It's been a really great year for my business. Objectively, I know that to be true.
But, more often than I'd like, doubt and frustration still creep in.
It's mostly due to comparison – looking at other creators I'm modeling after and comparing my success to their success.
What are THEY doing that's so much better than me?
Why are THEY getting so much engagement?
Sometimes I even get critical about the work of others. Scoffing at the fortune cookie Tweet that got 1,000 retweets (while secretly wishing mine would have the same outcome).
I'll tell myself stories like, "Well, they built relationships. They have OTHER high-profile creators replying and re-sharing their stuff...THAT'S why they're successful." or "They've just built a better distribution engine than me..."
Then I beat myself up for thinking those things, because it's not zero sum. We can ALL win, and them winning is not my loss.
When I'm back to my objective mind, I realize there are TWO things that separate us from the outcomes we're trying to achieve: belief and quality.
Our culture is obsessed with stories of the modern-day Icarus – people who flew too close to the sun only to fall into the ocean.
Over the last few years, we've seen documentaries about Fyre Festival, WeWork, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, Anna Delvey, the Tinder Swindler...
I love a healthy dose of schadenfreude as much as the next guy. But do you know why I think we really love these stories?
Because the characters (criminal as many of them are) were able to pull off incredible, bizarre things. Things we can't imagine doing ourselves. Things that make us think, "How could they ever get away with it??"
But the answer is simple and it's not inherently bad. The answer is they believed they could do it.
That's it. Belief.
The non-criminal creators you look up to have a similar ability to believe they can achieve what they are trying to achieve. And that belief pushes them to do the things required to make that dream come true.
Without belief, we play small.
Without belief, we don't take risks.
Without belief, we don't push the envelope.
A lot of people loved my interview with Nathan Barry because of his Skyscraper vs. Strip Mall analogy, but there's another quote that I think about often:
Have you given this every possible chance to succeed?
I watched King Richard last week – the story of Venus and Serena Williams's dad. I couldn't believe how hard he worked (and how much he got rejected!) trying to talk tennis professionals into coaching his daughters. I asked myself, "Would I go that far?"
We often have the urge to quit. Or the urge to point fingers at our "bad luck" or the unfair advantages of others.
But if we're honest with ourselves and ask, "Have I given this every possible chance to succeed?" we may arrive at a different answer.
After 100+ interviews with some of the best creators on the planet, I've noticed a lot of patterns. But maybe the most important pattern is this...
The most successful creators maintain a high-level of quality week in and week out over the course of several years.
Not everything they create is A+ work (to use James Clear's language) but they do often hit A+ work. And their average is probably still in the B+ to A range.
Do you hold yourself to the same standard?
Not just in terms of their long-form content, but they are students of creation. They know what will work well natively for each platform. They create with the lenses of 1.) value and 2.) shareability.
If you're honest with yourself, is your work good enough to get the outcomes you're looking for? Because it's unfair to expect the same outcomes of top creators if you aren't creating the same quality of work on a CONSISTENT basis. Not just one-off pieces here and there, but CONSISTENTLY high-quality work that values the viewer.
If you're not hitting that bar, it's OK. It may require some more time before you ship. It may require more time honing your craft so you have the ABILITY to create work of that quality.
It's good to hold yourself to a high standard, but if you don't have the same level of experience as someone else, you shouldn't compare your results to theirs.
I hope you don't feel attacked. This was written as tough love to myself because I feel the same things you do. And when I'm honest with myself, I'm not creating work at the level of quality that I need to. I'm not believing in myself in taking King Richard-level risks.
As my friend Zach likes to say, "Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it achieves." So, if you don't like the results your system is achieving...it's time to change the system.
And that probably comes down to believing in yourself and creating higher-quality work.