Call Me Cranky, But Will You Kindly Stop Waving Your Penis Around?
After five weeks in Mongolia, I was pretty happy to get home and start writing on my own computer again after being rather strictly limited by my Chromebook. Getting back on the Medium platform was one of my priorities so that I could start sharing the plethora of stories and fun shit that happened.
Um…wait. Before I share the penis-waving story, let me back up here a sec.
Before joining Medium in April 18, I used to write articles on Linked In. Five hundred of them, to be exact, which taught me how to stick to a slightly shorter form and produce very regularly. I used to love LinkedIn and the various contacts that I made there. Until that platform got steadily infected with the False Humility virus, which became widespread, as well as the same ugly vitriol that infects Facebook and Twitter. Those factors made scrolling on LinkedIn decidedly less pleasant.
Besides, LinkedIn doesn’t pay.
Worse, it also got populated with basement dwellers with zero business experience who now pepper the inboxes of seriously experienced people with real business chops with ridiculous promises of how they’re going to make us rich. I get tons of these weekly; they’re insipid and insulting.
Most of these folks can’t bring in the multi-billion dollar Fortune 100 clients that I can. And, I am a bit done with the treacly, self-congratulatory masturbation that fills the feed: I am so humbled to have been chosen for…I am so honored to have been selected for….I am so happy that I have been recognized by…
Forgive me but please can your false humility.
I’ve gotten cranky in my old age, admittedly, because I am short-tempered when I am faced with such obvious dishonesty. You’re proud. Stop saying that you’re humbled. If you’re that humble you wouldn’t be broadcasting that “humility” all over the web. That simply translates to neediness. What makes it worse is when women do it because social pressures say that it’s not okay to brag. It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it, so please stop acting humble when you are justifiably proud of yourself. Own your real estate. That, I can get behind. The only way that we can change how society responds to powerful chicks who are proud of what they do is for us all do it a lot more often until it’s bloody well normalized. Like men bragging about penis size. But I digress. This is a different kind of penis story.
LinkedIn also got infected by folks who have no clue what they’re doing, so of course they have hung out an Online Expert shingle, claiming all kinds of professional expertise they don’t possess, if for no other glaringly obvious reason than by how they market: blind email blasts. No research. No work (read: no skills). I realize folks need to make money, but if you’re going to be a consultant to other business owners it helps to have something to offer. Like, for example, successful experience, a track record of good and happy clients, recommendation letters and the like. At least, that sure helps me reel in business. Like F100 clients.
I now disregard most invitations because the moment I accept one, it’s followed by a sales pitch. Or, I get sales pitches from folks like this: I see we’re both in the solar industry. Let’s connect! I can help you 10x your income!
Um, the last time I worked in that business was 1980. It’s in the profile.
Do the research. But that’s work.
Most of the folks who promise to teach me how to get business have never sat in front of a Fortune 100 client in their entire lives. I doubt they’ve been out of their apartment other than to pick up takeaway, but they signed up for an online LinkedIn course. So of course they’re now experts. This isn’t everyone, but it’s too many.
I liken what happened to Facebook, Linked In and Twitter to the porn that doomed Tumblr. Elements that appeal to a lower set of values don’t uplift, challenge and continue to inspire. There are too many get-rich-quick schemes and far too many more who are gullible enough to get involved in them. LinkedIn, like Tumblr, has tumbled.
So moving to Medium was a relief in many ways. I was exhausted by the false bonhomie penis-waving on Linked In by men and women alike. LinkedIn has become a laughing stock for many of us serious enough to do real networking, and real business. It lost its way about four or five years ago. Next.
For me, and I largely still feel this way, Medium was a breath of fresh air. I write religiously, I earn some bucks (how much is private and will stay that way) and I have created friendships that I truly value. And for the most part I get solid feedback from folks who give enough of a shit about my writing that they take the time to poke at me. That’s priceless.
But there’s been an unfortunate trend.
A Medium writer whose identity I will respect- and this person is hardly alone, nor is discomfiture about this behavior solely mine — recently went on for a VERY long time about their earnings. Primarily about their earnings rather than seriously valuable advice about what it really takes to get there.
