I had a couple of birthdays a few weeks ago. I turned 26 at the end of September, and the next day was my 1-year anniversary with my company. Happy Birthdays to me.
I’ve been feeling this coming on for a few weeks, the nagging, the itch to come back to this blog, to start this again. I have a habit of trying to develop myself in cycles, of feeling motivation and going really hard at everything for a few weeks, but then the motivation drops and the difficulty increases and I get busy and I give up and about six months later I do it all over again. Or five months in this case.
I’d love to say that things will be different this time, that I really have my head in the game, that I’ll be consistent and rise to glory and all those things…but I don’t know that. 25 was a year that passed with few celebrations or personal developments. At 26 I’m now consistently stressed, haven’t put nearly as much effort into the things I care about as I claimed I would. I work a job that doesn’t make me happy very often, though admittedly I work with fantastic people. I’m fifteen pounds heavier. Some would say to get over it, that this is simply how becoming an adult works. Though I don’t believe it, I can’t doubt that it rings with a bit of truth.
If none of this sounds optimistic it’s because I’m not optimistic. I’ve been unhappy for a year (more than that, really), and it took me until recently to finally conceptualize that it’s not my job, not my relationships, not my writing I’ve been unhappy with. I’ve been unhappy with me. I’ve been disappointed in myself time and again, made mistake after mistake without feeling like I’m progressing towards being a successful writer or entrepreneur. Some of you might have known me in high school or college and thought me a bit…confident. I don’t have that confidence anymore.
In its place now is a bit of trepidation, a bit of fear, and a lot of humbleness. I’ve done everything someone is supposed to do at my age: moved out, got a quality, high-paying job, started paying off debts. And amidst that I feel like I’m backsliding. So, like the dramatic scene at the end of the action movie where the hero desperately claws for something to hang on to as he slides nearer and nearer to the cliff, I’m reformatting, changing my approach, grasping for a new mentality and dedication to power myself into a better self-image, a better position in life…to happiness, really.
When I look back on the last year I realize that, though I’m not in the place I wanted to be, I’ve learned a hell of a lot. I’ve learned how to put in crazy hours and how to stop putting in crazy hours when they become too much. I’ve learned how to be frugal and I’ve learned how to stop caring about the cash and have a good time. I’ve learned how to set concrete goals and measure progress and I’ve learned how to shut down and just let life happen around me. I’ve learned how to micro-manage and I’ve learned how to deal with letting a project grow its own wings and fly. I’ve learned how to give myself a break, and I’ve learned how to expect more of myself. Much of my growth came directly from the very job I felt was holding me back, and it’s been hard to admit that what has caused me so much grief has also given me so much. But now that I’ve done some growing in general (and hopefully some maturing), it’s time to realize that simply growing isn’t enough. I have to decide how to grow, where to grow, and when to make the decisions that will make me the man I’ll be for the rest of my life.
A couple nights ago I came up with a system to make myself accountable for the way I spend time, to allow myself some flexibility in the way I strengthen myself, but also to make sure I focus on the skillset that I want to grow, the strengths that I am proud of. I’ll be setting concrete goals, rewarding my successes and penalizing my failures. I’m going to push myself consistently, set realistic goals, and understand that with struggle comes success. I’m keeping the details under wraps right now, but I’m hoping to shape myself into someone I know again.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I’m looking at. I feel like I don’t know I am anymore, I don’t know how I got here. But if I tripped and stumbled into this life, then I’m damned lucky. I have an amazing family, spectacular friends, a stable, challenging job, and, if I take advantage of the opportunities in front of me, the whole damned world at my fingertips. Because even though I might not be optimistic, even though I might not feel a ton of confidence in myself, I still see potential. I still feel hope. But I need a change of approach. I need a focus.
This blog will undergo a change of format at the next post. This won’t just be me venting about my life (though I can’t guarantee that won’t seep in occasionally). HTML will go back to its original purpose: taking back life. Whether it’s taking life back from indecision, mediocrity, stagnation, depression, addiction, whatever the matter is….it’s YOUR LIFE. It’s MY LIFE. Either we can do or be done, change or be changed. Sit back and let someone take charge of your life, or stand up and say, “Hey, that’s my life.”
I’ll be taking it back now.
Malcolm Gladwell says that if you want to become a master of something that it’ll take 10,000 hours of dedication.
But this isn’t a Gladwell post. It’s a Macklemore post.
When I first heard Thrift Shop on the radio I knew it was going to be a hit. It’s pretty easy to tell what’s going to resonate with the populous, what songs are going to get played over and over again. I found the intro pretty annoying. But I started listening to the lyrics behind the catchy beat and became really impressed. He took the mechanics of popular hip-hop and subverted the traditional message. Why pay ridiculous amounts of money to buy clothes? I mean, they’re just clothes, right? I enjoyed it; it was fun.
