Or how I gave up on something really good.
Trust is vital with any consumers of the fruits of a creative pursuit. Trust takes time, time for the creator takes inhuman persistence.
At the beginning of any creative pursuit it is hard, the laws and rules of success are poorly defined, your skill level is the lowest it will ever be.
There is great uncertainly, a high risk of failure. When you first start creating and sharing there will be no external validation. If there is a short burst at the beginning because of the novelty it will quickly subside.
You can only subsist off of your social credit with others for so long. Very soon you will see whether your creation really provides any value to them.
We first need to settle on what the intent is. What is the outcome we are searching for? The thing that when achieved will give us energy. Gratification. The energy that will spin the pinwheel for another loop allowing you to sustain, to persist, to continue.
If you don’t get that energy the wheel won’t spin and the momentum will come to an end. You will give up
Linking that energy to external validation will mean little to no energy coming back at the beginning. The activity will go from impassioning to draining. Tethered to extrinsic motivation that dwindles.
So a quick peak of extrinsic support gets you going, but it’s hard for you to create whatever you’re working on (music, writing, games, painting etc). It has a large cost of energy for very little external gratification. Therefore if you rely on that validation for motivation you will see that the emotional economics here don’t add up.
You will be left with a constant outpouring of energy but nothing coming back. It will be like shouting into the void and hearing nothing back.
How long can you sustain like that?
Shouting into the void
When I was twelve I wanted to learn to code. It wasn’t like it is now, with thousands and thousands of professional and university level courses being shared online, there was just the early days of YouTube. When I discovered YouTube only one person had more than 1 million subscribers. A handful of people were making tutorials on how to code.
I started to watch these videos, very few existed. So as I learned the concepts, the syntax, how to code. I made my own tutorials. Explaining what I was learning.
Learning the power of teaching.
My first video was watched by 200 people the first week. In today’s numbers it is a tiny drop in the ocean. Even by those days’ standards it was a weak showing.
But I didn’t care. It’s weird for me even now to write that. Well it exactly isn’t true, I did care, I was incredibly proud of those 200 views. I still remember when I got my first subscriber. Brak241.
I was not doing it for attention or for validation, I was doing it because I wanted to, because I could. It was cool to me, in my childlike wonder. No ulterior or greater motive than just to create.
Adversity is in the eye of the beholder
That first year I made at least one video a week, most receiving less than a 1,000 views at first, then I broke 1,000 for the first time on one video. Then I was getting 10,000 per video, as a 13 year old. Then I was growing at 100 subscribers a day for a while and YouTube offered me access to their partnership program to earn ad-revenue.
All the while it felt like YouTube was saturated, people had over 1 million subscribers after all…and that felt like a whole lot. For context, Pewdiepie is now closing in on 100 million subscribers and thousands of people have over a million. But still, it felt saturated at the time. Like I had missed the wave.
When you are riding the wave you will always be on the front of it. Looking in front of you towards the sand you will not be able to see the larger swell coming as the tide comes in behind you. The analogy I use is that you will always be the oldest you will ever be. That’s why it is so tough to be patient, you are always at the end of the tether just walking forward into the unknown.
It seems like we’re always so low on time.
Losing the fun
I received comments from people all over the world, thanking me, attacking me, insulting me, asking me questions. By the time I stopped making videos my channel had over 1.6million views, thousands of subscribers and I was making decent money from the videos for a 14 year old. So why did I stop at what now looks like a tipping point to great YouTube success?
The scale of the attention of the videos meant that each week if my video didn’t come out on time I started receiving angry comments, getting judged by strangers. It moved the needle. I was just a kid.
It wasn’t fun anymore. I wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was working. With judgemental, anonymous bosses which were impossible to please. Infinitely nitpicking and entitled while receiving free content.
It shifted from doing it for myself, being able to consistently bring out a tutorial at least once a week, for a long time, to twice a week to eventually quitting it altogether.
It wasn’t a conscious effort to stop, it was a slow shift where it stopped being fun for me. Every video became an effort. So I gradually slowed down, two videos per week became one, became one per month, became none.
The well turned to poison
I had grown to tether my motivation to the feedback from the viewers. As the numbers grew I became more egotistical about it and it became less about the passion it had grown from, and so I stopped.
I began writing here for myself, to articulate my thoughts and pull them out into structure, taking snapshots of my mind so that I could look back over them in the future.
If I had decided to write for readership numbers I would be destined to feel it was impossible. Because the effort to write here is nontrivial, what number of reads makes that worth it? 100, 1000? There is no answer because that goalpost is constantly moving as I normalise each milestone there’s always another.
The key is to deliver value, for myself first, then for others. To take a note from my early experience on YouTube that you must deliver value consistently for a long time time. Trust and then viewership will come from that.
Toiling in obscurity is the valley. It is the filter. Doing it for other people will ensure you never make it through because no-one cares in the beginning and that’s when it is hardest. It is hardest to succeed at first, and easiest to quit.
Any rational person will see that that is not a good formula. For each attempt it’s about truly doing it for yourself, then you can continue forever. You eat every day, you do that for yourself. You can write in your journal daily, you do that for yourself.
Make this something you do for yourself and you’re already a success.