Is ‘Choose Yourself’ Good Advice … or New-Age Phooey?

Seth Godin says “pick yourself.” Choose yourself. Select yourself. It’s a refrain we hear across the web. But what does it really mean?

On the latest episode of The Lede, the second in our “Hero versus Villain” series, Demian and I debate this question.

Before you listen, see if you can guess which side of the debate each of us is on. 😉

And, as we did last episode, we bring in one of our Copyblogger colleagues to help us settle the debate.

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The Show Notes



Jerod: What kind of emotions were running through you?

Demian: Very angry. That’s why I’m so stoked to meet Henry Rollins at Authority.

Jerod: He chose himself.

Demian: But he chose himself angrily, y’know?

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media, hosted by me, Jerod Morris, and Copyblogger’s chief copywriter, Demian Farnworth.

The Lede is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, Copyblogger’s carefully curated live content marketing conference being held this May in Denver, Colorado. Keynote speakers include punk legend Henry Rollins and recent guests of this podcast: Sally Hogshead, Dan Pink, and Chris Brogan. Go to for details. I would love to meet you. Demian would love to meet you. So if you’re free May 13th through the 15th, come on out to Denver and join us.

To begin this episode of The Lede, I have a couple of quotes for you. This first one comes from

In every part of society the middlemen are being pushed out of the picture. No longer is someone coming to hire you, to invest in your company, to sign you, to pick you. It’s on you to make the most important decision in your life. Choose yourself.

This is part of the description for James Altucher’s book called, appropriately, “Choose Yourself.”

And here is another quote from a blog post by Seth Godin:

It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked, to seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher, or talk show host, or even a blogger saying, ‘I pick you.’ Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you, that Prince Charming has chosen another house, then you can actually get to work. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all of the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound. No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

It’s an inspiring, empowering thought. But is it all a bunch of New Age frou-frou-fooey? Well, Demian and I discuss on this episode of The Lede.

Jerod: So Demian, we came back last week with this episode about authority, and we debated. We both feel a little bit differently about it, and we debated wither authority is earned or given. And I wanted to take a step back here really quickly before we jump into the second episode because this idea of looking at a topic that we feel differently about and debating it and arguing the two sides of it, this was your idea. And I thought it was a really good idea, and it’s going to set the audience up for some really interesting episodes, I hope.

So I wanted to begin just by kind of allowing you to explain really quickly why you wanted to do this and what the genesis of the idea was.

Demian: I was thinking through these concepts that we — I don’t want to say take for granted, but at this point they’re conventions. They’re evergreen content that we talk about a lot. I wanted to sort of approach them differently, because I felt like we–and I guess this is just my contrary nature, but I feel like we’re always on the same page about everything. And why don’t we sort of position ourselves, one as the hero, one as the villain, the devil’s advocate; and attack these from a different angle to help explore them. Because this is ultimately what I’m after now.

I’m going to read from a book. And I think this summarizes perfectly what I’m after. This is from a book called “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” It’s by a Frenchman named Luc Ferry, and this is what he writes. And this is toward the end of the book. He says:

I once wrote a book with a friend, Andre Comte-Sponville, the materialist philosopher whom I respect above all others. Everything stood between us. We are of the same age. Room there for potential rivalry. Politically he was coming from a Communist background, and I from the Republican right. Philosophically he drew his inspiration entirely from Spinoza and the sages of the East, whereas mine derives from Kant and from Christianity. But instead of hating each other, we almost ended by trading places. By which I mean that far from presuming the other was acting in bad faith, we separately attempted to fully understand as possible what might be persuasive and convincing about a vision, the world, that is not ours.

So, especially with this particular topic — because I have this sort of rabid, belligerent position against today’s topic, and I guess it’s almost to the point of belligerent in the sense that I needed help. Therapy, in a sense. And I said, “Okay, let me help me try to understand this from a different point of view,” and so clearly in this episode I’m going to take the position of the villain while you’ll be the hero.

Jerod: And I’m curious because the topic of this episode, obviously, is “Choose yourself,” and I’m very curious to understand your perspective on this, because I feel like this is one of the most empowering, almost beautiful ideas that has come out the Internet, is this entire idea. So I’m curious why you have this kind of belligerent relationship with it. Because it doesn’t quite make sense to me. So this’ll be good.

