"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” - Toni Morrison

Should you use “SUBSCRIBE! SUBSCRIBE! SUBSCRIBE!” pop-ups on your blog?

Is it me? Or is everyone using those “SUBSCRIBE!” pop-ups on their blog?

You know the ones: you land on a blog page from Google and get ready to leave because it’s not what you’re looking for, but you get a subscribe pop-up? Or {worse.} you’ve just started reading the post and as soon as it might get interesting, you’re asked to SUBSCRIBE now for EXCLUSIVE OFFERS!?

Over the last couple years these pop-ups have exploded onlinealmost everyone said “they work!”. But in internet-years, a “few” is about 6.5 to 8 actual years, so do those “exit-intent”, pattern-interrupting pop-ups still work?

And maybe the better question is: do they work for everyone?

What we’ve got now, I think, is opt-in overload. From what I see, blogs have the opt-in pop-up set and whoever is managing doesn’t care / hasn’t looked at whether or not those pop-ups still work.

And then there’s the end-user. The one person who all this is for. They’re not the same as they were a year ago. They’re an internet-teenager: short attention span, moody, have a lot to say and so *over* those annoying pop-ups. But the pop-ups are now part of being on the internet so they’re automatically ignored.

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If I’m like most subscribers, I can assume the process of going from first-time visitor to subscriber happens something like this:

  1. Google something, like “oatmeal protein spirulina breakfast recipes work”.
  2. Sort through a bunch of results, find one that looks good.
  3. Ignore the “SUBSCRIBE!” pop-up that asks for my email address.
  4. If it’s good: save the post in Evernote to try.
  5. If I have time: Go back to the search results to find another result that looks good.
  6. Some time later, do another google search like “what to do after binge eating tortilla chips seven layer dip”.
  7. Open a post from one of the blogs from my previous search.
  8. Ignore the “SUBSCRIBE!” pop-up that asks for my email address.
  9. See another post from the blog that piques my interest, like “common twerking injuries”.
  10. And another, like “lazy lunches that last the whole work week”.
  11. Click around to find out more about the author.
  12. SUBSCRIBE!

Getting that first “SUBSCRIBE!” pop-up, interrupting me while I’m trying to read the first blog post I’ve landed on kind of feels like having a first date ask me to help paint their apartment.

Or it’s like asking for someone’s number before you even know their name. Without any “how are you, today?” or “come here often?”, not even a “do you like stuff?”.

Too. Soon.

An email address (not the fake ones used to get access to an e-book, but one that’s checked daily) is valuable. Like a phone number was in the 90s.

At least Darryl (pron. “Darrell”) gives a compliment before asking for the number. That’s a lot more than some blogs I know.

So {opinion} before asking someone reading your blog for those precious letters that make up their email address, you need to prove they’ll get some value from your updates {/opinion}.

End-users are more sophisticated now when it comes to why and when they give up the email address. So it’s time to get more sophisticated when it comes to building a subscriber list.

It might work if you have an ecommerce site, where you can offer someone a special discount if they’ve been browsing around for a while, but does it make sense if your bounce rate is over 90%? Or if your analytics show you don’t have any repeat visitors? Or if you haven’t published anything new in the last month?

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I don’t use those pop-ups or ask people to subscribe because a) I don’t publish often enough, and b) I don’t think as a group, the posts I’ve published provide enough value to a specific audience (which c) I haven’t clearly defined yet).

We’re at the stage of content marketing now where we can target repeat visitors, and we can define what those visitors are likely to do before subscribing, meaning if they go to another post, or visit an about page, or use the site search for something else.

I’m not suggesting the world stop using these types of calls-to-action, but I am suggesting that they be used with more consideration. Too many blogs / sites out there are aggressively asking for a sign-up before a first-time site visitor even knows if a repeat page visit is worth it. And that can / should be changed.

Personally, I think I have a lot of work to do on this blog before I get to the point where someone is ready to give me their email address.

Until then, I’ll keep working on what I have to offer.

