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Small steps

Things are always a little more complicated than we realize.

I was reminded of this while writing the first draft of my first book. I figured it would be as "simple" as writing a draft, shopping it around to potential agents, and then eventually finding a publisher.

For those of you who have already gone through the submission process, I'm sure you're scoffing at my audacity. After all, you know there is much more to it than this.

While writing the first draft, I quickly learned that for nonfiction, writers usually submit a proposal before finishing the entire manuscript.

OK, no sweat. I'll just put together a proposal. 

While starting that process, I then learned that before the proposal, it's standard procedure to first send prospective agents a query letter. 

Hm, fine. It's time to start drafting a query letter.

Even the query letter has a few steps in order for it to be presentable to agents.

As you can tell, I'm not the "plan everything out" kind of guy. Instead, I usually dive in head first and tackle each step as it pops up.

In my mind, things don't have to be that complicated. Any big goal (writing a book, starting a company, etc.) can be broken down into a series of smaller steps. Some of these steps are obvious and some aren't.

None of us can control the number of steps. All we can do is focus on doing each one to the best of our ability and then move on to the next one.

If we stick with it, eventually we'll get to where we want to go.

People will support you

A funny thing happens when you put you and your work out there for everyone to see.

People start supporting you.

I'm talking about people you've never met in real life. They will comment on your writing, like your posts, and even buy your products.

Find enough people like this, and you might be able to make a living.

The thing is, this doesn't magically happen overnight. It takes days, weeks, months, and even years to grow a community around your work.

After fumbling through this process over the past decade, I've learned that it really comes down to two "simple" steps:

  1. Do good work. If you're not there yet, practice until you are. And then keep practicing.
  2. Share that work with people. In the beginning, you'll probably have no idea who your audience is. Just put your work out there and people will naturally gravitate towards it.

Be patient while repeating these two steps and, eventually, you'll have a community to call your own.

Take a chance

A friend of mine reached on out Snapchat yesterday about a job (because it's the 21st century and, you know, messaging apps).

He came across a job in St. Louis and wanted to apply, but he was underqualified.

This got me thinking.

If there's one thing I've learned over the past decade, it's that no one actually knows what they're doing.

Sure, someone may seem like they have their shit together online, but in reality, they're just as clueless as the rest of us. They have cracks and flaws (some even make a living from exploiting them - i.e. comedians). 

At the end of the day, we're all human and we're trying our best to find our own way.

Keep this in mind when you're looking for your next opportunity, and it might not seem as daunting.

Take that chance, apply for that job, put yourself out there.

Personally, I'd rather regret doing something than not doing something.

Ask better questions

I've always prided myself on my ability to ask good questions.

Whether I'm out for drinks or talking with a client, I love conversation that goes above and beyond mundane small talk.

What makes a question "good" in the first place?

If you ask me, the best questions are thought-provoking in a way that's uncomfortable. These types of questions aren't tough for the sake of being tough, they're difficult because their answers are unrehearsed.

They require more effort than simply asking, "How're you?" or "What's your favorite restaurant?" Instead, they get at something much deeper, an untapped thought or feeling that isn't used to having the spotlight.

Like most, this skill takes time and plenty of practice to crack. A great place to start is to keep things simple by asking, "Why?" more often. Not only is it short and sweet, it shifts attention to the other person.

Unfortunately, once this happens, most people use passive listening while they wait for their turn to talk. They miss so much great insight that can lead to better questions and deeper connections.

Instead, try to listen with the intent to understand. Not only will you become more "interesting" to others, you'll also benefit from their personal experience. It's a win-win for everyone.

What does the future look like?

Since I work for myself (and have for almost a decade), my stress tends to look a little different.

Instead of being "too busy" with endless tasks, I usually suffer from decision fatigue and massive amounts of uncertainty.

This is why I often feel like I can't relate to others who work in a more traditional, 9-to-5 setting.

Yesterday, my fiancé noticed I was visibly stressed and asked something I didn't expect:

"What does your idea future look like?"

This isn't a question I hear often especially from others.

Unfortunately, I don't usually talk about my future plans with others. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that people don't usually ask.

As someone who has their sights ambitiously set on the stratosphere, I answered by sharing travel plans, books deals, speaking gigs, and most importantly, positive impact on others.

Now, this wasn't the most "actionable" conversation, but the more we talked, the better I felt. It helped me to slow down and really think about the life I want for myself and others.

If you're feeling stressed out or unsure, try asking yourself the same question and find someone who will listen. This might be all you need to get things back on track.

There's more to life than work

It's easy to forget, but there's so much more to life than work.

Sure, for those of us who work for ourselves, the lines of work-life balance can blur without us realizing it.

I'm always so consumed with work that I frequently forget to stop and take a look around.

Luckily, my fiancé and I just adopted a puppy named Dobby and it suddenly gave me a reason to slow down and reprioritize things a little.

Instead of trying to squeeze a few more hours of work out of the weekend, I spent time helping Dobby get used to his new home.

Even though there is always something to get done, it felt great to shift my focus back towards my personal life.

Whether it's a new puppy, a budding relationship, or an exciting hobby, try and appreciate the little things outside of work.

Don't worry, the emails, phone calls, and proposals will still be there when you're ready.

Cut through the noise

There's a lot of noise online.

Companies trying to sell you something, writers promoting their new books, people sharing all of their accomplishments. It can be a little overwhelming.

On one hand, I completely understand. After all, I've been working for myself for about a decade and I've learned that if you want to be heard, you have to speak up.

At the same time, I can't help but notice an overall lack of awareness.

These companies aren't acknowledging their customers as people. These writers aren't addressing how their book will help make your life better. And these people are spending too much time speaking and not enough listening.

Over the years, I've learned that trying to be everywhere at once isn't a strategy - it's quite the opposite. It shows that you have no idea who your audience is and, even if you did know, you aren't patient enough to learn about them as individual people.

We need to stop viewing the people in our audience as numbers, conversion rates, and potential sales and start seeing for what they really are - humans. 

Build a community

I've been thinking a lot about building a community online.

Since I work for myself, I'm always focused on sharing my work with others. Some call this "self-promotion" while others call it "content marketing."

Do you want to know what I call it?

Building a community.

For me, the difference is the intent.

These days, the internet allows you to do some amazing things:

• Work for yourself from wherever you want
• Self-publish an entire book
• Teach others outside of a classroom
• Connect with people from all over the world

Unfortunately, it can also make it much easier to spam people without listening to what they want.

When I first started writing, I shared my blog posts everywhere. I'm ashamed to admit this even included Tinder (back when I was single).

Three years later, my process has become a little more refined.

Even though I'm always focused on being more helpful to others, I'd like to think this job is never finished. When sharing work online, you can always listen more, pay closer attention, and provide even more value to your readers and viewers.

As I start my next phase of building a community, I'm going to focus even more on quality over quantity.

I suggest you do the same.