Don’t Lose Sight of Your Long-Term Goals

Do you remember when the word “prolific” used to mean something? When Emily Dickinson died, her family discovered roughly 1,800 poems of hers, tucked away. Had they not made the find, we might never have known the scope of Emily’s talent.

Side note: These booklets of poems were called “fascicles”—a few sheets of paper sewn together. And now, if nothing else, you’ve learned the word “fascicle”, so I would consider this article an immediate success.

Tall Tales vs. Data

No, he really *was* a giant, I swear!

One of the major reckonings of our time will be what I call the great reconciliation: reconciling what happened in the “before times” with what’s happening in the “now times”. Some generations have grown up in the post-internet, now times. Others of us grew up before the switch to the internet. And some of us grew up with the majority of their lives taking place before social media.

Kids growing up today won’t have experienced a common phenomenon of prior generations: a good friend lying their ass off about something they supposedly accomplished.

At the schoolyard, we’d routinely hear (and tell) these lies about things we never did. I’m pretty sure I convinced people that I “h4cKed ThA MAInFr4m3” of my elementary school after watching the movie Hackers for the first time—and no, I didn’t have an internet-enabled computer then. But with the ubiquity of cameras, phones, and the internet, it’s much easier to call out these kinds of harmless lies. If someone says “did you know that iguanas will turn red if you give them red food coloring?”, now you can now whip out your phone and have the true answer within seconds. Before, the best you could do was ask your dad or look through the Encyclopedia Britannica and pray there was a sentence or two about iguanas.

So we’re left with these tall tales of the past. “Why, young Tom Morris scored a 3 on a 578-yard par 5 in 1870!” We can’t look that up, other than to see that Wikipedia says it’s true. So we must reconcile our brains that were shaped before the internet with our brains that have been shaped since. It’s a terrible job for even a seasoned accountant, but I’ve been told this kind of reconciliation is worth the trouble…

So what does this have to do with the word “prolific”? With superlatives? With adjectives, in general?

We’ve got to rethink these, apparently.

Words like prolific have very different meanings pre-and-post social media. 

Growing up learning about the authors of the past, Emily Dickinson’s number of 1,800 seemed to me to be a staggering amount of poems. But if we consider each tweet we write a poem? If we consider each TikTok post a poem, each YouTube video a fascicle? What then? Suddenly it becomes apparent that our definition of prolific has changed a great deal.

Napoleon Hill toured the world writing one book: Think and Grow Rich. One book. Not 650,000 pieces of supplemental content and articles to promote that book. Rich from one piece of writing… What a concept!

The Content Treadmill

I think I’m getting in shape! No wait, that’s just an RSI.

Now, even the most average among us probably puts out 1,800 unique pieces of content in a calendar year, with many social media personalities putting out far more than that. So is Emily Dickinson still prolific? Or have our standards changed so much that we can no longer say that’s the case? How do the heroes of yesteryear stack up with today’s run-of-the-mill content creator?

Consider that it’s normal these days for a moderately successful author/social media star to put out this content:

  • 1-2 TikTok videos per day
  • 1 Podcast per week (or more)
  • 1 Instagram post per day
  • 1-2 YouTube videos per week
  • 1 Blog Article per month
  • 1-2 Newsletters/emails per month
  • 1 post on LinkedIn per day
  • 1 Tweet per day

Off the top of my head, I can think of numerous examples of people following this content treadmill strategy right now. And I can also think of many examples of people putting out much more content than this.

It’s easy to see how we’re putting out hundreds of original thoughts into the universe per month these days, and that’s still not enough to stand out.

It’s no secret, Facebook/Instagram and general social media “organic reach” does nothing but decline each year. For you? That means each thing you make reaches fewer and fewer of your followers. That means that your chances of anything you make going “viral” are mathematically shrinking with each passing year.

Source: https://www.oryxcloud.com/blog/the-decline-in-facebook-and-instagram-free-posts-reach-in-2020-and-what-to-do-about-it

So, as ambitious people, we’re left with two choices: quit these platforms (I’m certainly not going to tell you that’s a bad idea), or double down. The latter means—creating more shit.

