Reading the top 5 regrets of the dying was powerful for me – it aligned with much of what I have heard over the years from those older than me – folks who were often well past age 70.
There is this odd pressure in our culture to focus on some milestone, some end result. Some examples for creative professionals:
- Publishing a book
- Becoming a bestseller
- Having a gallery show
- Booking a concert tour
Clearly – there are some wonderful outcomes of these achievements, from quantifiable things such as revenue and exposure, to a deep sense of validation and accomplishment. You know, the stuff that feels like the underpinnings of one’s creative legacy.
But today I want to talk about something else: not the big milestones and accomplishments, but the small moments:
To value not the diploma, but the process of learning;
Not publication day, but the process of creating and sharing one’s work;
Not receiving an award, but in connecting with readers and fans.
For instance, let’s consider some counter examples to those above – a series of small moments instead of huge milestones:
- Sharing short stories one at a time by self-publishing to Kindle or even just on a blog.
- Selling 500 copies each of 10 different stories you write. (5,000 copies sold total.)
- Having 100 followers view 100 images you share on Instagram over the course of three months. (10,000 views from a strictly quantifiable metric.)
- Posting one video to YouTube each week for a month, seen by 1,000 people.
Each of these things are small accessible actions you can take, and the cumulative exposure to others are small private moments. In none of these situations, do you get the visceral gratification of standing on stage and seeing hundreds of people with looks of adoration on their faces.
Yet, the effect is the same, in terms of both validation for your work, and in your ability to truly connect to the hearts and minds of others.
Small moments as opposed to big milestones.
I have written before about the idea of being a success without being a bestseller, and want to explore that further here.
DEVELOPING A PROCESS
When you focus on the small moments I provided examples for above, you are developing a skill set, one that is replicateable. It is about establishing a PROCESS for connecting with others, not just shooting for some vague destination such as “becoming a bestseller.” The problem with that goal? It is too big, too far away, and affected by so much that is out of your control.
We make too many assumptions about what “becoming a bestseller” means. We assume the milestone of hitting that list comes attached with so many other things that make life easy: money, fame, access, validation, and momentum. And you know what? Becoming a bestseller promises none of those things. In fact, most of the bestselling authors I have spoken to work incredible hard each and every day to make success continue to happen – they never got a “free pass” after becoming a bestseller.
Which brings me to a lovely quote from actor Jim Carrey:
“I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that its not the answer.”
When you become a bestseller, you often don’t know why, which specific actions triggered success, nor can they easily replicate it. The achievement is often a wonderful mix of effort, a team, luck, timing, and so on. This is part of why Miranda Beverly-Whittemore are sharing our year-long process of launching her next novel. Because after the launch, we would be tempted to create a simple narrative for success or failure. And the reality is much more complex than that. (note: I have never heard Miranda mention “becoming a bestseller” as a goal.)
Becoming a bestseller is indeed a very cool goal, and one worth having. The problem I see in it is that it doesn’t always provide a useful sense of process and achievement day-to-day. And, though most people may not admit this, having that goal sets you up for a sense of inadequacy.
MAKING THE TRANSITION
I teach a lot of online courses, and had hundreds writers in my courses this past year. Whenever I ask “Why are you taking this course?” the answer I hear most frequently is “I am in a transition.” Sometimes these are career transitions, other times personal, and the specifics are always different.
What I find is that the same advice applies to those in transition: focus on small moments, not big goals. For instance:
- On making a new friendship with someone in the industry you want to break into, not getting a job that will take you 5 years to develop qualifications for, find, and then go through the hiring process with.
- Getting 10 people to read a blog post – the right people – not a three year goal to have the blog be big enough to get a book deal from.
My friend Cali Williams Yost wrote a book that talks a bit about this process called: Tweak It, Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day.
Well worth checking out.
STOP TRYING TO GROW YOUR “FOLLOWERS”
I hear phrases like this all too often: “I ONLY HAVE 100 FOLLOWERS” on Twitter. In other words: they are bemoaning the fact that only 100 people follow them, not 1,000 or 100,000. I hate this, mostly because it takes for granted the wonderful reality (and opportunity) that 100 individuals care enough about you to stay connected on a daily basis.
There is a perception that you need to have tens of thousands of followers to have a “REAL AUDIENCE,” (you don’t.)
Instead of reaching for more and more followers, treat the folks who do connect with you as the most important people on the planet. On an individual basis – not in aggregate. If you have 100 followers, don’t worry about getting follower number 101; instead, worry about making those 100 people love you 1% more.
These 100 people are something to cherish, to encourage, to give back to. Not to judge as being insignificant because there aren’t more of them. Not to play into the your fears of inadequacy or need for constant validation.
So much of what I talk about here is about focusing on the basic thing that tie us to each other: COMMUNICATION and TRUST.