How to Be Successful: The No-Bullshit Guide

I want to sugarcoat this for you. I do. But I can’t.

A side-effect of being hypersocial and outgoing is that you make a lot of friends. A side-effect of having a lot of friends is watching a lot of people go through a lot of negative stuff.

It’s painful to watch. But do you know what makes it more painful? When you know that half the people who are suffering are responsible for it.

Because people are in love with their own suffering.

I’ve noticed this more with creative types, but that may also be because I associate with a lot of creative types. Maybe because they’re my kind of crazy, maybe because there’s an actual correlation between crazy and creative (Kay Redfield Jamison is a better person to ask about that).

But bottom line, I see a lot of you hurting yourselves over and over again. I do it, too. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. That’s the first lesson here. No matter how much you think you’re fucked, someone else is identically fucked. Hell, there are probably 10,000 people who are identically fucked and another 100,000 who were identically fucked but got over it.

We tell ourselves that we can’t a lot. We spend all this energy trying to learn what our passion is – what we really want to do with our lives – and then we spend ten times more energy convincing ourselves that we’re terrible at doing it, and that we’ll never be good enough at it to actually do it justice, and so we stop doing it. Or we continue to do it, but we half-ass it.

That’s what I did with my YouTube channel and my blog for a while. I realized how hard it is to be a blogger and a YouTuber. I bitched about my full-time job and how it sapped away all my energy and my time. Then I came home and worried myself sick that I was never going to be a good enough creator to make it out of that cycle. So I passively hunted for jobs that could pay my bills and keep me afloat while I waited for the indefinite amount of time to pass before I became a successful creator.

Except that then my actual content suffered. I couldn’t do it full-time. I couldn’t live off of it – not now, not for years to come – so it suddenly sucked to create. It became a chore. I still enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but I stopped actually paying attention to the joyful parts. I slapped a couple things together. And then I spent the rest of my time watching other peoples’ content and trying to be friendly enough that they would want to watch mine, too.

And you know what? My content was shit. Hell, it’s still kind of shit because I didn’t focus on creating for so long. I didn’t learn how to create. I didn’t hone my skills. I didn’t make anything beautiful like I wanted to. Sure, a couple videos turned out incredible, and I’m proud of them, but I wasn’t doing it justice. I wasn’t doing me justice.

And that’s the second lesson here. You have to do yourself justice. Nobody else can be you. Only you can be you. The world deserves you. Be you. And do well at being you.

If you want to be a creator, create. Create beautiful things. Ask yourself if what you’re putting out is truly beautiful (or useful or sentimental or whatever other category you want your content to fit into to make it worth keeping around). Content is like physical stuff. Content can clutter your blog. Content can clutter your channel. Content can clutter your mind. If it’s not worth keeping around, either throw it out or force it to serve a purpose.

That’s why I deleted half my blog posts a couple months ago. That’s why I’ve deleted a lot of videos. Because they were clutter. They didn’t further me along my path to better content. They weren’t an example of good practice. They certainly weren’t worth giving attention to. They were just boxes that I had checked because I had to put something up and they struck my fancy at the moment.

Your content can’t be whimsical. What you do can’t be whimsical. You don’t become successful on a whim. You become successful by putting in 10,000 hours of blood, sweat, and tears and getting insanely lucky.

So if you want to be a creator, create. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a YouTuber, make a video. If you want to be a graphic designer, make a t-shirt.

Sharon the Love. A sad, failed attempt at designing a t-shirt.

Like this one.

If you want to get fit, exercise. Just do the thing. Whatever the thing is. Whatever you’re passionate about that you want to do for real every moment of every day for the rest of your life.

And get out of your own way. Stop wasting time telling yourself why you’re not good enough for it. Stop ticking the boxes. Do real stuff.

If you want to find love, get the hell off Grindr or Tinder or whatever it is. Stop telling yourself that you would get a boyfriend if only you fixed your weight or your teeth or your habits. Go talk to someone. Find a guy you think is cute and talk to him. Tell him he’s cute. If he’s not down for you, well, that sucks, time to go find another one and try again.

If you want to be a photographer, take pictures. Constantly. Of everything. Not snapshots. Not selfies. From an angle. Tell a story.

If your video doesn’t go viral, that’s okay. Make another one. But make it better. Make it relevant. Make it timely. Make it powerful and emotional.

If your t-shirt doesn’t sell, try again, but work on actually filling a need. Make shit people want to wear.

If your remix doesn’t get air-time, throw cake into the audience try a better drop.

And for fuck’s sake keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t find a different goal. Don’t tread water. I know that one of the magical benefits of being an adult is that you can tread water indefinitely if you want to. But you have options. You have dreams. Pursue them. Right now.

7 comments on “How to Be Successful: The No-Bullshit Guide”

  1. Patrick Cleary Reply

    Also, keep in mind the thing that gets me through a lot. Here’s the full quote, because it’s just so good: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    • Michael Noker Reply

      This is so completely perfect and absolutely necessary for all of us to hear. Where on earth did you find it and where has it been all my life?

  2. Michelle Martin (@NerdyOrganized) Reply

    Love this!! Especially — “Content can clutter your mind. If it’s not worth keeping around, either throw it out or force it to serve a purpose.” YAAAS. I hear so much buzz around content marketing, content creation etc etc in my day job in marketing and it’s so overdone. There’s so much shit out there. But like you said, if you want to create, create. Everyone makes shit content every now and then. The key is to well… polish that turd into good content and like you said, if it still doesn’t fit in, get rid of it and focus on only the best.

    I absolutely love your writing style. You are equal part hilarious and enjoyable to read and also equal part knowledgable and wise. Just love it.

    Here’s to… doing the thing! 😀

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Let’s do the thing! And then keep doing the thing over and over until we do justice to the thing that we do! Or something. It’s 4am and editing made me delirious.

  3. Patrick Cleary Reply

    I think I heard it on This American Life first. It’s been floating around for a while, and I love it all over again every time I see it.

  4. Renee groskreutz Reply

    Preach It! Seriously, this is such a critical message. Your point about 10,000 hours is so right on. I just developed a new service and I resisted it for months. Would anyone care? Would it be good enough? I made it the best, better than I thought that it should be. I am tired of worry!

    • Michael Noker Reply

      I think there are advantages to being self-aware, and being able to objectively critique our own work and self-edit, but after a while it turns counter-productive and starts to hinder us. And I know this is especially true for releases major new projects! I’ve been passively working on something for the last month, but progress is crazy-slow because I’m too busy questioning myself, so I know exactly what you mean! I’m glad you got the courage to release your new service!

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