craft, personal development

One Step To Being A Better Person

How many different motivational speakers and life coaches are in the world today? Approximately a brazillion.

I counted.

How many of them actually have something meaningful to say for your life?

Maybe 5 or 6.

Who are they?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Who knows. Those 5 or 6 will be different for everyone, and will touch everyone in a different way, at different times of their lives, impacting different spheres of experience: relationships, health, spirituality, career, finance, hobbies & play, etc.

I don’t know who they are, but I guarantee you they all have some 7 steps to success and happiness.

Their own flavor of 13 tips for living a better life.

A “27-point Foolproof Path to Fabulousness!”

Or something.

Do they work?


For the right people

At the right time.

But for you?

Right now?

Not likely.

You want my advice? Just be a better person.


I was reading Reddit and came across this nugget of self-hate. [] I’m not going to quote it, but it’s basically some guy in his early 20s complaining that he doesn’t know how other people do it. Everyone else seems to be better than him, and he wonders why.

And how.

How are they better people than him?

I offered my (admittedly unsolicited) advice with 5 steps to being a better person. I will, however, quote myself, because I think it’s worthwhile to have the discussion.

What to do? Stop reading “self-help” books that are written to exploit your addiction to “self-improvement”. The industry only exists to convince you that you’re going to get better if you just buy their next new source of tips and tricks. In reality, they want to sell you more books because, well, they don’t sell you any more books if you actually, you know, HELP YOURSELF to get better. You want 5 simple steps? Here, here’s 5 steps to becoming a better person:

  1. Read Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. It’s not a self-help book, but it is about being good with yourself.

  2. Go for a walk an hour a day, every day, for a year. No music, no audiobook, but just think.

  3. Write in a journal, not on the internet. Nobody here cares about you. you are the only one who does, so you are the only one who needs to know your thoughts.

  4. Stop smoking dope and drinking alcohol. You’re poisoning yourself and using intoxication to mask your real feelings.

  5. Stop swearing. It’s laziness. Put in the mental effort to think of a real insult. Swearing is simple, so it’s the mark of a simpleton. Be better than that.

So that’s my advice. But again, it’s “5 Steps to Being A Better Person”. And I realized, he doesn’t need 5 steps.

He doesn’t even need 3.

Or 2.

He, and everyone else, just needs ONE STEP to become a better person.

Are you ready?

It’s pretty radical an idea.

One that might revolutionize the self-help industry.

Here it is:


Just be better.

That’s it.

Don’t like who you are?


Don’t like your attitude?

Change it.

Don’t like your emotions?

Change them.

Don’t like your anger?

Change it.

Recognize that you are choosing, every moment of every day, what you are going to do with that moment and that day.

If you don’t like what you’ve chosen, choose differently.

Be different.


Be a better person.

I’m not the only one saying this. Here’s the Holstee Manifesto, which says a lot of the same stuff, in a pretty picture:


The Holstee Manifesto, available at

Just be that better person.

No, it’s not easy.

It’s not laid out in 5, or 17, or 49 “simple” steps. Those specific steps might have worked for them. They might have worked, somewhat, for others around the world. But I’m 99.9% confident they won’t work for you.

It’s not that simple.

Because it can’t be.

My 5 steps don’t apply to you. They can’t. It’s impossible.

I don’t know what you want, where you’re starting from, and what you’re willing to put in to get there.

Only you know that.

Only you know what’s going to impact you.

Only you know what’s going to work.

And only you can do the work.

So –

Stop looking for answers in a book, or on a website, or in a seminar.

Stop searching for tips on how to be better, and just … start … being better.

Right now.

Don’t wait.

Nobody else is going to do it for you.


Stephan is a writer, editor, speaker, and publisher living in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction (and fiction-ish) can be found at and at


business development, craft, user experience, Writing improvement

Beware the Bot!

Chatbots seem to be all the rage these days in marketing. Some are good, some are, well… not so good.

They’re supposed to be a quick and easy tool to help increase visitor presence on your website.

They promise everything from increased time on page to simplified processes, eliminating humanity at the installation of a program and skyrocketing profits in the process.

And they’re becoming more ubiquitous by the moment. Google says there are ~33,000,000 website hits for “chatbots”. Now, those aren’t all bots themselves, but articles about them and self-promotions, too. But you know what I mean.

For your business, you can buy one, rent one, develop one, probably even lease one.

You’ve run into hundreds of them, perhaps thousands.


Most of the time…

They’re totally worthless.

Well, maybe not totally worthless.

The companies who make and distribute them still get paid. So I guess they got that going for them.

But for the rest of us? Those who are thinking of using them in our business? Or who have to interact with them as an end-user? “The juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” as they say.

I’ve got two up on my computer right now. And they’re pretty bad examples of chatbotting. Let me explain, and hopefully help you to avoid these same user experience (UX) mistakes in the future.


The first bad example is for a software company. I went to their website, and the thing popping up says:

“Hi 🖐️, can I set you up with an exclusive 14 day free trial?”

Basically asking if I want their product right away.