Five things to consider before asking people to subscribe, using pop-ups or anything else:
  1. What are you offering? Don’t ask anyone to subscribe unless you have something to offer. This means discounts, free resources, more in-depth content. If you’re offering more personality have lots of it, like Wendy Williams. If you’re a Gabby Bernstein / Marie Forleo type, you’ve got to have a lot of well-designed, put-together content.
  2. Who are the people that visit your site (ie. your potential and current subscribers)? Are they sophisticated users who have probably been asked to subscribe 30 times that day already? So what are the chances your pop-up is probably going to be closed like all the others?
  3. Who are the people that visit your site (part 2)? Are they most likely repeat visitors who have already subscribed?
  4. Where do the people who land on your site come from? And what do they do after landing? If you have a high bounce rate when you’re trying to get people to spend more time on your site, that pop-up that displays when users reach for the back button isn’t going to help your cause. Maybe work on the bounce rate first.
  5. How are your current calls-to-action doing? Are more people using the subscribe boxes or less? Try testing out the subscribe pop-ups to see how they work, but don’t forget to check out the results after a few months and optimize if needed!

Why do the successful people with easy lives talk so much?

First, let’s be clear. In no way am I trying to devalue someone’s experience, or make it seem like one person’s story is better than another for any reason. The point of this post is to say: we need to hear more stories from people who have been. through. shit. Good. Glad we got that out of the way.

When I hear a “success story”, my bullshit meter goes crazy. Mainly because I’ve come across so many stories that my eyes can’t take anymore serious rolling, so I have to filter.

Like a recent story I heard {by accident} on a podcast I won’t name.

The story pretty much went like this:

  • person went to law school on their parents’ hard-earned (I’m assuming) dime {begin eye-roll}.
  • decided before they left they wanted to be a writer.
  • parents basically said “ok, great!” {ohhhh… kay?}.
  • they had a sister who was already a writer.
  • sister helped person become a writer.
  • they write about “being happy” {eye-roll complete}.

No offense, don’t take this the wrong way, but fuck these success stories from people who don’t seem to have ever been through anything really tough.

I don’t want to hear shit from these successful people who’ve had parents that coddled and co-signed their lives from day one.

What about someone who had to make their own way through school and then realized they didn’t want to practice law, or medicine, or whatever?

Or a person who had to deal with a lot of really tough shit in their younger years, and were still able to overcome / find success?

Or someone whose life was going on, pretty happy (or maybe not), and then they get hit with some kind of disaster and they’re able to come out from it a better person?

That’s the story I want to hear.

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But there are so many of these stories floating around from those *other* people who’ve basically been set up for success from a young age. It sends the wrong message.

For a while, I started to think that the ones like me, who have really struggled, we don’t get to be successful.

And then shit gets even more real when you look at those people who are talking, and you realize none of them are like you in some very specific ways: they’re all men, or they’re all white, or they’re all {enter other circumstance here}.

That sends another, very dangerous message.

There’s something about those people. The successful ones who’ve had nice, happy lives. They have a confidence that has never been challenged. I think if you’ve dealt with abuse of any kind, you sort of learn to shut yourself down.

The last thing you want to do is stand up and start sharing your story or talking to people. At least, this is how I see it.

If you’ve lived with someone who’s abusive, getting up and talking could get you hurt. So you’re more likely to live small.

Then if you have lived past it, got away, overcome, and had some success in your life, it might not occur to you that other people want to hear your story. That other people can draw strength from your strength, confidence from your confidence, learn from your lessons.

In my eye, the world is a scary place and I’m not sure if there’s someone else out there like the person I got away from. So if I get up and start sharing my story, my fear is that person will show up in my life again.

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I started listening to Unmistakable Creative a couple weeks ago. It was by pure accident. I had subscribed, but never listened until I saw the title “How to Live Well and Die Well with Greg Hartle – Part 2“.

It shook my world. I cried, downloaded both episodes on two different computers, put it on my iPod so I could listen to it anytime, played, paused, took notes, googled what it meant to find the ‘temporary structures’ Greg talked about, shared it with anyone I thought would be interested.