Forgive me, but first, that’s rude. You’re damned right I’m old school in this regard, but it’s deeper than that. What others earn is none of our business, it’s meaningless information (but for whatever feelings of superiority it gives the writer, which speaks much more to insecurity than a genuine intention to add value) and it’s just not relevant.
Money isn’t the point. The message is. Focusing primarily on money derails new, rookie and struggling writers from learning their craft. You and I have the responsibility of discovering our unique voice, our take and the specific audience that really needs to hear what we have to say. When we focus on the money, too many end up thinking primarily about how we can monetize living, breathing human beings who deserve our deepest respect and regard. If we treat them that way, they are likely to reward us by clapping, following and buying our products, whatever they may be. If we only think of them as walking wallets (ever been waylaid into an Amway presentation?) they leave.
What’s far more useful is what you did, the value you gave your readers (assuming this is all off Medium) and a series of actionable steps that folks could adapt for their own uses. That’s adding value. People learn from true stories.
There’s just one question: are you writing this article about your earnings to make you feel good? To feel superior? To lord it over the rest of us peons who are still in the double or triple digits?
Or do you really intend to be of service, add value and support other writers? Only you can answer that. The body and tone of your article are revealing in these regards.
Besides, your situation is unique to you, just as mine is unique to me. I’m about as fascinated with your income as I am if you have cancer of the scrotum or the amount of earwax you sucked out of your head. What I earn doesn’t necessarily correlate with my production, nor is it necessarily a statement of quality. Like everyone else I write articles that don’t get three looks, if that. Others go ballistic. Money is just one single factor of many in what makes anyone good at what they do. Celestine Prophecy, an appallingly poor piece of writing, earned James Redfield a lot of money. It’s still shit writing. Look, I can’t speak for you, but I would prefer not to be overpaid for crap work.
When we get rewarded for shit work, we continue to produce shit work. Look, if that works for you, great. I guess I suffer from a serious condition of personal pride, at least as far as the quality of my work is concerned. My face is a different issue, but that’s life after sixty.
The problem I have with the trend to shout out I MADE $17K THIS MONTH or whatever is that this is the same kind of infection that undermined LinkedIn. We’re touting financial porn, in a sense.
I’ll say it again: money isn’t the main point. The message is.
It could mean you’re an effective marketer. Or as one writer pointed out, they had expanded across multiple platforms and streams. It could also be a very good marketing ploy to get you to sign up for their regular newsletter or program (for which you pay X a month, conveniently drawn from your bank account into perpetuity), when this person doesn’t have two dimes to rub together to start the stove. They don’t have the goods, but they will soon have yours. MLM hucksters work the same way, misleading people by dangling fantastical stories in front of suckers (and we all are in one way or another, which of course includes this writer) to get them to chop wood and carry water for the recruiting effort. A scheme by any other name is still a scheme.
Medium isn’t just about the money. It’s about the message. Yours. Mine. The stories that move people’s lives.
You and I still have to do the work. And in today’s environment, two word-related professions that promise ego gratification (speaking and writing) aren’t what they used to be.
So let’s talk for a moment.
Lots and lots of folks want to get the standing ovations I’ve gotten on occasion- okay, who wouldn’t- but that took years and years of training, practice and costly professional coaching. I am no celebrity, that instant name-recognition which can garner an Olympic medalist $20k per talk and way, way up. Most of us aren’t. Therein lies the challenge.
In the professional speaking industry, the notion that you could make a living solely from speaking fees died a bad death a long time ago. Rare is the speaker who doesn’t have to write books, articles, blogs, coach, consult and a host of other offerings just to make the rent. About a third of all the thousands of aspiring speakers in the National Speakers Association drop out every year for this reason; in part because most folks can’t do most or all these things well. Each of those individual platforms requires a unique skill set. That’s why there’s a long learning curve.
They- and I — have to bust their asses learning how to run a business and sell.
The same goes for writers, especially travel writers.
Long gone are the days when a five-star resort would actually wine and dine you for a one-liner mention in your local rag. As the uber-talented and very successful travel writer Tim Leffel (one of my two coaches) points out in his book Travel Writing 2.0: Earning Money in the New Media Landscape, those travel writers working today, and I am one of them, have to produce across many platforms to get any kind of a break, produce superb content (which is damned rare) and bust their asses learning how to run a business and sell.