Before they know anything about me. Before they know anything about my needs, my budget, my clientele, anything!

I might be interested in a free trial. But I don’t know that when I first get to your website!

Offering that free trial is all well and good, in due time.

“In due time” means at the appropriate point in the sales sequence.

Maybe after you’ve already had some conversation with me, to investigate whether or not this software would actually be right for me.

You know, the old “Hi, how are you today? Do you come here often? Could I buy you a drink?” Not, Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but, wanna go out to my car and fool around?

Seriously, this is too much, too soon, and it’s going to turn people off.

You want to know what’s even worse?

This is a company I already do business with.

Yep, that’s right. I’m a customer.

They don’t really know me, do they? If they’re offering a trial of a service I already pay for, that tells me they don’t do a very good job of tracking who their customer are, now does it?

[Shaking my damn head over here.]

Don’t do this. Don’t pretend you know what your audience wants (free trial) without asking (support for an existing customer, learn more about the product, find information about careers, etc.).

And don’t be so stand-offish that you don’t even track who your current customers are! And here I thought I was dealing with a software company. I guess that’s just a myth.

But enough about that. Let’s get to the second example of bad chatbotting.


You know how it goes.

The chatbot, all dressed up in a fancy avatar with a pretend person’s face on it (because, let’s be honest, we all know at this point that there’s no real person on the other end, we could save all of us the trouble and just put up a picture of a motherboard rather than an actress), asks us what we’d like to accomplish. We type it in, sometimes the chatbot works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

In this case, it looks like this. Please note, this is a different company from the prior example. As it should be:

Hi! I’m Olivia, your virtual job assistant at *******! You can ask me anything about our business, culture, team and more.

Not so bad. I’m confident it’s a bot, but I expect that my question will get redirected to the appropriate party once I ask. So, I reply as such:

Hi, consultants generally have a reputation for a lot of travel. Would this be true for a “******** Consultant” role as well?

See, I’m using real-people speak and a question that I truly want answered. What’s the response? Well, instead of recognizing that this question is probably out of its standard programming, and telling me she’ll direct me to the appropriate party immediately, the chatbot honed in on a keyword (“consultant”) and provided a stock answer.

On our career site, you can search jobs by keyword or location. You may also enter a requisition number as a keyword. If a position has been closed or placed on hold, it may not appear in the search results. We would also highly recommend you join our talent community to stay informed about news, events and opportunities at ******** by clicking here: *******


Did that answer my question?


Did it recognize that it wasn’t answering my question, and direct me to a better way to get what I wanted?

Nope again.

Did it at least consider that it might not have answered my question, and confirm whether or not it did?

All together now: No way, Jose!!!

How do I know such truths about the inner workings of a chatbot? Because I tried to continue the conversation. Here’s my reply:

thanks. what’s five minus eighteen?

Pretty simple question, right? If you’ve got a real person. Or if you’ve got a well-programmed chatbot. In this case, you’ve got neither. You’ve got this:

My pleasure! 🙂

Multiple problems here.

First, the chatbot is masquerading as a real person, which is deceptive. We as consumers tire of this charade quickly. If you had a real person in there, she (“Olivia”), would see the question, answer “negative thirteen”, and then ask whether or not she’s been able to help you. Since she didn’t, I immediately conclude that it’s a bot, that I’m not worthy of a real person to this company, they don’t care about my problems or my questions, and I can write them off as unhelpful.

And secondly, if you had a well-programmed bot, you would be able to recognize when your standard script is insufficient, and you’d be able to code up a quick redirect to get them on the path. You’d keep the visitor happy, you’d actually solve their problem, and you’d be more likely to get a future client, applicant, or business partner.

All because you actually thought through an appropriate UX design.

Pretty simple functionality that’s been lost amid the desire for automation. And that’s a shame.

I mean, I’m not a UX designer, or a broadcast marketer, but heck, even I can see this isn’t working as it’s intended.

Sure, you cut out some people (and their requisite salaries and benefits), but at what cost? Reputation, ease of use, applicability, and humanity, for starters.


Don’t set up your chatbots like this.



It’s like, “Do you even know me, bro?” No, no you don’t. [Even more shaking of my damn head. I’m getting dizzy.]

It would have been better with absolutely nothing, rather than creating either one of these negative value experiences.

So in the future, don’t expect your chatbot to be the savior of your business.

Make it better. Actually put some thought into it. Don’t just expect to get the make-out session without the get-to-know-you session first.

Think through how people use it. And, when they do, review what they did, and whether or not they got what they needed.

And when you do, you’ll get better results.

I guarantee it.*

*better better looks, unfortunately, not guaranteed. 


P.S. If you’d like help creating automated messages for your chatbot, why not talk to a communications expert? A copywriter, perhaps? Send me an e-mail to and let’s figure out how to make your chatbot, your website, your book, or your autoresponders sound human again.

business development, craft

Why “…Those Who Can’t, Teach” Is A Terrible Saying, and How To Fix It

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard this old adage, generally used disparagingly…

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

98% chance your hand, like mine, is in the air right now. Everybody’s heard this phrase. Most people have said it. Keep those hands up if that phrase has come out of your mouth. While not as high as before, I’m pegging the over-under on this one at about 75%, self included as well.

