watching videos illustration alex mathers

Putting in hours of work day after day to little response on the Internet is one of the most irrational things a human can do.

Yet that is what so many of us do do.

Day after day after day.

(And it can make you feel like doodoo).

Why, Joseph? Are you off your rocker?

We do it because we want more people to appreciate our talent.

We do it to impress and win girlfriends. We do it to build our brands, attract more customers and grow our online businesses so that we can be free. We do it in a quest for continual validation, even if we can only scrape together a handful of likes come Friday evening.

We do it because Gary Vaynerchuk said we should share a hundred pieces (literally) of content every day, whether it be through LinkedIn, Facewipe, Twitter, Snapcraps, or all of them.

We do it, most of all, because we have seen people benefit in tremendous ways from consistently creating interesting things, and sharing those things online.

We see people build lists of millions of subscribers who buy their products and hang on to their every selfie.

We see children earn millions of dollars a year from the advertising associated with making glitter putty online.

Despite the glamour and benefits, the reality of posting things regularly with little response from the world can catch up with you.

This has been an issue for me and my new YouTube channel.

Good gracious, Ethel, it’s hard to make a dent here when you are new.

I nearly gave up putting out daily videos last week. This was my promise three months ago. I’ve been going strong, but it has never been easy. Some days are more hopeful than others.

Other days I’m filled with a combination of dread, self-disgust, an annoyance with my face, and shame when I look at my video statistics.

One of these days last week was particularly hard. I nearly quit.

But I decided to go on.

Why?

Why bother putting out video after video, day after damn day?

Why?

The following are the ideas to which I returned. They made me feel a lot better about the whole thing and have made me feel better about other projects I pursue. 

These ideas motivated me. And still do.

Reminder #1: Public shaming

The first was remembering that I had made a very public announcement that I would commit to daily videos for a year.

Regardless of how many people are watching those videos, the social shame associated with letting those people down is real.

Public accountability works.

Reminder #2: Traction is a reflection of you

The degree to which you gain traction with your audience depends on how ready you are for traction.*

*The extent to which the reptilian overlords working at social networks want to mute those people they disagree with is also a factor — but that’s for another article.

You not seeing engagement is a reflection of your growth, awareness, and value as a person in that context.

What I know for sure is that I am not ready at the level of character and awareness that is needed yet, for making successful videos.

To become the kind of person who does well on film requires many attempts; lots of practice and plenty of trials, tweaking and testing.

It is through repetition and quantity that I will grow as a person in the video realm. When I grow and take on board what I learn constructively, traction will come.

This is the approach I took to my writing over many years. My written work began to develop a substantial audience because I progressed from trying to be a writer with little practice to being [italic] a writer with hundreds of hours of practice.

If you do not see traction in a particular medium, you are not ready yet as a person. This should incentivise you to continue, rather than hold you back.

Reminder #3: The mountain beckons

Some things worth doing take a monumental effort.

Knowing that the path ahead isn’t supposed to be easy, and is always going to be harder than you expect helps me stay committed.

Make that three times as hard.

When you expect things to be difficult, you will be less inclined to stop when it gets tough.

Why?

Because your reality concurs with your expectations.

People get depressed when their reality does not fall in line with what they were expecting.

Those that quit tend to be those who embark on something, thinking they will enjoy it. They experience a bump or two in the road. They react emotionally, and, with no appreciation for the hardship to be expected, bow out.

I know this works because it took me writing and publishing over 250 articles before I saw any traction. Now I have tens of thousands of people who read my words. Having had this experience is significant for me. I know it takes a lot of work, and I am nowhere close to that with my videos.

Don’t fall for your easy-going expectations. It will be hard, but worth it.

Reminder #4: Schadenfreude

This is a controversial one, but I include it because I want to share everything that has helped me personally. I always find my spirits lifted when I compare myself to others. Not those who are doing better than me. The opposite.

That’s right — good old-fashioned Schadenfreude. And don’t deny that you get motivated at other’s misfortunes. We’re all human.

Right? Give a man a bone here.

I look for people who are doing similar things — friends who are also making videos. I actively seek out those who are also struggling or have been through hell; those getting little traction, or people who plain suck.

