Danger of External Validation

I was sitting at the bar with a buddy a few days ago and we were talking about business.  He looked over and said, “Tell me about this new site of yours that’s going gangbusters.”  I looked back with a smile and said, “It’s going surprisingly well. It’s up to $1000 month in subscribers already!”.  To which he responded, “oh…”.

I’ve gotta admit my heart sank an inch or two with that, “oh”.  It’s the “oh” of insignificance.  It’s the “oh” of the barely relevant.  It came as a bit of surprise to me as a 41 year old, that’s been in the industry 20 some years, and has been on rides like this a number of times, the “oh” was a bit of a gut check.

To be clear I’m happy with the progress of Failed Normal.  This isn’t some zealotry about how Failed Normal will take over the world, it’s just I’ve been on this ride before.  I built my consulting business up from printing flyers off at Kinko’s, and was able to make a tidy profit off of YouTube even as I had to explain to anyone that asked that YouTube wasn’t just for cat videos.  At the time I talked with him my monthly revenue was at $1000, but the actual take home for the past 30 days was $2058 due to the number of new members signing up for 1 year memberships.  To be frank that makes me darn near giddy, but I’m in an industry where that’s near chump change.

I’m telling you this story because I want you to understand that external validation effects us all.  I’m long past the point I should give a crap about an “oh”, but I’ll be darned it set me back a step.  I still remember way back when when I was starting my consulting company.  I was having dinner with my friends parents and the mom asked we what I was up to that week.  I told her I was printing out flyers, and going to start knocking on business doors and see if anyone would hire me for consulting work.  I still remember her wiping her lips and laughing about, “the funny things Eli does.”  I was at a loss.  I was a veteran, with a college degree, an MCSE, real world experience, and yet after the .com bust I was working as a temporary file clerk at the local hospital.  I had no idea why the hell knocking on doors and handing out flyers was funny.  It was the only thing left that I could do…

The difference between successful people, and the ones that give up is whether or not they allow external validation to steer them away from their goal.  To be clear you should seek out mentorship, and advice.  The thing is you should not allow embarrassment to keep you from doing what you think needs to be done.  Especially in the tech world our projects seem really bizarre all the way up until people say, “anyone could have done that.”  Twitter seemed darned near idiotic when it came out.  YouTube seemed like a place for underwear gnomes to share cat videos. And Snap still hasn’t shed it’s reputation as an app for sexting.  What seems foolish at first blush may hold a power no one yet understands but you.

When I look at Failed Normal I see a site with hundreds of people that have signed up for monthly subscriptions.  A site that has people pay for an entire year of access up front.  A site that people are reading, commenting, and even unsubscribing from.  I’m giddy because the site works. Even having people leave shows that functionally the site performs how it’s supposed to.  As someone who started content creation in a time NOBODY wanted to pay for content online the fact that hundreds of people have plugged in their PayPal credentials is massively significant. At this point $1000, or even $2000 isn’t what really matters. What matters to me is that the concept is functionally working.

Most of the rest of the world does not see it that way.  People have ideas in their heads about what success looks like, and if you don’t match those ideas they will say, “oh”.  The problem is that in our world we do things that are not normal. We play, experiment, throw crap against a wall and see what sticks.  If we stop because people laugh at us then our careers are over.  If we need others to believe in what we’re doing we’ll never get anywhere.  The entire point is that we are trying things that have not been proven.

If you are the type of person that needs validation look for it in your hobbies, or good deeds.  I can say for myself after 8 years I only recently got people to take my work on YouTube seriously, and I just had to walk away from that crap show. I’m not back at square one, but I’m probably not passed square three as that goes.  I’m back to another couple of years of people shaking their heads saying, “it’s too bad Eli won’t do a real job.”  The only way to get from here to the point when everyone nods knowingly and says that “obviously” blogs are a good business is to put my head down and grind.

Few people fail, most just give up.  The people that give up generally do so because near sighted people tell them they’re being foolish. As long as you believe in what you’re doing you’ll be fine. People think that the primary thing you learn in martial arts is how to hit people.  The truth is the most significant thing you learn is how to take a hit. Learn to take the gut checks, and keep moving.


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