It was exactly the type of story I was looking for. So I spent the rest of the weekend stalking Greg Hartle to find out everything I could about him and his story.

Even though in the podcast he said he wasn’t in the public eye anymore because of health issues, I figured I could find more from him. More about his experience, more about his journey, just more.

I’m not just looking for more from Greg Hartle, I’m looking for more of these stories. And the search is what motivated me to write this post.

We need to hear more from people who have actually been through tough shit.

For Part 1 and 2 of Greg Hartle’s interview with Srini Rao on The Unmistakable Creative podcast, click the images below.

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Things I Wish I Could Get For Kids.

I have a hard time around kids’ birthdays. There are things I would like to give them, but can’t because they’re not sold in stores. I’d probably have to go to some magical school for this, like Hogwarts or something, but I’d be willing to make the trip.

A strong sense of who they are.

This I think kids have naturally, but I’d want to give them whatever they need to keep that freedom as they get older.

A divorce {for their parents}.

I’m not one who believes you stay together “for the kids”, or for religion, or for family. Two people stay together because they want to and are committed to each other. Nothing else. And if two people are together and they’re creating an unhappy environment for their kids, a divorce or separation might be just what those kids need.

Knowing that everything will be okay.

This one’s for kids who are going through something tough and maybe need a little encouragement.

The ability to trust their instinct.

Another thing that kids seem to have without any trouble. But for those kids who are a little less confident, or something to keep as they get older.

Encouragement to explore everything, all the time.

For this one, imagine the world without it’s made up rules about what you can and can’t do because of your age, weight, where you live, race, how much money you have, where you go to school, where you work, etc. If I could, I would give a kid the power to explore whatever they want without worrying about all the made up shit.

A mind cleaner.

For use after being bullied, watching Disney movies or old cartoons, generally watching tv, etc. Something that would clean the mind of whatever subconscious messages that could potentially sink in.

How To Run {From Life}

It started with Colour Coding. A blog post I wrote but didn’t tell anyone about. It continued with the Sandra Bland post from last week. And now this.

If you’ve looked at the blog posts I’ve written recently, you might notice that before ‘Colour Coding’, I don’t talk about personal shit at all.

At that time, I didn’t have a section of my website dedicated to writing prompts either.

What’s happening is I’m cleaning out the bullshit. Yes, it’s showing up on my site and no, I’m not going to wipe out all the stuff I did before just so it “looks clean”. It’s happening and I care not about how ‘clean’ it looks.

What this mess looks like in real life.

Last year, I quit my job and went off to learn how to build websites (hence, what you’re looking at). I did it because I was working in the PR industry and I thought it was moving too slowly.

Or at least, that’s what I told myself. It’s a good answer, the perfect kind of answer someone looking to hire me might want to hear. It says things about me that a potential employer might like. But it’s not the truth.

I quit my job because it was another way to run from whatever anxiety I had about work, and being laid off or fired. Anxiety I had about not having control over losing my way to pay for rent and food.

Then I learned to build websites because I saw it was a skill I could make money with until I had the courage to do what I really want to do.

This.

Maybe it’s a result of getting older, but I’ve come to realize that this is how I run. Different people do it in different ways. Like doing too much of any one of the following:

drinking,

eating,

turning up the volume,

not calling,

not answering calls,

texting,

changing topics,

changing channels,

changing seats.

Say what you will about my generation; I wonder for how many of us is that excuse a coverup? I run (ran? we’ll see) from my fears by changing careers.

Not saying I don’t like the job I have now, because I do.

Not saying I don’t like knowing how to make a website (which is a skill that’s fading as fast as I can type this post), because I do.

And not saying the PR industry isn’t moving too slow, which I believe it is but that’s another post.

It's in the act of having to do things that you don't want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego. - bell hooks

It’s just that this stuff just circles — doesn’t quite hit — the bullseye of what I’m about: writing.

And I avoided it for so long because I thought it was impossible to get paid to sit down and string words together. It didn’t seem like a valuable skill that people would pay for.

