My five-year journey from “nobody” to “somebody.”
“Advice is an autobiography and NOTHING else.” — James Altucher
People hate advice given by someone who isn’t living what they tell other people. It’s easy enough to write a book or a blog post that regurgitates ideas, anecdotes, and stories. It’s both more difficult and beneficial to talk about your struggles in a way that intersects with the lives of other people. So let me do just that by telling you my story.
I’m still a “work in progress” even though I’ve accomplished a lot of things I’m proud of like writing multiple books, finding a career and business I love, speaking in front of 1,000 + people, and building a platform of people who like my work. It’d be easy for me to gloss over the parts of my story that don’t fit the narrative of the guru who found overnight success with his “3 little tricks” but that would do you no good.
Success isn’t about tips, tricks, and short term strategies. It’s about boring yet effective concepts like hard work, patience, and iteration. You know this already, but sometimes it takes someone peeling back the curtain and showing you what that process actually looks like. When it comes to my story, this process starts about five years ago.
My “Origin Story”
I’ve told the story of my success many times, here are the cliff notes. I was broke, depressed, and working a dead end job. I found a new job as a video store manager and this new responsibility inspired me to become a better leader. I read a ton, watched videos, and tried to implement these strategies in my work and life.
Shortly after that, a buddy of mine asked me to write for his website. I started there and never stopped. I’ve been writing almost every day for the past five years since that moment. In the process, I had to learn many skills, try and fail, and hit real lows before I reached any sort of high-point.
The story itself isn’t as important as the mindset I had to adopt while my career grew as well as the strategies I put in place to keep going when things got tough.
The Beginner Phase
Still, to this day I remember the first time I tried to put together a blog to feature my writing. I bought a WordPress website. On the advertisement for the site, they showed a “demo version” which is what the site looks like after you’ve custom configured it. A good analogy is buying a bicycle at Toys R Us — they sell you the put together one then you have to take it home and put it together before your kid can ride it.
I spent twelve hours trying to get the site to function at all. I remember feeling like I wanted to quit right then and there. See, it’s not the big overarching goals that stop people in their tracks. It’s the combination of small tasks that create big challenges.
After completing the website I had to learn a ton of other skills like putting together e-mail software, building landing pages, writing better content, finding websites to pitch my work, writing copy, creating advertisements — the list genuinely goes on.
The details of the beginner phase aren’t as important as the goal — traction. Even though you need a more advanced skillset as time goes on, the beginner phase is the most important because it’s where 99 percent of people fail.
This is why I never got why people focus so much on competition. In any field or life path, competition is irrelevant because the bulk of your competition is people who are going to quit soon.
If you can get past the first six months of trying something new, you’re already in the top 25 percent on the population. If you can make it to a year, that number goes down to something like 5 percent. Make it to five years plus and the number is less than one percent.
So how do you get to the traction phase without quitting?
Keep This in Mind Up Front
You’re not going to be very good. Why would you be? You have no experience. People expect to be good way too fast. You’ll find yourself comparing your skills to people who have way more experience than you.
Your mind is programmed to want the easy way out, which is why get rich quick schemes are so appealing. Most people don’t like to suck. Sucking doesn’t feel good, but it’s inevitable.
The trick is knowing whether or not you suck because you lack talent or because you need more time. I look back at the first blog post I wrote for a legitimate website. I find the writing to be awful, but it had one element that let me know I was on the right track. It made sense. My writing wasn’t polished, but I had an intuitive sense for the format of an essay or a blog post. I didn’t know where all the pieces were, but I could see the board.
I can tell pretty quickly which aspiring writers will become a success. They have raw talent but just haven’t put it all together yet. That’s why I created a chapter called “Play Games You Can Win” and dedicated a major chunk of the book to the process of finding your strengths.
In the beginning phase, it should be hard only because of the time required to learn the skills. If it’s hard because you’re having a hard time trying to grasp what to do at all, the path isn’t right for you.
Often, people get this backward. They do have the talent, but they get bogged down in the minutiae. They know all the little things they have to do but refuse to do them. Why? Because they don’t understand this next concept.
Become a “Skill Collector”
There will come a point in time where you have a second nature understanding of the skills needed for your new path. Now, I can fire up a blank document without an outline and just go. But I can only do that because I spent time collecting and refining my skills.
As you add new skills, you’ll develop an almost masochistic joy in learning and doing things you don’t want to do, but need to do, because they serve a larger purpose. In your mind, you have to connect the skill you want to learn with the vision of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Example, I wasn’t just learning how to configure websites, I was learning how to create a platform to build my audience and grow my career. I didn’t “learn how to write copy.” I learned to persuade people with words to get them to do what I wanted them to do because I had something valuable to share.
I shifted my attitude from “why do I have to learn this?” to “I want to learn this because it will help me moving forward.” Then, as I collected skills that complimented each other, I realized that each new skill gained provides a compound reward. Developing skills is like adding principal to an investment account. The more you add the faster your investment grows.
The further along you get, the easier the process becomes because you have a stronger foundation with each new skill added. The stronger your foundation, the less likely you are to quit.
The Intermediate Phase: Understanding How the Game is Played
A few years in, I started taking bigger steps and tackling more challenging problems. For the first 18 months or so, I just wrote with reckless abandon, for free. I had no “goals” yet. I didn’t know what was possible with writing. I just knew I really liked to do it and figured it could go somewhere in the future, but I didn’t know where that was yet.
