On Failures, Falters and Flagging

On Shannon Ashley’s struggles on Medium (she’s not alone)

With great respect to Shannon, who in many ways really does speak for a great many of us. I don’t pretend to speak for her. This article speaks to the honesty of what she has to say about a rapidly shifting world here on Medium.

This morning I read Shannon’s piece about going through a rough patch. It struck me so much that I want to respond, because much of what she addresses touches so many of the rest of us. Including this writer. One thing that I have that Shannon doesn’t is many more years being in this skin suit. Oh, yah, and the road rash that comes with them. All that does is offer me perspective, which may or may not be relevant.

We’ll see.

What really resonated with me about her piece this morning is the sudden, awful vulnerability that comes from watching ratings, eyeballs and income drop faster than that stupid New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square.

When I got home from Ethiopia a few weeks ago, my views had doubled. I nearly fell over. However, three weeks later, they too had plummeted. This time I just kinda noticed and went back to writing, working, and focusing. Which is of course precisely what she’s doing, but stay with me here.

While the why matters, most certainly as anyone who is similarly dealing with the same issue is struggling to figure out WTF and either redirect or recoup, I would like to offer the following, for what it’s worth.

For anyone — and kindly, I am NOT among these people — who has enjoyed significant success on Medium, it’s very easy to get closely identified with how they’re perceived by the general community. They made it, they’re the ITs and the Winners everyone else wants to be. I’ve seen umpteen stories from Shannon and many others who not only generously share their ideas and suggestions but also are immensely supportive of others’ successes.

That’s great while it’s working. Until it isn’t.

There can be an unholy fear of being an Imposter, that it’s all over. Shannon writes:

I don’t know how long I’ll continue to make a full-time income on Medium.

For a single mom who counts on this forum to provide, that’s got to be shit-crazy to have to deal with. I don’t. Happily, I’ve got a disability income but it doesn’t pay the bills. But unlike Shannon and others, I don’t have to count exclusively on my Medium earnings. I once made $10k in one day, in a previous life as a Fortune 100 consultant. Back when I made that ten grand I thought it would happen more often.

It didn’t. The following year I won a national award and my business flamed out.

One of the things I did for almost twenty years until 2012 was teach small businesses how to be successful. Suddenly I am standing in front of my entire audience, stripped of my agency, my business effectively out of business. Everything I had taught was now suspect. WTF man. Geez, just…WTF. I was 59 at the time. Talk about getting you in the feels.

I had been held up as THE example of how to do it. Suddenly I might as well have contracted the Bubonic plague. I couldn’t get a fucking gig unless I gave it away. Not a good plan for solvency. Or retirement for that matter (although that will not happen on my watch).

The reason I think I may understand why folks are currently struggling with the dog-legs and jinks of Medium’s changes is that so many of you went public about your success. I would have too. The problem is exactly what happened. The rug got pulled out, at least temporarily.

Not all chariots make it across the sky. Mine didn’t, at least that one. I had to build another. It wasn’t the first time. Won’t be the last. For Shannon, either. Or for the rest of us for whom Medium provides a part, especially a substantial part, of what we have to live on.

Shannon writes:

Naturally, I wonder if my previous success was just a fluke.

Of course we do. Not only is the sheer fright of potential imminent loss of income very real, but then we start to question whether the house we built brick by brick was actually made of cardboard. Are we the real deal? Did I just lie to all these people who honestly believed my advice?

It’s one hell of a naked feeling. Again. I have been there. It fucking SUCKS. You build your skills, you know you’re good at them, people consider you an expert and then…SHIT.

This is one of the reasons I love Shannon’s writing. Her aching honesty speaks to precisely the same kinds of things you and I feel when (not IF) we hit a pothole, which might in fact be a A BIG FUCKING CANYON and folks, we have us here a detour.

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Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

Now I am even more interested in what Shannon writes. Because in so many ways it’s easier by far to pen pieces about how to succeed when we are, in fact, succeeding. For all practical purposes, there’s no reason to think that’s going to change.

Until it does.

It’s a shitload harder, but vastly more helpful (as well as painful, vulnerable and in many ways deeply embarrassing), to write about how to get out of the weeds, dig the dirt out of our collective noses and find our way back onto the path when we have fallen off.