Seeing Nathan share videos to seven subscribers is motivating. Sorry, Nathan. But I also know Nathan will do well one day if he follows my suggestions here.

Being inspired by the greats is excellent. Others who struggled that inspire us because we’re all on a similar mission is also great. It also creates a sense of connectedness. We’re not alone in our struggle.

Read the autobiographies of those who inspire you who found it hard too. Find people who aren’t doing so well right now. Use this as a little motivational hit and then get back to work.

This works. Use what whatever works.

Reminder #5: Self-growth trumps likes

Getting a ton of ‘likes,’ comments and subscribes every day makes me feel good, of course. I’m human. This kind of validation and this indication that my content is making an impact is encouraging.

The danger lies in basing my success, even self-worth, on these statistics.

And many people do.

And to a certain extent, you will never be free of this attachment so long as you create content to share online.

When you first start, it is hard to focus on the growth of your value rather than continually looking at the increase in numbers.

Yes, both are important, but vastly more important is that you are growing as a producer of content. Vital is that you are getting better and more aware each time you create.

You must continually turn to how you are improving as a source of joy, over how many likes you got by a group of strangers who don’t know you.

Unlike seeing view counts going up every week, this is hard to measure objectively.

But it is self-growth that matters more than anything, especially early on in your trajectory.

Channel statistics — it must be understood — do not directly correlate with your worth, sense of humour, popularity, or intelligence. They reflect how well you know how to move an audience on YouTube, and this takes time to figure out.

Creators like Casey Neistat is a master of understanding what motivates a young audience at a mass level. He was also a pioneer.

Many YouTube creators are complete geniuses in their own right but get very few views. It’s more about trends and your ability to hook and persuade the right audience in a way that is appealing on film.

Over time you will get better at growing watch numbers if you want.

But for those of us who understand that platforms like YouTube are potent means to hone our presentation or communication skills, this is already a massive benefit in itself.

I could make 350 videos in a year, only attract 100 subscribers, and still be happy, because of the perspective from which I’m coming.

I will have developed skills that few will match — skills like discipline, creativity, productivity, staying motivated, communication, and presentation.

I have created a portfolio of ideas on film to which I can direct future followers and clients.

Remember, these are skills that are not limited to YouTube. They transfer into all other areas of life and other social platforms, including my writing.

Knowing this motivates me to think abundantly and create more.

Reminder #6: Dancing in the dark

The period in which you don’t see much traction is the best opportunity you could wish for to make mistakes and experiment without a large audience amplifying these consequences.

Take advantage of your time in the dark to try new things, to look awkward on film, to tell various stories, to get better.

Eventually, you will make new connections and have more break-throughs.

These breakthroughs lead to tighter, more engaging content. That’s when your audience will begin rushing towards you.

Reminder #7: Do this for you

If you are looking around for people to support you and validate you, especially in the early stages of a new project or skill, don’t bother.

No one cares until you find success.

If you are continually relying on support from people around you, and continuously depressed at the lack of it, you will fail.

This should not be about validation from others. This is about being selfish. This is about your self-leadership.

This is about building your value by bringing value to others, no matter how long it takes and owning that decision through the hard moments.

Reminder #8: Feel the surge

As I found with my illustration work in my twenties, and subsequently, my writing, growth tends to happen in surges.

Often I would come to a tipping point; a moment of awareness or change that led to a dramatic improvement in the numbers.

For example, when I saw that one particular style of illustration created better results in the market than many previous pieces, this led to dramatically shifting my art-style. I then saw much-improved results in online sales and attracting clients.

Incremental growth is there of course, but more significant jumps in results do and will happen.

This is why you see people who’ve spent years creating with nobody listening, only to find their following blow up quickly. People tend only to see overnight success, forgetting the months of consistent hard work behind it.

It can be easy to be disheartened when growth seems tiny for long periods. But you need to hang in there for those surges. Jumps in awareness, your own ‘aha moments,’ and leaps in numbers will happen.

Persevering is worth it for incremental growth in itself, but I am motivated even further when I know those surges are coming.

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