As you move further into an industry, a path, a project, a goal, you start to notice more opportunities. At first, I wrote for just one website. Then, I realized there were many websites to publish on. At first, I just wrote without trying to build an audience. I soon discovered tactics for building an audience like guest posting and list-building.
Had I started my journey trying these advanced tips and focusing on the outcome instead of the process, I would’ve gotten stuck. Instead, I just focused on building the habit first and learning as much as possible until the pieces on the chessboard revealed themselves to me.
The goal for the beginning phase is traction. The goal for the intermediate phase is seizing opportunities. At this stage, you should be saying “yes” to everything. Not because every opportunity is equal, but because you don’t know enough yet to know which ones are good or bad. You have to learn through testing.
I wrote for multiple websites to figure out which ones drove traffic and which ones didn’t. I tried different headlines and writing styles to see which ones resonated most. As my audience grew, I started to ask them questions about their preferences and tried giving them what they wanted. I learned about different ways to make money writing and started to try them.
I launched an e-mail course for sale — zero copies sold. When that didn’t work, I got butthurt for a while and stayed level — I kept doing what I knew and avoided trying new things. That got old, so I resolved to attempt something bold again, which lead to the crucial step every intermediate creator must take.
Make a Splash
My first book grossed something like $2,000 net profit. Nothing special. Some would even consider that a failure. Not me. To me, that was all the evidence I needed. Someone gave me money in exchange for my writing. I did something concrete and tangible that provided proof that my hobby was more than a hobby. I found the seeds of a career.
You need to do something somewhat major to realize you have the seeds for a long-term vision. If you’re a writer, that’s getting paid for your work, even if it’s just $1. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, that’s getting your first sale after researching your idea and creating content to promote your product. If you want to switch careers, that’s something like landing an interview or an entry-level job.
Find evidence that what you’re doing provides a payoff. Then, do it again, and again, and again.
On to the Next One
If my first book provided the seeds of a career, the second book poured water on it and let the sun shine down. I knew much more than I did when I wrote book one, so much so that I was annoyed at all the “obvious” things I missed when writing the first one. I’m glad I wrote the first book sooner than later, though. They say “your first book is for the trash.” You write it to get the monkey off your back.
When you take that first step toward traction, it’ll be awkward and ugly. The next steps will be…less awkward and ugly. If I got two out of ten things right with book one, I got five out of ten right with book two.
The process of taking a big step, learning from it, and then taking another big step gives you the layers of understanding you need to have a long-term vision you believe in. More and more you’ll have a mental conversation that tells you, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough to embrace patience and start to focus on mastery soon.”
Each new step will be awkward, ugly, and chocked full of fear, but you’ll have the confidence of already achieving something you’re afraid of, so you’ll take more steps.
After book two, I kept developing my skills and had enough confidence to start sharing what I’d learned about writing with other people. When I reached the point of believing I was good enough to teach, I started coaching other writers. Then, I added more skills and income streams like affiliate marketing to my tool belt.
This is the point where you expand your e-commerce store, create more pieces of art to share them, look for a better job or ask for a raise, expand your clientele, etc.
The endpoint of this phase is knowing you’re unlikely to quit.
The Point of No Return
About a year or so ago, I had an epiphany. I was never going to quit. I knew there would be twists and turns, but I had done so much and learned so much that quitting just didn’t make any sense.
Often, this point comes when you start to see solid evidence, usually money. It’s the point where the people around you who know what you’re doing finally come around and realize you weren’t just talking shit. You can see a lofty future and actually believe it’s possible.
You’ll have feedback in the form of income, fans, and the new way people respond to you. You’ll have an air about you. It’s the air you notice from people who just seem to be going somewhere in life. Your fear hasn’t gone away, but you’ve “turned pro,” which means you’ve fully transitioned from a hobbyist attitude to that of a business owner. You are the CEO of your life, embraced full responsibility, and know what happens next will be entirely on you.
The Advanced Phase: Time to Build Your Empire
A reader reached out to me a few months ago and said something along the lines of “I don’t know who you are or how you do this so effortlessly. Teach me your ways.”
I smiled. See, once you’ve put in the work, not only does everything come easier to you, but other people start to notice you. Nobody knew who you were when you were just doing the work, but when you start to “arrive,” it’ll look like you just came out of nowhere.
You’ll be an overnight success. My writing hit a peak a little while back. In the span of five years, I went from no views to literally millions. People come to my website, sign-up to my list, and my inbox is flooded with e-mails, even though I’m exerting just about as much effort as I did in the beginning. I’m just smarter now.
I’ve put systems in place to help me reap the rewards of my hard work. I make a “six-figure living” now but it didn’t happen in six-weeks or six-months. It was closer to six years.
I could just stop here, but I’m not. I’m trying to reach the final phase of the journey — mastery. I know I can write a book, but now I’m trying to write perrenial work that stands the test of time. I could be satisfied with my career, but I’m doubling down harder than ever.
I’m focusing on building an empire and sharing my work with as many people as possible. I view people I used to look up to at eye-level now because I know that I’ve done enough work to become their peer.
As far as where the journey ends, it doesn’t. Mastery isn’t the endpoint. It’s the continually evolving state every truly successful person goes through because there’s nothing better do to.
Spend the rest of your life chasing an unattainable ideal until you die. This is the goal.