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Getting Better at Being Human

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In biology class, you learn that every life form adopts a niche: a little role in some corner of the ecosystem, where it earns its daily bread by doing a rather specific thing.    

For example, the dung beetle collects animal poo, presumably because nobody else was already doing that, then rolls it into balls and lays its eggs inside of them, giving its larvae a handy source of nutrients.

The beaver gnaws at trees until they fall over, then drags the logs into piles. These piles dam streams and rivers, creating artificial ponds, which hide the beavers from predators and expand their access to food.

Squirrels, being better climbers than mice, once fed themselves by collecting seeds from hard-to-reach branches, and now specialize in stealing cherry tomatoes from my garden.

In blogging school, you learn the same principle: every little blog trying to make its way in the vast content ocean must establish itself in a niche. It needs to stake out a little corner of the action, a little field it can work, so to speak.

Primarily this means your website must be about something, such as car repair, wine, beard grooming, or celebrity gossip. That way, you can build an audience with similar problems and concerns, which you can then focus on helping them with, earning your living in the process. 

Scored a sweet gig

If you try to address everyone’s problems, you can’t compete with those who specialize. A site that posts about monster trucks, spreadsheets, fondue recipes, and backgammon will struggle to serve people who care about only one of those things, because to any given reader, most of the content is irrelevant. They’ll just go to Backgammon World or FondueFreaks instead.

This is why our dung beetle doesn’t try to collect all the types of food, because then it’s competing with every other food-enjoying creature. Instead, it specializes in the obscure food type “poo”, then gets very good at finding it and shaping it into balls. Thus the dung beetle has survived all these eons.

Choosing a niche was probably the first and best piece of blogging advice I ever received. Although it’s very practical, there’s a reason I haven’t taken it.

The Ten Thousand Things

“Getting better at being human” is one the broadest topics imaginable. Humans do all sorts of things. Getting better at cooking omelets, or lying on the couch, could certainly count as “getting better at being human,” as could learning to make friends as an adult, recognizing beauty in the mundane, coping with self-destructive tendencies, staying sane in the too-much-information age, and ten thousand other things.

Each of these concerns could be a niche one might specialize in. I could go all-in on mindfulness, or news addiction, or procrastination, build an audience that’s especially concerned with that thing, and serve them with helpful content and products.

I haven’t done this, and that’s because I’m interested in all those disparate topics precisely because of what unites them: they are all sub-concerns of the human condition.

We happen to be this tragically complex creature, this incredible rock star of the animal kingdom. The human being is so uniquely powerful and high-maintenance that it has trouble just managing its own thoughts and actions. I’ve developed some tricks for handling some of the ten thousand challenges arising from this fact, and that’s what Raptitude is about.

Artist’s rendering of human condition

The human condition, looked at from the inside, is endlessly interesting to me. However, the diversity of topics that end up appearing on this blog makes for a very diverse audience, who read it for many different reasons. Ages range from teenager to octogenarian. Some are here for the experiments, some for specific ideas like the Depth Year, others for a sober take on mindfulness. Some come for my weird thought exercises, some for my tirades. Some people are here because I wrote about kettlebells fourteen years ago.

When I ask people why they subscribe to this site, trying to tease out common concerns I might help the readership with, they always say “I just like the way you think! Keep it up!” or “You say things I was thinking but didn’t know how to say.”

The ultimate result of this niche-resistant approach is an eclectic blog that can’t be monetized using the normal methods. I do release ebooks and courses, but they can only ever appeal to one particular subset of the audience, so my efforts are always split into projects that only serve a minority of the audience.

Official nightshade inspector

Typically, when you have traffic but no niche, as many of the more unusual creators do, you turn to the advertising approach. Instead of serving your readers, you serve advertisers by selling your readers’ attention to them.

I don’t want to do that. By this point in the internet’s history, most websites are encrusted with garish banner ads for mutual funds and software solutions, and it just never feels good.

There’s also Substack, the paid newsletter platform, but that’s a straight-up paywall approach, and that would be too drastic a change at this point.

A Non-traditional Approach

Thankfully, for the more eclectic, niche-defying members of the ecosystem, there’s now another option: the patronage model, exemplified by a platform called Patreon.

Bloggers and internet people all know what Patreon is, but I’m not sure if the general public does.

I wrote about Patreon in 2019 when I initially launched Raptitude’s page, but I haven’t really promoted it since.

Patreon is a platform that allows fans of a creator to become patrons of their work, like an old-timey patron of the arts, only on a smaller scale.

If you love what a creator is doing, or you want their work to be in the world, you can opt to make a small, regular contribution to the project, to ensure that it keeps going.

