A month ago, I told you about a new and exciting direction for this newsletter. I called it “Upstream Version 2.0!” I was going to curate links, tips and tricks, how-to’s and lists to “help you do your most courageous work.”
I tried. I gave it my best, but in the end it was a failure.
The goal, the what is still true for me. I want to help you do your most courageous work. It was the how I’ll help you that was all wrong.
Just Google It.
Tactical writing is everywhere on the internet. It’s what made it so special. No more encyclopedias taking up one wall of your home. Have a question? You can find an answer in seconds.
There are online businesses with millions of subscribers who earn millions of dollars teaching tactics.
Tim Ferris’ podcast empire was built on siphoning tactics from the world’s experts. James Clear, Ramit Sethi, David Perell, Jack Butcher are building their business on tactics. The more expertise or experience you have, the more you deserve to share your methods. It’s a hierarchy of ideas, and the clearer and concise your idea, the more you win.
I’ve benefitted from each of the people I’ve named above. There’s nothing wrong with talking about tactics. But I was wrong in thinking I had to do the same to succeed.
And so I tried. One issue was about creators, another about writing, another about social media.
Then I got feedback.
Five Thumbs Down
Five people, whose opinions I trusted told me this new 2.0 wasn’t as good as 1.0. Five pieces of feedback is a lot for me. There are 220 people subscribed to this newsletter. It has a 45-55% open rate, which means there’s on average 100 people who read it every week (thank you, by the way). It’s industry average to have about 1% of readers reply or give feedback. So five people not liking the new direction speaks volumes to me.
Along with those five people, I remembered a survey I did at the beginning of May last year. I had 21 people respond; 20% of my readers. I realize I never shared the results of that survey, nor did I consider the feedback when I started this 2.0 experiment.
The survey started with a few questions about how people were doing, if there were any new hobbies or interests they picked up as they were staying at home.
Then I asked which topics did you enjoy reading in my newsletter:
A. Vulnerability, shame, and wholeheartedness B. Resistance, the imposter syndrome, and the fight to be creative C. Personal (sometimes very personal) stories about me and my life as a creative D. Deep dive articles about gear, workflow, and productivity E. Resting well and sabbaticals
The top choice was C, second was B.
The next question was, “If you could choose just one of these topics to read about which would it be?” The answer was the same choices in the same order. Looking at these two together, they can be combined to one answer: personal, sometimes very personal, stories and about the fight to be creative.
The feedback foreshadowed the coaching work I’d start doing two months later. My sessions with clients center around their personal stories and helping them get unstuck to do creative, courageous work. Although we do talk about tactics and strategy for their business, it all starts with owning their story and digging in for the fight.
It was a mistake to not listen to the feedback. It took people unsubscribing and others telling me this wasn’t what they wanted for it to finally come together.
The tactical writing was the shiny new object I saw work for other people and decided to go after that instead. Also, to be honest, it’s easier to write about tactics and how to’s and not make things so personal.
But the way we learn and see the world is through story, not facts.
Stories are the Glue Between Clouds and Dirt
Stories have been around much longer than academic writing and scholarship. An explanation of an idea will never be more compelling than telling the best story. Stories capture our attention and curiosity. Stories, via analogy and emotion, can make any esoteric or complex idea ring true in heart, mind, and soul.
My head’s been always in the clouds. The criticism from parents and mentors was I dreamed too much without any action to see it come true. It’s why I consume so much tactical information, to counterbalance the light-headedness of esoteric, high-level ideas.
But that’s where I love to be. Thinking in broad terms, seeing the forest, and the mountains on the horizon. It’s the insights and connections I make for my clients that are the most helpful to them.
I’m officially tapping out of the tactics game. If that’s what you’re looking for, let me know. I can point you to people who do it so much better than me.
What you’ll find from me are stories from my adventures in coaching and living a creative, courageous life. My clients inspire and challenge the hell out of me. They are all high performers who know what they are doing. The last thing they need from me are tips and tricks.
It’s people like them I want to surround myself with, and the way to find them won’t be with the latest advice or how to but with generous, courageous, vulnerable stories told well.
So, here’s to the first failed experiment of 2021. It’s progress for me. If this was a few years ago, I’d be too terrified of failure to even try.