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It’s very easy to become obsessed with the supposed glamour of running a company instead of actually doing the work – the unglamorous, tedious, hair-pulling fucking work.
Over the past few days, all over my Facebook stream, I can see pictures of entrepreneurs looking successful, when I know for a fact that they are not successful at all. It’s weird, and it creates a strange broken mirror effect. But of course, it’s inevitable.
In 2004, I had just started podcasting, and was lucky enough that I ended up being one of the first podcasters in the world. Good timing and a decent radio voice had given me my big break. Not bad.
But what happened after that is far more interesting. I ended up quitting my job, focusing on doing my podcast full-time, and failed. I had accumulated a ton of credit card debt over a few years, gone through some RRSPs (Canadian 401k’s), and was at a pretty bad place after a while of doing this – pretty deep in debt for a 24 year old. It was really hard, and then suddenly, I had gotten a break while working at a homeless shelter, of all places. I got an email from my podcast company saying I had made something like $10,000 in two months.
“Holy crap!” I thought. I had never seen that kind of money in my life before. Ever. Suddenly, my life had turned around. From one day to the next, I was no longer in debt, and I wouldn’t have to start over. I had crossed the dip.
But up until that time, I was basically faking it til I made it. The exact same thing I accused people of, above, when I posted that on my Facebook wall a few days ago.
As soon as I posted it, the deluge of comments was crazy. I got a bunch of private messages. “I’m faking it right now!!! I’m miserable!!!” And then I got a bunch of questions asking me if my startup was doing alright.
Lucky for me, it was. I couldn’t tell them then, but our numbers were great, and I was announcing in the next two days that Breather had raised $6mm in venture capital from RRE Ventures (this is public now). But the crazy part is, from the perspective of all the people on the internet, failure and success basically look the same until that final moment when you discover the truth. Nobody knows the difference. We’re all trying our best to be the duck – looking super cool above water while paddling like crazy underneath.
But ducks were born to swim. Most of us have no idea what we’re fucking doing.
The main concern isn’t playing the game – I guess it’s natural, although I’m sure it can be lonely at times. The problem is that the endorphin rush of fake success kind of feels the same as real success, for a while. It’s why you and I post selfies every little while. Feels good to look good! Oh man, am I great.
Well, not really. You’re like everybody else. So remember to actually get the work done, not just impress others with photos of what internet celebrities you’re hanging out with. That’s how you actually get to enjoy it later. Or at least, that’s what I see on my Facebook feed.
I came across this paper the other week via Chris Dixon’s Twitter account describing a possible phenomenon: Peak Advertising.
Who knows if it’ll end up being true or not. But it makes some sense and it’s worth discussing.
If you’re familiar with Peak Oil, you’ll inherently understand this too.
Here’s the theory.
Key indicators for online advertising effectiveness have declined since the launch of the first banner advertisement in 1994. These declines are increasingly placing pressure on even the most established businesses in the space.
These developments suggest important (and potentially painful) implications for market structure, privacy, and authenticity online.
Existing alternatives appear at present to be insufficient to replace lost revenue from near-future declines in the value of display, search, and mobile advertising.
Ultimately, the economics of the web will necessitate pivotal decisions about the financial underpinnings of the Internet in the decades to come.
Let’s rephrase: Users are becoming more sophisticated and clicking on ads less than before. Ads are less effective, and are plagued by click fraud, driving prices downward. This will eventually becoming such a problem that it will threaten entire businesses (Twitter, FB, whatever else) we have come to take for granted.
These businesses will therefore have no choice but to begin invading users’ privacy further and further to help target their ads.
Due to the nature of math, companies will also create massive monopolies / oligarchies to create efficiencies, allowing them to remain profitable despite these problems.
Whether it turns out to be true, well… it’s interesting either way, isn’t it?
All the more reason to do things while they work. All the more reason to attempt new things to gain advantage now, while they work.
Here’s the full PDF in case you are curious.
I was mid-way through writing a post about this when I realized I had already written one in 2010.
