I tried to quit blogs in December. I’ll admit that I didn’t quite make it…but I learned a lot from the process.
How it started
One day in November, I realized that a friend of mine was demanding far too much of my time and energy. What once was a series of mutually beneficial conversations and sharing of ideas had turned into the guy expecting me to be a 24/7 writing instructor and life coach. It was exhausting. I started getting annoyed whenever that facebook or gmail chat box opened up and answering questions with questions of my own, like “what do you think?”
It’s pretty easy to withdraw a little bit when someone demands too much of our time, or to provide resources so they can help themselves rather than relying on you for handholding. And a little compassion is always in order. I mean, who here can honestly say they haven’t been on the needy end of this scenario? So instead of getting too annoyed at someone looking to me for help (which is actually kind of flattering), I started thinking about who I rely on for help. Who could be feeling annoyed or mentally drained because of my persistent questions? How do I free myself from relying on the sage wisdom of others, and instead come up with my own solutions?
But why come up with your own solutions when you have instant access to really amazing people who are only a click away? Because online gurus don’t really know me, anyway, or many of the other people who think they can wave their magic wands and provide instantaneous solutions. Because learning from others is a tool in my toolbox, but it’s not my entire toolbox. Or it shouldn’t be. And because I firmly believe that everyone has something to offer, regardless of how big or small their email list or number of successful businesses or monthly revenue or published articles or whatever it is that they’re convinced they know nothing about but Seth Godin (or whoever) is an expert in.
The next step.
So then I had to actually do stuff to avoid outsourcing my stucknesses onto strangers, and expecting them to fix what ails me by shining their light in my general direction. And the easiest first step was to stop reading blogs and info products for (close to) a month. In addition, I thought I’d stop asking people to introduce me to others, just for a month, and to stop relying on connections and buzzwords and selective name-dropping. To think, really think, about how to provide value to my clients and the world all on my own, and to offer value in a way that is uniquely my own…rather than someone or something I’m associated with.
What is value?
Not marketing hype or spin or right place/right time or connections/networking, but actually being able to provide a service or a product or the type of support people are craving or could benefit from. Something with long-term impact. How do you build it out of nothing? You don’t have to ask anybody else to determine it for you. Your answer is part of your solution.
What I did.
It started with the unsubscribing of blogs. I unsubbed from almost everything that came in my inbox. This made me realize that, in addition to the posts I miss, I was getting a steady stream of crap I didn’t really want. I got 3605 emails in November, according to Gmail meter. (I got this down to 2861 in December, almost 20 percent less.) In addition to the blog unsubbing, I also did my best to avoid self-helpy type videos, books, etc. (mostly of the business variety in my instance.) I lasted about two weeks before I resubbed, and read an email or three with a week left to go. I stored all of my videos in a special area for later viewing, though!
What I learned.
- Unsubscribing from blogs is hard. I’ve gotten very comfortable with regular doses of crack. But I’ve been overwhelmed by it. Like when you’re so hungry, and the food looks delicious, but you just realized someone dumped the whole smorgasbord on your plate. One of my friends doesn’t follow anyone on twitter who writes more than 8 posts a day. He has a much less hectic social media experience than I do. I envy that.
- Nobody hated me for unsubbing. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything.
- I don’t have to subscribe to newsletters for everything I’m interested in. Or feeds, for that matter. And I don’t have to check Hacker News every ten seconds. Or Reddit. Or Quora. Or email. Or facebook. Or twitter. And I can unsubscribe from things like SmartBriefs, which seem really neat but just stress me.
- Not subscribing to things doesn’t mean they go away. I mean, they did for the experiment, but I haven’t brought all them back. But I can still go to Hyperbole and a Half or the Oatmeal or the Bloggess whenever I want a laugh. Zenhabits and Lifehacker haven’t disappeared. I can go to Jezebel whenever I’m raging and hang out on Stumptuous when I wanna read Krista’s rants. It’s all good.
- I can subscribe to stuff I love. I spend $25 to get a curated gift from Quarterly.co each month, and it’s worth its weight in gold. It makes me giddy just to think about it. I only want to subscribe to blogs that give me that same feeling. For me that’s Danielle Laporte, which is like a warm cup of tea on a cold day. And OK Dork, which is like a funhouse that you only visit once a week. And Marie Forleo, for empowering, bite-sized business tips (slumber party style). I’ll even pay for stuff I really dig, like Mixergy‘s business tips for startups, delivered via insightful and genuine video interviews and courses. Spending time away from these sites to work on things made me realize what they were there for–to give me inspiration and insight while I’m producing.
So, we’re consuming less and producing more, and sending and receiving fewer and better emails, but how do we share our own light with the universe?
- “What are you working on that you need help with?” That’s like the best question you can ask anyone. And being able to help people–even if it’s just to point them towards some resources–feels a lot better than groveling for help from internet famous people or wondering why they’re talking to you. Also, the people who are reluctant to answer the question are sometimes the ones you want to help the most. Because they’re cool.
- Putting the focus on helping other people is so much more meaningful than trying to get help yourself. And if you help people–sincerely, with no expectation of anything in return–they want to go out of their way to help you. All the things you think you have to talk your way into just magically comes your way. Since starting this experiment, a friend sent me an Udemy course when I expressed interest in learning basic coding. I also got a nice book, some unexpected gifts, from friends and strangers. And some unsolicited introductions to people I really want to meet. And I didn’t have to set up the deal in a slimy way, either. (Well, I did talk my way into free cupcakes.)
- You don’t need to be associated with other people to rock. In fact, riding on your past experience = more self reliance = more integrity, which is nicer than feeling like you tricked your way into something and wondering why certain people talk to you when there’s so many minions at their feet.
- Being self-reliant and connecting with others makes you better at receiving feedback. I can talk to someone (semi-famous or not), hear what they’re saying, and choose to take it with a grain of salt or whatever spices they have available. Well, sometimes. But trust me that the more you connect with people around you, the better your sense of perspective will be.
- Try this: When you’re feeling like your life sucks or your business sucks or your writing sucks, or whatever, , and if you could just get 20 minutes of so-and-so’s time (assuming you’re broke or they’re not on Clarity) everything would be fixed…just get that thought out of your head and spend the energy doing something for someone else. Spend some time helping out that person who needs the help but wouldn’t ask. Give a gift to a stranger. (I’ve had a sweet couple I was chatting with at Whole Paycheck pay for my groceries back when I lived in Tucson, and it made my day.) Answer questions on Quora or LinkedIn or twitter–not the half-assed response, but the one you take time with. Volunteer to work with at-risk kids once a week, or something. Think about how you can help the person you want to ask for help…and then do it. Pay it forward.
Next Magic Lab Experiment: Doing just one thing a day.