And then I heard Can’t Hold Us and I started to get it. I remember talking to some friends, saying, “Man, how ridiculous must it feel to put out tracks like he does, to have been rapping for years and the one that makes him blow up is almost ridiculous?” They said that he probably didn’t care, that the cash that’s rolling in probably makes up for it all, and that at least it’s getting him exposure.
I think it was a tactic, dropping Thrift Shop before Can’t Hold Us. Pull the audience in with the stuff that makes it comfortable and happy, then gradually start to show them the real stuff. Though I’d love to say otherwise, I think that if Can’t Hold Us dropped before Thrift Shop, even though there’s more vocal styling and skill in that track, he wouldn’t have as large a following today. But that’s part of mastering your craft and your audience.
His most recent album with he album has recurring themes: blood, sweat, and tears. Dreams. Work. Fighting for success. The flaws of consumerism. And appreciating the success once it comes.
Ten Thousand Hours is the name of the first track on The Heist. In in he says, “Ten thousand hours/I’m so damn close I can taste it.” He says he’s not a master yet, but I say he is. He’s doing things with hip-hop that are simply fantastic, and it’s damned inspirational. He talks about drug abuse, alcoholism, even writing about telling his family about his relapse.
Same shit, different day, same struggle
Slow motion as time slips through my knuckles
Nothing beautiful about it
No light at the tunnel
For the people that put the passion before them being comfortable
Kinda funny that his passion, the passion of my friends following their dreams, is the light at the end of my tunnel. That 10,000 hours isn’t going to get any shorter for any of us. So if you’ve got a passion, if you’ve got a craving, then you’d better get started. Do your craft for the sake of the craft, and you’ll inspire people you never even dreamed you would.
A quick definition of professionalism, placed in the words of the Brad and Wesley Sun of Sun Brothers Studios: “Even if it’s not what you do to put food on the table, treat it like it is.”
I tweeted this morning saying:
So writing this blog tonight instead of tomorrow is my attempt at professionalism.
The “great panel” WAS, in fact, a great panel; two men, after kicking the idea around of starting their own company (like many), actually got off their asses and started their own comic company (UNlike many). Before they even considered Kickstarter as an option they saved a ton of their own money, invested their own time, and basically finished their product. By the time they ended up on Kickstarter basically all they had to do was send their first graphic novel, Chinatown, to the printers.
Their fund goal: $11K. They raised over $25,000. Pretty amazing.
At the panel they gave some pretty savvy Kickstarter-specific tips, things like making sure to set up your Amazon Payments account early, and have family and friends back you on Day 1 right when the campaign begins so that other people who see your project get excited about the investment.
Those are good tips. But none of those are how I think they raised over twice their Kickstarter goal.
Here’s what they did:
- Set a timetable. Sure, you have an idea, but what’s it matter if you don’t get it done? If you’re going to Kickstart your project then you’ll have backers who expect rewards for their contributions and you’ll want to provide those promptly. On the subject of backers…
- Think of Kickstarter as an investment opportunity, not a charity. Wesley Sun drove this point home over and over again throughout the panel. Treat the people who pump money into your project as investors who want to see your project succeed, not random people who just want to give you money because you’re a cool person (even if that’s why your Mom and friend Lenny from down the street backed you).
- Research your market. One of your biggest recruiting tools on Kickstarter is the video at the top of the page: watch tons of other videos to find out what works and what doesn’t. Then do what you do best, but, again, remember you’re reaching out to investors. You can be funny, but take your project seriously or else nobody else will.
- Know your scope. Wesley and Brad knew they weren’t just interested in making one comic, so they marketed to backers like they were helping to build a company instead of publish a comic. It worked.
- PLAY SMART, PLAY HARD, PLAY TO WIN. There are tons of variables in play when you do a Kickstarter: leave none of them to chance. Actually calculate how much money you’ll need for the project, and don’t forget that you’ll lose 10% between Amazon Payments and Kickstarter fees. Invoke every hook you can to bring in backers; the Sun Brothers launched their Kickstarter in October since Chinatown is a haunted house story and people would be thinking about Halloween. And don’t forget the power of face-to-face marketing: hit up local shops, send letters to your friends and family, do it all.
- Don’t stop after the campaign’s over. Tons of the work only shows up after the campaign’s over. When backers wrote to complain about damaged copies of the book they ordered, even when they were damaged by the US Postal Service the Sun Brothers still sent out replacement copies to those donors.
Technology now makes it easier than ever to turn ideas into real products, to take our dreams and turn them into reality. But Wesley and Brad’s success shows it takes more than a good idea and a Kickstarter account: it takes professionalism. Hard work, determination, careful planning, and taking both yourself and your project seriously…like they said, it’s amazing what a bit of professionalism can do to help you become successful.
