Most creators have deep existential angst—a nagging ache in their souls that never seems to go away.
Because there’s always more in front of us than behind us.
- Always more milestones we could achieve than we’ve already achieved.
- Always more value we could create than we’ve already created.
- Always more money we could make than we’ve already made.
And there’s always more we could do than we’ve already done…
It’s well-intentioned and true. Because we can do more. We can be more.
None of us has reached our potential. None of us has had the impact we’re capable of having on the world.
But when we only look forward at what we could be, we lose sight of what we have become.
Chasing this moving target is the source of our soul-ache to be more and do more.
I’ve got big plans for the future, and I’m sure you do, too.
But last week, I realized I live in a constant state of pseudo-dissatisfaction and soul-ache-ry because I’m so focused on what I want to do in the future, I lose sight of what I’ve done over the last three years.
Three Years Ago…
I had zero newsletter subscribers (because I didn’t have a newsletter, website, or business).
I’d daydreamed about being a writer for years, but I let the obligations (and anxieties) of grad school get in my way.
But in December 2019, I entered a tiny Writer’s Digest competition where we had to create a one-sentence story based on a picture.
I tied for fourth place.
It was the first time my writing was exposed to the public.
I have no idea how many people read my single sentence, but I bought about a dozen magazine copies to hand out to my parents and grandparents, “Hey look! I’m kind of a writer!”
Tying for fourth isn’t impressive.
But pushing past the fear of hitting publish for the first time is.
The best thing about being a creator is you get to create something out of nothing.
The worst thing about being a creator is the crippling fear of what lies on the other side of putting your work out into the world.
Until we can learn to push past this fear, we’ll never be able to do the work we know we’re capable of to make the world a better place.
It was a win, and I was ready to lean more into writing publicly…
Two Years Ago…
In April 2020, I tweeted that my goals over the next 10 years were to “write and speak professionally,” but I kept treating writing like a hobby—I’d wait until I “felt” like writing and do it on the occasional weekend without a clear purpose or direction.
I continued to dabble by writing on Medium because building my own website seemed intimidating.
My most-read article that year, A Lesson on Dying and Doing What You Love, had a whopping 3,900 views.
Then something I thought would never happen, did…
Long story short, I got fired due to COVID layoffs and couldn’t find another job.
December 4th, 2020 was my last day as a therapist.
As much as it sucked at the time, it was exactly the kick in the ass I needed.
After a brief identity crisis (I’d spent 12 years in college to become a therapist and now couldn’t be one anymore), I decided 2021 was the year I started my own website and dove into content creation and solopreneurship. Even though I had zero business background and had no idea what the fuck I was doing or how I’d make it work.
Treating writing like a hobby is fine. But I was expecting a hobby work ethic to lead to business success.
After losing my job, I had no other way to make money. I had to adopt a business work ethic.
If I wanted to become a professional writer, I had to act like one.
One Year Ago…
At the beginning of 2021, I had less than 10 newsletter subscribers, a barebones website, and a hypothetical business (LLC formed, but no revenue yet).
The first 4 months of 2021, I made $0 while I bumblefucked my way through building a business and honing my writing skills.
My early articles were horrifically long-winded, jargony, and all over the place.
My early business ideas (and execution) were equally terrible.
But I took it seriously.
I acted like a professional writer and solopreneur, and I became a professional writer and solopreneur.
I ended the year with:
- 96 newsletter subscribers (a ~10x increase from the year before).
- 5,558 pageviews on my website, with the top article, Helping Ali Abdaal Overcome 8 Challenges to Creating a Fulfilling Life and Business, getting 547 views.
- And I made enough to keep the lights on.
Maybe I could make this writer/solopreneur thing work, but I still questioned if I could keep making it work.
So many people quit on this journey because it’s fucking hard.
2022 has felt like an inflection point.
- Getting on some cool podcasts.
- Launching World-Class Coaching.
- Working with inspirational people.
- Running two cohorts of Intentional Life Design.
- Becoming an invited contributor for Psychology Today.
- Running workshops for the top creator communities in the world.
- Building a business that pays the bills and supports my ideal lifestyle.
- Becoming friends with former mentors (because “idol” is a strong word).
The shit I used to sit at my desk in grad school daydreaming about.
But these only intensified my soul-ache.
Because I was consumed by ambition and the impact I wanted to have, to the impact my friends who had millions of readers, millions in revenue, and who were bestselling authors were having.
Compared to the beginning of the year, I’m ending 2022 with:
- 9x increase in newsletter subscribers (881 right now).
- 4x increase in pageviews on my main website (22,066, with The Four Horsemen of Fear as the top article).
- 3x increase in revenue.
- And my most-read article on Psychology Today has more pageviews than 3x the population of my hometown.
Everything I do now revolves around helping a million creators flourish.
At most, I’ve helped a few dozen directly, and a few thousand by proxy through my content.
I can hyperfocus on wanting to get to 100k newsletter subscribers and millions of pageviews. Or I can appreciate my growth so far and iterate each day to make my content better and worthy of people’s time.
One exacerbates my soul-ache.
The other soothes it.
When we hyperfocus on our potential, we lose sight of our progress.
- Three years ago, I had zero newsletter subscribers, no website, no articles, and no business.
- Two years ago, I had less than 10 subscribers, a barebones website, a couple articles, and a hypothetical business.
- One year ago, I had 96 subscribers, a tiny website, a few dozen articles, and a barely viable business.
- Today, I have 881 subscribers, a small website, dozens of articles, and a growing business.
- Next year, if this growth pattern holds, I should hit ~8,000 newsletter subscribers, ~100,000 pageviews, and more revenue than I would’ve ever generated as a therapist.
I’m nowhere near where I want to be. But I’m grateful for how far I’ve come.
Ambition is great. But blind, inexorable ambition leaves us in a constant state of inadequacy. This not-enough-ness is the source of our existential angst.
Gratitude and reflection on how far we’ve come can help soothe our soul-ache.
So by practicing gratitude and reflecting on our progress, we’ll be better able to achieve our potential—and enjoy the process along the way.
Because after all, what’s the point of being a creator if you never take a moment to enjoy what you’ve made?
Question for the Week
What progress have you made this last year that you may have lost sight of because you were hyperfocused on how much you wanted to accomplish? What milestones have you reached? What wins (none are too big or too small!) do you want to celebrate?
Email and let me know. I’d love to celebrate with you!
If you’re curious, here are a few courses to help you level up your life and business:
- World-Class Coaching : Learn the systems the best coaches in the world leverage to charge $500+ an hour.
- Core Value Toolkit : Ever wanted more clarity on which direction to take your life? I call that your Core Value, the single most-important value a life well-lived must be built around. This toolkit is the first step to clarifying yours.