The level of contribution is up to the patron, usually just a few dollars. You can change or discontinue it at any time.

Patrons receive some perks. In Raptitude’s case, you gain immediate access to the Raptitude patron community, some behind-the-scenes updates from me, and a library of more than 50 extra posts never released on this site.

Some of the more popular ones:

There are additional rewards for people who make larger contributions. Most patrons just do it because they like Raptitude and want to support it.

I love this model because it frees both reader and creator from the indignity of banner ads and sponsored content. The work gets supported by those who are able and willing, but the writing remains free and uncompromised by third parties.

A few hundred people have been supporting Raptitude in this way since 2019, and without them, it would not be here today. It’s harder than ever to make a high-traffic website self-sustaining if you don’t orient the whole thing towards marketing.

Currently only about 1% of Raptitude’s subscribers are patrons. They make it free for everyone else.

By promoting the Patreon more often, I would like to get that ratio to 2%. This would free up a tremendous amount of time and allow me to make more stuff for you.

Niche found

You can check out the benefits of becoming a patron on my creator page.

I visit and enjoy many websites every week, and I don’t worry too much about what keeps them going. But for a few favorite creators, whose minds seem uncannily like my own, I dedicate a small amount for direct support. It feels good.

If Raptitude is that kind of site for you, great. If not, that’s okay too. Either way, thank you so much for reading and sharing this blog all these years.


Beetle photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann. Cat photo by Andrew Cornell.

Mark Newbold June 13, 2023 at 3:22 am

Hey, I read your blog because you absolutely do have a specialist niche! You comment on the human condition using a wide variety of day to day thoughts and scenarios as a way in to your points and ideas, in a way that feels pretty unique. That’s all – just an immediate thought after reading your blog on a bench by Bayeux Cathedral while waiting for my wife :-)
Regards, Mark

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:46 am

Aw I love the internet. Thanks Mark. I suppose Raptitude is “niche” in the sense that it is unlike others, but not in the internet sense of understanding your audience’s needs by keeping the scope fairly tight.

Anyway, enjoy France!

Hilary Jackson June 13, 2023 at 3:41 am

Hi David – I have just been to your archives to see how long you’ve been writing this blog and I see it goes back to march 2009. I’m pretty sure I’ve been reading you for that long, and I get so much value from your writing & thinking. This post has convinced me to become a patron: I want to support thinkers like you. Thanks for sharing your unique views, thoughts, experiences and resources on life & living, it has made a difference to mine.

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:47 am

Yes, 15 years! Thanks so much for becoming a Patron. It means a lot to me that this blog made a difference in your life. I am always curious which posts do make a difference for people, because they are often so different from each other.

Brian June 13, 2023 at 6:37 am

I’ve never commented before. Been reading you for at least 8 years. You’ve provided so much reflection and in turn tranquility and understanding of myself. Thank you. You have a new patron.

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:48 am

Woo! Thank you sir.

Chris June 13, 2023 at 7:05 am

Hey David! I really appreciate your content. It’s a misnomer that substack is paywalled. You can monetize without paywall or a partial paywall, you get the flexibility. I feel you may have more luck over there as their discovery process is excellent.

Worth more of a think!

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:51 am

Ah, I thought there was always some sort of “wall” between paid and unpaid content if you want to monetize through Substack. Do you mean you can offer all content freely, but allow voluntary payment? Does that work for people?

Chris July 4, 2023 at 6:26 pm

Yeah, Substack allows voluntary payment with no walls. It also takes a healthy cut: 10% plus Stripe fees. You’d save on your ConvertKit fees, though. Seems like ConvertKit has rolled out their own discoverability functionality, so maybe that’ll work for you.

Susan K. Devitt June 13, 2023 at 8:02 am

I’ve been reading and appreciating you for many years and chapters of my own life. I’ve supported you on Patrione since you started there. I’ve suggested you to others over the years (to share the joy). A big thank you to you David, for doing what you do! I hope that others will give too, most of us have an extra cup of coffee worth of dollars to share!

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:52 am

Thank you Susan!

Sebastian Michaels June 13, 2023 at 8:19 am

I’m a huge fan. I love your writing and I love that you don’t clutter your site with ads. I’ve been a Patreon supporter for quite some time and plan to continue forever (or for as long as you keep writing at least!) I can count on one hand — I can count on two or three fingers — how many emails I receive that are an immediate treat and get 100% of my attention. You have made my life so much better in so many ways. I feel honored to support you in any way I can. Thank you!