So we are in a cycle of constantly creating more and more content to approximate the highs we received from our efforts just a few short years ago. I remember first learning that Facebook reach was declining rapidly around 2014. At that time, it caused outrage in the marketing community. Now? It’s just the new normal…

If you open TikTok right now, you’ll be confronted with marketers telling you to post in excess of 3 videos on the platform per day to break through. It’s nearly impossible to imagine that number going down in the next 5-10 years. So what will the future normal be in terms of content creation 10 years from now? 10 TikTok videos per day? 20? 

And only 24 hours in a day… Sheesh.

Is our Content “Poetry”?

Fascicles. Fascicles, fascicles, fascicles!

Are our pieces of content works of art? If not, what are they?

Is there a chance of anyone discovering our body of work during our lifetime or after we die? Will someone, after your death, discover that you were actually creating beautiful poetry on your Instagram page, unnoticed, 15 years prior?

Currently, social media does not facilitate this in any meaningful capacity. The platforms we have are currently designed to make our content obsolete mere minutes after it’s posted. The current SOP for these platforms is, broadly speaking: immediately show your content to a handful of your followers, if they don’t instantly hit the like button, watch the whole thing, and comment? Don’t show it to anyone else. End of story. Which means the window in which a piece of content can even theoretically reach an audience is very narrow.

There’s no good way to catalogue all of the thoughts we have, and if we’re being honest, much of what we’re making is decidedly not something worth looking back on 15 years from now. So while they are works of art in a sense, we don’t treat social media content like works of art, and there’s strong downward pressure from the platforms themselves to cheapen what we make.

As Snapchat showed us, some of these platforms are ephemeral by nature.

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In a sense, the only one really allowing the possibility for meaningful cataloguing of our work right now is Google. Google’s search engine functionality extends to their other channel, YouTube. So, purchasing their AI tools, it’s possible to let people search your historical work. 

See: https://search.garyvaynerchuk.com as an example. 

Anyone with a YouTube channel can now implement something similar if they pay Google.

But there’s no good way to search, organize, or even find our historical content on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

So in a very real sense, the staying power of content favors YouTube videos, blog articles (which are themselves indexed by Google and by our own websites), and other Google-based properties over social media companies.

And it’s for this reason that many of the world’s top SEO (search engine optimization) experts don’t even bother with maintaining a social media account at all—it’s simply deemed too much work for too little and too transient of a reward. We spend our lives “feeding the beast” of these platforms in the way a heroin addict might spend their life feeding the beast of an addiction—there’s simply no such thing as “enough”.

This is why many of the people in camp Google ignore social media as a waste of time, and many of the people in camp TikTok don’t know anything about SEO and certainly don’t write articles, books, or even necessarily maintain a website.

We are very clearly faced with a question here:

How much time should we devote to “fast” content, and how much to “slow”?

No time for this foolishness—gotta post!

Imagine if DaVinci felt he had to tweet a sketch every day like NFT darling Beeple? Would he have created the Mona Lisa? Would he have had time to dissect human bodies to understand anatomy?

What if Frank Lloyd Wright had to put out:

  • 1-2 TikTok videos per day
  • 1 Podcast per week (or more)
  • 1 Instagram post per day
  • 1-2 YouTube videos per week
  • 1 Blog Article per month
  • 1-2 Newsletters/emails per month
  • 1 post on LinkedIn per day
  • 1 Tweet per day

Would he still have produced as many stunning buildings?

The answer from all of our gurus (many of the most outspoken of whom are investors in the social media platforms themselves) seems to be work harder. Hustle more. Put out more content. Put out more content. Very few are acknowledging the real consequences that putting out this much content are having in terms of leaving us time to… do anything else?

Getting Smarter About Fast Content

One obvious thing we can do to keep up with the demand is to build teams that help us put out more fast content. In fact, this is one of the services my marketing agency offers.

Putting out 50 pieces of content daily is certainly much easier with a team behind you.

