I imagined a larger exodus from my mailing list yesterday when I announced that these daily journal entries would be showing up in inboxes every morning, but instead I was pleasantly surprised.
Setting up my RSS feed to go directly to people’s email, while highly requested, has always been something that I avoided. It wasn’t until recently that I began to actually analyze why I had been avoiding it. Sure, some of it was the fear of pressure. “What if I drop off? What if I can’t keep up the regimen?” But I already knew that fear——we all know that fear. Underneath (or perhaps laying beside that fear) there was another one, a bigger one: insecurity.
The first form of that fear is the fear of being “good enough.” It’s something Lynda Barry talks about in What It Is, a book I found myself re-reading yesterday before having it come up in the interview I recorded for a future episode. My mind has been chipping away at the idea recently, working like an arctic ship splitting its way through sheets of ice.
It came to a head in this week’s episode of Random Badassery, when Lam and I talked about blogging. It wasn’t something I had planned on talking about or had even worked out verbally before, but first in a text message and then again in the show, I encouraged Lam to view his blog as a place to drop incomplete, first drafts. It seemed like such a simple idea, but in the time since recording that, I’ve realized that’s what I’m doing here.
I don’t “pre-think” these, I just sit down at the keyboard and start, wondering what will come out. Blaise Pascal once wrote in a letter “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter,” and I feel that way about this journal. If I took the time to plan, write, edit, re-write, hone, perfect the words, or even double-check the spelling, I would be lucky to get one out every week, or month… But by treating this as a place to scribble out incomplete thoughts, I have somehow overcome that fear of being “good.” It’s not about quality, it’s about thought.
The second form of that fear (the one that is more pervasive) is the fear of being seen as spammy or intrusive. I think this is a fear that many creators have, which is seldom shared. “What are people going to think when they get an email from me every morning, and a second one every Monday & Thursday afternoon when new podcast episodes come out? Are they going to think I’m jamming things down their throats?” That’s the voice of the insecurity.
I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s daily emails off-and-on for almost a year now and I’ve never felt that way about him. Why? Why do I accept and praise him for doing it, but denigrate myself for thinking of it? Because I think he’s worthy. Because I think what he’s doing is valuable. Why couldn’t I see my own work that way? How could I?
God, I wish I could answer that question for anybody reading this. I don’t know what changed. I don’t know how I started seeing things differently. It just happened. I was noodling on the guitar and staring out the window, and it changed. I suddenly felt secure and proud of what I was doing, that a brilliant strike of inspiration. And with that came the confidence to send these straight to inboxes. And it wasn’t some watery sense of confidence either, it was solid fucking stone.
I send out a email warning all the current subscribers of the change in frequency. I had to. It was just the right thing to do. If it was me, I’d want to know and have the chance to jump ship. And because of that, I honestly expected a 50% exodus and I was completely fine with that possibility because I knew that the percentage who remained would be getting what they wanted; they would be the ones who found value in receiving them. So how many left? So far, it’s been only 3%.
I started this entry thinking I was going to write about something else, and I definitely didn’t expect to go this long, but I’m on a journey. So, on the journey of writing this, I think I’ve pegged down what changed.
When you start posting things publicly, you’re pleasantly surprised to find that a few people care to listen or to read or to watch. But then something strange happens, you get hooked on numbers——the wrong numbers. You get hooked on the size of your mailing list or your downloads. It feeds the insecurity when the numbers grow and somehow feeds it when they dip. So, you start drilling for new ideas to hook more and more people and to grow grow grow those numbers. Get 100. Get 1000. Get 10,000. Get 1M.
There are too schools of thought on this as far as I can tell. The first is the strategy of growth and size. I think of PewDiePie, who has almost 56M subscribers on YouTube. He is the #4 channel on all of YouTube, yet of his last 15 videos the most views he gets is 8.8M. That’s a 16% engagement. It doesn’t matter if PewDiePie only gets 16% of his subscribers to actually watch his videos because that 16% is 8.9M people! The grow school works for him.
The second school is the school of engagement. This is school I prefer. It’s the more realistic school for most creators and enrolling in it is what broke me of that spammer fear, and the fear of losing subscribers. It doesn’t matter to me if people unsubscribe because I honestly don’t want people receiving things they don’t want and don’t open. I’ve even set up an automation to unsubscribe people who don’t open emails for a few weeks. There’s a freedom in that, freedom from insecurity.