10. You spend time thinking about what you’d rather be doing more often than enjoying the moment you’re in.
9. You don’t sleep well, and you know it’s not for medical reasons.
8. You read blogs, books, articles about seizing life and feel like they’re talking to you directly.
7. You find yourself sacrificing happiness for other things on a regular basis.
6. People who really care about you ask how you’re doing and you either lie or talk around the question.
5. You think about how today would be better if you did something different, and then you do the same thing you did yesterday.
4. You don’t feel like you’re working any goals of your own.
3. You spend more time in a day feeling unhappy than anything else (if you’re not sure, make a log for a couple days and see what happens).
2. Your free time doesn’t feel free.
1. You know you’re unhappy.
TL;DR version: Ask yourself this question directly: “Am I doing what’s right for me and my life right now?” If the answer is no, then you’re doing it wrong.
I’ll tell you something you’ve probably heard at least 80,000 times already: life is way too damned short to spend unhappy. Debt will always be over your head, fear will always be the monster just around the corner, habit will always try to lock you in place. But for all the problems there are in this world, every day is a new opportunity to make something happen, to turn it around, to start making your life into what it should be instead of what it is.
At the end of the day, the only person who has to sleep with you is you, and the only one out there you should be worried about accounting to is you. Because if your boss, significant other, parents, God, higher power, or whoever else has higher expectations for you than you have for yourself, then guess what: you’re doing that wrong, too.
I watched a piece a couple days ago that The New York Times put together about Jerry Seinfeld. It’s called How to Write a Joke, and it’s a mini-documentary where Seinfeld talks about the work he’s put in to writing a single joke about the debut of the Pop-Tart. Watching this video actually reminded me that there was once a time where the Pop-Tart (brand name) and the toaster pastry (the Pop-Tart’s multiple generic counterparts) didn’t exist.
But that’s not the point.
Seinfeld shows off (a bit to his discomfort) the writing process he goes through when creating stand-up material. It’s personal, it’s risky. He tells different parts of the joke, parts that make you laugh out loud when you didn’t intend to, and parts that seem like they still need work. But when you look at those long sheets of yellow legal paper and see the way he divides sentences, words, syllables to deliver the proper punchline at the proper moment…he takes what some people chalk up as a “natural talent” or maybe just a waste of time and turns it into a specially-honed, practiced craft. And regardless of whether or not you enjoy his work, you can’t deny that he’s one of the most successful comedians out there. The moral of the story: He’s successful because he works his ass off.
A colleague of mine is also a writer, but I don’t believe the works he creates are good. Personal biases infect all his opinions to a poisonous degree, he doesn’t pay attention to his composition, and some of the assertions he makes about particular items are downright inaccurate (also known as wrong). I like to think (or hope) that if my works were put side-by-side with his, one would point me out as the “good writer.”
But there’s another key difference between this other writer and myself: he regularly publishes content. Where I can be known for going through spurts of creation and then periods of disappearing off of the radar, this guy consistently creates new content and not only comes up with new ideas, but puts in the work to make them real.
Poke the Box, the Seth Godin book I talked about in a previous post, talks about how being successful isn’t about always creating successes. Success is about creating absolutely anything often enough, with enough passion and skill, that your wins eventually outweigh your losses. Not every project will be a home-run, and in fact, most probably won’t. But if you keep working hard at what you do, improvement almost inevitably comes with time.
So, in a sense, maybe he’s the “good writer” between the two of us. But quality and skill in any situation come with hard work, practice, and commitment, and even two out of three simply won’t be good enough.
I’ve noticed lately that sometimes I speak too slowly. Or perhaps it’s more that I think so fast my mouth can’t keep up. I stutter, fumble over my sentences. I usually have to just stop talking, think about what it is I’m trying to say for a second, then restart. I have to hit my own reset button, and often times it helps.
So often I feel like this is the process of life, tumble headlong through situations simply because we’ve already started and we’re committed to doing them, because if we stop talking then there’s stillness and quiet and those aren’t comfortable. Better the devil at your doorstep, right?
What would happen if we all just stopped and hit the reset button with our lives? If we all had to stop, take a couple minutes to think and reconsider life, and then carry on in the direction we felt was most appropriate? What if we all simply did what we wanted to do?
Contrary to the beliefs of some political parties, I highly doubt people would simply stop working if they didn’t “have to.” I highly doubt we would have a world of only writers and artists. I think we would simply have more writers and artists, and would that be such a bad thing?
I think we would have people who, instead of staffing their middle-management desks to make a paycheck, would leave those desks and travel, live in nature, take up a stage career, or maybe work with farm animals…and when they left that position, a burger-flipping short-order cook would take that desk and finally get to learn and practice the management skills they’ve wanted to use for years, but couldn’t because they didn’t have the degree (or maybe the job just wasn’t open).
I don’t think the world would break if everyone stopped and hit the reset button, but I do think it would change. Admittedly, that’s scary. But maybe it’s wonderful, too.