Those of you who regularly read Shannon’s work know that she’s neither a beginner, nor is struggle unfamiliar. That’s part of what has made her rise such a great story, certainly to me if not thousands of others.

But here’s the piece: those struggles are precisely what have prepared her to deal with the tumble in attention and potential earnings. Those experiences are precisely the kinds of things which offer all of us the best lessons. Not how to be a forever success, the money rolling in effortlessly.

But how to deal with rejection, trollers, haters, negativity, the battles we are always fighting internally with our confidence (or lack thereof) or self-image, body-image, and how we see ourselves the largest sense. Am I worthy of this success? Am I losing what I built because I don’t deserve it?

Can I navigate the feeding frenzy of folks who can’t stand it that someone like Shannon (or anyone but them) is successful? To this she says:

I can’t help but imagine every writer on the platform who’s ever been nasty to me and told me I was going to fail rubbing their hands together gleefully as if I’m about to finally get my comeuppance.

Again, I have difficulty understanding the mindset of assholes who appoint themselves arbiters of who should be successful and who shouldn’t. As if. For my part any time someone does what it takes to become self -sufficient, and continues to turn that into a measure of success, deserves our admiration, not assassination.

Which is why I have no doubt whatsoever that she’ll figure this out. And in all ways I hope she continues to pen her process, for that is precisely what you and I most need to read about: how to get the fuck back on our feet when things go sideways.

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Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

For they will. Over and over again. At likely about twice Shannon’s age, I have ridden this roller coaster from couch surfing (not by choice) at 31 to making well over $100k a year in my 50s and have that fucking crash. I’m comfortable with the roller coaster. That doesn’t happen overnight. That comes from learning to trust yourself. Which, if you read her whole piece, is precisely what’s I hear her saying. She does trust herself. She goes through the same doubts and questioning and oh-shits that we all do. Right in front of us.

She gives herself permission to doubt, to have fears, to hang those things out on the clothesline of her consciousness for us to see. For my part, I see myself on that clothesline (that would be the shredded white T-shirt with the coffee stain shaped like Brazil).

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Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

That kind of extreme honesty is Shannon’s hallmark. It’s a big part of why I like her writing and I admire her story. A lot of us do, clearly.

Otherwise we wouldn’t read, clap, comment, support. And will continue to read, clap, comment and support.

The other day Tim Denning wrote about what it takes to make those who do well on Medium successful. The thread was consistency. We keep right on writing. Good days, bad days, sucky days, REALLY SUCKY DAYS, and past really sucky people who take pleasure in our pain. Who cannot wait to pick over the carcass of our once-successful Medium careers.

Jackals.

Here’s what else she says that for me, gets to the heart of it:

It takes detours. I am hardly the first writer to see a decline. I know what matters most won’t be my January or February earnings but how I deal with my setbacks instead.

I intend to keep writing, growing, and learning, even when it’s hard. I intend to keep supporting my daughter with my writing here at home.

I wrote this story for anyone else who feels a little down and out.

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Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

And I wrote this article for anyone who doesn’t see Shannon’s work, hasn’t gotten familiar with her story, and needs to see what it’s like to learn to ride the waves.

For Shannon, and those like her who have hit rough waters, please keep writing. Because my guess?There are a great many of folks out here who not only want to see you succeed but are even more interested in learning how you got back on track.

For you, for Shannon, for all of us who are entering yet another decade, for whom this forum is important, a little gift of my favorite lyrics from Enya:

Book of Days

One day, one night, one moment,
My dreams could be, tomorrow.
One step, one fall, one falter,
East or west, over earth or by ocean.
One way to be my journey,
This way could be my Book of Days.

Ó lá go lá, mo thuras,
An bealach fada romham.
Ó oíche go hoíche, mo thuras,
Na scéalta nach mbeidh a choích.*

No day, no night, no moment,
Can hold me back from trying.
I’ll flag, I’ll fall, I’ll falter,
I’ll find my day may be, Far and Away.
Far and Away.

One day, one night, one moment,
With a dream to believe in.
One step, one fall, one falter,
And a new earth across a wide ocean.
This way became my journey,
This day ends together, Far and Away.

This day ends together, Far and Away.
Far and Away.

And that is a journey worth reading about.

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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

*From day to day, my journey,
The long way before me.
From night to night, my journey,
The stories will never be

Written by

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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