Regardless, here is my take on the issue from 2013, since I wrote it already. :)
It will always happen that you meet nay-sayers, disbelievers, or just straight up rotten, arrogant people.
No matter how far up or down you are on the food chain, there is always someone who thinks they are better than you. It never ceases. Trust me.
And no matter what stage you’re at, it’s especially true when you’re starting a new project.
When you start something, no one cares.
They don’t understand your dream, they don’t care about it, and further, they are often too busy, too in their head and defending their position, to care. Evidence be damned.
So get used to it. It happens.
What I want to give you today is an attitude to take when you meet these people, one that helps you stay calm, respectful, and composed.
The attitude to take is – “We will meet again, and when we do, things will be different.”
Use it like a mantra. Here’s what this does.
One, it makes you feel like you’ll get your comeuppance. No matter how badly someone treats you, you’ll be in a position of higher power later. This is immediately calming / reassuring.
Two, it makes you think twice before being an asshole back. Because you’ll meet again, you’ll want to be graceful instead of defensive. (Usually people act worse when they know it’s a one-off.)
In effect, you are using your future position to secure your present state of mind.
Try it next time you’re confronted by rudeness. It works.
The first time I received an email from James, it was in 2010 after I published this post– definitely the most radical thing I had written at the time, I think.
He wrote me an email that said: “I think you’re right. I care too much.”
The rest is pretty much history. Three and a half years later, Altucher is basically the biggest blogger out there. I have heard world-famous CEOs talk about James admiringly, like he’s the coolest guy they ever heard of.
It’s sort of weird actually. But it worked.
All of this happened, seemingly, out of nowhere. And that’s the magic of it– is that I know that it didn’t. You can see the transformation, gradually, if you look at his blog now.
My favourite quote from him recently is: “I don’t hit publish unless I am scared I’ve gone too far.”
James is one of the guys who went out there and did it. He didn’t just talk about it. He did it.
Just by itself, that’s the single difference between most people that make it, and those that don’t.
Although James’ story is still in progress (so who knows, heh), the reality is that he went out there and acted on it.
So few people do that. Putting one foot in front of the other, every day, forever, is under-appreciated.
Check out James’ book. I haven’t read it, but everybody else has, and it’s supposed to be great.
(He didn’t ask me to write this post, in case you’re wondering.)
You might notice that the title of these blog posts are pretty much random words.
You’ll also notice that I rarely do headline grabbing. When I do, I go all the way, and the posts tend to go viral. But most of the time I don’t. I’ll tell you why.
You can do this waterfall thing– a lot of water at once. BOOM. I even advise this to bloggers (or more recently, Medium writers)– instead of writing one post a day, write every day but work on one post the whole time. The 5x work on the post in question produces much more than 5x the reward.
In other words, when something goes totally, insanely viral, it’s because you put in the extra work.
However, that is not how mountains are made. Mountains are made by erosion– that is to say, one drip at a time over thousands, or millions, of years.
It’s hard to notice the natural environment most of the time in the 21st century. Even though we don’t think about it, almost everything we have around us is manufactured.
But when you do notice the natural environment, that majesty, that sense of wonder, that power is made by erosion. One drop at a time, forever, instead of a waterfall, once.
You will notice that we can always rebuild after a storm. But a constant drip will wear away at anything.
Your opinion is totally irrelevant to reality.
Reality isn’t aware of the fact that you don’t like Twitter. Reality does not care whether you understand the new technology that’s coming out.
Technology– and life, for that matter– has a trajectory. Things are happening whether you like them or not.
That’s why it’s best for you to just forget about what you feel, and to focus instead on inevitabilities.
What you think has only a small basis in fact. It’s just what you think– nothing more, nothing less.
It’s possible that you’re right about the new thing. It’s also possible that you just don’t get it, and it’s the best ever. Worse, it’s actually impossible to tell the difference sometimes.
Become extremely comfortable with being, and admitting that, you were wrong. It’s going to happen often. In fact, you should be happy when it does!
Half the time, when you see the new thing, you are actually going to have it in your hands, and then you will reject it. You will throw it in the trash.