For the third time, because most folks seem to not hear this: bust their asses learning how to run a business and sell.
Nearly everyone who “wants my gig” is horrified when I tell them that they need to learn how to run a business and sell. That’s not what they signed up for. They wanted the good stuff. Oh, I get the good stuff. After I learned how to run my business and sell. Can’t run a business or sell? Don’t want to? Sound too much like real work? Don’t like rejection?
Mail rooms are hiring, guys.
This is part of why the penis-waving of a paycheck is offensive to me. There is an implicit message that you can make tons of money and all you have to do is “be like me.” Not only is that breathtakingly arrogant, it’s a baldfaced lie. You and I can only be ourselves, with our work habits, preferences, unique takes and with the brains we were born with. Being an entrepreneur is hard fucking work. So is selling. If you can’t sell, you won’t succeed at anything. That includes office politics.
Being a freelance writer is being an entrepreneur. You have to run a business and learn to sell. Period. Full stop.
If you find a lane that works, and you mine it, and build your skills, then you will also build an income if you give value. Focusing on the earnings — or lack thereof — is a distraction, especially if you’re comparing yourself to the top earners on Medium or anywhere else.
Over the decades that I’ve spoken professionally, I have seen endless rookies decide that their claim to fame will be one red sneaker, or weird hats, or purple hair. None of that makes a rat’s patootie’s bit of difference to clients who need measurable results. Those folks failed because they weren’t concentrating on what clients and audiences needed: solutions to problems. A damned good story. Humor (a speaker who isn’t funny doesn’t work). You can be quirky, but first you have to deliver value. Part of the problem is precisely what I am watching happen on Medium: new speakers would sit in rapt attention listening to experienced, established speakers with decades in the business and only hear their earnings.
They blocked out the hard work, the research, the sales, the worn shoe leather, the ratio of 90% hard damned work to 10% actually speaking.
Ninety percent of our time as speakers (unless you can afford a full staff) is spent selling and running our business. Ten percent, actually doing what we love.
Thirty plus years later I’m still speaking. The road to success in this business is littered with the carcasses of folks who didn’t want to do the work.
Writing is exactly the same.
People get totally off track worrying about competing with top earners, which has nothing whatsoever to do with their own journey. It’s quite possible that they can’t write. At all. Best to find that out as quickly as possible so that people can redirect to where they do belong.
I can only speak for my own behavior on here but I don’t check my earnings until I need to note them in my checkbook. They are what they are. I write, I publish, produce, rinse and repeat. What I earn is meaningless in that regard. My job is to write. If people like what I say they’ll read it. It’s also my job to notice which stories have legs, read comments, and fully engage (when I’m in country or near wifi). Earnings build, and continue to build, because I do my best to give value and I am brutally disciplined when I have wifi. The rest of the time I am out living, like the five weeks I just spent in Mongolia, so that I have something to write about. To wit:
My earnings naturally take a hit for the many weeks I travel. But if I don’t go out and do ridiculously epic things, take chances, make massive mistakes, fail and stumble and on rare occasion, succeed, I don’t have shit to say to anyone. My writing shtick isn’t babies or raising dogs or family life or politics. I am very clear about my lanes. I live an extraordinary life. If I got obsessed about my followers and fans and all the other stats that mesmerize folks, I’d never get on another airplane.
I have another trip coming up in five weeks, this time to Ethiopia, for another month. My paycheck ain’t that impressive. My life is. Money in and of itself does not determine my joy. I manage my pennies, control my bad habits and make my moments count. If I had another ten grand a month I wouldn’t be happier. My credit cards would have zero balances, but that’s not what gives me joy.
Again. This is a rant and my personal opinion only.
I come from a generation where discussing what you earned was considered incredibly poor taste. What else has changed is how social media is so often used to publish false personas and write checks folks can’t possibly cash.
Here’s an example of how such claims can backfire. The other day I got a LinkedIn invite from a guy who claims to be a “12x best-selling author.” I scanned his site. I have never seen so many mispellings (I built abs of steal) or such poor grammar. It was an excruciating read. I had to stop; I was embarrassed for the guy. He’s a shite writer and it’s very obvious that he clearly doesn’t have enough money for a proofreader or an editor. Kinda undermines his claim and his brand. Makes me question the veracity of all his claims. As it should.
