The short version is this…
I have four major aspects of my life I can spend time on. (1) The life coaching side of things, (2) creating new content including blogging, (3) the MMSL forum and (4) rest, relaxation, getting to enjoy things and all-purpose self-care.
I can however only realistically do three of those four things for any continuing time period and I’ve really come to a point of just being burnt out on nearly everything. Thus something has to give, and that something is going to be the forum.
I’ll get to what those changes are going to be a little later in the post, but for now, I feel the need to explain how we got to this situation.
A little history…
Back in 2009 I started commenting on the Talk About Marriage forum. Most people liked what I had to say and I kept saying it over and over, so I started thinking about writing it down as a book.
In 2010 I stared the MMSL blog and began work on the Primer. Major sidetracking in the death of my father knocking me for a loop.
In 2011 the Primer is finally done. Very Red Pill in tone. By this time I’m working about 2-4 hours a day answering email and giving free advice out.
In 2012 I’m getting exhausted from full time work, all the email advice I’m giving, and trying to write the Primer revision which fails to figure itself out a couple times. In mid 2012 I quit my nursing job with the plan to start turning the free email advice into paid life coaching. Unfortunately I’m told that MMSL as it exists is really going to be far too close to marriage counseling to do it without a license yada yada yada. Crap.
At this point the book money is doing just fine and I have all this email advice I’m doing for free, so the idea was to start a forum and eventually have it running so instead of having hours of my day taken up with unpaid advice-giving, I could write more. I figured the forum would be a few hundred people.
In 2013 I come close to starting a business with a partner in the training industry who wants to merge my MMSL stuff with his industry knowledge, and turn it into a small empire. It all sounds good at first and then flounders. It dies for a number of reasons, one of which being I’m still not happy with the state of the Primer revision. I also delay another book 95% complete while this all goes down. By April I’m in a bad place.
In a brainwave, my Primer revision takes a vastly different tack and it becomes The Mindful Attraction Plan book. It sells well and also has the advantage of being “whole life” in approach, thus justifying a life coaching approach based on The Mindful Attraction Plan. Thus shortly thereafter I can open a life coaching service. It would be easy to say I sold out at this point, but the reality is I really do believe in the MAP book and it’s very effective for many people.
In later 2013 though, things start to get out of hand for me. The coaching takes off great, the forum remains vastly more time consuming than I ever imagined, I’m still writing the blog and starting to have more writing ideas. Then the bottom falls out as my wife Jennifer gets targeted at her job, literally taken to Human Resources and frowned at, because some random person from their government funding agency is sending the CEO of her company my blog posts in unmarked letters.
I green light Jennifer leaving her job, but there’s a lot to do to balance the income of her not working. I’m also no longer getting any enjoyment out of writing the blog, knowing some bitch (Jennifer is 99% certain she knows who did it, so I’ll say “bitch” here) is actively willing to use my writing to personally screw my wife over. About three months later, Jennifer quits her job.
Meanwhile the forum has grown and grown to where today it has just over 3000 members. It only takes one person in three-thousand on any given week being pissed off or otherwise Batshit Crazy and behind the scenes it turns into something like being an Air Traffic Controller in a freak snowstorm. It makes me miss just doing 2-4 hours of free email advice some days.
Meanwhile the older forum members miss the good old days when the forum was smaller, and new members feel the older members are often jerks. Oy, Houston we have a problem.
Why the forum is problematic…
The biggest issue with the forum is that it starts to define my own personal branding and philosophy out from under me. By which I mean that if I have a stated viewpoint on something, and the forum starts repeating something divergent from that viewpoint, eventually that viewpoint becomes “MMSL says to do X”. Then it is a very short jump to “Athol said you should do X”, when in fact I may have warned to do the exact opposite of X.
There have been some very useful insights that have come from the forum interactions, don’t misunderstand me on this, but there have been some absolutely maddeningly wrong ones that I can’t seem to kill off too.
What I’ve come to understand is that there are always going to be some small percentage of people who will take something I’ve said, and then endlessly restate it one standard deviation toward stupidity. Then if this is left unchecked, it becomes part of the “official MMSL canon”.
This is why, for example, I eventually just banned all talk of anything related to BDSM on the forum. I’ve long held some mild to moderate bedroom play of dominance and submission related stuff is perfectly fine. Many women respond very well to it. Jennifer and I like it. However I’ve discovered through some repeated testing that if BDSM-anything is allowed on the forum, it quickly starts turning into something I’ve rather depressingly termed Rapeworld.
Example… true story by the way.
Email Guy: “Hey I haven’t had sex with my wife in two years. Should I just start having sex with her when she’s sleeping around 3am? Just push through if she wakes up?”
Athol: “Ahhh… no that’s a terrible idea. Are you emailing from the 4th century or something?”