Demian: No, right. Exactly. So I have to confess. I am not good at the warm fuzzies. I tell my children all the time, and there’s a running joke in the house. I would share my feelings if I had any. So it’s like when I come across — and that’s what “choose yourself” is. It’s aspirational, and for whatever reason, it just bugs me. It’s like, “This is not the real world, people!” Of course, this is my vision of the world, right? And I’m like, “The world is a hard, tough place.” And for whatever reason, it upsets me. I shouldn’t say upsets. It grates on my nerves when someone says, “Choose yourself.” Because it’s a sort of go-lucky phrase. You said empowering, right? And that’s another buzzword. Empowering.

So the idea of “choose yourself:” Here’s the problem with it, and this is what I always thought. So this is my position. Choose yourself. And I get that. We want to empower people, we want to help people. However, I think it’s misleading, and this is ultimately the crux of my argument. I think it’s misleading in the sense that it’s not true, because we have this sort of utopian vision of the Internet which says, “The gatekeepers have been slain and the walls, the gates themselves, have been overtaken, and we are in the city ourselves, and we can all be publishers, and we can all have voices.” The only problem is, you’re now a voice in a dark, dark seat, right? When everyone has a voice, no one has a voice. And so you then say, “Choose yourself,” it gives you from what I understood, the way Seth Godin and I think Jeff Goines has championed it, and James Altduiker has championed it.

Jerod: It’s “Altucher.”

Demian: What?

Jerod: Imagine that you’re somebody — you’re trying to tell a guy named Al to touch a woman. Al-touch-her.

Demian: (Laughs out loud) James Al-touch-her. Altucher. That’s awesome. Okay. So he wrote a book. James … Altucher.

Jerod: (Laughing) Yes.

Demian: James … Altucher. He wrote a book called “Choose yourself” and it did really well. And I want to stay away from — and of course I could be accused of, well it was very successful, and people who are saying that things are very successful say, “You’re just jealous,” and I am human, and I’m perfectly capable of that, but I really don’t think that. I think that it’s misleading in the sense of “choose yourself” because really when you do that, and you say, “Okay, I’m going to be a publisher and I’m going to get heard,” there’s a lot more to life than that. And I guess what happens is — because that’s the perception, right? That’s my perception, and it’s the perception of most people. But is that reality? What do you think?

Jerod: Well, clearly I love the idea of “choose yourself,” because I believe that so many people have interesting, useful things to say but either don’t feel empowered, or don’t have the confidence, or for whatever reason they shy away from saying them. Because they think maybe they’re not relevant, or they’re not important enough, but they are.

Because the dialogue gets more rich the more people who are contributing to it, and what I think is misleading is an idea of “Choose yourself, and six months later you can be a millionaire,” or “Choose yourself, and you’ll have 1,000 Facebook likes in a month.” Those kinds of — the get-rich-quick type stuff, or anything that would serve to convince somebody, or pull the wool over their eyes that it’s going to be less difficult than it will actually be to build an audience, because what happens after you choose yourself is difficult, and it’s a tough slog, and you are going to be met with all kinds of resistance and all this, like we’ve talked about all this stuff. Right?

Demian: Right.

Jerod: So everything that comes after you choose yourself is difficult, and that is wrought with unrealistic expectations. But that initial stepping up to say, “I have something important to say and I’m going to say it,” you have to choose yourself to do it.

Just like you chose yourself with the Copybot. You stepped up and said, “I have this experience. I have this knowledge. I want to share it.” You chose yourself to do that. Now to get to the next step, and the next step, and the next step in your career — it’s not like all that happened at once — but it kind of goes back to the … We talked about the authority earned or given thing last time, and I argued on the side of authority earned. Well, to even begin earning it you’ve got to choose yourself first. It’s the most seminal, important, the first thing that’s got to happen.

And I talk with people a lot that I think, “You’ve got something interesting to share,” but they don’t want to share it. Either because they’re afraid of rejection or they’re afraid that they can’t craft the message the right way, or any number of a million reasons. And if I can get them to understand that “choose yourself,” it’s important, you have something to say, but you have to choose yourself first. I can’t choose you to say it. You have to choose yourself to say it.

Demian: So it’s sort of like in that sense of believing in yourself. Would that be true?

Jerod: Yeah, absolutely.

Demian: Okay. I’m a crank. I’ll admit it. And even that. Say, “Believe in yourself.” I don’t know why I’m so pessimistic. This is why we’re talking about this, so I can have therapy, you know, and get through this.

