Inspirational articles are depressing and you should avoid them

This is Day 5 of the Your Turn Challenge, an initiative to practice the art of shipping by writing one blog post every day for a week.

Day 5: What advice would you give for getting unstuck?

I recently read about a 16-year old girl who started her own jewelry business. She made necklaces with magnets on them, and within a few years, she had grown the company to be worth more than $1 million dollars.

What an inspirational story.

Was I inspired? No. I found it incredibly depressing.

First of all, how do you sell magnet necklaces and turn it into a global enterprise? Who’s buying these things? And if it’s lame, why wasn’t I smart enough to create this and trick people into buying it?

I don’t understand how reading about how a 16 year old figured out the keys to the kingdom is supposed to make me feel good about myself.

And yet the conventional wisdom presumes that if you read stories of people doing big things and learn their tactics, you’ll think, “I can do it too! I’m going to try.”

Except what you end up saying to yourself is:

“Ugh, I could have done that. I could have been her. But I’ve already wasted so much time and am behind. What’s the point in even trying?”

My advice is going to sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

You should avoid stories of people doing great things.

You should avoid friends that make you feel jealous.

You should avoid reading work from people who make you feel like you could never see yourself being that good.

Let me explain. I very much value quality and I’m not saying to choose to surround yourself with mediocrity. Quite the opposite. I only read material that is high quality and have no problem ditching a book part way through if it’s a waste of my time. I love literary short fiction and smart, organized nonfiction. I think you need to understand what superior quality looks like so that you can raise the bar for yourself.

However. 

If you want to produce and ship, it is crucial that you remove anything that prevents you from feeling confident enough to ship.

You need to find people and things that make you feel like you can and want to take on the world. 

Notice which friends you talk to that get you fired up. Where every time you hang out or tell them about something, you get enthusiastic and can’t wait to get started. Your mind is just swirling with ideas.

You want to find people like that. Because what’s scarce aren’t tips and tactics on what a 16 year old did to create a business. What’s scarce is the excitement, urge, and I-can-barely-sit-still excitement that gets you to want to attempt anything in the first place.

I have a good friend in mobile gaming who’s a prolific writer and doing big things. I love hearing what he is up to. But last week, I unsubscribed from his status updates on Facebook.

This might sound weird given that I respect him tremendously and consider him a close friend. But every time I told him an idea, he would tear it apart ruthlessly playing the devil’s advocate. My seedling ideas didn’t stand a chance. There’s certainly a time and place for constructive criticism but each time we talked I felt a little more discouraged about my own path and projects.

I don’t see his stuff anymore. I’m more focused, I write, I’m able to do my thing without getting distracted. That’s a good thing.

I still talk to him, sometimes. But it’s definitely a contained thing, it’s not a frequent daily interaction, because I don’t want it to be. We catch up and we part ways, so that both of us can do the work.

Inspirational articles, inspirational people - they’re good if they actually inspire you. But if they make you feel discouraged…

Then find people who make you feel strong and capable.

Choose to do things and spend time with people who make you feel confident and purposeful. Once you feel that way, you’re going to want to act and you will. That’s how you get unstuck.

UncategorizedWes Kao