Email Guy: “Gotcha, thanks.”
Athol: (thinks) “What the frak is on the forum today!?!?”
It gets worse. Some chick on the forum was floating the idea of using sleeping pills to knock herself out, and the idea was as she was drifting into unconsciousness, maybe that would result in a great orgasm with her husband. Oh. My. Gawd. You’re slipping yourself something like a date rape drug. I leave a WTF comment and close the thread. Heavy facepalming in moderator channel ensues.
All that stemmed from someone’s original comment that they liked it, when their husband woke them up in the middle of the night and they had sleepy cuddly sex. See what I mean by one standard deviation toward stupidity? Most people knew exactly what was meant, a small handful just didn’t.
Look, I won’t lie here either. Some of the confusion is my fault. MMSL covers a big set of theory and it’s not all perfectly laid out. Plus I’ve actually slowly changed and expanded my own thought. I don’t say exactly the same thing in 2014 as I was saying in 2009, 2010 or 2011. There’s a heck of a lot for new people to get caught up with.
Plus… well there’s hamster to contend with.
The MAP is hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s not all wonderful. Not everyone wants everything to apply to them. Everyone wants to be a special snowflake and find a way to take a shortcut. No one wants to wake up and realize that their MAP is probably going to take years rather than months. Everyone says they want to be Outcome Independent, but no one really wants to go to Phase Four and start putting their chips on the table and flop their cards down.
A lot of the attempts by the forum to “improve MMSL thought” are actually attempts to create shortcuts around something I’ve fairly well proven works. Then obviously when the shortcut fails to work… cue up the complaint that “MMSL doesn’t work for me”.
Coaching vs. the Forum…
There’s a tendency to slowly turn the forum into a place where you can just talk about running your MAP, but not actually run your MAP. Some people stall out for a long time. This started becoming blindingly obvious as soon as I started coaching people. The difference in success between the average coached client and the average forum member is really quite sizable.
Obviously I’m going to claim that myself and the other coaches (Rebecca and Brian) are amazingly amazing, and it’s our presence that makes all the difference. That is true. However, it’s also true that the coaching clients start coaching with a much greater sense of investment and determination to succeed than the average forum member does. There’s just something about taking money out of your pocket that stops your hamstering excuses about why something can’t be done, and you just go out and start doing it.
Which brings us to money. The forum is expensive to run, about $600 a month currently and it generates very minimal income and requires a huge time investment to keep running.
The thing that pays the bills is the coaching. The majority of the coaching leads are coming from the blog, the books and word of mouth. Only about 25% of my coaching clients are also active forum members, 25% of them have a token forum membership, and 50% of them pretty much think the forum is horrible-to-nasty-in-tone-and-advice and it makes me look bad.
To be blunt, I’ve been told repeatedly by people paying me hundreds to thousands of dollars, that they are using me in spite of the negative branding the forum is giving me.
That’s a huge problem.
I’ve twice now had an interaction where a “senior” forum member has crapped on a newer member, I’ve had to say something about it and the “senior” member quit the forum and/or needed to be banned. The crapped on member became a coaching client and spent $1-2,000 dollars on coaching and has a vastly improved life.
I completely understand why someone who has been on the forum for over a year and posted a thousand or more comments, can feel a sense of entitlement and position. They have contributed to the forum. But I can’t afford any more of these friends.
Private Messages are of The Devil…
If I had known what private messaging would turn into on the forum, I never would have enabled it. There are really two forums. One is the main forum where everyone can see what is happening. Then there’s this entire other forum experience happening in private.
The most common issue is advice cherry picking. Someone has a problem and they post it on the forum, then they get advice and they don’t like it. So then they start Private Messaging anyone and everyone to hunt for someone to give them the advice they want to hear. When they finally hit on someone giving them the “correct” advice, they thank them and then continue on doing the dumb thing they wanted to do in the first place.
These relationships can slowly morph into a de facto coaching arrangement spreading over several months. This isn’t immediately problematic, I mean it’s not illegal or immoral, it’s more that there’s a competing free coaching service that I’m unwittingly supporting. Maybe they would have used the paid coaching, maybe they wouldn’t, I’ll never know.
There’s also some giant Private Messaging chains and cliques that have developed. We’re talking 10,000 or more messages with 10 or more people on the chain. It’s great that people are getting along, but if 10,000 x 10 = 100,000 page views, then its cost me about $60 to host the conversation. I feel incredibly old and cranky saying that, like I’ve discovered an open window in my daughter’s room while the air conditioners have been on all day.
There’s also lots of playing footsie in the Private Messages, budding Emotional Affairs and I can neither confirm nor deny knowledge of worse. It’s not wildly uncommon for a new male member to immediately Private Message 10+ female members looking for specific… advice.