Jerod: Well, I guess trying to get at the heart of it, do you think that it’s that distinction that you have trouble with? Because I agree. Sometimes the idea of “choose yourself” is peddled as this kind of — like everything is together. Like it’s “choose yourself, and then in a year you’ll be making a million dollars from affiliate sales too,” you know? But I think you have to separate what happens after from the act of choosing yourself.

Demian: Yeah.

Jerod: Because if more people did that, it’s better. But yes, then there’s a whole host of stuff that comes after it that I’m not necessarily a big fan of because I don’t think it’s always a realistic depiction of what it’ll be like after you choose yourself. But I don’t see anything wrong with the idea of “Choose yourself.” Just that simple idea.

Demian: Okay. So I’m talking to somebody, and they’re expressing interest in wanting to be a writer. And they’re a pharmacist. And they say, “I’ve always, since high school, wanted to write a book.” And I feel so goofy to say, “You know, the way to start is you have to choose yourself.” And what I end up saying, “If that’s something that you want to do, then sit down and do it, but if you really like pharmacy, stick to that.” I guess I find the application hard. Maybe I just don’t get out enough.

Jerod: Well, don’t use the words.

Demian: Yes. Yes.

Jerod: Explain it in a different way, but still — and you do this. See, this is what I don’t get about this.

Demian: (Laughs)

Jerod: I mean, you empower copywriters. You have people who look to you that you mentor, and you’re essentially telling them that …

Demian: But let me show you the distinction in that though, because I’ve seen this. I take someone like Jeff Goins, who I admire and look up to, and he’s got this ability to love on people, right? I don’t have that ability. I look at people and I say, “You want to be a damned great writer? Then you’re going to work really hard, and I’m going to be really brutal on you.” It’s like the drill sergeant versus the pastor, I guess, in a sense. And I’m not denigrating anybody with that, but that’s sort of my mentality. When I look to empower someone, you probably won’t survive it, so … It’s that sort of thing. That’s the distinction I guess I bring. Is that empowering, or am I too brutal on people?

Jerod: It’s just a different style.

Demian: Yeah, you’re right. You’re right.

Jerod: So a lot of people know who Bob Knight was, right? The coach for Indiana.

Demian: Yeah.

Jerod: Famous basketball coach, famous almost as much for his antics and for his anger and all that stuff as he is for all the wins. And he’s like that too. They call him “The General.” He came from a military background. He would make it as tough as possible and try and break guys down to build them up, and a lot of guys transferred. They couldn’t hack it. But I still think in his way he was still inspiring people to choose themselves, because if they said, “Hey, I’m going to stay here, I’m going to stick it out, I’m going to accept this teaching, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get better,” they’re still choosing themselves to be the best basketball player they can be. I think you can do it the way you’re talking about doing it, but you’re still, in your own way, empowering people to say, “I can stick with this. I can do this. I have something to say, and I’m worthy of developing these skills.” The words differ, and the methods differ, and the tone and tenor, all that stuff can differ. But I still think, ultimately, to do anything you have to choose yourself first.

Demian: You know what’s going to happen?

Jerod: (Laughing) What?

Demian: I’m going to get — someone might create a spambot and just raid my Twitter account with “choose yourself, choose yourself, choose yourself.”

Jerod: I’m going to do it.

Demian: I hear what you’re saying. So neither style is superior. It works in your framework. Some people are going to be attracted and gravitate towards one over the other. That’s true.

Jerod: Here’s the other important distinction. If you are telling someone, “You should choose yourself,” and you’re offering this up as this inspiring advice, don’t sugarcoat what happens after. And when you’re taking the advice, don’t look at it with rose-colored glasses like it’s all going to be easy, because what happens after the choosing of yourself in whatever it is, is going to be difficult if whatever you’re going to get out of it is going to be meaningful. And that’s just a fact of life. So again, I think it comes back to the unrealistic expectations that are sometimes placed upon what’ll happen if you choose yourself. That doesn’t guarantee anything. It just guarantees that you’re going to get up that day, and that your next foot will be forward. That’s it.

Demian: That’s good. That’s good. So we talked about this on an editorial call, you remember that?

Jerod: We did. Yes, I do.

Demian: Okay. And so Pamela Wilson was on it, and it was funny in a sense because I didn’t really intend this to happen. But I was sort of expressing this idea about how I can present this online, and so she’s listening, and she says, “Let me be a dissenting voice.” Saying basically, You know, Demian, you’re wrong. And she shared this quote, and we all sort of like — that was it. And when she said that, too, that was the lightbulb moment. It was an insightful statement that sort of described the spirit of “choose yourself” just exquisitely. So let’s play that, really quickly.

