Hey, creative friends. We need to talk. There’s something you’re desperately trying to do and it’s probably hurting you and you don’t even know it.
You need to quit trying to “make it.”
I don’t mean that you should stop trying to make your devil-horned sheep pinatas, your 200,000 word fantasy title or your life-sized Stephen Hawking replica made out of toothpicks (although maybe you really should stop doing that one) or whatever creative project you’re doing. I mean that you should quit trying to “make it,” in the “I’ve finally made it,” sense — trying to be famous, aiming for 10,000 Twitter followers, hoping that your favorite film director watches your home video, gunning to be a well-known fajita wrangler.
Whatever invisible bar you’ve set for yourself that qualifies as having “made it,” I think you should dismantle it.
Instead, you should try to make it, meaning whatever it is that you create. Ditch the unattainable fame status you’ve got in your mind and work on your craft, perfect what you do and do it because you love it day in and day out. Because the thing nobody ever tells you is that the idea of making it is mostly an illusion. The people that you idolize, that you think have made it, whose books or content you devour all the time? They aren’t just hanging out in cabanas for eight hours at a time, working for about seventeen minutes and then signing checks until they fall asleep on a bed of money and/or women.
You know what they’re actually doing? Working. They’re working down to the bone, and they’ve either ditched the idea of making it or they’re still trying to hit another invisible bar themselves.
I’m not saying these people aren’t happy. Doubtless that many of them are ecstatic, and thankful to be doing what they love, doing it for a living and enjoy their captive audience, which is one of those few things that money honestly can’t buy. But the reason they got to where they are is because they were working harder at creating than they were at being famous, and the sad truth is that many people do that the other way around. They pursue Twitter followers more than they pursue their craft. They start peddling themselves as an expert on x subject before they’ve got anything to show for it.
These people will never make it. And neither will you. But that’s not because there’s something wrong with you. It’s because nobody truly makes it. Everybody that creates is always looking for the next level, the next tier, the next line of success. And once you hit it, there will always be another one. It’s enough to drive you crazy. Which is why you have to do what you do for yourself, and love doing it.
Take it from somebody who’s shattered a number of “made it” achievements, only to find out that nothing special was waiting for me on the other side. When we started making our goofy machinima The Leet World, I thought it’d be cool if we could just get a few people to watch it. By the time they started coming in thousands, I wanted millions. Once we did that, I wanted the opportunity to make video content for money. And when Revision3 came knocking to give us that, it seemed like maybe we had finally arrived.
Except that nothing changed. I’m not saying that cynically or that these things were bad experiences (although a few of them were), but at some point along the way I abandoned what I loved for some naive, selfish goal that I had. I set myself so firmly on this goal of making it, in fact, that I was a true jerk to many people that I cared about, and basically drove myself into a depression. Every single step of the way, what I thought would qualify me as having made it turned out to be meaningless. And not because it didn’t work out — but because it did.
More opportunities have come and gone. An interview with Bungie. Writing for Red Vs Blue. But none of those have fundamentally changed my life, which is the lie that “making it” always whispers to you. If you just get to this point, it says, your life will change. Sure, I think that happens to some people. But the majority of artists you love have gotten to where they are in gradual shifts, but the focus never left the work, because that’s what builds the audience in the first place.
As it stands right now, I’m still just a dude working a 9 to 5, and writing in my free time because I truly enjoy doing it. A few years ago if you had told me I’d still have a normal job (that is amazing) and that nobody would know who I am, it probably would have upset me. But then I learned that you don’t ever really make it. You just get better at what you do. And that’s all I’m really concerning myself with these days.
And sometimes making it doesn’t look how you think it would look. The amazing job I have right now is thanks to the years I’ve spent creating content online. I’m not working from home and making goofy YouTube videos, sure, but I work for a company that treats me like a human being, pays me much more than our web shows ever did and lets me play Dungeons and Dragons at lunch with my co-workers.
So friends, don’t worry about your brand or your following or your achievements. Worry about your work. Because at the end of the day, that’s what you’ll always be coming back to.