There’s also the issue of Private Messages being used to target and/or actively harass other members. This is easily the most problematic aspect of them.
Plus, obviously there’s bitching about me in there. But we all knew that. I wouldn’t wish telepathy on my worst enemy.
All that being said…
The Forum really does a lot of good for a lot of people. Some people make remarkable progress and make leaps and bounds of personal growth. Marriages are saved, sex lives restarted, kids grow up in intact families.
When it works well, the forum is amazing. But it’s working less and less well, so there have to be changes.
Recapping the issues…
The primary issues are that it sucks up my time, I have to fight to retain my branding, it’s losing money, undercuts the coaching, newbies arrive lost, oldies feel entitled and grumpy, there’s a sheer size issue and PM’s are really problematic.
The core of the solution is dividing the forum membership up into differing membership levels, some of which are paid. We’re looking at generally forcing the forum culture toward the culture of people being here to actively work on their MAP and get their lives turned around.
This is going to be the default member option when people sign up for the forum. Along with that is some reduced functionality to the membership.
Can start a thread in the Introduce Me category.
Can comment on threads, except the 911 category is read only.
Cannot start a Private Message.
Cannot have a signature line, can’t upload images, standard Vanillacon avatar images.
The Gold Member area is completely invisible to Free Members.
Even mildly badly behaved Free Members are just going to be summarily dismissed. Walk in polite, or keep walking basically.
This is essentially the same as the current forum membership, with the following exceptions:
Cannot start a Private Message, but can reply to one.
The Gold Member area is completely invisible to Silver Members.
Silver Members behaving badly will be made Free Members
You become a Silver Member by proof of purchase of one of the books. Send us a copy of receipt or a your copy of one of the books can send a “book selfie” picture as proof.
Current active members will get grandfathered into Silver Members, so as to avoid Jennifer having to deal with hundreds of emails of book selfies.
The Gold Member category area will include four categories.
(1) Men only area – not even viewable by female flagged members.
(2) Women only area – not even viewable by male flagged members
(3) Running my MAP – must be about what you are actually doing for your MAP
(4) The Fungeon – consider this an introductory sexual dominance and submission topic area. Emphasis on fun and pleasure rather than pain and pushing things into non-consensual activities.
The entire Gold Member area is not viewable by memberships below Gold.
Private Messages can be started.
The Gold areas will likely attract the best members to comment, and the members who are the most motivated to actually make changes. Likewise the moderators/coaches will obviously give greater priority to Gold Member concerns and categories. We can’t assure giving anyone specific attention and advice though.
There is also a Zen Garden option where for Gold Members, the entire rest of the forum is turned non-viewable. Peace and quiet at last.
Gold Memberships are $19.99 a month, whether single or a couple.
This one we’re still debating and working on between the coaches. It’s intended to be all the Gold goodies, plus a hybrid of a One Hour Call, plus the 12-Week Guided MAP questionnaire, scripted into a more forum based process. As opposed to Gold, this would be a specific advice and attention thing from the coaches/moderators. It’s a question of what we can do for $99 a month that is effective for members, but not going to exhaust a coach if it’s wildly popular.
When this all happens…
There’s nothing to see or sign up for on the forum currently. The nature of the forum software is that you’ll start seeing a bunch of stuff being put in place/turned on as I’m building it. I can’t really hide the construction process.
Likewise the grandfathering in the active members into the Silver Membership is going to take a lot of effort. We have 3000 total members, and 1000 of those have been active in the last three months. You may see some of that happening sooner rather than later.
Planning to have the option to have paid Gold Memberships available announcement on May 30th and the whole thing go live on June 2nd.
The majority of the day-to-day running of the forum will then be handed to Jennifer, with Brian and Rebecca helping moderate. We’re still discussing what I do with my account, I may just drop down to a Golden Zen Garden level. I still want to comment, just I want to enjoy commenting.
Anyway that’s about it for now. I realize that a lot of this has sounded like whining. The truth of the matter is that I’ve taken far too long to finally get to the point of just being willing to pull the trigger and risk pissing a bunch of people off. A lot of that is simple exhaustion. Plus the forum has been my baby and despite my frustrations with it, it’s incredibly hard to let it go and see what happens.
I’m very much aware that many people have given of their time and effort to comment and help others through the forum. I’m really truly aware of that. The forum isn’t all created by me. But at the end of the day, I have to be able to create new content, or eventually everything will pancake down and that will be it. MMSL is this weird thing where my personal life, my philosophy, my business life and creativity are all merged into one thing. I simply can’t create new content, unless I’m in a good place on a personal level.
Likewise I’ve become a very boring person to live with recently and while Jennifer is tolerant, supportive and uncomplaining, she really should complain.
There’s so much more to do.