Then after getting that excuse out of the way, the reason I didn’t pursue a career as a writer shows up. I didn’t think I was good enough to do it. I wasn’t coddled as a child, didn’t have people encouraging me to do it, didn’t have the connections and mentors who would help me figure it out .

So I avoided it out of some self-imposed sense of obligation I had to punish myself for being unworthy. Somewhere (probably in university – thanks, York!) I unconsciously made the decision to devote myself to the torture of constantly finding work, getting into financial trouble, and doing jobs because I “needed to” so that I could pay the bills and avoid pursuing a career as a writer.

Besides, it would take too long. There would be no way that I could just start writing at the beginning of the month and continue writing so that by the end of it, I would get some paycheque that would cover rent.

This led me to wonder: do people have a limit on the number of times they will run around the bullseye? And what does it look like when you stop running around what you want to do and just go for what you want to do?

random inspirational image that tells you "don't do it for the money"."

Tired of hearing that line from rich people? Yea, me too.

I had to ask myself if I would still write even if I had to work doing things that aren’t writing for the rest of my life. Imagined different scenarios made up of things I could control – like getting published, promoting my work, etc. If I could do all that but not make enough money to pay rent or bills or buy food, would I still do it?

If you could teach people to work out and live healthier for free, would you do it?

If you could sing at local events or retirement homes, would you do it for free?

If you could offer people free help for their computers and phones, would you do it?

You get the idea.

Writing is it for me.

You're in the perfect place.

The only way I could stop running was to take money — and the desperation — out of what I was doing. Constantly needing money and worrying about debt and everything else was fucking with my mind. I needed to get to a point where I was just not willing to do that anymore.

Then I saw the beauty of being in a place that didn’t seem like it was exactly aligned to the life I wanted to live: I have a way to make money, which allows me to pursue what I really want to do. So I’m not worrying about whether or not my writing will pay me enough to cover expenses, I can really be free and just do what I want!

Here’s the ironic thing though. In tapping into what I really want to do, it’s made me more passionate about my day job.

Right now, my purpose or mission is to help others heal by helping them realize that they are not alone. This might change, but right now, it’s what I’m going for.

And even though my current job doesn’t really allow me to do this, it does help me to tap into what it feels like to help people. That is what I’m going for: helping people. And I don’t think it makes a difference if I’m helping someone deal with psychological trauma that stems from childhood abuse, or figure out how to style blog posts with CSS.

Resources

Stuff I’ve found that has helped me stop running.

Seeing Sandra Bland.

A heads up: I talk about some intense topics here. Like suicide. There are also some swears. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, maybe for a chuckle, go here. xo

15 mins, maybe.

I’ve never attempted suicide, but I’ve been close. I’ve written letters with intent. I’ve driven out to barren fields with water towers, timed the climb to the top and imagined what I would use to hang myself.

I’ve made the trip to the top of my apartment building, tried to open the door and when I found it locked, just hung out at the edge up there (metaphorically), weighing the options, trying to find a different way.

I don’t know why, but my method of choice would have been hanging. I imagined pills, shotguns, but whenever I went beyond just imagining, hanging was what I intended to do. In 2013 – or 2012, I don’t remember – I wrote a letter to someone that got me a visit from the police.

I Remember What Happened

I was going to the grocery store and on the way, realized I forgot my wallet. So I went back to my apartment and as I was hunting around, I heard a police-knock at the door.

I answered not suspecting anything. But when I opened the door, there were two police officers. They seemed huge. Thinking back on it now, I remember my initial reaction part ‘what the fuck do you want’ and part ‘what the fuck is going on’.

One of the officers explained they were there because of the letter. I was to be taken to CAMH and I could go willingly or they would handcuff me. My apartment building was pretty small at the time, so no one else in the building saw what was happening. They opened the door for me like gentlemen, no ‘watch your head’. I wasn’t making a scene.

bottom

On the drive over I made sure to keep my hands near my face so no one would think I had been arrested. I was grateful for the darkness outside because I figured it probably camouflaged me in the back seat of the cruiser.