Generally, this saying is issued to somehow insult teachers, as if they “couldn’t handle the real world” of mathematics, or writing history books, or of producing documentaries. You’re not good enough, is the implied meaning. You’re not dedicated enough. You can’t handle the pressure. You’d be out making a lot more money in the “real world” if you could, but you can’t, so that’s why you’re settling for teaching.

And while some of those may be true, on an individual basis, it’s a rather gross stereotype, one I now see as encompassing a terrible mindset about those who teach.

Problems Inherent

One major problem is that it’s rather limiting to a professional to say that he or she is required to perform within the world outside academia, as if that is the first choice and the standard for performance within this world. We hear so often, “Be what you want to be,” but then receive contradictory messages denigrating those who may just really want to remain immersed in the subject itself, rather than applying the principles in an increasingly competitive, cutthroat economy. If a teacher, who is happy teaching, sees all of her peers miserable because they’ve succumbed to the rat race, who has made the wiser choice? Who has followed her dream more faithfully? Who should we really admire and look up to?

Second, what does this phrase tell students about those who are instructing them? Oh, these people can’t really do economics, so they’re here in your high school class to teach you about it. Yeah, we can’t afford real professionals, so you get the amateur hour. Is that instilling confidence within our youths, or, really, anyone on the outside, to think of our educators as incapable of performing at the level required of them? Or causing them to doubt their education, and, consequently, their own opportunities for the future?

So Nobody’s Teaching Anymore?

Far from it. Many still choose to teach what they know. Not just in the formal school system, either. We’re now seeing a mass democratization of education, with online courses on hundreds of platforms, where one can learn everything from traditional college-level biology or philosophy delivered by big-name institutions ( to immensely practical, individually-led on-demand learning about flowcharts or e-commerce store inventory management (

The number of these individual courses grows every day. And they’re not just on dedicated sites – new tools now mean just about anyone can teach a course on, well, virtually anything they know about. I just logged on to Facebook (ugh, I know), and the 3rd post was literally titled “Finally, a Predictable Way To Get Writing Clients”. This is, clearly, another writer selling me his system (free at first, then the upsell once I’m hooked) for getting clients.

I can buy virtually anything these days, because people are selling training courses for nearly everything under the sun. The question is, Why? Why, if we have denigrated teaching so much and for so long, would so many be putting time and money towards presenting themselves as teachers? Why would they be leaving the doing of whatever it is (getting clients, trading energy derivatives, building business analytic systems, etc.) they have clearly achieved some level of success, in order to shift over to the lowly position of teacher?

Because It’s The Economy, Stupid

Now, just to be clear, I’m not calling you stupid. (I’m referencing a phrase from an old Bill Clinton candidate message.) I am, however, pointing out that people selling those courses are, in fact, selling something.

And those who are working at teaching economics or poetry or computer science at our high schools and colleges are actually selling that education, as well. They may be selling in bulk, and the payor (school system) may be different from the client (high school students), but the idea is the same.

Instead of doing the work once, and getting paid for it once, by an employer (or client), these innovative entrepreneurs are doing a different kind of work once, and selling that work product multiple times, with little to no marginal cost to them.

It’s like how if you custom-design cars, or computers, or clothes, it takes a lot more time and cost to produce them. But if you figure out how to do one thing over and over and over, you spread the design and set-up cost over a vastly larger set of outputs, meaning your costs go down, and your profits go up.

Think about it. A professor of biology does the same amount of work to lecture 20 students as 30, as 40, as 1. Which makes the most sense, from an economic standpoint?

An online educator proclaiming to instill within me a 7-step foolproof method for how to get new writing clients could be using those 7 steps to land new clients left and right. But then she’d be stuck doing that writing work over and over and over again. Much better to, instead, exploit my naivete a little bit, make some passive income selling a portion of her knowledge to me and ten thousand others around the country (around the world, even!), and free up some time in her day for a visit to the State Park or to work on developing the next course. Again, which one makes more economic sense?

Am I Just Being Extra Cynical?

I don’t think so. I believe I’m offering a warning to those out there who imagine they will get something for nothing. That they’ll get the “secret” to instant success and financial freedom, simply by following some guru’s “foolproof” formula for landing bigger, better clients or making money with other people’s money in real estate.

Yes, those people could be off doing the thing and making money there, but they’ve figured out that it’s an easier life selling the idea of making money in whatever industry they have some experience in, and they’re pursuing that endeavor with abandon.

Good on them.

I’m just not likely to participate.

Didn’t You Mention A “Better Phrase”?

Yeah, I guess I did. Remember, the old idea was “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I think we need to retire that one and, instead, replace it with the following.

Those who can, do. Those who wish to scale, teach.

Keeping this in mind will help everyone who comes across the next “free” seminar on how to get something for nothing. It’s less likely to give you value than to create a profitable revenue stream for the “guru”. You’ve been warned.