased an Edublog Award nomination and engaged in a who-says-the-smartest-tweet pissing contest.  I chose snark over substance.  I became increasingly competitive, even when writing posts about cooperation and collaboration.  I became envious of the gurus and superstars who garnered so much attention in conferences.  I hit embarrassing moments of self-despair over my lack of adequate book sales.

I woke up one morning and began a ritual of checking my stats: subscribers, followers, friends.  I Googled myself (not as disgusting as it sounds).  It felt empty.  I was after opportunity when what I wanted was influence.  Not Klout or even clout.  I had lost my voice in a yelling contest.

I'm not sure I walked away from that entirely, but slowly I shifted from opportunity to influence.  I gave myself the permission to take long breaks from Twitter and to retweet even if a person doesn't retweet my work.  I quit censoring what I wrote through the filter of branding.  I started talking up some of my favorite blogs instead of silently competing.  I decided that I would do Facebook in person for forty days and I would blog about it even if I appeared less professional.   I spent more time commenting on blogs.

I'm still in a place of transition.  I'm still discovering what it means to bring others into my world.  I'm still figuring out what it means to to ask rather than shout. I'm still stumbling over my ego and learning to say "yes" to the things that matter rather the things that will benefit my make-believe pseudo-self brand.    

So, back to the novel.  I'm writing the kind of novel that I would want my students to read.  And, honestly, they might be the only ones to read it.  (Or it might be popular.  Popularity is a crap-shoot). But if they are, that's okay.  I want to speak truth in nuance and narrative, pulling students toward a story that matters. I'm not sure if there's any opportunity in this, but I'm convinced that there is influence.


  1. "I quit censoring what I wrote through the filter of branding." Oooh, tough one. I struggle with this. Not sure of the best approach. The way you've phrased this definitely leaves me thinking more about it...

  2. Angela,
    I think you come across as both professional and personal. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I'm going to take a specific approach," which is what you do. My problem is that I thought I needed to create a "brand" that wasn't me.

  3. I think I'm too confused about who I am to have much of a brand. That said, after reading much tonight about one individual's legacy, I'm thinking about how others might someday view me. If anyone ever speaks of me, I hope they'll say, "He was kind and tried to be helpful."

  4. Really appreciate this writing and sharing, John! So much to think about with voice, influence and opportunity. I think we all want voice, and an opportunity to influence what matters to us. It is hard to refine and define how we participate in these online spaces, and to establish a “strategy” that feels authentic to ourselves and to those who we want to connect, learn and make a difference with.
    I get confused when folks are classified as “influencers”. I wonder, “Influencing others to do what?” It could be a different impact from person to person, I would think.
    So I guess we keep on doing the doing……and see where it takes us, and informs us, and how that affects our opportunities.
    Thanks again!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.