Here’s what a team can do:

  • Film you/capture your audio (in some cases, this means having a dedicated person with a camera following you around every day)
  • Edit your video/audio
  • Create graphics for you (either for posts or for video)
  • Create the over-arching strategy
  • (Ghost) write blog articles
  • Format, format, format! Your posts have to be properly formatted for all the different platforms, and each ecosystem is different enough as to make re-using the same content impractical.

So yes, there are ways to more efficiently feed the beast. But these ways cost money. People and companies who are serious about expanding their digital brands can spend upwards of 25-50k USD per month to do it all. Because again, the amount of output required to even compete in the digital world is absurd.

But before we go too far down the wrong track here…

We Need to Take a Step Back.

One of the big reasons I created my podcast (when there are 10 billion others out there), was to provide a step back both for myself and for my listeners.

Because now, as the treadmill keeps speeding up beneath our feet, we need to ask ourselves more than ever: “why are we doing this?”

What’s the desired outcome here?

If everything goes right, we earn an audience. But that audience doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. In fact, all the energy to create digital things is more than we ever talk about. It requires tons of energy to simply use these digital platforms, we just don’t see it from the shiny TikTok interface. We don’t see the acres and acres of server farms running 24/7, burning fossil fuels to make it all possible.

Energy Consumption by Facebook in Gigawatt Hours:

Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/580087/energy-use-of-facebook/

So if we flash forward 5 to 10 years, we will, in the best case scenario, have built a following. Our reward is the ears and eyeballs of people. Finally! Now what? 

Time to dance to the latest meaningless trend for 15 seconds? 

Is that what we want to achieve with the attention we’ve received? The right to have a video sponsored by Takis?

And this is the question we are simply not asking enough, in my opinion:

To what end?

That’s why I feature the kind of people I do on my podcast. They aren’t people who are just rich, even though many of them are millionaires. Rather, they are all people whose life and existence sheds light on a deeper truth. They’ve found meaning beyond simply getting rich and famous.

Whether it’s tackling the climate crisis head on or bringing education to those who needed it most, I feature people who have built their lives around a bigger picture.

The sweet spot here is personal happiness combined with a larger goal.

If you’re familiar with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he speaks of an underground prison in which people are forced to essentially watch movies all day, without ever seeing the real world outside of their prison. They assess their rank amongst each other based on how well they can predict the movies or talk about the movies on the screen in front of them. Sounds a lot like Monday Night Football, to me. In his time, they were shadow puppets on a cave wall, but it was watching content instead of looking outside the cave at the real world. In short, Plato predicted a world in which, if we’re not careful, the content becomes our real world. Clearly he wasn’t far off.

I would argue that this is the world we are now in. We are so focused on social media success, celebrity, and fame, that we’ve lost sight of what, if anything, the real world means to us.

One of my clients teaches underprivileged kids entrepreneurship in public schools. It’s an incredibly noble mission that I’m privileged to be a part of. Do you know what teachers say most of their students want to be when they grow up? Influencers.

So What is “Slow” Content, Then? 

And after all that, we’ve come full circle.

Slow content is a reminder of those things that Plato’s cave can’t do for us. Content can’t plant a tree. It can’t invent new products to meet our energy demands. It can’t make our air more breathable or our forests less prone to fire. Content can never make the leap into the real world, unless we make a conscious choice for that to be the case.

So while our behavior is more and more dictated by what the algorithms demand that we post (no satire, no swear words, no criticism of the platform itself, just smiley-happy dance routines!), we have to take the step in our lives to leave the social media cave and ask ourselves: what is the broader difference we wish to make in our actual world?

And we need to remember to balance our fast content with even more slow content.

These are:

  • Inventions (that solve a real problem)
  • Books (that go deeper than sound bites)
  • Courses (that cover more)
  • Companies (that exist to benefit employees and the world)
  • Art (that is more of ourselves than a meme)
  • Missions (charities, impact)

These and more spit in the face of fast content, because they take a long time to create. We can tweet in 30 seconds, but a 60,000 word book requires more of us.

The sad truth is, on our deathbed, no one is likely to care about any of the content we’ve ever made, even as we’re spending more and more of our lives making it. But what might they care about? And how can we make sure that we focus on that, too?

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Ren
Ren
8 months ago

Great content!

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