Jerod: Wait — you record the editorial meetings?

Demian: Um … Let me just play this. You ready? There we go.

Quote from Pamela Wilson:

…and I honestly, to me, that’s the spirit of choose yourself. It’s not expecting someone else to see your talent or your abilities, it’s just saying, “I am going to become the best that I possibly can at this thing that I do relatively well. I’m going to do it as best I can, and I’m not waiting for someone else to see the potential and choose you and put you in a position where you can develop it. It’s kind of like developing it yourself. To me, that’s how I’ve always seen it. I’ve always interpreted it that way.

Demian: So naturally, wisdom from Miss Pamela Wilson.

Jerod: I mean, and I agree. I see it that way too, and a lot of the projects that you and I have done that led us to Copyblogger, before that, current projects. A lot of it is just stepping up and saying, “Hey, I have a useful experience, something useful to say, and I’m going to start it, and I’m going to get better at it, and I didn’t wait for someone to give me permission, I just did it.”

And ultimately when we’re talking about online content and trying to build an audience, you’re choosing yourself in the hopes that other people will choose you. Right? That an audience will choose you, to listen to you, that maybe someone will choose you to give you the job that you want. Whatever. But you have to choose yourself first, and then follow that up with the humility of all the hard work it’s going to take, and everything that you’ll need to do to have success, whatever way you define it. But none of it can happen without that first step, and that’s why it is an idea that I love, and I think that’s what Pamela was saying right there.

Demian: Okay. I concede. I think that — yeah. I think you explained it well when you said it’s just different styles, and we’re coming at it differently. I told you I’ve got problems, Jerod. (Chuckles)

Jerod: But how are you feeling right now? What kind of emotions are running through you?

Demian: Very angry.

(Jerod laughs)

Demian: That’s why I’m so stoked to meet Henry Rollins at Authority.

Jerod: He chose himself.

Demian: That’s right. Yeah, he did. But he chose himself angrily, y’know?

Jerod: Well, there’s different styles of choosing yourself, so….

Demian: Are you telling me that everybody shouldn’t be like me?

Jerod: No. We don’t. None of us want to be like each other.

(Demian laughs)

Jerod: We need all of the many colors in the rainbow.

Demian: So let’s close with this. This got me thinking of your Sally Hogshead interview. That great interview, go back and listen to it if you guys haven’t heard it yet. But you were talking about complementing each other in relationships, whether it’s work relationships or even marital relationships. So what you said about giving your fiancée, and what she said about her and her husband, and it’s so true about my own relationship. Angie and I are completely different people, but we complement each other so well. And she would always tell me, Angie’s like, “You’d be so happy if you just had another INTJ with you, wouldn’t you?” And I’m like, “Actually, no. You make my life pretty fun.”

Jerod: Heather says the same thing. We’re so different. I’m like, “Yes!” And that’s great. That’s how it should be. It balances. Not that things can’t work if you’re similar, but I think the differences make it a more rich experience. You can learn more, and get a different perspective.

Demian: Right.

Jerod: And it’s good that Angie has real human emotion. That’s a good balance for you. (Laughs)

Demian: (Laughs) Okay. Let’s end this now. I’m done talking about feelings.

Jerod: Let’s. So one of my favorite moments, actually, from last year was getting to meet Angie at our last Authority conference, which is a great segue into the conference that we have coming in May. May 13th through the 15th, and we that as many people as possible listening to this choose themselves to come to Authority Rainmaker.

Demian: You would.

Jerod: Well, I would. I would. Because if you don’t understand how the conference works, it’s a very carefully curated single track that covers the most important elements of a successful content marketing program. And there are going to be great speakers there, plus all of the networking events that you’d expect, and some incredible parties because that’s how Copyblogger rolls when they do an event. And Demian, you and I will probably be, again, manning the door and saying hi to everybody as they come in, which was another fun experience from last year.

Demian: It was. Looking forward to that. Looking forward to seeing you guys.

Jerod: Yes. So go to, check that out, and hopefully we’ll see you all there. And Demian, I look forward to seeing the next idea you have for this series of taking the opposite sides.

Demian: All right.

Jerod: Please choose yourself to send that to me.

Demian: I will close with this: Travel in the direction of your fear.

Jerod: Interesting. We’ll talk to you next week on The Lede.

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