Any and every potential client of his reads the same stuff. If they’re seeking a quality writer, they delete this profile. He can’t cash the checks he’s written on his brand promise.
Focusing on our paycheck vs. adding value by writing powerful, relevant content appeals to the lowest common denominator. I get that we all need to earn a living. But when X crows about earning X dollars per month/year/second, the message about writing for value is bastardized. While you don’t have to be a starving writer, chances are that unless you were born into it (kindly, I was, but I starved for a long time) you’re still going to have to pay your dues. You still have to learn to write, write well, deal with rejection, and stop thinking that your shit is worth reading. Please see Stephen Pressfield: Nobody Wants to Read your Sh*t and What To Do About It.
The better you get, the more coaching you need. Every NFL quarterback has a coach and usually a coordinator. They cannot rise to that level without constant coaching by the best in the business, and those guys cost money. You and I need writing coaches, editors, proofreaders, classes, courses and experts. It’s part of the process. Just ask Tom Brady of the Patriots how much he counts on his coaches. No best-selling author does it alone. They have teams of researchers doing much of the legwork. Until you and I reach that level, we’re scorching our own shoe leather.
These days I work with a speaking coach and a writing coach. I will never, ever, ever reach a point where I won’t. The second I assume that I no longer need help becoming a better writer/speaker, I’m dead in the water.
In all fairness, when Shannon Ashley discusses her earnings, she does make many of these very points. Not everyone does it to brag, and Shannon talks a lot about the work and dedication. My fear is that folks get locked in on her monthly earnings and stop listening to what she’s saying about the journey. I would still prefer we stop bandying numbers around and focus on the lessons and steps rather than the money we’ve made. Again, this is just my personal opinion.
Interestingly, I’ve seen the self-congratulatory articles spike, as though given permission by other’s airing their dick size on line makes it okay.
Please. Zip it up, folks.
For folks who write because it’s who we are vs. what we do, my guess, and it’s only a guess, there’s a greater interest in learning to write well, find good content, and flex our grammatical muscles. This is our craft. With rare exception most of us have to grind it out and build. “Overnight successes” are often the sudden discovery of someone who has been in the ditches for decades. A great many of us hold everyday jobs while pounding out our passion.
I make a decent living, not just on Medium. Across multiple platforms after a lifetime of investing in my education, fails, and stupid mistakes, and writing pure shit for a long time. Money wasn’t the point. Getting good at my craft was. That’s what gets me what I earn today, and those numbers are only shared among my bank, my accountant and the IRS.
Medium is full of superb writers, and superb future writers. The steady river of material that flows on here doesn’t need to be polluted with the kind of bragging that has fouled the waters over on Linked In. But again, that’s just me. Of course I don’t have to read those articles, and I won’t- but a lot of folks will, and that’s the point. We are a community of writers and aspiring writers, or we can devolve into a community of pseudo-MLM marketers, vastly more concerned with our money and our cars and holier-than-thou bank accounts than in adding genuine value to the conversation and the quality of our craft.
A Medium peep, who has disappeared off this platform (which is a loss to us all) wrote me recently that she was increasingly unhappy about what she saw on Medium. She was immensely smart and a damned good writer and marketer and I really miss her stuff. I fear that others like her will leave if the quality of the overall conversation turns to more chest-beating, chest-baring, boob cup comparison and less-than-savory contributions that speak to greed rather than quality of contribution.
It’s your perfect right to brag about your Medium earnings. For my part I’d prefer you do it in private. As someone who cares about and enjoys the Medium platform, for me it’s a quality issue. I don’t want to see this go the way of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the rest. Money isn’t a determinant of value. Good writing is. When you keep focusing on your money you are not teaching about good writing, you’re emphasizing dollars over do the work. People lose sight of the message when they are obsessing about how their earnings compare to yours.
But again, that’s just me.
If some of you want to line up in the urinal and unzip, be my guest. I’m going to be out living an epic life and writing about it. It’s my job to deliver content that’s worth consuming, because I’m not the point.