During the ride I created a story in my mind to avoid what was happening. I imagined I was simply an innocent witness to some horrible crime, and was being given a ride to the station so I could help the police catch the guilty man or woman.

When we arrived at the hospital the officers stayed with me until I was processed into the facility. Here’s where the stories I was making up stopped. But I felt safer there, safer from the stares (though I’m willing to bet no one was watching or cared).

As soon as I got the chance, I talked my way into being released. Reading back over that last sentence I can see how what I did might seem like a cry for attention, and I can take that criticism.

It was a cry for attention. And it was my bottom. Like, my rock bottom.

How to Act Like Everything is Fine (sarcasm)

The truth is I know how to talk my way out of situations. It was the same dance I did over and over again. I would say something, my mouth or pen would get me into trouble, and I’d have to find a way to talk myself out of whatever came next.

I apologized, retracted, reduced and renounced. In CAMH I did the familiar dance. I looked the intake person in the eye even though he could have probably helped me if I wasn’t so scared. All to get out of that small, enclosed room and out of trouble. Back to my bachelor apartment and carrying on like everything was fine.

My parents knew / know nothing about any of this. Nor do they know anything about the attempts and incidents, I’ve never spoken a word about it to them. At the time, the only people who knew about this part of me were therapists who I was no longer seeing and friends who weren’t in the country.

And those two police officers.

It was here that the two worlds collided – one where I was struggling with depression and isolation, but able to keep my shit together just enough so that to my friends and family, it looked like I was just a single woman about my life.

That life was a series of good things following not-so-great things – new jobs at least once a year, always moving to a new apartment. And for the people around me, I could package the story so it looked good. Often enough, starting fresh at a new job or new apartment is enough to keep the concern away. I was good at this.

Then We Meet Sandra Bland

Fast forward to this summer, July. When I heard Sandra Bland’s story it sounded strangely familiar. Very strange. Very familiar. In a strange way.

I recognized the woman in pictures with the bright smile, clear eyes. And I recognized the woman in the video, even though I didn’t watch it, I knew what had happened. I knew what was happening.

I don’t smoke, but I change lanes regularly (not anymore) without signalling. And if the wrong police officer caught me on the wrong day, read my asking him legitimate questions as rude or uppity, I wonder: would the story have ended any differently?

I’ve never been shy about listing off struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts to people of authority, or as I had believed them to be, people who I thought could help.

So in processing I could totally see myself telling officers about my little trip to CAMH with their brothers in law. I’d like to hope that if I did end up in a cell, I’d have the come-to-Jesus moment to end all come-to-Jesus moments. I’d finally understand how to get my life together and make a commitment to it.

But what if just when I decided I wanted to live, some officer or other official decided to come in the cell and I end up dead? Those officers could have taken my history of depression and suicide and used it any way they liked. Would it come out later that I had a history with depression? And had thought about suicide? Would they have found that letter?

Looking at the Bigger Picture

But if I stop with the ‘what-ifs’; stop comparing my story to Sandra’s and think about the bigger picture, I realize that if I could see myself in her, someone else “out there” could do the same.

But if I stop with the ‘what-ifs’; stop comparing my story to Sandra’s and think about the bigger picture, I realize that if I could see myself in her, someone else “out there” could do the same.

It’s ironic, in a funny/not-funny way. I’m not considered one of these “connected” people. When I’m not depressed or otherwise emotionally hungover, I can be outgoing and everything else, but if you were to ask me if I have or feel a sense of community, that’s a hard question to answer..

Being anti-social or clique-ish in this city (Toronto) can seem like a way of life. Sure, I have hope things are changing for the better, but all this to say it’s easy for a sense of isolation to overtake you if you’re depressed.

So the idea that there could’ve been someone else “like me” out there, even if that person lives in a different city, different country… it took the loneliness away a bit.

God help you if you don’t have anyone in your family or close circle that can understand.

There’s a reason parts of the black community have a reputation for treating their people like dust. Particularly when it comes to mental illness.

The more sympathetic folk can’t do much more than look at you with pity, say they’ll pray for you, and explain away your experience by saying it’s fine, or the same thing happened to them, or quoting some [at times the wrong] bible verses.