You’ll do this because you are confusing your opinion with reality.
The two are not connected in any way. Act accordingly.
Problems, when far away, look terrifying.
They look like they are going to destroy you, your business, your relationships, and everything else.
No matter how often you encounter them, they will always provoke the same reaction. The same pattern you lived over the years before, that is the pattern you will live now. It’s human nature. You can’t stop the reaction. You can only withstand it.
Yesterday I was in Boston doing a new talk at Inbound Marketing Summit. Before I go up, I think, oh boy, might bomb here. Instead, I killed it. Totally surprising. The exact opposite of what I assumed.
Another example: When I was raising money for Breather I had to talk about obtaining space, and how we would do it. I thought we would have to send out sales teams in cities to try and get spaces. Expensive stuff.
That was wrong too. Spaces so far have come to us from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore, Monaco, Toronto, New York, and a dozen other cities. We didn’t even ask. The market just spoke by itself.
Once again, I was totally wrong.
Preparing for a tornado is a good idea. You don’t just ignore it, because doing so would be stupid. You plan and work with best practices. You ask what others have done. This is normal.
If you are ever panicking before something you see as cataclysmic, it’s probably cataclysmic because you haven’t thought it through, or planned, or worked on it enough.
If you have planned enough, you should be significantly calmer.
All things are like this. Remember that.
Update: Here is the video, below.
I know who I want to be. Do you?
An important part of discovering / creating your own future is to find out, or plan, who you are going to become.
This sounds kind of obvious– doesn’t everyone think about this?– but in reality, it isn’t often done.
That’s because exerting your will on the universe is hard.
It is a constant push– back and forth– between you creating the world you want through your actions, and the world pushing back on you saying “nope,” or deflecting you, like a soccer ball hitting a goalie.
You can get distracted or upset by this. Over time, life takes over, so you spend more energy on management and juggling what exists vs creating what doesn’t exist at all.
Eventually, you lose track of exactly who you want to be. You forget about it. Momentum eventually goes to zero.
I met with Dale Stephens yesterday, who I was mentoring while he was at the Thiel Fellowship. He knows exactly who he is planning to become in the “new” education movement. In comparison to Sugata Mitra, Sal Khan, etc., he has to know or he will be forgotten and/or trampled.
I also saw Ryan Holiday say “don’t plan too much” on Chase Jarvis’ show (which I’m going to be on next week btw), but I don’t agree. A deliberate positioning in regards to the future is, I think, ultimately necessary.
As you get older (if you’re ambitious), you realize this. Yes, I just played the age card. :)
So ask yourself: who is it that I want to become?
Do you know? If you do, great! It will help you find out who to meet, what you need to know, what skills to obtain, and everything else.
It’s if you do not know that you have a problem. I wouldn’t know how much money to raise for our company if I didn’t know how our company worked. I wouldn’t know who to hire if I didn’t know where we were going. It’s craziness that I ever would.
Yet people let the ocean of the universe move them in whatever direction fate “intends” (as if fate really intended anything).
Well, I have news for you. No matter who you are, I know what your future is.
Your future is to grow older, slowly become irrelevant and have outdated views, eventually die and become food for the living.
That is what the universe “wants.”
I heard a great quote the other day from Horace Mann:
So get to it. Thank you.
People always talk about “missing the boat,” but I think differently.
I think of opportunity as a series of subways, running through a station, one after the other.
What station you are in doesn’t matter. You could be near or far, but that’s irrelevant. Where you start is just a matter of chance, and isn’t something to worry about at all.
What time you arrive doesn’t matter either. You may have missed the subway, and that’s fine. It’s a missed opportunity, but nothing to really worry about, because after all, another subway is coming.
The reason this metaphor is important is because a missed subway is physical, and it’s an easy thing to accept. Seeing things in this way helps you accept the present.
What happens when you get to a station and the subway has gone?
Well, you definitely don’t run. There’s no point.
What you do is wait for another subway to pass.
Be patient, it’ll get here.
Then, get on that one. After all, you have places to go.