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:53 am

Hey thanks Sebastian. You have been a huge supporter in so many ways.

Rocky June 13, 2023 at 8:24 am

I’m inclined to entertain your proposition favorably…..

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:54 am

Rocky, just your presence in the comments classes this place up. Thanks for your support.

Rocky June 13, 2023 at 11:21 am

You’re most welcome David !!

Larry June 13, 2023 at 8:32 am

Hello David,
I realize that nothing is free, there is always some form of exchange. However, in regards to having access to your thoughts and ideas; I do not choose to surrender my personal financial information to another unknown entity of unknown security standards. Having worked in IT for a medium sized entity I am aware of corporate trade-offs regarding cost and effectiveness.
I am sorry that the current rate of contributors is only at 1% For you I wish the rate was much higher. But as I stated earlier….
I wish you continued success with your efforts.

David Cain June 13, 2023 at 8:55 am

No worries Larry

Dave Hughes June 15, 2023 at 2:32 am

Hi Larry,

I’m also a career IT professional (now retired), and I understand your concerns about security when it comes to sharing financial information. I’m very cautious about it myself.

I started supporting Raptitude via Patreon when David first launched it in 2019. Patreon is well-established at this point, and in four years I have not had any of my financial information compromised by them. Patreon has earned my trust.

Do or do not, as your comfort level dictates. But I’ve had no problems at all.

Kirstin June 13, 2023 at 2:21 pm

Happy to support your wonderful writing! I don’t know if you’re niche, but I do know that I subscribe to very few newsletters and contribute to only 3, and you’re one!
There is also some sort of “Buy me a coffee” for those who might want to contribute, but not on a regular basis. Not sure how it works but I’ve bought a coffee for writers I liked a few times: https://ko-fi.com/

Muzammil June 17, 2023 at 6:32 am

I’m impressed, I have to admit. Really rarely will i encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding, the issue is a thing that insufficient people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that we stumbled across this during my search for something relating to this. un cours en miracles france

Ian Ross June 17, 2023 at 7:41 am

To my discredit, I didn’t even know you had a Patreon… In my defence, I usually read your articles on a tablet, and I don’t think the Patreon link is visible on the mobile site.

In any case, I’m also a patron now. I’ve long appreciated that you have so much useful and interesting stuff on here for free, and without advertising. I’m very grateful for that and I’m more than happy to contribute!

Kel June 17, 2023 at 9:38 am

Also a long time reader here. I must admit that over the years, I mentally refer back to something you’ve shared – an anecdote or experiment – almost monthly. I think your approach to exploring what it means to be human is really accessible and I appreciate your honesty in this approach. Thanks for doing all you do. Heading over to Patreon now :)

Dorothy June 18, 2023 at 7:30 am

Hi David. I come to your blog several times a year. I marvel at how well you capture thoughts and feelings that are in my head but I’m not able to articulate as well as you do. I have one question/suggestion. Is it possible for you to offer one time contributions? I try hard to avoid ongoing subscriptions.
Best to you and thank you for your exceptional writing.

Phil June 22, 2023 at 7:10 pm

Long time reader here, and though I have not yet ventured into the land of Patreon, I have purchased a couple of your books, and doled out money for the first of your Field Trips, all with the utmost satisfaction. I understand these things cannot sustain Raptitude indefinitely, of course, but I wonder if you have considered raising more money by creating MORE of such unique, valuable content, and perhaps more often? I have no guess as to how much money you could make off such things, I just know they are valued greatly by those who have purchased your books and taken part in your online mental outings.

Just a thought, while I count my pennies to join your Patreon as soon as humanly possible.

David July 9, 2023 at 12:45 pm

I’ve been a Patron for years now and my favourite perk (beyond knowing I’m supporting my favourite blog) is the monthly “old school links” email. A delightful addition to the already excellent content on here. Keep it up :-)

Nicholas July 16, 2023 at 6:48 am

Are you open to sharing those “few favorite creators, whose minds seem uncannily like [your] own?” As a recent discoverer of your blog, I find myself quite interested in this space. Thanks for what you do.

David July 18, 2023 at 10:01 am

I am a fan of Red Letter Media, Astral Codex Ten, Freddie deBoer, Red Scare podcast, Townsends historical cooking youtube channel, LindyMan’s newsletter and many others.

Daniel Krijnen July 18, 2023 at 3:02 am

Thank you so much for over a decade of inspiring blogs. For the last couple of years I tend to print them and read them to me and my wife.. We start being a Patron from now on.. thanks for the reminder !

David July 18, 2023 at 10:01 am

Thanks Daniel, and welcome to the Patreon.

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