At worst you’ll get those who just stop talking to you. And though it hurts, you’re better off for it. But generally you’re left with anything you need to deal with by yourself.

Sometimes you gotta ignore people and their basic, bone-headed, brain-dead, bush league comments. But love them anyway.

My family and church were the only community I had, but they were busy turning blind eyes to alcoholism and abuse in their midst, part of the reason I had my problems in the first place (another story for another blog post) so for me they weren’t available to lean on.

And friends can be tricky. I got hurt a few times, being vulnerable to the wrong people. It doesn’t take much of that happening to eventually shut down.

Then there were the statistics, things I heard in comedy sketches and through the same ‘friends’. Things about how black people don’t go to therapy, and stats reporting black women as the least likely to commit suicide.

My stance was: Fuck that. I didn’t really do too much thinking about it, but I figure it might have had something to do with the fact that no one who was telling me “us black people don’t go for help” weren’t around through the worst of it.

In wanting to feel better, I decided to not only ‘not care’ what anyone thought, but to passionately ignore other people and their bullshit, basic comments.

Finding Help / Finding Hope

So that led me to look for relief and answers where ever I could find it.

I saw lots of therapists, started meditating and learned to do yoga, working out and listening to people like Iyanla Vanzant, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, Gabrielle Bernstein, Marie Forleo, Louise Hay, Abraham Hicks, Earl Purdy.

Psychics and mediums made the list (I think I’ve watched every episode of Long Island Medium). Even Jim Carrey.

I thought of people like Traci Ellis Ross and Tracy McMillan as big sisters. Kendrick Lamar, Russell Simmons (when he’s talking about meditation), people I found locally like Alicia Mathlin (who introduced me to Tony Robbins) and Christina Truong. My best friend, Rina.

And spiritual advisors. Or specifically, a spiritual advisor who I’ve been seeing for a couple of years.

They all have played – and continue to play – a part in me being able to change my mind about who I was and what I was capable of.

Sometimes I needed help with big stuff, like figuring out who God really was. Early on I learned that the ways I was allowing myself to think led me to being depressed. So sometimes I just look to them to learn about different perspectives, different ways of being, living and thinking that are outside of what I’m used to.

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I learned that I needed to want to feel better. I took a pause with that, took some time to decide if I really wanted to feel better or not. My hesitation was that if I decided I wanted to feel better, that meant I wanted to live.

So I made the decision that I wanted to live.

Then I thought about the type of life I wanted, and what ‘live’ actually meant.

I made some mistakes and found some perfection in going after what I thought ‘live’ meant.

Now I’m trying to keep what’s ‘perfect’ and learn from the mistakes.

I won’t pretend it’s easy. I still have moments, days and weeks where I slip. I’ve lived in anger and fear for a really long time. (Like, up until yesterday.) Habits are hard to break, the same for habitual ways of thinking.

There’s lots I’m still not sure about (can someone who’s contemplated or attempted suicide ever really live past that?, for example) I don’t know better, but I’m learning better. Besides, I kinda want to see how this all turns out.

You want to know about the real struggle? This is it. Making the decision to live your life after you’ve attempted or contemplated suicide. After you’ve weighed all the odds against you and they seem stacked. Then you’ll see what it means to be “about THIS life”. More like, about YOUR life.

Talking to Sandra

We’ve been awash in media cycles since being introduced to Sandra Bland.

I still wonder about her life, what it was really like for her on the day-to-day. I wonder if we had had the chance to meet, would we have clicked? Would we have looked at each other like criminals? Given each other the once-over and moved on?

Hearing about Sandra clued me in to the idea that my secret might not be my own. This is why I’ve called this post ‘Seeing Sandra Bland’. Though the glasses might be fuzzy, and most of the time I probably don’t know that I don’t know what I’m looking at, there’s someone there who may have been, at some point in her life, a little like me.

This post was written in the hope that someone else who struggles like me, and maybe like Sandra, might find, read and take comfort in knowing they’re not alone and there is hope.